When Jon Wilson started WoodenBoat magazine in 1974 from an off-the-grid shack in Brooksville, it filled a niche in the wooden boat world as a good professional journal. The company has since become a mainstay in the wooden boat community with around 60,000 readers.
Now the company is ready for its next step: a leap into the digital age with two longtime employees at the helm.
Matt Murphy, editor of WoodenBoat magazine, and Andrew Breece, publisher of the company’s magazine division, bought the company on New Year’s Day and plan to continue filling the pages with stories about emerging technologies and traditional methods of boat building – while expanding the company’s digital presence.
“The plan is to continue to stay very true to our mission and core, but to use new avenues to further cultivate and grow our audience,” Breece said.
This mission has made the company essential to its readers over the years.
“I couldn’t have imagined the trajectory of this business when we left with a couple of magazine boxes at the Newport Sailboat Show in September 1974,” Wilson said. “But WoodenBoat became something much more than a magazine, and it took on a complex, multi-dimensional framework that still leaves me in awe.”
Murphy and Breece each purchased 50% of the company’s stock from Wilson. The acquisition includes the company’s flagship publication, WoodenBoat magazine and two other magazines, a shipbuilding school, boat show and retail store on a 61-acre beach estate in Brooklyn, where the company is headquartered. The pair declined to disclose the sale price. Wilson retained ownership of the company’s real estate and leases it to Murphy and Breece.
The two new owners met about 25 years ago. Murphy, then the magazine’s editor, launched a design competition for a children’s training sailboat and was assembling a panel of expert judges for the competition when he received a letter from 11-year-old Breece. The youngster said that since it was a competition for a children’s boat, there should be a child among the judges.
Murphy couldn’t argue with the idea and invited Breece to Brooklyn.
“He basically never left,” Murphy said.
WoodenBoat was able to weather the digital hurricane that devastated other print publications, a fact Breece credited to its avid readership and timeless content.
“It’s not that they get the magazine, they read it, 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 following and we kind of own that niche.
Still, the company can’t totally ignore the digital movement where new readers await.
WoodenBoat started leaning more towards video. When the school was unable to open in 2020 due to the pandemic, the company launched a subscription-only educational video series called “Mastering Skills” to teach shipbuilding. Breece said the pilot was a success and they plan to invest more in it. They are also planning a redesign 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 high standard for WoodenBoat magazine nearly five decades ago.” Murphy said. “These elements always guide everything we do.”