PREREQUISITES FOR MAGAZINE START-UPS

When developing a new magazine concept having a deep connection with your subject is as important as securing funding. This was a key point of my talk to Masters students on the International Journalism for Media Professionals and also those taking MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier, where I had been invited for a guest lecture.

I can understand that this may seem odd to some. But think about it, any content-related creation developed by someone with a good idea, who only has a vague interest is unlikely to evolve into an articulate, well thought through product – be it a digital or print magazine.

On the other hand, those who come up with a concept because they are passionate about a subject want to share their knowledge. Such an approach usually leads to developing community – thus giving the publisher a much stronger chance of success.

What about the financial implications?

While finances are a significant factor, they are not the be-all and end-all of start-ups. Even today, new magazines can be established on a shoestring budget. Passion, on the other hand, is either there or it’s not.

Experience is a great teacher

During my time at Writer’s Forum (many years ago now), I worked with a small team. In those early days, money was tight, but we loved our magazine and so went to great lengths to make it successful.

At the time the publisher bought Writer’s Forum in 1999, it was a subscription-only, quarterly title, it then evolved into a monthly newsstand title with a readership of nearly 80,000.

How did we achieve this? By putting the audience at the heart of everything we did, starting from the premise of what do our readers want and need to be successful writers.

Resilience, problem-solving and a forward-thinking approach were key traits I developed during this time. For example, when the budget was insufficient to facilitate prizes, I found a way around it by seeking sponsorship and developing strategic partnerships.

I believe that it was our commitment to the magazine as a team that gave it a soul. Editorial pillars were carefully crafted, with only the best pitches gaining a commission.

Eight successful years followed until the title was sold back in 2007. The knowledge I gained during that time was invaluable. It was one of my first and hardest lessons to date on how to make a magazine work.

From a consultancy perspective

Experience has taught me that while finances are a crucial aspect, new start-ups are often able to overcome financial challenges if the concept is a strong one. However, enthusiasm and a need to share knowledge is there, or it’s not.

A key example of such commitment and a desire to build a community is The Mint. A couple of years ago, I helped Henry Leveson-Gower launch this title on a shoestring. To find out more about Henry’s incredible publishing journey, read the case study.

A lack of enthusiasm for the subject is why, in my opinion, that many lifestyle titles fail. Passion wains or boredom sets in, then content marketing starts to creep into the editorial – often resulting in a shell of a product that has little to say that is original or useful to its audience.