How To Start Your Own Magazine

Develop your own niche
So you love cars and you think you’re good at writing about them. Congratulations. That makes you one of about a billion. The first step in getting a publication off the ground is having an idea that has the possibility to succeed. Needless to say, there are many established players in the area of automotive publishing from Car and Driver to Motor Trend. These are household names. If you want to succeed you need to have what they call in the business world “a unique selling proposition.” So ask yourself a few questions to see if you have a USP.

  • Is there a magazine that currently covers this topic? If so, what makes our viewpoint unique?
  • Who is your target demographic, and who are you competing with for that demographic?
  • Why would your target demographic pay for you instead of these competitors?
  • What is your circulation? Will you be local, regional or national?

Take a realistic look at your possible ROI

You may be looking at your magazine as a way to make money, or simply a way to follow your passion. Either way, you’re probably not going to want to lose money in the endeavor, so you need to be smart up front before you start throwing money at a project like this. To do so you’ll want to take a good hard look at your potential revenue stream versus your costs. Start by tallying up the costs:

  • Logo creation
  • Printing (material, color vs. black and white, will you purchase a printer?)
  • Software (open source or pay for publishing software)
  • Distribution costs (how does this get to your readers)
  • Time (don’t forget your opportunity cost here, if this is taking away from another profitable pursuit, that’s an expense)
  • Staff costs are also something you’ll need to consider. Even if you’ll be doing all the day to day management initially, if you’re going to have contributing writers, they’re going to want to get paid. How many will you need? How much will they cost you per issue?
  • Website development and hosting (you can’t have a magazine anymore without a website…unless you’re mildly crazy)

Then weigh your numbers there versus your potential revenue streams.

  • How many advertising opportunities will there be, and what’s the cost?
  • How long will it take you to secure advertising?
  • Will you offer sponsorships? If so, how much?
  • What will your subscription rate be? How much will an issue cost without a subscription? Will promotions cut into your revenue? What’s a reasonable expectation for sales?

Obviously, figuring out your revenue projections will be the most difficult. This will require some substantial legwork upfront – but you need to get as much data as you can before you start lighting money on fire. Reach out to smaller, newer magazines in similar niches and see what data you can glean from them. Some small publishers may be up front and supply you with there numbers for advertising and sponsorships. If not, pose as a potential advertiser and ask for there rates and reverse engineer their revenue going through their publication and tallying up the cost per ads. If you do enough research, you should be able to develop a fairly accurate range of what similar magazines are doing in terms of revenue.

Build your army
You’re going to need content. Not just good content but great content if you want to succeed. So you’ll need some writers. This is where your website and self-promotion first needs to succeed. Your website should contain a clear way for potential contributors to contact you and give them all the details they need to know – what size/style of articles are you looking for. How does payment work? How does the editing process work and how do you handle the rights of the articles? Be clear and make it easy for potential writers to contact you.

Don’t skimp on this page. It’s the keystone of building your team. Make sure you have an email or built-in form on the page and make it look good. You can solicit writers where you expect them to hang out and you’ll want to point them to this page. Talk to bloggers who work in the same niche and ask them if they’re interested in contributing or to share the writing opportunity on their blogs and social media. You can easily find similar interest groups and forums by doing a quick Google search or even placing opportunities in geographically targeted areas of your niche on Craigslist.

Bonus tip: Make sure you have Google Analytics installed on your site and check the activity on your “write for us” page. If you’re getting a lot of traffic and no responses, experiment with the page or the method of contact. If you have a form that requires ten fields to fill out before submitting, make it more simple.

Get those advertisers
Like most things in the world, you can reverse engineer your way into finding targeted advertisers. People are already spending their advertising dollars, you just need to figure out who would be a good target for you. So think about this logically:

  • Find other magazines in your general industry. If your magazine is about building skateboards, check out other skateboard magazines and see who’s advertising there.
  • Don’t just look at your industry, also look at your general demographics. Are you looking to pitch to younger moms? What other magazines¬†are targeting women in their 20s and early 30s?
  • Check out the advertisers in the same places where you were looking for writers. Who is advertising on these forums, blogs, and websites? THOSE are your advertisers.

Look into the rates for these existing advertisers and make them a deal. You’re new and unproven, make them a substantially better deal and sell them on just how targeted and niche your audience is.

Pulling it all together
Once you have some contributors, you’ll need to assign them articles, set deadlines with regular communication – you may want to try a task management system. You’ll likely be in charge of editing, so make sure that you run your edits by your writers, as you don’t want to stir up any trouble with quality contributors.

Beyond that, you’ll need to produce a layout for your content. You can use any number of desktop publishers, but Quark and Adobe InDesign are two of the most popular. Otherwise, if you want to save money, you can use word processing tools like Open Office (which is free) and look for design templates, if that’s not your strong suit initially.

DIY or hire it out?
Depending on the scope of your operation a big decision is going to be who prints it. If you’re willing to pony up the money for a digital printer, it needs to be able to print in duplex. Plus, you’ll need to add this to your cost figures we discussed earlier. This does come with a couple of possible issues as well, as ink can get expensive and if your manufacturer stops producing your printer, you could be out of luck for future parts and service, left to eat the large bill.

Otherwise, you can look into working with local printers with experience in magazine printing, like Modern Litho. Most major metro areas will have them, and many will also partner with you to work on distribution. Educate yourself by calling around and asking for quotes. You’ll likely find some older shops that want to do offset printing, but as a startup, this is likely going to be way too expensive. Look for places who do laser printing, and if you can bundle a deal for distribution, all the better.

Manage your database
Over time your subscriptions are going to grow. Make sure your website is automatically feeding and removing subscriptions and unsubscribes. Remarket subscriptions to lost subscribers and make sure you’re keeping things organized. Your database program should interface neatly with your printing setup – whether you’re doing that yourself or working with a third-party provider. Many small magazines will dig themselves a hole by trying to manage this in a spreadsheet, which just becomes more work than necessary as your magazine grows. Smartly setting up both the software and the interface between users and printer will set you up to succeed and reduce headaches over time.

Clear the path and start sweating
The final thing to have under control is managing your subscriptions. Make sure the magazine itself makes it clear how to subscribe, whether it’s via an insert or an obvious and easy to use callout to the subscription page on your website (preferably both). Make it as easy as possible for your readers to subscribe and then be sure that their data is easy for you to manage as well. Nothing’s worse than signing up, paying, and getting nothing.

After you’ve cleared all barriers to sign up, it’s on you to hustle and market like crazy. Break a sweat! Get on the phone with other magazines and do co-promotions, talk to bloggers, local media, whatever it takes to get your name out there. Those who expect success are the ones that fail in the magazine world. Success is tough to come by in this business, but when it is, it’s hard earned.

Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.