Start the Presses
Want to be at the helm of the next Vogue, Car and Driver, Field & Stream or Entrepreneur magazine? There's nothing like the exquisite joy of seeing your name on a newsstand, especially if you're the publisher of a magazine that covers your favorite subject--whether it's music, shopping, collecting or world issues.
Though the magazine industry is not easy to be in, it's definitely an exciting ride. Even with all the challenges of the magazine world, the number of titles continues to grow. According to data from the National Directory of Magazines, there were 17,254 consumer magazines in the United States in 2003-up from 14,302 a decade earlier. And though much of the market is dominated by a few large players, there's still room for the independent startup.
Alecia J. Cohen, publisher and CEO of Global Rhythm magazine, found her niche with an independent world-music magazine. Founded in 1992 as a newsletter from her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, it was initially a black-and-white publication distributed for free at local Tower Records stores and other independent music stores. As the world-music genre began to gain a bigger following, Cohen, at the urging of Tower, decided to revamp her format-adding color and beginning to charge for the publication. Though Cohen, 33, says it was a challenging transition (people initially didn't want to pay for what they used to get for free), she still had enthusiastic readers interested in world music from day one. Today, Global Rhythm boasts a circulation of more than 60,000, and yearly sales are nearing $800,000. Cohen carved an even more specific niche when she started sending out audio CDs, containing the world music her readers are interested in, with paid subscriptions.
The more specific the niche, the more likely you are to resonate with new readers, says Cheryl Woodard, president of The Publishing Business Group and author of Starting & Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine. "The more targeted the better," she says. "The Internet makes it easy to find people with very targeted interests. Linked to an Internet presence, [publishers] can be quite specific in their readership and still survive."
But your title most likely won't survive without some serious planning. Your fledgling magazine will need enough startup capital to stay afloat while you try to attract advertisers. In fact, notes Woodard, expecting revenues to materialize quickly is a big mistake that many new publishers make. "Advertisers have to pull money out of their established relationships to accommodate you," she says. "So you have to work and work at convincing them. And it takes a long time--often two years or more."
Brian Sacks, the 33-year-old founder and publisher of bizAZ magazine, was lucky to find willing advertisers relatively quickly when he started his Phoenix-based magazine in 1997. Armed only with a brochure, he sold his first ads to Arizona businesspeople. Sacks, who targets businesses in Arizona with his publication, notes that his bold move paid off-he was able to secure those first essential advertisers and has since built his circulation to 25,000. Sales are expected to exceed $1 million in 2005.
For more information about the magazine industry, check out the following Web resources: www.foliomag.com, www.indypress.org, www.magazine.org, www.mrmagazine.com, www.wpa-online.org and www.magazinelaunch.com.
Magazine Publishing 101
- Study your niche. "Newcomers often overlook this step because they focus on how different their magazine is going to be and resist looking for how they can make it fit into the expectations of their prospective customers," says Cheryl Woodard, president of The Publishing Business Group and author of Starting & Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine. "You never start completely from scratch, so it's important to know the playing field before you jump into it."
- Find advertisers who are aligned with your mission. Especially if you plan to push the envelope editorially, you need to seek out advertisers who don't mind placing ads in a potentially controversial publication.
- Know your subject. From home improvement to health and beauty, if you're not an expert in your niche, you probably won't find a clear editorial voice for your magazine. Says Woodard, "I have a client who is a corporate lawyer and started a magazine for that niche because he knew the existing ones were outdated."
- Know what you're in for. The magazine publishers we talked to discussed how much more difficult it is to keep a magazine going than it is to start one. Says Global Rhythm publisher Alecia J. Cohen, "It's a huge commitment. You're always in production; you're always working on the next issue. In publishing, there's no opportunity to push [things] back-it messes up your distribution schedule. You just have to keep [the magazine] coming out."