Starting a magazine is not an exact science. No publisher follows the exact same steps from idea to launch, but there are some general tasks that need to be completed to get a magazine up and running.
Find the Magazine’s Niche
Every magazine starts out as a general concept. When this broad concept can be narrowed into a niche it’s chance of success increases. For example, a magazine about shopping is going to have an extremely large, diverse market and a lot of competition. A magazine on antique shopping in the Midwest, however, has a very distinct focus.
Find the Magazine’s Information Need
Magazines are sources of information. In order to have readers pick up a magazine and read it, they must know there is information they can use inside. Usually that information comes in the form of editorial content, although advertisements can also provide useful information for potential buyers. Planning relevant editorial content increases the likelihood that readers will pick up the magazine. When readers pick up the magazine they see the ads. Advertising response determines whether or not a publication receives repeat advertisers. Therefore, having relevant editorial greatly impacts the overall health of the publication.
Research the Market
A great idea with a good information need won’t get far without a good market. If only five people have a need for the type of information a magazine would provide, it would not be much of a magazine. Market research for new magazine launches should include total market size, the market’s spending power, and any changes in the market in the foreseeable future. For example, starting a magazine for housing industry professionals might not be a good idea when the housing market is down and shows no signs of rebounding soon.
Research the Competition
What similar magazines are currently available on the market? Examine what each publication brings to the table in terms of audience, editorial, and market share. Is there a unique angle they are missing? Is their content relevant to the market? Identify each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and compare them to the proposed magazine idea.
Write a Business Plan
If research shows the proposed magazine would fill an information need, has a niche within a profitable market, and that the competition is fairly low, it is time to put the magazine idea into writing. A magazine business plan serves as a means of obtaining financing but also helps get ideas down on paper. It serves as a future reference and helps the author sort out details of the magazine’s inception. The Small Business Administration has a great deal of business planning information on its website. The SBA also has local divisions of Small Business Development Centers that can help small business owners write business plans at no charge.
The business plan will detail all the steps how the magazine will work before and after the launch. It will cover such details as circulation, advertising rates, staffing, and marketing plans.
Most magazines take three years to become profitable. A good rule of thumb is to apply for enough financing to fund the company through its first year of business. Traditional business loans are obtained through a local bank for many smaller operations. A larger publication may require several investors or shareholders. Regardless of where the funding comes from, it is important that the business plan shows the funding party that the product has the ability to provide a good return on investment.
Prepare for Launch
Once funding is obtained, there are hundreds of details to be ironed out before the magazine launches. Marketing plans need to be implemented and basic marketing efforts should begin several months before the magazine’s release. Staff should be hired to sell advertising, assist with pre-launch marketing, and help with basic office operations. The sooner advertising can be sold, the better. A minimum of six months is recommended to sell advertising for the first issue of a new magazine. The potential advertiser will need ample time to process the concept, decide if it’s a good fit for their product or service, and determine if they want to take a chance on a new publication.
Launch the Magazine
When the first issue of a new magazine is finally wrapped up, it feels like the end of a long journey that’s taken several months or longer. While that is true, it is also when the work really begins. Once the magazine hits stores, the main office will hopefully be busy processing subscription orders and other customer needs. Advertising reps will hopefully be busy responding to potential advertising inquiries. Additionally, another issue is coming down the pipeline very quickly, whereas the first issue had several months’ planning behind it.
Go With the Flow
Although this is a very basic overview of launching a magazine, it is a good primer for the overall process. Once a magazine gets off the ground, the most important thing is to make plans and then make contingency plans. Most of the time, things will not go as planned so it’s important to be able to think on one’s feet, be creative, and continually evolve and guide the direction of the publication. If starting a magazine is a process, running a magazine is an ever-changing art form.