Start Your Own Magazine

Insider Tips From Entrepreneur Staff

Neil Perlman, CEO

Before you even get started, before you take that first step toward creating a magazine, you must understand that you're going to need money--and lots of it--if you're really going to make a success of your venture. It takes millions of dollars to start a magazine. And you can expect to lose money for the first four or five years while you're investing in building your circulation.

One of the most important things you'll need to do before launch is to test your idea with focus groups. That feedback is going to be critical in helping you understand whether you have a concept that can attract a market. So after you've decided what your magazine's going to look like and you've developed a prototype, after you understand the niche you're serving and who your competition is, and after you've developed a unique mission statement that distinguishes your publication from all the rest, get consumers' opinions by holding a series of focus groups. After you've done all that, then you're ready to launch.

Since this is a service business, the key ingredient is to have qualified individuals in the appropriate positions. You can't do it all yourself. You've got to have a good editorial team that understands the industry or market, an experienced sales organization to sell pages of advertising, a circulation director who's knowledgeable about subscriber acquisition and retention, and a good financial person who understands magazine accounting. You must have a functional design, but you can go outside for a good design.

The backbone of the magazine business is being able to sell advertising, so your most critical task is finding experienced salespeople who can sell ads. You really need people who know how to sell your concept to advertisers. And you've got to find subscribers--without a large subscriber base, you're never going to make a success of it. So hire a good circulator who can find, attract and retain subscribers.

Seek out other people in the magazine industry, and ask for their advice and counsel. It also wouldn't hurt to have a mentor who can look over your shoulder and help guide you when the going gets rough. And if you have an advisory board, you would certainly want to put experienced magazine people on it.

Finally, and this is really essential, don't get frustrated. You've got to have faith in your concept and stick with it. You're going to see losses--it's inevitable. But too many people give up prematurely because they run out of money and confidence. Don't be one of those people.

Rieva Lesonsky, Senior Vice President/Editorial Director

The reality of magazine publishing today is you need advertisers in order to survive. This is hard for an editor to say, but without ads, you're not going to be able to make enough money to survive.

That said, one of the most important "rules" of editing is to understand your audience and give them what they want. There are increasing pressures on editors today to appeal to advertisers, rather than readers. But if you satisfy your readers, and give them what they need and want, then you'll ultimately satisfy advertisers by providing them with the "right" audience.

It's also important for editors to be experts (or actively develop an expertise) about the subject matter the magazine covers. The more you know, the more you'll be able to anticipate your readers' needs and give them the information they need before they're even aware they need it.

Also, get out of the office. Meet your readers--talk to them. Ask them what they think, not just about your magazine, but about what's going on in their lives in relation to the topics your magazine covers. Also, I believe (and this is a somewhat controversial view among some magazine editors) that it's important for editors to talk to advertisers, but always with a salesperson or the publisher present. You're not there to sell ads--it's unethical to do that--but rather to explain the market and your publication's place in it.

Carrie Fitzmaurice, Vice President/Publisher

When it comes to advertising, circulation is key, because people are going to buy your distribution. So your audience needs to be one that would be attractive to potential advertisers and one that's not currently being served by other vehicles.

When you're pitching potential advertisers, it's critical that you find a way to bring your readers to life, to put a face on your readers, so after you walk out the door with a client or their agency, they have a really clear picture of who your reader is and what makes them tick and also what makes you stand out from the spreadsheet of research they're forced to use to make their buying decisions.

Always call anyone and everyone you think might get you in the door with new clients: product managers, account teams, the clients themselves, in addition to the usual suspects of media planners and advertiser/marketing decision makers at the clients' company.

Know your competition's strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to articulate them. Your strength comes from knowing as much as you can about who you're fighting for ad dollars with. Also be prepared to sell your magazine through a combination of editorial, circulation/audience and research based on its own merits.

New magazines are not proven, and advertisers have a lot of other options--options that can be backed up with research and third-party endorsements. Do your research on each advertiser you pitch to make sure you know where they're spending their money and see if they have, in fact, advertised in new magazines.

Be prepared to offer "charter rates" to get the advertisers you want in your magazine--this will help the look of your magazine as it hits the market.

Mike Ludlum, Senior Vice President of Operations

Printer selection is critically important when it comes to magazine production. So be sure to get bids from several printers, and make sure they offer all the services you'll need to complete production.

There are ways to save money when it comes to printing:

  • Ask your printer to suggest trim sizes that most economically fit their presses.
  • Consider the location of your printer, which can help in respect to postage savings.
  • Find out if they offer co-mailing services, which will lower postage costs.
  • Although pre-press operations are generally offered by the major printers, you should consider accomplishing as much of this in-house as you can in order to reduce costs.

When it comes to paper supplies, smaller publications should buy their paper through their printer, but larger publications should consider purchasing paper through paper brokers or the mill. Become familiar with different paper grades, and select the grade that best suits your publication for color reproduction, look and feel.

Mark Tavarozzi, Vice President of Circulation

First, know that there's an audience out there that's going to want your product. Much of the economics of a startup are geared toward getting advertisers because they provide the bulk of the revenue needed for editorial, printing and distribution. So do some research on your audience. How big is it, where is it, how well served is it? If there are competitive magazines out there, that's kind of a good thing because it shows there's a true, existing market.

Know how to attract your audience. Whether through newsstand sales, which rely a lot on magazine covers to attract buyers, or internet/direct mail/other subscription acquisition efforts you use, you have to know the hot buttons that appeal to your specific audience that will make them buy. Always stress benefits--that you'll help the reader solve a problem in their life, like losing weight, saving money or becoming successful.

If it fits in your budget, outsource what you can. Doing your own fulfillment, for instance, can appear to be a money-saver, but you're trying to be a publisher, not a data processing company, and your time is valuable. Copywriters specialize in magazine marketing materials that generate response; I've seen plenty of "creative" packages that aren't effective. Be smart, and use experts.

Be prepared to analyze. Follow up on your newsstand distribution and subscription marketing efforts. If something isn't working, change it. Don't waste your limited resources on programs that aren't effective. And the only way to know whether they're working is to look at the numbers.

Paul Fishback, Advertising Production Manager

When it comes to advertising, you need to have a simple rate card with detailed advertising specs for your salespeople and your advertisers. And make your rates and your specs as available as possible--post them on your website, have them ready to go in e-mail format, print up postcards you can mail out to anyone who requests your advertising information.

No matter what, you must stick to the ad deadlines you set or you're going mess with production--and you'll drive yourself crazy. Set dates for an entire year for space close (when you'll stop taking ad orders) and materials close (when you'll stop accepting the actual ad artwork). Once you've messed with your schedule, you could throw off an entire production schedule.

When it comes to your space close date, you want it to be as late as possible in order to get in as many ads as possible, but you still have to remember to accommodate your editorial production schedule. So start with your editorial schedule and work back from there when it comes to establishing ad deadlines.

As you grow, you'll want to work hard to develop a strong relationship between your advertising and editorial production departments. One of the reasons we're so successful is that we've always worked well with our editorial team to develop the give and take that's necessary to make both sides of the business happy and successful.

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This article was originally published in the June 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mags to Riches.

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