New Magazine Startup Guide

Many people have a “Great Idea” for a magazine but before you begin a magazine launch there is a lot you need to know and plenty of financial support will be required.

Unfortunately, there is no guide book, startup course, or specialized business consultants to help new magazine developers learn the terminology of the industry or the perils that could lie ahead. Unless you have been involved in the magazine business in some form – everything will be new and unfamiliar.

Approximately only one out of ten new magazine ventures will ever be successful. If an individual or business entity cannot absorb the loss of investment in starting and growing a magazine venture, then such a venture should never be undertaken. Magazine publishing is both speculative and risky.

Successful magazines seem to find a special niche or have an identifiable difference from magazine titles that are currently on the market. Also – the successful titles seem to serve a relevance or a need for the consumer market they cover. Many magazine titles serve consumer’s passions with increasing numbers focusing on very specific niches. Give your magazine the difference and relevance test.

Magazine Publisher’s Startup Guide is just an overview. It was written to help individuals and businesses looking to develop a magazine get a better understanding to what is involved and needed in a magazine startup. It is intended to give you a better overview of the new challenges ahead and a better understanding of magazine requirements and terms. After which you can find more detailed and useful magazine information within our web site www.MagazinePublisher.com

The Planning Phase:

With the technological advancements in magazine printing presses along with the ability to design magazines in digital computer programs has made for the ability of magazines to become more profitable in smaller circulation numbers.

Still every magazine success comes down to this simple fact:

What are the costs associated with publishing?
                               vs.
What are the total revenues earned?

The two tests that you need to prepare are:

  1. Evaluate your projected revenue
  2. Analyze your magazine operational costs

Sources of Revenue:

Magazines are still driven by three main sources of revenue:

  1. Advertisers – (who buy ads)
  2. Subscriptions – (people who pay to receive the magazine)
  3. Newsstand Sales

There are a wide range of different kinds of magazines incorporating various combinations of revenue sources- local, free pick up magazines that rely totally on ad revenue to the niche subscriber magazines that carry no advertising and rely totally on subscriber and ancillary sources* of revenue. Ancillary income is any additional source of revenue gained by marketing or selling products or services associated with a magazine title. An example would be t-shirts with the magazine’s logo.

To be successful publisher’s need to address the following:

  • Is there a market big enough to support the magazine?
  • Are there subscribers willing to pay for such a magazine? and how much are they willing to pay ?
  • Are advertisers interested in reaching this market and willing to pay for ads to do so?

Determine the costs associated with publishing your magazine title and then you will have a good barometer of how much revenue you will need to cover those costs…the average magazine can take years to become profitable – so you need to be prepared to have plenty of financial resources to cover the costs during the start up period of building your magazine brand to profitability.

Understanding the Costs:

There are costs associated with beginning many new magazine titles that will be incurred before even the first issue is printed.

General Costs:

  • Office Selection- Or work out of the home.
  • Staff Selection – Or do all the work yourself
  • Targeting Potential Advertisers – Do you need presentation materials and rates/samples/etc.?
  • Direct mail lists – For targeting subscribers
  • Design and layout of Mailing Piece/Advertising Rate Card
  • Mailing Postage for soliciting subscriptions
  • Address or P.O. Box to accept solicitations and subscriptions
  • Newsstand Development/distribution contract

These are a few of the start-up costs that need to be factored into your business development plan. Once all of the beginning and fixed costs are established and you can see the overhead associated with your title – it is then time to begin budgeting your individual magazine issues and see what numbers have to be achieved not only to cover the costs of producing, printing, and distributing each issue but to cover the other associated costs as well.

Many factors contribute to the riskiness and failure of magazine publishing including, but not limited to the following:

  • Poor Magazine Focus
  • Under Capitalization
  • Over-Estimation of circulation
  • Over-Estimation of advertising revenue
  • Lack of focused editorial concept
  • Lack of “mission”
  • Overstaffing
  • Lack of Significant Advertising Base
  • Poor Management

With the proper planning and execution these risks may be minimized, neutralized, and even avoided.

The Execution:

Once you have done the research, planned your costs, put your finances in place and are still determined to proceed with your new magazine title – it is time to execute production of your 1st issue.

Per Issue Costs:

  • Design and Layout of Magazine: first issue & subsequent issues
  • Content: Stories, Photographs, Features, Ads (this you will need to provide or have access to)
  • Magazine Printing: Printing costs will vary vastly for magazines from base upward (see Printing Info page)

1. The Style of magazine that is produced
2. The number of pages in the magazine
3. The number of magazines printed
4. The distribution (mailed to subscribers or trucked to one or multiple locations, or a combination of the two)

Remember that Per Issue Costs will repeat every time you do an issue: month, Bimonthly, Quarter or annually.

From an outside perspective it seems like an unimaginable amount of effort and planning to get a first magazine issue to market. It does require organization. It can be long term rewarding experience if you properly plan and have the market to support your title. There can be some comfort in knowing that a professional magazine production and printing resource does exist (Magazine Publisher) and is willing to accept work from serious start ups.

Let’s Do It!

Design & Layout

You can hire a professional production company to design and layout your magazine pages…or do the work yourself. Keep in mind there are technical specs in which magazines must be submitted in order to print. Only a few layout programs are acceptable. For complete details see Magazine Publisher’s “Custom Magazine Design“.

Content

Organizing content for your issues can be a detailed application. It is your responsibility to pull together all editorial and advertising content to be used in each issue. If you have multiple writers it is important to convey to them how you want their stories submitted. It is important that advertisers supply their ads in proper formats. Clearly communicating on the front end what you expect will help eliminate headaches.

It is best to first organize all advertisers that will be included in the upcoming issue of your magazine. Identify placement (if the advertiser has requested a specific location like inside the cover) and verify that all the digital art for each advertisement is complete. Any ads needing creation by the digital department will need to be done first so the advertiser has time to approve the layout. The next step is to categorize your articles and pull together the text files and accompanying photos to be used. Having the text keyed-in and thoroughly proofed before it goes to production can help reduce errors and costs associated with revising proofs. Once completed and organized it is time to turn over the files for issue production to your production staff. Remember a clear identification of stories text, photos, captions and ad placements can help direct production artist as they begin to digitally create each page for the magazine. A small hand-made “mock-up” magazine can even be put together with notations on what goes where to help direct the production artist.

Printing

Select a company that is a publication printer or a magazine specialist. These printers run web presses that are designed for the optimal costs and quality in magazine printing. A publication printer will have standard magazine sizes, page counts, and paper stock that can help simplify your print process and reduce your costs – yet deliver a high quality magazine. Use their professionals to get the information and options that can save you money.

Minimum press runs will generally start at 5,000 or more and the plants will employ state-of-the-art technology. There are many so called ‘printers’ who claim they can print magazines. Beware: Many are small sheet fed print plants that try to print everything from business cards to paperback books still use film process to plate. Understand the magazine print industry and educate yourself to the print process – the more you will appreciate the need to use a publication printing plant. To meet the specialized needs of magazine publishers, many printing plants have even been designed to specifically service the short and medium run magazine market. Magazine Publisher invites publishers to tour the impressive press facilities.

A publication printer will have distribution and mailing methods in house to support the destination requirements for each magazine title.

Distribution

Producing a quality magazine title is only part of the process. Timely distribution is equally important. Depending on your titles distribution requirements there are various means of ‘distribution’. Mailing to subscribers both domestically and Internationally is best done from the print facility for speed, cost, and accuracy. Magazine plants that specialize in magazines have in house mail facilities that handle distribution tasks so your title will not have time lags or double shipping bills. It also means you deal directly with one facility. Bulk permit and labeling applications directly from your supplied database information should also be offered. Distribution can also mean truck Shipping to Newsstand distributors or to your facilities. Often newsstand companies require multiple warehouses to be serviced or shipped to in accordance with your distribution plans. Again, direct and accurate labeling and transportation assures newsstand dates will not get missed by transportation or shipping errors.

Commonly Asked Questions

  • There are various ways to reach the end use audience. Many publishers buy databases of the demographic groups their magazine targets and solicit there subscriptions via postal solicitations such as postcards, letters, advertising materials or even sample magazines. Advertisements in targeted media publications such as newspapers or magazines or electronic means such as putting up an internet site or running targeted TV ads is ways of getting your title exposure to it’s intended market. Newsstand distribution is an added way of getting your magazine title noticed and purchased with subscriptions coming from people who like the magazine. Newsstands approve and accept new magazines on an individual basis and do not commonly accept unproven titles.

  • There are very few publishers reps around that will sell ads for sart up magazine titles. Unless you have a million dollar budget you are probably going to have to do the calling and ad sales on your own from the beginning.

  • Get out the phone book and call on them. Compile a list of targeted advertisers and send them a media kit. Follow-up with contact or phone call. The hardest part of a startup is to get advertisers who are willing to advertise in a new unproved media outlet. As time and magazine recognition increase – so will advertisers acceptance.

  • Many factors are involved with Magazine Start up costs. Some are outlined in the text above. A lot of costs depend on what kind of magazine you wish to start, how large a circulation you are going to have (another words how many magazines you print), how many pages your are going to have in each issue, as well as your marketing and overhead. A small niche subscription base magazine can probably be launched for under $50,000 – a full featured newsstand consumer magazine would require into the millions to successfully launch. You need to run the numbers and do the financial planning involved in your magazine start up specs.

  • The hard facts are most magazines never make money. Magazine success rate is 10-20% of new titles will ever be successful. While successfully magazines can make money quickly generally magazines take 3-5 years to become profitable.

  • The newsstands are controlled by very few companies both in America and abroad. The companies that control the newsstands are always interested in new products that have a large audience and high sell rates, but more importantly they like established titles with proven track records of publishing. These firms will generally charge a fee to evaluate your magazine title and decide if they will accept for their newsstands. There are also Circulation Service companies that are a bit more responsive to start ups as they do much of the ground work and have the contacts and systems in place to get magazines on newsstands. A circulation specialist can get your new title some limited newsstand exposure to see the sell ability and potential growth for the new magazine. It may take a couple of issues and 4-6 months of build up before your magazine title ever gets to a newsstands.

  • The content and quality of the editorial are what drive the success of subscriptions and advertising support within a magazine! Many make the mistake of not making the editorial and content focussed enough or abundant enough to appeal to the targeted end user.

    Most magazine publishers focus on niches they have knowledge, interest, and contacts in.

    Over the years and with modern developments in technolgy the traditional magazine editorial model is now not always the same.

    We now see magazine content generated in many different ways:

    • Traditional staff of editors and copy writers, photographers
    • Outsourcing and hiring of freelance writers
    • Friends and associates with professional expertise in the field
    • Web site submissions
    • Public submissions
    • Stock photos
    • Partnerships with other content providers
    • Publishers developing all content themselves
    • This is what defines and makes each magazine unique. The content plays an important role in the success or failure of magazine titles.

Tips for Future Publishers

We frequently meet and talk to people who are thinking of starting a new magazine. Often such people spend most of their time worrying about how their publication will LOOK, not how it will SELL. Sadly, more than two-thirds of new publications started by first-time publishers flop within a few months. Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to increase the odds that your own publishing ideas will succeed.

  • For a small publisher with limited resources, the best strategy is to stick to a market you already understand very well. If you really know what you’re talking about, then your magazine is probably going to be useful to it’s readers. In addition, you’ll find it easier to manage your magazine business if you have a deep connection to your field.

  • The worst mistake people make is this: They concentrate on what they want to WRITE, not on what the audience wants to READ. Of course, great communicators listen as well as they speak. So give your customers plenty of opportunities to tell you what they think. For example, use polls or e-mail to solicit their comments and suggestions. Study the information habits of your audience before you design your magazine.

  • It takes money to find new readers and earn their trust, so look for people who will need you years from now as much as they need you today. For example, you can concentrate on divorce lawyers not individuals going through a divorce.

  • The quicker you learn the magazine trade, the sooner you can expect to succeed. Experienced people can help you learn quickly. Sometimes you can get excellent advice for free from people right in front of you like your magazine printer or your banker. If you come across someone you respect, don’t be shy about asking them for business suggestions. As soon as you can afford to do it, hire people with magazine experience to advise you.

  • In other words, don’t reinvent the printing press. Study other magazines and get to know other publishers. One fast way to master the business is to study what’s already working from other publishers and what is not. For example, collect media kits from other magazines or renewal promotion letters from other magazine and see if you can borrow some good tactics from them.

  • Key people in your field can support you in many ways: sharing their thoughts in a column or interview, introducing you to their colleagues, or simply helping you understand trends and new developments. Reach out to them!

  • Especially if you are new to magazine publishing you’ll learn much more quickly if you keep track of what you’re doing. Concentrate your efforts where you are most effective. Code your subscription order forms, for example, so that you can see which direct mail letter or advertisement produces the most orders. Then concentrate your money on the top producers.

  • Save some of your resources for the proverbial rainy day and always consider alternative strategies ahead of time because the one thing you can count on is change. New competitors will come along, readers will change their reading habits, and your organization will need to continually evolve. Many inexperienced publishers lock themselves into a single strategy and they fall apart when their circumstances change. Can you keep publishing even if a key editorial contributor decides to quit for example? What ever happened to all those “Dot Com” magazines?

  • Once you’ve got a trusting relationship with advertisers and subscribers, look for add-on or spin-off products you can sell to the same customers. Many magazines make profits from special reports, seminars, books, videos, and other ancillary products.

  • Magazines are relatively easy to launch but hard to maintain. Make sure you’ve chosen a subject that you care about and that you’re suited to a publisher’s lifestyle. The best insurance is to do a lot of homework before you launch: learn as much as you can about publishing, study your audience and your competitors, and carefully define your own goals and aspirations. Don’t go forward until you’ve got a long-term plan you can live with.

Questions?

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