When he moved to New York in 2003, Ryan expected that his maiden business venture here, an upscale glamour magazine for dogs, would raise some eyebrows. What he didn’t anticipate was the level of support his idea would garner among New York investors.
“For me, it was far easier to set up this than to set up a magazine in Ireland,” Ryan said, sitting his Soho office.
“When we set up ‘VIP’ in Ireland, we said it’s going to be like Ireland’s ‘Hello.’ People were like, ‘ah, for f–k’s sake,'” he recalled.
“If I had to answer, ‘aren’t you going to run out of celebrities?’ fifty times in a week, I’d be doing well. In America, there’s such an encouraging business environment. Everyone wants you to succeed.”
In spite of the skepticism, ‘VIP’ was an instant success and had reached circulation figures of around 34,000 by the time Ryan sold his shares to business partner Michael O’Doherty in 2001.
Since it’s launch in Sept. 2004, the success of “New York Dog” magazine has surpassed Ryan’s hopes, with a rate-based circulation of 50,000 and a growing subscriber base of around 9,000 in the U.S. and Ireland.
In September, Ryan launched “Hollywood Dog,” which has already “New York Dog’s” circulation on the West Coast.
“I don’t want to sound like Ronan Keating, but we’ve been really lucky,” Ryan laughed.
“Everything just seemed to fall into place very, very quickly. I think like Victor Hugo said, there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. It just seemed to be the right time and everybody seemed to respond favorably to it.”
“New York Dog” magazine is a curious but glamorous mix of celebrity interviews, makeovers, horoscopes and feature articles about issues affecting the canine community, such as PMS, depression and homosexuality.
The bi-monthly publication also features the latest styles in dog clothes and accessories, high-fashion photo shoots and cutting-edge trend predictions like, “Are mutts the new black?” Its no wonder bemused media commentators have dubbed “New York Dog” magazine “Dogue.”
“The current dog magazines are very functional you know, it’s how to de-worm your dog and that kind of thing,” Ryan said. “This is a more upscale magazine, but it’s also kind of humorous. Many people do take the magazine extremely seriously, which is fine because it is serious. We have rescue dogs; we have good nutrition and health advice. But it satirizes the whole dog community as well. We go through breeds; golden retrievers, they’re not the blond bimbos and here’s why. We have fun with it.”
Since it’s inception, “New York Dog” magazine has banked up an enviable collection of celebrity interviews. Their owners are pretty famous too — Nicole Ritchie, Tori Spelling and Fran Drescher, to name a few.
“My dream pairing would be Sarah Jessica parker and Mathew Broderick,” according to Ryan. “They’re the real archetypal New York couple. And they’re big dog lovers. We’re very close to getting Laura Bush. Bill Clinton is also a great dog lover. He’s got some great quotes about his dog. He once said that Buddy, his dog, was the only person who would sleep with him after the Monica Lewinsky affair.”
An important policy of the magazine is to promote awareness about abandoned dogs. For example, only dogs from rescue centers are used in fashion shoots.
“We’re not into the breeds, we’re not into the best-in-show kind of stuff,” according to Ryan, who adopted his dog, a tiny Chihuahua named Winky, from a rescue center.
“She’s outrageous,” he laughed. “She came into the office one day for a photo shoot with a little eye patch. I said if nobody wants her by summer, I’ll take her. Her name was Lucy but I renamed her Winky (because she lost her left eye as a puppy after developing a corneal ulcer that ruptured).”
The 37-year-old Ryan, who once attributed his prolific publishing career to possessing a low threshold for boredom, expects 2006 to be another busy year.
Next spring he will launch “Miami Dog” and “Chicago Dog.” The second-annual “Best-Dressed Dog” competition will take place next March, while in the Fall, the magazine hopes to stage New York City’s first ever Dog Marathon.
“It’s a 2.6 mile stroll with their owners around Central Park,” he explained. “The dogs are going to be in vests with numbers on the back. There’ll be feeding stations along the way. It’s all in aid of animal rescue.”
Ryan will also shift his focus slightly from dogs to another New York obsession — apartments — with the launch of an interiors magazine next spring.
“It’s called ‘APT’ and it’s like an upscale interior magazine,” he said. “It will be a free magazine with advertising.”
There is also a men’s title in the pipelines.
“It will be like an anti-‘Maxim’ or ‘FHM’,” he said.
“This will be called ‘Geek,’ — for the man with more than one thing on his mind. It’s like reclaiming the name geek. It’ll be full of gadgets.”
Ryan is quick to share credit for his success to the hard work and energy of his team.
“They’re just fabulous,” he said. “They’ve come, not with a massive amount of experience in their fields, but those are the best kinds of people because they’re so enthusiastic and they’re full of ideas.”
Ryan, who previously worked as a journalist and as editor of magazines “Magill” and “InDublin,” believes that nurturing new blood an essential aspect of the publishing business.
“My only reason for being in business in this nature is to bring up younger people, give them a break,” he said. “It’s a step up the ladder for them. That sounds very noble, but it’s genuinely where I’m coming from. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve always brought on people who wouldn’t have gotten jobs otherwise. I’ve given them a break. I think that’s any bosses’ role in life.”
Ryan took a risk that did not pay off when his tabloid title, “Stars on Sunday,” went bust after just nine issues. Have his experiences taught him about how to achieve success and avoid failure?
“To me it’s still a guessing game, and pure luck,” he said. “I don’t have Stalin’s five year plan or anything. I’m sort of making it up as I go along. The whole thing has been flukey really. Like most successful things.”