Fit to Print

The scoop on starting your own magazine

Eric Shefferman had his own desktop comic book publishing business, and his wife, Mary, was working as a medical editor for a publishing house in New York City, when something unexpected happened: They fell in love with a ferret.

The merry little mammal was about to bring them fame and, if not exactly fortune, then at least a whole new career path--as magazine publishers. Like other entrepreneurs who decide to launch their own magazine, the Sheffermans thought their publication could succeed, despite fierce competition in the publishing industry.

The key to that success? With so many magazines out there, survival depends upon finding that unique niche that sets you apart from the competition. In the Sheffermans' case, they quickly realized that dogs and cats hogged the spotlight in the publishing world, while ferrets were left out in the cold--even though 7 million domesticated ferrets dwell in U.S. households, and they are the third-most-popular companion mammal.

Within months of adopting that first fuzzy wonder, the Sheffermans had scraped together $10,000--using credit card advances, loans from parents and wedding gift money--to launch their own magazine for ferret owners. Modern Ferret provides tips on ferret care, medical advice, new product updates, ferret-related fiction, an events calendar and even a ferret centerfold.

"Both our families are entrepreneurial, and I have a reputation for going a bit off the beaten path, so it didn't seem odd for us to do something like this," says Mary, now "mother" to nine ferrets who roam the Sheffermans' Long Island, New York, home, which also serves as the headquarters of Modern Ferret.

The first 3,000-copy print run, funded with $5,000 of the Sheffermans' start-up capital, appeared in February 1995 and was sold in pet stores and pet and ferret shows on the East Coast. Today, the hip and humorous bimonthly, which has been dubbed "the Rolling Stone of pet magazines," is sold nationally through Borders, Barnes & Noble and the Petco chain. Modern Ferret has been featured in the New York Times and was named one of the 12 best magazines in the publishing industry by min magazine, a media-industry trade publication, which praised it for being in tune with its readership. Better yet, the magazine, with a circulation of 23,000, has begun landing ads and thus earning money: Eric, 33, and Mary, 35, project $250,000 in sales this year.

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This article was originally published in the October 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fit to Print.

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