M. Shanken Communications Celebrates Its 50th YearDecember 20, 2022
Fifty years ago today, Marvin R. Shanken launched M. Shanken Communications, starting from a small apartment office in New York City. He began with Impact newsletter, the industry publication that would be the initial building block in what would grow to become a portfolio of upscale publications covering wine, spirits, cigars, and the good life—including Wine Spectator, Whisky Advocate, and Cigar Aficionado. Throughout its years, the company has also maintained a firm focus on the industry with an array of trade titles that include Market Watch, Impact, and Shanken News Daily.
To mark this occasion, the company has published a special anniversary edition that will be sent out to all subscribers of Shanken News Daily. Today we give you an excerpt from that issue’s interview with Marvin R. Shanken, chairman of M. Shanken Communications. To view a link to the magazine, click here.
Q: What are your thoughts on celebrating 50 years in publishing?
Shanken: It’s a milestone I never thought about until earlier this year when I was told that on December 20, 2022, I will be celebrating 50 years. Then I thought to myself, “Wow. That’s special.” My first reaction was to think of all the great people at M. Shanken who have taken this ride with me. Many have been with me 30, 40 years. We’re a family. I’m a very lucky guy.
Q: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you begin your career?
Shanken: After getting a business degree at the University of Miami in 1965 and then my MBA in real estate and finance from American University in Washington, D.C., in 1968, I got a job on Wall Street at a small investment banking firm. In 1970, I was sent to California to help finance a relatively small vineyard purchase for a client. I knew nothing about the wine industry, started doing research and discovered there wasn’t much reliable, published information available. The vineyard deal was completed and I was very proud of it.
Q: How did you transition from real estate to publishing?
Shanken: In 1972, I was back in California working on another real estate deal and was in a head-on collision on coastal Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo. While recuperating in a local hospital, I had an epiphany and decided that I loved wine, not real estate, and decided I wanted to be a wine writer. I didn’t know what I was doing.
Q: How did that transition go?
Shanken: Well I wanted to write about wine, but Impact was basically a trade publication for the spirits industry. Wine played a minor role in the editorial. When I bought Impact, there were only 200 subscribers who each paid $48 a year. Hence annual revenues of $10,000. Almost all of its subscribers were distillers and distributors. Very few people in the wine industry knew Impact existed. When it became my full-time occupation, I was living and working in a one-bedroom, third floor walk-up apartment on East 53rd Street in New York City.
Q: How did that first year go?
Shanken: Within the first three months, I was certain I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. I had jumped out of an airplane without a parachute!
Q: What was it like trying to build the newsletter’s circulation and reputation?
Shanken: It took time. My first goal was to get the newsletter’s revenues to $100,000 as quickly as possible so I could take a salary. It took me a few years before I could take an annual salary of $15,000. Don’t ask me how I lived. It was hand to mouth, or month to month, as they say. No dining in restaurants. No haircuts. No new clothes.
Q: When did you start building your team?
Shanken: We had a very small team and we added to it one by one. We were all young and crammed into corners in our small office on East 53rd St. We did everything ourselves by hand. Issues were stuffed into envelopes and stamped; promotional mailings were collated sitting on the floor. Someone would run to the post office to drop them in the mail. It was very much a startup. I’ve been fortunate to have built a great team over the last 50 years. Many of the original team have been with me for over 30, even 40 years and more. We call it our M. Shanken family.Subscribe to Shanken News Daily’s Email Newsletter, delivered to your inbox each morning.