How to Start a Magazine, Content Website or Newsletter
that Will Last
by Cheryl Woodard, Posted March 2000, Updated October 2008 [PRINT
From a reader's viewpoint, the relationship with a good magazine, website,
or newsletter is a little like dining at a successful restaurant
- you know what to expect each time you visit. If
the experience is a good one, you will visit often. Similarly,
publishers strive to establish a pleasant, comfortable
relationship with readers based on familiarity. For example,
the "Talk of the Town" section of the New Yorker Magazine
is always located in the same place and written in the same slightly
irreverent tongue-in-cheek style readers have come to expect.
The first step for publishers, then, is to create a bond with
readers, a relationship based on trust and predictability. Once
this essential reader bond is firmly in place, many other profitable
business opportunities become feasible for the publisher smart
enough to efficiently exploit them.
Unfortunately, many new publications perish quickly
because their editors fail to attract enough readers. Sometimes the expected audience doesn't
exist in the first place. Sometimes readers are out there, but the editor
misunderstands what readers need. Occasionally, the publisher identifies
a great audience and publishes a dynamite periodical to meet
its needs, but the business is disorganized and inefficient.
In short, establishing and profiting from a strong reader relationship
is harder than most new publishers appreciate.
The secret to launching a publication that will last is to focus
on building long-term relationships with your customers. Think
of each new reader or advertiser as a lifetime contact, not just
a one-time sale. There are six steps to creating a long-lived
business: finding an audience, creating a product, building a
viable publishing operation, converting casual readers into regulars,
establishing advertiser relationships, and finally creating highly
profitable add-on or spin-off products.
Step One: Targeting the Right Audience
Few of us have $20 million to launch a mass market publication or website. Instead of wasting money chasing a huge audience, niche publishers focus on a select group of readers or site visitors - and then build a profitable publishing business based on serving the unique needs of those people.
It is far easier and cheaper to connect with a niche group than it is to reach a mass audience. Also,
many niche customers spend more money per capita than the general
reading population, and so they have the potential to support
a much more profitable publishing business. Finally, many advertisers
like to reach readers who match a specific demographic profile
(accountants, librarians or swimmers, for example), so niche
publishers can usually charge higher per reader advertising rates
than can their mass market counterparts.
Having identified an audience you understand, and one that can
support your business, you must next figure out how to
reach it efficiently using direct mail, free samples, email promotions, keyword ads, and other marketing efforts. Plan to test all of these different circulation
strategies to locate good prospects at an affordable
Step Two: Creating the Product Your Audience Wants
All successful periodical publishers need to know what their
audience wants to read, and how to package it appropriately and
consistently so that readers will keep reading, issue after issue.
Knowing your competition is also essential when you're designing
a new publication. Study your competitors
carefully and then offer features
that your readers want, but that your competitors have ignored.
Besides competitors, study publications and websites that might serve as role models for yours. For instance, when you find well-organized content, note how it is done. Also note the design features that your readers are likely to expect - because they commonly see the same elements at other publications or websites.
Step Three: Building a Viable Publishing Business
Repeat business is the key to profitable publishing. If readers and advertisers love what you did for them last time, they'll come back to see what you are doing today - and that leads directly to profits for you.
In the very short term, most publications lose money, especially
in their early years while they are working to find an audience
and win their trust. Their initial losses can range from a few
thousand to many millions of dollars, depending on the kind of
Publishers start to make money only when they begin to transform
their early connections iinto lasting relationships
by turning casual readers into regular customers, creating predictable
relationships with advertisers, and developing new products that
they can sell to their loyal customers. Along the way, publishers
have to assemble the people, vendors and resources they need
to continually provide top-notched products to their loyal customers.
Step Four: Capturing Reader Loyalty
Casual readers include people who visit your website once - through a search link - or who accept a "come and try it" direct
mail offer. Sometimes casual readers get the publication for
free as a sample.
To make a profit, publishers "convert" as many casual
readers as possible into full-fledged subscribers or regular website visitors. Finding readers
and then converting them into loyal customers requires a good
Step Five: Capturing Advertiser Loyalty
Advertisers want to reach your readers and website visitors. Once you've
found an audience, you can usually find advertisers eager to
reach the same people. If your niche is broad or deep enough, there will be many advertisers who
sell relevant products and services.
Winning the loyalty of most advertisers is the hardest task for most first-time publishers.
As with audience marketing, you need a long-range
plan for advertising sales, and a budget that will
help you understand which advertising relationships contribute
to your profits and which ones don't.
Step Six: developing profitable spin-off products and services for your loyal readers
Once your readers are converted into loyal subscribers, and
the advertisers are on board, you can increase profits by
selling new products or services to the same customers.
New products and services that grow out
of the original publishing business cost less
to develop and promote. They have a high
potential to be profitable. Books, trade shows and spin-off publications
are common examples of ancillary products for print publishers. E-letters are common spin-offs for websites. Look at any well-established magazine, content website, or newsletter
and you're likely to find dozens of examples of good products
you can create to cement your reader and advertiser relationships.
I recommend my book
for first-time publishers. You can read it in one weekend,
and you'll learn everything you need to know about starting
publications. My second book, Every
Nonprofit's Guide to Publishing (co-authored with Lucia
Hwang) covers editing, design, and other topics I could not
address in the first book. Look for both in your local library,
well-stocked bookstores, or
them right now from Amazon.com I wish these books had been
available when we launched
PC Magazine back in 1981.
If you are working on a publication and you need specific advice,
feel free to email
us. We work with newsletter, magazine, and book publishers
of every variety. The chances are good that we can help you,