“Nothing Can Stop Us Now”: How WDW Magazine Got Its Start

by | Dec 1, 2021 | Disney Cruise Line, Disneyland Parks, News Outside the Parks, WDW Blog

Ever wondered how your FAVORITE Disney magazine got its start? Join us ahead of our 100th issue as we reflect on the journey that got us here.

Our January 2022 issue is a big milestone for WDW Magazine, and it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on how our company started, how much it’s grown, and where we might go in the future.

Indulge me in a stroll down memory lane, and your reward will be a behind-the-scenes look at how we make the magic every month in our magazine and every day online for our readers.

Before the Magazine …

This journey started way before there was a magazine!  In 2008, our founder, Carl Trent, started dadsguidetowdw.com as a hobby, and as it gained momentum, he needed to hire help— enter, well, me!

dads-guide-to-wdw-logo

Dad’s Guide to WDW is still going strong as a companion brand to WDW Magazine.

I began freelance writing for Dad’s Guide in 2011, and over time, we added some additional writers and social media specialists to grow our channels, and ultimately we even wrote a book called Dad’s Simple Fun Magic Guide to Walt Disney World (it’s out of print now). 

For the site to flourish, Carl had the idea to create a product using content contributed by the writers and photographers we had developed relationships with, and thus WDW Magazine was born.

Digital Beginnings

In October 2013, we put out our very first issue: It had Haunted Mansion on the cover, info for first-time visitors, a feature on Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and an article on the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival written by yours truly.  We sold a few hundred subscriptions and considered it a success. We were on to something!

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Issue 1 of WDW Magazine. Access with a subscription!

If you want to see just how far we’ve come since that first year, you can check out our earliest issues (all the way back to Issue 1) when you become a digital subscriber.

In the early days, we had a lot of reader-sourced content, articles from writers who had their own blogs, and images we found from photographers sharing their content on social, whom we asked to join our little team.

In addition to putting out a monthly digital magazine, we were trying to publish more on the WDW Magazine blog (it had become clear that the target audience for the magazine was different than the one for Dad’s Guide) and focused on growing our social presence to spread the word about our product.  

That’s when I quit my job.

No, not my job with the magazine, but this whole time, I had a day job, and I took a leap of faith, trust and pixie dust to join Carl full-time in 2015 and see how far we could take this thing.  My first day working for the company full-time, we were at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, exhibiting our first coffee table book, The Best of WDW Volume I, and our 2016 wall calendar. What a cool way to start out my new role as employee number two and Director of Operation.

Coffee table book?! Yes, really, we do those too. Our second volume is available for order now in our shop.

walt disney world coffee table book volume 2

Here’s Volume 2 of our famous coffee table book.

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The first order of business was a revamp to the look of the magazine—a fresh cover design, new articles and sections inside to showcase different voices, and a colorful design palette to add a bit more fun to the original, blog-style design.

Some cool things happened that year: We interviewed Jeffrey Sherman (son of Robert, one of the Sherman Brothers!), held a big party at WDW to celebrate our team, and sold over 1,200 copies of our book on Kickstarter. But we weren’t done.

So what did Jeffrey Sherman have to say about his father and uncle? Hear his exclusive thoughts on growing up in the Sherman Brothers family and his unforgettable experience meeting Walt in our collectible Music Issue (Issue 92).

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Get the Robert Sherman interview in our Music Issue!

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To Print or Not to Print

Around 2016, we started to consider doing a print magazine. I’ll admit, I was opposed to it at first! Our digital sales were steady, and our small team was dedicated, but print was a whole new ballgame

We decided to give it a rest for the year and instead built the WDW Discount Club, which was a short-lived service to help folks save money for or on their next Disney trip. It wasn’t the success we hoped it would be, but we sure learned a lot.

The call to print was strong—with several thousand digital subscribers and lots of fans asking when they could have a “real” magazine in their hands, we decided to move cautiously forward. In 2018, we launched what we called the “Print Trial”: three issues of the magazine in print over the course of six months.

This allowed us to get our processes in place, streamline our production schedule, and gauge whether the audience would actually buy the thing they had been asking for. After all, a print magazine costs a lot to produce and mail!  We also redesigned the magazine from a blank canvas to fall more in line with traditional magazines, and the response has been tremendous. 

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Issue 66 of WDW Magazine (the first in pint). Access with subscription!

The test was a hit, and in March 2019, with Issue 66, we went to print officially! Now we offer both print and digital editions of our magazine, with the same content and layout so you can enjoy an escape to WDW wherever you are in the format that best suits you.

44 Issues Later

Now, 44 issues and almost three years after going to print on a monthly basis, our little team has grown! We have 15 staff members and dozens of contributors all over the world! Our 40,000 print and 10,000 digital subscribers support the magazine to keep publishing and growing, and our other products like books, calendars, buttons, and special issues help us to keep producing content for free on the blog and all our social channels.

Check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!

wdw magazine 100th issue

A sneak peek at the cover of our 100th issue. Subscribe today to get your copy!

Last year, I took over the company along with my husband and our Creative Director, Danny, and ever since, we’ve been listening very closely to what our readers want, and we’re continually refining content, adding articles, sourcing interviews, and plussing our designs to add as much magic as possible to each and every issue. 

One thing we hear time and time again is that our fans want MORE—especially more Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line content.  We’re working hard to bring new magazines on both of those topic to you over the next year or two, and the best way you can support our next step to grow with those is to read our content on both here on the blog (DCL and DLR), or to follow us on Facebook and Instagram at DLRMagazine and DCLMagazine. 

And if you want to be the first in the know when those new products are coming to market, make sure you’re signed up on our waitlists:

dlr magazine waitlist - click to join dcl magazine waitlist - click to join

Thanks for coming on this little walk down memory lane with me.  On behalf of our whole team here at WDW Magazine, we can’t thank you enough for your support during these first 100 issues, and we can’t wait to see what the next 100 bring.  If you’re not already subscribed, now is a great time to start: click here!

Written by Stephanie Shuster

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A lifelong Disney fan with a passion for globetrotting, I’m driven by a desire to build a community where people like me can let their Disney flag fly with pride. As CEO and Owner of WDW Magazine, I lead a team that connects thousands of Disney fans to the Most Magical Place on Earth from wherever they are.
Stephanie Shuster

Written by Stephanie Shuster

A lifelong Disney fan with a passion for globetrotting, I’m driven by a desire to build a community where people like me can let their Disney flag fly with pride. As CEO and Owner of WDW Magazine, I lead a team that connects thousands of Disney fans to the Most Magical Place on Earth from wherever they are.

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