Q: I'd like to start a niche magazine. How do I do it?
A: This has to be one of the most frequent questions I receive. There are so many issues to discuss here, so let me just give you an overview of the industry.
Publishing a magazine is an extremely expensive undertaking. Many factors have combined to make this year particularly tough. Most magazines today make money not from readers (who pay to subscribe), but from advertisers who pay to reach those readers. It's a tough ad environment this year for most general-interest mags.
You're on the right track in thinking of a niche publication. These have a better chance to break through a very crowded marketplace. First, assess the existing marketplace. There are tons of motorcycle magazines-you say they don't cover some specific aspects of motorcycling. Are you sure people care about these particular issues? If they do, why aren't the mainstream motorcycle magazines covering them? Are there enough readers out there to support a magazine?
Other important magazine industry questions you need to be aware of are:
How will you reach them?
Who are your potential advertisers?
Are they seeking an additional venue in which to advertise?
How big a staff will you need? What can you outsource (freelance)?
What will the entire venture cost you? (Don't forget to consider the prices of paper, printing and postage--which are steadily rising for magazine publishers.)
Who will distribute your magazine? There are separate companies that send magazines to bookstores, supermarkets and other outlets (for a hefty share of the cover price.)
Having said all this, I don't want to discourage you completely. I personally find this industry exciting and extremely satisfying. Small magazines can and do break through. It just takes lots of persistence, effort and money.
When it comes to business format, I don't think it really matters. Choose the format (with the help of an accountant or lawyer) that makes the most sense. At Entrepreneur, we are a subchapter S, though we used to be a C Corp.
Legally, there are lots of issues. You need to protect yourself from possible libel charges. And the advertising side of the business is rife with contracts and obligations.
There's help out there. Folio, the magazine for magazines, holds annual trade shows in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City and also publishes books on magazine publishing. Also contact the Magazine Publishers of America, which offers seminars, books, newsletters and more.
Rieva Lesonsky is a small-business expert and a senior vice president and editorial director at Entrepreneur Media Inc.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.