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How Do I Start a Magazine?

A magazine is a business, so you need to treat it as such.

Q: I don't really want to start a business, but I want to start a magazine. Have any advice, like any books I should check out or Web sites?

A: The first thing I need to address is your statement "I don't really want to start a business, but I want to start a magazine." If you're serious about this and you want your magazine to be more than, say, a community newsletter that you hand out for free, a magazine is a business just like any other, with revenue to be made and customers to find and retain.

Magazines, whether online or offline, make their money from advertisers who pay to reach readers, not from the readers themselves, even with paid subscriptions. Soliciting advertising is no easy task, especially in today's tough ad market. Therefore, it's imperative that you (or an employee, if you can afford to have one) be a good salesperson capable of demonstrating to potential advertisers why they should care about the market you're targeting with your magazine. If, say, you're starting a beauty magazine, you would go after hair-care and cosmetics companies, fashion retailers and the like. Not only that, but you need to show these companies how your particular magazine is an effective means of communicating the advertisers' message--you need to show that you have a strong readership or the potential for a strong readership.

Your best bet is to start a niche magazine that will target a very specific market. You'll have a better chance of standing apart in a crowded marketplace and getting the advertising dollars you need. Try to think of something that no one else is doing, or think of how you can do things differently even if a magazine already exists in your subject area--it's not enough to have a personal interest in a particular subject. Assess the potential market--determine whether you will have enough readers. Ask yourself where your readers will come from and how you will reach them. This is the only way to get any advertiser to give you the time of day.

You also need to think about how you will generate content. Will you have paid employees? Paid or unpaid freelancers? Will you write any content yourself? Who will edit the content? If this will be a printed (not online) publication, who will do the printing for you, and how much will it cost--factoring in the rising costs of paper, printing and postage? Who will distribute your magazine to bookstores, supermarkets, etc.--and how much of a cut will they take off your cover price?

There is help available to new magazine publishers--Folio magazine is devoted entirely to the magazine industry and holds annual trade shows. And the Magazine Publishers of America, which offers seminars, books, newsletters and other information, is an invaluable resource.

With persistence, you can make a new magazine work. Just be sure to prepare yourself for the struggles that lie ahead.

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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