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Q&A: Swimming With Baltimore Fishbowl's Susan Dunn

Betsy Boyd, Susan Dunn & Rachel Monroe with Baltimore Fishbowl. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Betsy Boyd, Susan Dunn & Rachel Monroe with Baltimore Fishbowl. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Pot-smoking parents. Desperate housewives of Roland Park. An inside look at medical school admissions at Johns Hopkins University.

Those are some of the stories you’ll find in Baltimore Fishbowl, the irreverent online magazine Susan Dunn launched eight months ago. (There is no connection, by the way, to the FishbowlDC or other Fishbowl sites Media Bistro owns.)

Dunn was the founder of local shopping magazine Paper Doll, which she sold to Alter Communications in 2006. Alter, which has filed for bankruptcy, folded Paper Doll in 2009.

Using the tagline “Your World. Beneath the Surface,” Dunn says this time she hopes to be in the business for the long haul. She’s working with her former Paper Doll Editor Betsy Boyd and Rachel Monroe, a Fulbright scholar who has taught writing at Johns Hopkins University.

We sat down with Dunn to learn a little bit more about her new venture.

Bmore Media (BM): How did you get the idea for this?

Dunn: I liked the idea of having more broad content. Paper Doll was too light. I always loved magazines and there’s so much media that I enjoy. I enjoy a lot of New York media and that was the inspiration. Wouldn't it be fun to have something that is a little bit irreverent? We’re just trying to observe and talk about the things that people are talking about.

BM: How did you fund it?

Dunn: I had this idea and I told a friend of mine  about it, a guy who lives in DC. He’s one of my husband’s college roommates. We were at a Ravens game and he was asking me what I was thinking about doing next and I was like “I have this idea of doing this website about Baltimore covering a lot of different topics-- culture, schools, real estate.”

And he said, “I like this idea and I’m going to fund it and help you raise money. Write a business plan.”

So I wrote the business plan and he said, “you don’t need that much money, I’ll just be your only funder you don’t want to answer to a bunch of different investors.” So he’s my investor and that has made a big difference

BM: Who is the investor and how much did he invest?

Dunn: I have a confidentiality agreement with him. Can’t say.

BM: Who is advertising?

Dunn: I was able to get certain loyal advertisers with Paper Doll so I was able to get Radcliffe as our launch sponsor. We have some (private) school interest.

BM: Why did you start an online magazine in a down economy?

Dunn: That’s where the only opportunity is. I certainly wouldn’t have started something in print.  That’s not where the growth is the growth is online.

Having run a magazine and knowing what my print costs were – photography and printing were my number one line items. No more printing. No more photography. We can get photography so cheaply with digital photography.  We can take our own photographs and we use stock photographs. To eliminate those two expenses – it’s doable for me and for a lot of people.

I just felt like if you love this stuff, now is an opportunity that you don’t want to miss out. I’m really enjoying it so far. I’m not sleeping a ton, but I like the response that we’ve had.

BM: Where do you get most of your traffic?

Dunn: We send out a newsletter three times a week. We’ll push that up to five times a week. We get most of our traffic from Facebook. When I saw that real estate was doing so well I thought I’m going to increase our real estate coverage. House porn, that’s what people like. I’ll be sending out a newsletter on Tuesday that will only feature real estate coverage.

BM: What sort of traffic are you getting?

Dunn: Right now we’re at 40,000 page views. Since the start we wanted to get to 60,000 page views by the end of the first year.

BM: When do you think you’ll be profitable?

Dunn: We’ll be profitable a year from now. I’m so lucky because my investor is a friend and he wants to make sure we have enough money to live through the bombs of any startup.

Have a story tip? Want to write a guest column? Have feedback on a story? Media Managing Editor Julekha Dash wants to hear from you. You can reach her at [email protected].

Photos by Arianne Teeple

Betsy Boyd, Susan Dunn & Rachel Monroe with Baltimore Fishbowl.

Susan Dunn with Baltimore Fishbowl.

Betsy Boyd with Baltimore Fishbowl.

Rachel Monroe with Baltimore Fishbowl.

Betsy Boyd, Susan Dunn & Rachel Monroe with Baltimore Fishbowl.

Screenshot courtesy of Baltimore Fishbowl.

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