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Couple Hits Home Run in Swing at Baseball

VALLEY BUSINESS | MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS: FINDING A NICHE

Marketing: After initial struggle, the West Hills pair say their 60,000-circulation bimonthly Junior Baseball has proved rewarding.

February 22, 2000|ROBERTA G. WAX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CANOGA PARK — With a circulation of 60,000, Dave and Dayna Destler seem to have hit the sweet spot with Junior Baseball magazine--a bimonthly publication the couple launched three years ago.

Although they won't disclose earnings, the couple says the magazine has given them a better living than they had as publishers of a magazine for British car enthusiasts or, before that, as graphics designers.

Typically 40 to 56 pages, Junior Baseball is filled with full-color ads for Wilson gloves, Louisville Slugger and Easton bats, even snack foods.

"Junior Baseball has been supporting us very comfortably over the last two years," said Dayna Destler. "Previously, with our other [magazine], it was always hand-to-mouth."

The first year of publication for Junior Baseball was a struggle, but by 1998, Dayna said, the company had profits in five figures. By the end of last year, she said, profits were into six figures.

But it's not exactly easy street. Today's crowded magazine market, plus changes in magazine distribution systems, put small publishers such as the Destlers in a constant struggle for shelf space, advertisers and subscribers.

New technology, however, has also made it easier than ever for a mom-and-pop publishing venture to go to press.

"Traditional publishing economics have changed," said Hugh Roome, executive vice president at Scholastic Inc. and chairman of the small magazines group at Magazine Publishers of America, a New York-based trade group.

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"Access to newsstands and direct sales has diminished," he said. "But on the other hand, some of the entry barriers have fallen. Technology has lowered the cost of actually producing a magazine."

Technology has also allowed publishers to use databases to more easily target specific groups, a boon to niche publishers. Niche publishing can be lucrative, Roome said, if a publication can find "an area of interest to readers and advertisers that is defensible against competition."

"On balance," he added, "a new entrant is going to come in with a different business strategy than someone who launched even three years ago."

The Destlers are no strangers to publishing, having founded British Car magazine (which began as British Car and Bike) in 1985. Like Junior Baseball, British Car began as a labor of love, born from Dave's hobby of restoring classic British autos.

The Destlers, who met while students at Cal State Northridge, graduated with art backgrounds and started their own graphics business in the 1980s. He concentrated on technical illustrations for automotive and electronics firms, while she worked for landscaping and pool companies.

But as businesses began doing their own desktop publishing, the Destlers found their bread-and-butter jobs drying up. Since Dave was also writing freelance articles about classic cars, the time seemed ripe for a magazine devoted to the British auto.

With only an idea and not even a prototype, they began selling subscriptions at car shows.

"We had more enthusiasm and naivete than publishing experience," Dave recalled. "We just figured out the publishing as we went along."

Using their personal resources to finance the first issue, they began publishing the mostly black-and-white magazine in 1985, coming out with four issues the first year before graduating to bimonthly. They soon gave up the graphics arts business entirely.

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By the early 1990s, they were ready to take British Car "to the next level" and make it a bigger publication.

"We wanted to build something with potential," Dayna said. "We wanted to be able to pay for our kids' college education, to put money away for retirement."

Meanwhile, their son, Dusty, then about 9, was playing baseball, which became a family activity as Dave coached and Dayna became a scorekeeper.

One day, while at their magazine distributor's office, they were looking for something for Dusty to read. They searched among the hundreds of magazines on display but couldn't find anything baseball-related that would appeal to a 9-year-old. An idea began to glimmer. When Dusty's traveling team went to the Amateur Athletic Union national championship games in Kansas City, Mo., the Destlers realized many families were spending a lot of time at ballparks around the country.

"We realized then what a market we might have," Dayna said.

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The Destlers, who had gone to the nonprofit Valley Economic Development Center in Van Nuys for help in getting financing to expand British Car, began to think in another direction. The more they researched, the more "we decided it would make more sense to put the effort into a new title" rather than refinance to expand the old one, Dayna said.

For instance, 1990 census figures showed "more than 9 million kids play baseball. But there were only 500,000 British cars in the U.S. at that time. Baseball was a bigger market."

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