Launching a Magazine: What To Bring To The Table…Linda Ruth Reporting From The ACT 7 Experience…

May 8, 2017

(Left to right) Marshall McKinney, Design Director, Garden & Gun magazine, Bryan Welch, founder and CEO, B the Change Media, Jennifer Reeder, VP of Sales at Democrat Printing, Joe Berger, Publishers Marketing & Sales Consultant at Joseph Berger Associates, Nicole Bowman, Founder & Principal at Bowman Circulation Marketing, Steve Viksjo, Co-founder and Creative Director at Jarry magazine, and Josh Ellis, editor in chief, Success magazine.

“Demographics are evil,” said Bryan Welch, the founder of B the Change Media, speaking before an enrapt audience at the Magazine Innovation Center’s Act 7 in Mississippi last week. Welch was part of a panel that included industry luminaries Joe Berger, Publishers Marketing & Sales Consultant at Joseph Berger Associates, Nicole Bowman, Founder & Principal at Bowman Circulation Marketing, Marshall McKinney, Design Director, Garden & Gun magazine, Jennifer Reeder, VP of Sales at Democrat Printing, and Steve Viksjo, Co-founder and Creative Director at Jarry magazine.

“If you go into the magazine business with a specific age range in mind,” Welch continued, “you are excluding people who might share the passions of your audience. Demographics are, in a sense, used to create tribes of your audience: this group is liberal democrat, that group conservative republican, and so on. When we set out to de-tribalize the content of our magazine we stumbled across a huge audience that we didn’t aim for, we didn’t know about, and we would have excluded if we had been limited to a demographic profile.”

The panel was moderated by Josh Ellis, editor in chief of Success magazine, and focused on magazine launches, and opinions were shared on what it takes to launch a magazine. You need to start with a product champion, Reeder said: “Someone with the dream.”

Berger agrees with the need for vision, but wants it rooted in practicality: “You have to be brave, a little crazy…and you have to do your homework.” For him, homework includes understanding the business and managing your expectations. “I can arrange for where your magazine is going to want to go. But once it’s on the stands, it’s the publisher’s job to make people want pick it up. We can help by showing how it’s done. Beyond that, it’s important to be realistic about what can happen. When it comes to newsstand, all of the challenges are the results of consolidation. We might not like it, but we can’t change it. It’s what happens in economics, it’s what happens in capitalism. We can rail about what happened in 2003, but we’re in 2017. So let’s forget about what went before and ask: how can we sell your issue? We have the same number of magazines, but less space. How do we let the audience know that the magazine is there and they can get it?”

“Passion is the raw material of the business we’re in,” Welch said. “For me , that’s the invigorating thing about it. It’s also the terrifying thing. If you put together a team of passionate idealists who believe in your vision, and what you are doing fails, the people you are with go down with you. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“Your responsibility is to your audience as well as your team,” McKinney added. “You want to serve your core reader at all costs. You’ve built trust with that reader—never, ever violate that trust. Give them a healthy dose of what they’ve learned to expect, and surprise them when you can. You can do a lot of counter-intuitive things. You can make a cover that won’t sell on the newsstand, for example, if it builds your mythology and continues to build your brand. But the thing you can never do is betray your reader.”

And how does print fit into this apparently digital age?

“I can’t name a digital product that has lived on its own,” Welch said. “If you don’t have events or a print publication or both, you have no way of monetizing what you are doing.” That does not mean ignoring the opportunities offered online. “You meet the people online. You monetize them through print and events.”

“Use your social media presence to announce the launch through the influencers,” said Viksjo.

In this group, tilted to entrepreneurs, some of the points made at John French’s “How to Save a Magazine” presentation on the previous day were not entirely embraced. As Welch put it, “I am outraged at the idea that you want to launch your magazine for the investor. You need to launch it for the reader! You cannot serve two masters.”

McKinney agreed. “It’s like kicking your reader in the crotch, when you come in and dismantle the editorial. It might work on some level, but it isn’t keeping the audience in mind.”

“A business on the verge of bankruptcy is in a place where some crotches need to be kicked,” Welch reflected. “But not the reader’s. Never the reader’s.” And who is the reader? Someone who shares in the passion of the magazine. “Twenty years ago I took a sacred vow never to use the word ‘rate base’ in a professional setting. It’s the dumbest idea. Managing to a circulation level ignores the value you get from each member of the audience.”

“You need to be clear on who your readers are,” Bowman added. “If you are not clear on who you are trying to serve, you are not going to be able to find your audience.”

“I’ve worked for a magazine that got started with $7000 and a box of cards,” McKinney said. “And another with $12 million in its launch budget that almost had to shut down. It’s a wild ride.”

“And God help you if your project is good enough to attract venture capital,” Welch said. “The relationship with the VC is a path to their control.”

To make an impression, McKinney advised, “Print on great paper. Don’t skimp. Some of the most coveted real estate in the world is the American coffee table. That’s where you want to be.

“Our physicality is what distinguishes us,” Welch said. “It’s what allows us to monetize our stories in a way we cannot do without that physicality. How much leverage could I get by upgrading that physical experience? We can measure the impact on the newsstand. And what is the advertisers real response? There might be a lot of value there.”

“People want to own things,” Berger said. “We’ve got the web, the video, all this other stuff which is interesting, but they don’t own it. A magazine, they can own.”

And what words of wisdom can this group leave with us? “Your readers are the center of your business,” said McKinney. “Hold them captive in your mind. Build from there.”

And Welch finished with: “Be emphatically who you are. Think of the most outrageous thing you want to say and say it with the first issue. Set a marker out there. Don’t bother testing sell lines that don’t get you excited. Make aggressive statements about your entity. And be faithful to your audience, so that they know who is showing up.”


  1. […] Source: Launching a Magazine: What To Bring To The Table…Linda Ruth Reporting From The ACT 7 Experienc… […]

  2. Hear, hear!! A magazine (and its media presence) must be something the reader wants and likes and looks forward to and shares with friends. If it’s all of these things, he or she will happily pay for it. Circulation revenue should be the main course, with ad revenue just the gravy. Advertisers who know and understand your readers’ passion will come to you and their ads will be relevant and complimentary to the edit product.

  3. […] king, your reader is queen. Your magazine provides the content that feeds your readers’ passions. You have a responsibility to serve your core readers, and a content plan can help you stay on that […]

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