This guest post is by Deidra Wilson of deidrawilson.com.
They say that print is dead. That the Internet laid waste to the magazine rack at the airport. But that line of thinking has the good old boy driving the diesel pickup today behind the wheel of an electric car tomorrow.
Print is, and always will be, alive and well. You blog, eBay, search for Thai food recommendations and interact online, but you will always read magazines.
Have you ever considered adding a print arm to your digital empire?
If you have ever entertained the idea of publishing your own magazine, it is not as difficult as most suggest, and can be done for a small initial investment. Maybe you want to start a magazine that compliments your online business. For example, if you run a wedding website/portal/blog, look into self-publishing a local/regional wedding publication (and you already have the best advertising and self-promotions spots saved for yourself).
The potential of print
Let’s talk about how a print arm of your blog can benefit your brand and your bottom line. Whether you will admit it or not, you on occasion take a peak at your closest competitor’s Twitter follower count and compare it to yours. If their count far outweighs yours, you assume that a large part of the public would consider your more followed competitor’s brand more legit than yours and to an intelligent extent you would be right.
What does adding an offline component to your blog’s brand achieve?
Similar to that monster Twitter follower count, the general public believes what it sees. It is rational to place a value on the increase in credibility your blog will gain from self-publishing your own print magazine. If you structure your whole effort properly by always pointing your magazine readers to your blog and other online efforts, you now trump the most common online “noise” your competition is creating due to the simple fact that stands the test of time and always will—magazines are perceived as glamorous and convey credibility. Run your own impromptu poll. “Media company” sounds more Fortune-500 than just “blog”—creating a strong and professionally credible percecption will make everything you do online easier, which leads to more readers and more profits.
That’s the sound of opportunity knocking
As soon as your first issue is on the streets and in reader’s hands, you will hear a knocking on your door. Answer it and you will see new revenue streams, new readers, new traffic and new business relationships that can not be created in the 100% online world. If you sell/manage your own advertisements on your blog, you now have added value to offer your advertisers by either offering a la carte print advertising space or a bundled package of both online and print.
Diversity is the glue that holds media companies together. There have been times where I have relied heavily on revenue generated by Google Adsense, and that always made me nervous. I found myself asking “What if the Adsense market fails? What if Google fails?” Those fears lead me to always seek out a balanced diversity for all of my businesses. Adding a print publication to an online-only identity adds a solid amount of diversity to build overall value in your business should you ever decide to sell and also help you weather any rough cash flow storms along the way.
“Pass along” is the offline “Add this”
You work hard on your blog, writing solid content that you hope goes viral and gains a web of deep inbound links, retweets, digs, etc. When you put your magazine in one person’s hands there is a high probability of them “passing along” that copy of the magazine to a friend—especially in multi-occupant households. Why is this important?
in the hands of the secondary readers as the first reader, and that all readers share the same measurable action ratio, ie: one copy of your magazine will bring multiple new people to your blog and online efforts.
Start the Presses!
1. Check your wallet
Each and every new small business startup needs some capital, and magazines are no different. Just how much do you need? As little as a few hundred dollars will work (not including your printing costs) to get your first issue on the streets and/or news stands. I started my first magazine on roughly $300. If you have your sights set on producing a higher end magazine, you will need significantly more, depending on what market you are entering and how big you are going right off the bat. Bigger is not always better here—this magazine is a supporting effort for your online business, so think light and fast.
You have solid computer skills which will benefit you here, as you won’t have to hire an office full of employees. The key is to do it yourself. Stay away from the urge to make a lot of noise (advertising, events, etc.) about your new magazine in the beginning. You have a computer, you own a camera, and you own Adobe Photoshop. All you need now is publishing/layout software. Adobe InDesign is the gold standard of magazine layout and costs around $300 online.
2. Develop the framework
You probably have an idea of what type of magazine you want to publish, but from here you need to construct some basic framework. Pick a name for your magazine carefully. Make sure you are not stepping on anyone’s trademark by searching national trademark databases. Be creative: you can’t survive without offering something new to your readers in an attractive package, and for this, being creative is a necessity.
Your website’s domain name is also something to consider when choosing your name. Search for open domains that match your magazine’s name as closely as possible. It is okay to use a few pseudo-odd takes on domains for magazines, like magazinenameonline.com or magazine-name.com. Keep your targeted keyword in mind when selecting your magazine’s domain name.
Your website does not need to be award-winning right out of the gate; it just needs to be something professional that’s clear about who you are and what your magazine is about—or consider adding your magazine’s online identity to your existing website. You can always offer your web design company a service trade—they design, and you advertise their business both in print and online if you do not code your own websites. A website or some sort of online presence is an essential part of this process, though; do not skip out on this one.
Okay, you have a name and a website, what’s next? Figure out what you are going to include in your first issue by writing out an editorial outline. That’s a fancy name, but in reality, just write out what you want to feature, how many pages you want to devote to each item, and how many pages you want to stash away for ads (this will be dependent on how many ads you sell for your first issue).
How many pages should your magazine contain? Two factors are in play here. One is the cost of printing the magazine—obviously, it costs more to print a bigger magazine. The second question is: how much editorial can or do you want to produce? You do not need a 100-page magazine your first go around so, depending on what your competitors are doing, aim for around 40-50 pages for a local or lifestyle magazine and 90+ for a magazine you want to distribute on national news stands.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need an army of journalists to publish your first issue. I have produced content for hundreds of magazines by myself or with the help of just a handful of people; it is simply a matter of putting together text and images that will occupy a predetermined amount of space.
Start with item number one on your editorial outline. Write your text first, making sure to follow basic guidelines for writing editorial (Google search it for tons of help). Have friends read the copy and get their honest opinions. Did you lose your readers’ attention at any point? Are your facts correct? Do you have any typos? Does anyone actually want to read this? What type of content that’s relevant to your niche has worked on your blog in the past? Could a version of it work in your magazine?
A picture is worth a thousand words—literally. People like pictures—big, colorful pictures and lots of them. Now it is time for the fun part. You own a camera, so get out there and start snapping. Make sure you are shooting in RAW or on a setting the produces 300 dpi images (every image in your magazine needs to be 300 dpi, no larger, no smaller—nothing comes off as more rookie than low-res photos in magazines).
Remember that if you have any people in your photos, you’ll need to get them to sign a “model release” allowing you to use their image in your publication. Your readers will quickly form their opinions of your magazine based on three things—your cover, your layout/design and your interior editorial images.
After you have knocked your editorial out, sleep on it and go over it yourself. Is it good? How many magazines have you seen that all regurgitate the same tired “electronics features” on iPhones, or some silly gadget that not many people care about? Lots. You have to have a new take on things if you want to see issue number 2, 3, 4, or 54.
Going back to my example of the local wedding magazine, you have to offer your reader new venues, vendors, and ideas that they have not seen anywhere else. Instead of writing about “How to pick your wedding colors,” think along the lines of “CityName’s hottest wedding colors for 2011” and include information straight from local wedding venues, with actual images and quotes from planners, brides and photographers. Never underestimate the power of putting someone’s name in a magazine!
3. Start selling advertising yesterday
New publishers often fall into the trap of just focusing on the creative side of the magazine and ignoring the sales. As an independent publisher, you have to wear both hats. Start by putting together a media kit for your new magazine. A media kit is a couple pages, printed out (on good card stock), that act as a resume for your magazine. It features all of the details of who your magazine is for, how many you print, your distribution tactics, what ad spaces you offer, how much they cost, etc. I have always lived by the motto that the media kit should look better than the actual magazine.
In the beginning, most of your sales will not be because of your media kit—this is just an essential tool to have that you can leave with prospective advertisers. I could go on and on about how to sell ads for new magazines but if you read it, you’d have to send me a pretty big check as that is closely held information by all in the industry.
What I can tell you is: start with a plan. Call on advertisers that make sense for your magazine. It is a waste of time to try and sell an ad to Budweiser if you are a new magazine that is about quilting—it’s just not going to happen. Put yourself in that business owners’ shoes: would you consider buying the ad space? Back to the wedding magazine example, go and see all of the local wedding venues, planners, photographers, cake makers, dress designers, etc. Include a vendor directory in your magazine and offer inclusion in that directory at no extra charge for all new advertisers.
Now is not the time to get rich quick. You want to sell ads to pay the bills, and hopefully recoup your investment and promote your online business. That means pricing your ad offerings in reality. For an idea of what reality is, try and find out what similar magazines in your market are charging. Do not go too low on your pricing however. Believe in the value of your magazine—giving it away free almost guarantees future failure.
I know of one magazine that just kept throwing money at itself, starting in new markets without first being profitable in one and, to appear successful, they gave away their ad space for free. A couple years later and it is common knowledge in the media buying industry that no one pays for ads in that magazine, ever. If a potential advertiser says they want the space for less than you want to sell it for, pass on them politely and come back to them in a few months, when you can prove a stronger value to justify your rate card.
Most importantly, offer value to your advertisers. There are a gazillion different ways to do this, but it all starts with you delivering a strong, readable publication on time. The old under-promise and over-deliver adage works well here.
4. It’s layout time
It’s crunch time! Layout is hardly ever pleasurable. The first issue of a magazine I ever designed took me about 72 hours of work with about six hours of sleep in that period—not exactly what I call an awesome time. Make sure you know how to use your software before you need to start laying out your publication.
If you flip through a random magazine here and there, you will notice that a lot of them have an inconsistent layout throughout the book, meaning that the fonts and styles change every few pages or every story. If this style appeals to you, knock yourself out—just know that it is not a good practice to follow. You need to aim for a balanced flow with your layouts and a consistent overall look. The first page of content should look similar to the last page, and don’t stray too far in between.
Use a text font at or above eight points in size, and never smaller. Don’t forget those pictures: use lots and lots of pictures! Get into Photoshop and clean your photos up. I have spent at least 60 seconds with every photo I have ever placed in a magazine layout—it is a crime to run photos with zero post work done on them.
What you need to do is end up with a PDF file for each page of your magazine that you will give to your printer. Name each file in a standard way, e.g. p01_NAME.pdf. Covers will be labeled C1, C2, etc. You will have the option to view proofs of your files before your printer fires up the press to start your job (a big chunk of what you are paying them to do). Always look at every proof of every page; once it gets put on a plate and starts laying down ink, you are locked in.
Make sure you are happy with your printer. Do some research, talk to all of your local printers, and get quotes. It is tough to do but I have pulled it off many times—you can offer your printer one full page of advertising in the magazine for a discount on printing. Always control costs. I recommend getting your finished magazines carton-packed rather than skid-packed and wrapped in plastic, as this practice guarantees a percentage of waste as the magazines on the outside of the skid aren’t protected.
5. Distribute your magazines
If you are starting a magazine that will have National or a large ranging distribution, head straight to one of the two major magazine distributors. I won’t name them because they, in my opinion, make it very difficult for startups to get in the game. I will leave it at that.
If you are starting a locally distributed magazine, read on. Yes there are services that offer to distribute your magazine for you, they will do a poor job and charge you and arm and a leg for the privilege. Distribution is paramount. If no one sees, picks up or reads your magazine then it is just a waste of time, money and trees. A major part of your focus should be dialing in the best distribution strategy possible. Do not just toss magazines in front of stores, offices, bars, etc. and expect them to take the time to place them out in a neat fashion – they will end up in the dumpster out back. Do your own distribution. Personally ask permission from each distribution spot, not only is this the right thing to do but it is a great way to get your name out there and meet a few potential advertisers and/or clients for your online business.
The process never stops in the magazine game; it is a fight at all times. There will always be strong competition, new people looking for their share of a market and times where you feel like you are the only person that reads your magazine. But if you do not fight at all, it’s a guarantee that you will not win. There is a special satisfaction for standing on the end of a large printing press and peeling back that cover for the first time. Good luck!
Deidra Wilson is a Las Vegas wedding photographer and has a background in small business and publishing magazines. You can check her out on Twitter where she posts about her life as a photographer in the desert she calls home.