SAN DIEGO -- A man with a digital camera and a big idea created San Diego Pix (SDPIX) nine years ago.
As a newcomer to San Diego in the early 2000s, then web developer and IT worker Johnathan Hale recognized that people loved the various LGBT publications that were available but primarily because they wanted to flip to the back sections where the "on the scene" photos were printed. People wanted to see who was in the photos and if their own picture had been captured and published.
This prompted Hale to go out and start taking "scene" photos of people out and about at San Diego's various night spots, and he published his first online album in 2002.
"It didn't really work because the volume of prints sold really didn't sustain the effort going into the amount of work it took to go out, take the photos, then put them online," Hale said in an interview with Pulp magazine in describing his first attempt at making what is now SDPIX work.
What Hale did notice, though, was that the website to which he was posting the photos was getting a tremendous amount of traffic.
Creating a brand
While it is hard to even remember the time before social media sites like Facebook and Twitter had such a place in our everyday lives, the way we used and experienced the Internet was very different nine years ago.
Hale was one of the early pioneers, in a sense, using what he had learned about website development and Internet marketing while still working in the IT field before taking on Hale Media full time.
"Because of all the traffic on my website," Hale said, "I was able to begin capturing [viewers] emails, and then began sending out email promotions for events. That's really how it developed, by capturing email addresses and then blasting out information about the establishments."
Hale was eventually able to quit his day job, even though it was a significant pay cut at the time, which gave him the opportunity to really expand the company.
On top of the online photo albums, the company added additional features like text messaging marketing, which continues to provide messages with things such as last-minute cover charge discounts, drink coupons and other specials.
With the popularity of SDPIX's online, Hale created Pix Magazine in 2006. The glossy publication comes out each month and includes high quality "scene" photos next to nightlife event advertisements and a fashion spread by Rufskin. The magazine's simple concept continues to be resonate with readers five years later.
The company also began producing events at local nightspots, including a series of monthly theme parties at Rich's Nightclub, and the wildly popular WET underwear competition held each week at Bourbon Street.
Rob Corea, creative director for Eden, said SDPIX set a standard for companies that have created a similar product.
"In an age where print publications are folding left and right, SDPIX has continued to grow and excel," Corea said. "Through its use of emergent media technology and an ever-evolving platform, it has without a doubt set the bar for LGBT lifestyle publications in San Diego. I don't think our community would be as vibrant without it."
Brian Lyons, owner of Llydesco who also works as a graphic designer for SDPIX, said he knows why the company is successful.
"San Diego Pix and San Diego Pix Magazine are more than avenues for photographic displays. The SDPix brand has become synonymous in the San Diego community as a major source for fusing local LGBT businesses with its consumers. The staff is constantly networking, sharing information and helping to build relationships. I personally dedicate a huge amount of success my company has had to the staff and the brand of SDPix and I wish them many more years of success," Lyons said.
Developing a global reach with SDGLN
In 2009, Hale took a giant leap and expanded the company into areas he never believed possible with the creation of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News (SDGLN). The online daily news site, which is published six days a week and whenever news breaks, dramatically increased the size of Hale's company, staff and reach.
"With SDPIX, our company has been able to stay young, current and lighthearted," Hale said. "But I knew the community needed and deserved more, so we developed SDGLN, the more serious face of our company, which chronicles the daily news of our community. Shortly after launching SDGLN, we became the most read news source for the San Diego LGBT community."
In less than two years, SDGLN has grown much larger then Hale and his team envisioned, reaching readers in about 175 nations on all seven continents each month.
"Nine years ago I was just a young guy running around town with a camera taking photos of my friends," Hale said. "I would have laughed if you told me one day I would be running a media company."
Since SDGLN's launch, the company has developed two additional online programs that supports business in the community, including the Equality Directory and Stellar Price.
The Equality Directory is a free directory for businesses that support full equality for all people. The popularity of this service was immediately recognized by the number of businesses that signed up to participate, and so the company took it even a step further.
Earlier this year, Stellar Price was launched as a daily deal program offering low-priced deals targeted specifically to businesses in the local LGBT community.
This service has become very popular and is unique from other services of this type as it has a charitable element: For each deal purchased, Hale Media donates a percentage of the sale price to a local charity, such as the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
In fact, since SDPIX was created nine years ago, Hale has always done what he can to support the organizations and charities that serve the community.
"My business model is based on giving back to the community," said Hale, who regularly contributes his personal and business resources to organizations like The Center, San Diego Pride, Stepping Stone, San Diego Remembers, AIDS Walk San Diego and the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation.
"I recognize the value these organizations have to the community and the people that rely on their services, so it is simply the right thing to do to use my resources to help them carry out their vital work."
Carlos Pizarro, who regularly volunteers and participates in community activism projects, said that he has always enjoyed SDPIX branded events, but has taken particular notice to the community events that the company has supported.
"I love that SDPIX regularly supports the annual San Diego Remembers Matthew Shepard Memorial event," Pizarro said. "I volunteered for the event last year, and fondly remember heading to the SDPIX/SDGLN office to meet up with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to chalk the names of those who had passed away due to hate violence on the sidewalks. I was impressed that SDPIX let SD Remembers use its office space to coordinate their event."
Community activist Fernando Lopez said SD PIX is recording history in our community.
"If there is an event in the community you always know SD PIX will be there either hosting the party or documenting history," Lopez said. "Congratulations on all your years of success; may many more be ahead of you."
With the success of SDGLN and continued growth of SDPIX, Hale Media has become a full-fledged media company and marketing firm providing public relations, website development, social media and event production for the community.
Publishing the three sites, assisting clients of the firm and overseeing daily business operations is a big job but Hale says that he has a great team supporting him.
"The success of SDPIX is due to the collaboration of so many talented and dedicated individuals in our community, from our photographers who hit the scene every night, to our talented events staff , and of course our consistent advertisers who have been with us since the beginning," Hale said.
A celebration, SDPIX style
To celebrate all of the people who have been a part of SDPIX over the last nine years, including readers and fans, a celebration will take place this Saturday, July 23, at Rich's.
Doors will open at 10 pm and there will be no cover and a complimentary hosted bar from 10-11 pm for those on the guest list or who have texted SDPIX to 313131 and shown the welcome message upon arrival.
Of course, SDPIX photographers will be on hand, capturing photos to add to the collection of over 125,000 pictures that have been taken and posted since 2002. Visitors to the SDPIX website are able to view galleries dating back to July 19, 2002.
Leonardo Caion-Demaestri, who is a contributing writer for SDGLN on "green" issues, remembers when SDPIX first hit the scene and is looking forward to celebrating this milestone.
"When SDPIX initially came out, it was purely associated with photos from the bars and its special nights," Caio-Demaestri said. "Nowadays, SDPIX and Jonathan Hale have grown so much that the brand has become a focal point for the LGBT community with regards to entertainment, events and overall social connections for those who want to be in-the-know of what is going on within the community."
Chaz Weathers and Dale Dubach of Martini's Above Fourth wished Hale the best: "Congrats from MA4 as SDPIX celebrates #9! SD PIX is our No. 1 choice for print advertising for its quality and multilevel marketing. It is hands down the most-picked-up magazine in San Diego, so we know it gets into the hands of our customers. And because of its glossy format and great artwork, people keep them around for much longer than the other publications, which means our ads stay around longer too."
"SDPIX.com is the kind of company that sets Hillcrest businesses apart," said Benjamin Nichols, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association. "Hillcrest entrepreneurs, like Johnathan, take a unique idea and have the vision and courage to move it places that nobody could have imagined."
Rich's is located at 1051 University Ave. in Hillcrest. To register for the guest list or for more information, click HERE.