The covers of recent issues of Where Women Create. Packman chose to put her name on the cover of the magazine to signal to readers that it is created by a person and not a corporation.
Disclosure: I was featured in Where Women Create Business in 2016 and was a guest on the World of Women Create podcast earlier this year.
This isn’t the first time creative mastermind Jo Packham has reinvented herself. She spent nearly two decades in craft book publishing, followed by another two developing a magazine brand highlighting creative women, and has now plunged head first into producing streaming video. Through all the ups and downs, Packham sees her role as essentially the same.
“My entire career has been about surrounding myself with really creative, successful women,” she said in a 2018 interview. “I feel like a bus driver sometimes. I just get everybody on the bus, and I get everybody where they need to go, and then I get everybody off the bus, and then I fill the bus up again. So, that’s the role that I love and that I took on, and that’s how I got where I am.”
Over the last two years her beloved magazine brand, Women Create, has been sold three times. While the future was briefly uncertain, the magazines now seem to be in good hands again.
Packham got her start highlighting the work of creative women in the 1990s when she and a partner owned Apple Arts, a small art supply store in Ogden, Utah, that served students at Weber State College as well as local makers. She taught art classes and, when cross stitch began trending in the US, she published cross stitch pattern booklets. Working with a local printer, the publishing business took off and boomed until interest in cross stitch began to wane and the chain stores closed their craft departments. Then that business ground to a halt.
Packham tapped into her ability to form strong industry relationships and, through the editor at Better Homes and Gardens, pitched the president of Meredith to become a craft book packager, creating books from start to finish in short timelines that were able to follow trends. Then the owner of Sterling Publishing brought her on as a packager and that led to a long and fruitful relationship at a time when craft book publishing was booming. During this period, Packham worked on about 1,000 books one of which was Where Women Create featuring twenty artists’ studio spaces.
The formation of the magazine
When Sterling was acquired by Barnes and Noble in 2003, priorities shifted and Packham’s relationship with the publisher ended. She found herself out of a job again. That’s when she connected with Kellene Giloff, founder and owner of Stampington, the publisher of inspirational craft magazines. She and Giloff became 50/50 partners in publishing a periodical version of Where Women Create, with Packham retaining ownership of the brand and Stampington managing printing and distribution.
The articles in Where Women Create are written by the artists themselves in their own words for free and without editing (besides correcting spelling). If they need images of their studio, the magazine pays a photographer to take them. The magazine has no ads and retails on newsstands for $16.99.
Jo Packham, 72, continues to highlight the work of creative women, now through a new streaming channel, MadeTV.
Photo courtesy of Jo Packham.
That partnership with Stampington lasted more than a decade, with the brand extending into four magazines including What Women Create, Where Women Create Business, and Where Women Cook. When that partnership ended, the ever-persistent Packham sought yet another publishing partner, this time Canadian magazine distributor, Disticor. Unfortunately, in March 2020, when COVID hit, the Women Create brand had issues of four different magazines headed to newsstands. Four more were at the printers. “Most of them are still in boxes,” Packham says. “They never made it.”
Faced with the financial stress of the pandemic, Disticor decided to get out of the publishing business altogether, leaving Packham in financial distress. The most devastating part was the prospect of losing the building she owned in downtown Ogden, Utah, the town where she’d grown up and where she’d built offices and studio space. Friend and food photographer Brooke Lark organized a GoFundMe to help. Packham ended up selling the building and working to keep the magazine brand alive.
Ever persistent, she sought out a new publishing partner. This time she connected with Massachusetts-based Madavor Media. They began working together in February 2021. Madavor created a robust digital home for Women Create with an interactive website that included a membership model and a podcast that Packham hosted. Madavor also added subscriptions to the magazines’ revenue model.
Through it all, Packham had always held onto ownership of the Women Create brand, but in December 2021, at age 72, she agreed to sell it to Madavor outright.
Madavor is owned by the investment firm The Cross Country Group which had rolled up a series of enthusiast magazines into a portfolio, including Plane & Pilot, Jazz Times, Digital Photo, Bird Watching, and Gluten Free Living.
Although she’d planned to stay on for several years, before long, Packham became frustrated with what she felt were compromises Madavor was making in the quality of the magazine, including the weight of the paper. By August 2022, she resigned. “I went to France and lived with a friend in a small village for five weeks. It was too hard for me to face the reality at home,” Packham says. “I just couldn’t glue myself back together. Women Create was my entire life. Besides my family, everything I did was working on these magazines.”
A new venture
Packham did recover, as she always had before. In the fall of 2022, she was asked by Monica Michelle Manley, the founder of the flower-focused streaming channel BloomTV to partner with her to create MadeTV, a new streaming service dedicated to artists and makers. The channel will do much of what Women Create was best at, featuring artist stories, studio tours, and inspiring craft and antique markets, but in video format. With MadeTV, Packham is, in many ways, right back where she started, sharing the stories of creative women.
Women Create, though, was destined for several more rocky chapters. In February, Madavor’s magazine portfolio was sold to jazz musician Gregory Royal and his wife, Sue Veres Royal, owners of The Bebop Channel, a jazz-focused live-streaming production company.
The Royals were seemingly after one of Madavor’s other magazines, Jazz Times, which is the premier magazine for jazz aficionados. Within just a few weeks, the Bebop Channel laid off nearly all of Madavor’s staff bringing it from 32 employees to just 10. “There was no notice. No severance. Just the announcement that today was their last day,” says Packham.
Most alarming, however, were the signs that pointed to the Bebop Channel lowering the publication standards for its magazines. The Jazz Times website states that it’s seeking unpaid high school interns to write, edit, and produce the magazine. Longtime Jazz Times readers took to Twitter to express indignation at the decline in quality.
For Packham, watching all of this unfold was particularly painful. “The most loved work of my 46-year career is ending in total chaos as part of a company that has no idea who or what this community is about or represents and doesn’t seem to care,” she said. “How tragic is that?” It seemed, for a moment, that Women Create would shutter like so many craft magazines have recently, Mollie Makes and Martha Stewart Living among them.
Last week, though, things took a turn for the better. The Bebop Channel sold Women Create to WRS Logistics, a company that had been a client of Madavor. WRS owner Tom Smith explained, “Women Create is spectacular. Sales were always great. We were worried they’d stop publishing the magazines.” According to Smith, the Women Create magazines were consistently in the top 20 in sales among the 5,000 magazines sold at Barnes and Noble.
Smith knows Packham and wants to see her vision continued. “Magazines like this are like your kid. You pour everything into it. You don’t want to let it go,” he says. The first issue under the new ownership will come out this fall.