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SMALL BUSINESS | SMALL TALK: Advice From the Small-Business
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New Magazine Needs to Be Backed by Solid Research

October 21, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I want to publish a biweekly magazine with lots of pictures and a high-class look. I have tons of sales and marketing experience and some experience in advertising exposure, but no idea how to start a magazine publishing company. I'd like to set it up and contract out everything I cannot do in-house. Can you point me in the right direction?

--Jim Peterson, Los Angeles

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Answer: You need to address some basic questions: Why do you want to start a magazine? Is this a labor of love and something you have a hunch there is an audience for? Or is this a profit-making enterprise that you've got some proven test-marketing results on?

If you don't have the money to spend on a major survey, at least do some small surveys and get feedback on your concept from strangers. Make sure you're open to hearing that this may not be a good idea.

Next, what kind of funding is available to you? It takes quite a while before a publication establishes itself and becomes profitable. How much money will you need to get started and how long will you have to publish before you turn a profit?

Launching as a biweekly, meaning you would put out two issues a month, is very difficult. It means you will publish a lot of issues that no one will see as the magazine is building readership. The inevitable mistakes every entrepreneur makes could kill you if you try to publish this frequently. Starting out bimonthly is a more realistic goal.

Define your target audience and find out what similar publications already serve them. Competing as a general interest magazine would be extremely difficult. Are you filling a niche? If so, do you have the background and qualifications needed? Is there room for another publication like yours? If there are not many existing publications like the one you envision, find out why. Maybe no one has come up with this idea--or maybe there just isn't a market for them.

Where will your profit come from? Some magazines make money selling advertising, others are funded by magazine sales. You need to become somewhat proficient in understanding how each of those systems works. If you'll rely mainly on ad sales, who will your advertisers be? Would they see the value in advertising in your publication? How will you formulate your ad rates and can your potential advertisers afford them? Will the magazine look good enough from the start to bring in these advertisers?

I started two magazines in the mid-1980s and found I had to give away ads in the first few issues to the big advertisers that I wanted to do business with.

Do you know an experienced editor-in-chief who can supervise the magazine's content? You will need to hire someone who has access to good writers. You will also need ad salespeople, a distribution channel and access to direct mailing lists so you can market your publication.

The magazine industry is extremely competitive and there are many, many issues involved. You need to do some research before you do anything else. Go to the library and to the Internet and search for books, organizations and trade journals on the publishing industry. Then hook up with someone who has experience in this field and talk to them personally. Don't waste your time and money reinventing the wheel.

--Anthony Mora, president,

Anthony Mora Communications

Inc., West Los Angeles

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Q: We are introducing a new product targeting families on the go. It is a low-priced item that would be used primarily in the car. What is the best method for distributing this product? Should we hire a sales rep or try to sell it ourselves? What about advertising?

--Kate Somerset, Laguna Beach

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A: Before asking anyone to buy your product, you need to decide on a sales, marketing and distribution plan. Think about some issues as you make this plan.

What are the demographics of the buyer? This means gender, age, income level, married or single, with kids or not, age of kids. What are the seasonal patterns for your product? Will it sell well during holiday time, summer or winter?

Will your product be purchased once and used for a long time, like a car, or is it consumed like food? Who are the logical retailers for this product--specialty stores or chain retailers? Can this product be sold only in Southern California or could it go national or worldwide?

What similar products exist? What else would your consumer buy along with your product? What are your goals? Do you want a small, local business or do you want to build a big business? Will this be a part-time or full-time effort? Are you in this for the long-term, or just for fun?

What business infrastructure do you have, from capital to computer systems, office and warehouse space, personnel, time, etc.?

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