When Jon Wilson started WoodenBoat magazine in 1974 in an off-grid cabin in Brooksville, it filled a niche in the world of wooden boats as a good professional trade journal. The company has since become a mainstay in the wooden boat community with about 60,000 readers.
Now, the company is ready for its next step: a jump into the digital age with two longtime employees at the helm.
Matt Murphy, the editor of WoodenBoat magazine, and Andrew Breece, the publisher of the company’s magazine division, purchased the company on New Year’s Day and plan to keep filling the pages with stories on the emerging technologies and traditional methods of boat building — while also expanding the company’s digital presence.
“The plan is to continue to stay very true to our mission and our core, but to utilize new avenues to further cultivate and develop our audience,” Breece said.
That mission has made the company essential to its readers over the years.
“I could not possibly have imagined the trajectory of this endeavor when we set forth with a few cartons of magazines at the Newport Sailboat Show in September 1974,” Wilson said. “But WoodenBoat grew into something far beyond a magazine, and it took on a complex and multi-dimensional framework that still leaves me in awe.”
Murphy and Breece each purchased 50 percent of the company’s shares from Wilson. The acquisition includes the company’s flagship publication WoodenBoat magazine and two other magazines, a boatbuilding school, a boat show and a retail store at a 61-acre seaside estate in Brooklin, where the company is headquartered. The pair declined to disclose the sale price. Wilson retained ownership of the company’s real estate and is leasing it back to Murphy and Breece.
The two new owners first met about 25 years ago. Murphy, then the editor of the magazine, launched a design contest for a children’s training sailboat and was putting together a panel of expert judges for the contest when he got a letter from 11-year-old Breece. The youngster said that since this was a competition for a kid’s boat, there should be a kid among the judges.
Murphy couldn’t argue with the idea and invited Breece to Brooklin.
“Basically, he’s never left,” Murphy said.
WoodenBoat has been able to weather the digital hurricane that has devastated other print publications, a fact that Breece attributed to its avid readers and timeless content.
“It’s not that they get the magazine, they read it, and then throw it away,” Breece said. “They read it and put it in their library — put it in their collection. We have a very dedicated audience and we do sort of own this niche.”
Still, the company can’t totally ignore the digital movement where new readers await.
WoodenBoat has started to lean more into video. When the school couldn’t open in 2020 because of the pandemic, the company launched a subscription-only series of educational videos called “Mastering Skills” to teach boatbuilding. Breece said the pilot project has been successful and they plan to invest more into it. They are also planning a revamp of the company’s websites.
The company will remain driven by its mission, not profits, according to the new owners.
“Jon set an elegant tone and a high standard for WoodenBoat magazine nearly five decades ago.” Murphy said. “Those elements still guide everything we do.”