So You Want to Start a Magazine: Five Steps to a Successful Launch

Revenue - The Benefits of Building Partnerships with Libraries

As a general rule, starting a new business isn’t easy. It’s almost always a major commitment of time and money to turn a startup into a growing company. This fact applies to launching a magazine just as it does to any other venture. But there are ways to make the journey less daunting and up the odds of success in negotiating what has proven to be rough terrain.

What follows here are some rather broadly outlined steps that will help you get where you want to go.

One: Decide what kind of magazine you want

This step seems so obvious that you might be tempted to just move on to the next one. But it’s critically important to get it right. You need to consider:

  • How broad or narrow do you want to go. Will the magazine be about Russian art or Russian nesting dolls, about birds of the world or New World parrots? What you decide will determine your niche.
  • The niche you select will determine your audience, your target demographic. If it’s a large segment of the population, you’ll be printing more and distributing more widely. If it’s a smaller segment, you’ll need enough market penetration to turn a profit.
  • Point of view. Are you looking to be controversial or simply provide interesting information from a neutral position? Is your purpose to promote a political stance or establish a conversation about political science?
  • What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. Your magazine’s name should attract attention and tell potential readers what you cover. Your publication’s name needs to carry the weight of your brand.

Two: Do your homework

The more you know about magazine publishing in general, and publishing a magazine in your particular area of interest, the better. The effort allows you to glean information from experts in the field, scope out the competition and learn more about your audience. The process will take some time and effort, but it will be well worth the trouble.

Here are some sources to investigate:

  • Books about the magazine publishing industry. Go ahead. Visit your local library or load up your electronic reader with titles about publishing, from The Art of Making Magazines: On Being an Editor and Other Views from the Industry, by Victor Navasky and Evan Cornog, to Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing: How to Survive in the Digital Age, by Mary Hogarth, or any of dozens more.
  • Take a look at publishers’ websites. Find out what kind of information they provide, such as enticements and data for advertisers, stories from their magazines, polls for readers, videos, blogs, etc. Some or all of what you find could be applicable to your venture.
  • Hang out at the newsstand. Wander through the periodical section at Barnes & Noble or your public library. See what people are reading and how magazines treat their covers. Which ones catch your eye? Which cover blurbs make you want to read the article inside?
  • Get out and meet your peers. Attend gatherings of publishers and other magazine professionals. Try to get a feel for the trends and the problems other magazines are dealing with. Talk with people who’ve just launched a publication or have been able to survive and prosper.
  • Talk to your audience. Hold focus groups, go to conventions, learn what most deeply interests your audience so you have an idea how to grab their attention with your first edition.

Three: Put together a business plan

A business plan is more than a fundraising tool. It’s a roadmap and, like a map, it needs to be accurate, not just artful. Your business plan needs to provide:

  • A description of your product. You should include a prototype, so potential funding sources can see what you plan to offer. Being able to touch and examine your magazine as it will appear when it comes off the press can be a powerful persuader not only for investors but also for potential advertisers.
  • Industry analysis. Impress your funders with how much you know about the publishing industry and your niche within that industry. Demonstrate that you’ve looked carefully at the opportunities and the threats.
  • Describe your audience. After attending conventions and talking to your audience, you should have a good grasp of who they are and what they want from your magazine. Do more than provide demographic information. Talk about why your audience wants specifically what you have to offer.
  • Take the competition into account. Know your competitors and show how well you know them. Demonstrate you have no blind spots when it comes to the marketplace.
  • Lay out a marketing strategy. This can be a full-fledged marketing plan that outlines your overall strategy and the tactics you’ll use to carry it out. These tools might include, among many others:
  • Website
  • Social media
  • Online and print advertising
  • Trade shows, conventions and professional meetings
  • Media kit

Remember to set a clear goal and follow it with objectives to be achieved over a specific amount of time. Show how your tools and tactics will achieve the objectives and the final goal.

Four: Gather a strong staff

Who will manage and work at your magazine? Depending on the kind of publication you’re putting out, you’ll need some or all these positions filled:

  • Publisher
  • Editor in chief
  • Section editors
  • Copy editors
  • Writers
  • Photographers
  • Graphic designers
  • Layout designers
  • Business staff

Some of these positions can be filled with part-time or freelance people, but it’s important to have experienced professionals filling the ranks. You might have to pay a little more, but you’ll save in the long run.

Five: Pick the right printer

It’s worth dealing with printing separately because your printer can be an invaluable resource to shape the best-looking magazine at the most reasonable cost. You need to evaluate which printer offers the services you need, not just the lowest printing price.

Mike Ludlum, senior vice president of operations at Entrepreneur magazine, points to several considerations you should make as you select your printer:

  • What trim sizes provide the best fit for the presses?
  • What type of files does the printer work with?
  • Where is the printer located? This could affect the cost and timing of delivery.
  • Can the printer lower costs through co-mailing?
  • Can they help me with postal accounts and services?
  • Does the printer offer the type of paper you want?
  • Do you need help with digital solutions?
  • Do you need the printer to be in close proximity so that you can visit them?

Last thoughts

A lot is involved in starting a magazine, but if you have the fire it takes, you can get the job done. The keys are knowledge, preparation and, of course, a bit of luck. However, the role of luck diminishes as knowledge and preparation increase.


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