YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Student Learned Publishing by Doing

After six years, the college-oriented magazine that was a USC class project on a shoestring has grown and is thriving, against all odds.


How's this for a class project?

Pick the most cutthroat industry imaginable. Buy a struggling company, armed with a $15,000 loan from mom and dad, about $1.98 in working capital and zero business experience. Run this puppy from your campus apartment, playing CEO while you juggle schoolwork and a collegian's social calendar.

Sounds like a ticket to academic probation. But Jason Hollander's business plan for Twenty-Eighth Street Publishing Inc. earned him more than a top entrepreneurial award at USC. His publications geared to Southern California's sun-and-fun college lifestyle have survived well beyond his graduation. Annual sales reached nearly $400,000 last year, and the 27-year-old president and chief executive of Twenty-Eighth Street Publishing is the Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Los Angeles.

"I had no idea going in how hard it was going to be," Hollander said. "That's probably a good thing, because it never occurred to me to fail."

Whoever said youth is wasted on the young never tried to break into the publishing game, where fresh-faced optimism and stamina are virtues, considering the frightfully small odds of success. Last year more than 1,000 new magazines surfaced in the U.S. market. Half of them will fold within a year. Only three in 10 will survive beyond four years, according to Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi who compiles an annual guide to new consumer magazines.

Competition is particularly brutal on campus, with free publications duking it out with the school newspaper, alternative weeklies and national magazines to grab the attention of--and ad dollars aimed at--this educated, affluent youth market.

"Everyone is trying to reach them," Husni says. "But unless you're providing something really unique, you won't survive."

Hollander and two student partners thought they'd found a good niche when they ponied up $15,000 each to buy 28th Street magazine in early 1993. The 3,000-circulation bimonthly was a free publication aimed at USC's fraternity and sorority scene. Its ad sales were sliding and its overhead bloated. But Hollander, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, figured he knew his way around the Greek crowd well enough to give the 8-year-old magazine a bigger presence on campus.

"We were experts in our own demographics," said Hollander, who was in his junior year at the time of the purchase. "We knew the magazine had a solid readership base that could be expanded."

It was a fine plan on paper, except for a few gaping holes. The local economy was in recession. The partners had no publishing experience. And many of the campus merchants they were counting on to boost 28th Street's advertising were skeptical of their staying power.

"We got a lot of doors slammed in our faces," admits Hollander, who eventually assumed operational control of the publication from his partners. "A lot of them had been burned by coupon books and other fly-by-night publications."

Pulling "all-nighters" took on new meaning as Hollander spent the wee hours supervising the magazine's press run. He sold advertising between classes, collected debts on the weekends and helped deliver the magazines back in the days when no distributor would handle the publication.

Even the classroom became a laboratory. Enrolled in USC's Entrepreneur Program, Hollander used his own enterprise as a guinea pig to test instructors' theories on sales, marketing and operations. He won USC's Marcia Israel Entrepreneur of the Year Award his senior year for the business plan he wrote for Twenty-Eighth Street Publishing.

"He was the one who never showed up for class" because he was too busy running his own business, recalls Nick Anderson, an entrepreneur and USC marketing instructor who has since become Hollander's mentor. "I didn't flunk him . . . but I was really starting to wonder about all those trips to Mexico."

Anderson was referring to an opportunity Hollander seized to branch into the travel arena using the magazine as a promotional tool. In 1994 he hooked up with a tour operator to offer students upscale spring break packages to Cabo San Lucas. 28th Street magazine got a slice of the travel revenue for its efforts, plus new ad dollars from Mexican hotels, restaurants and clubs, which is why Hollander cut class to close the deals.

The magazine's spring break packages have sold out six years running, with 500 students making the trip this year. The magazine also sponsors a popular fall football outing in San Francisco.

William Crookston, an associate professor at USC's Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, says Hollander's feel for co-branding and spinoffs is one reason he has survived in the rough-and-tumble publishing world.

"He's what we call a serial entrepreneur," Crookston said. "He spots opportunities everywhere."

Los Angeles Times Articles