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They've Got Junior Baseball Covered

Couple saw a void and filled it with a new magazine for a niche market. It's a struggle, they say, but it has been profitable.

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

With a paid circulation of more than 35,000, Dave and Dayna Destler seem to have hit the sweet spot with their Junior Baseball magazine.

The couple say the bimonthly publication 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 the 3-year-old Canoga Park-based publication was a struggle, but by 1998 the company had profit in five figures, Dayna said. By the end of last year, she said, profit was into six figures.

But it's not exactly easy street. Today's crowded magazine market, plus changes in magazine distribution systems, put small publishers like 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," explained Hugh Roome, executive vice president at Scholastic Inc. and chairman of the small magazines group at the Magazine Publishers of America, a New York-based trade group.

"Access to newsstands and direct sales have 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 also has 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."

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 English autos.

The Destlers, who met as students at Cal State Northridge, started a graphics business in the 1980s. But as businesses began doing their own desktop publishing, the Destlers found their bread-and-butter jobs drying up. Since Dave also was 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 own resources to finance the first issue, they began publishing the mostly black-and-white magazine, putting out four issues the first year before graduating to bimonthly. They soon gave up the graphics arts business entirely.

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

Meanwhile, their son, Dusty, then about 9, was playing baseball, which became a family activity with Dave coaching and Dayna serving as 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 displayed there 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 that a lot of families were spending a lot of time at ballparks around the country.

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

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 that "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."

Through the Small Business Administration's Small Business Development Center they took a 10-week entrepreneurial course to learn how to write a business plan, then went to work researching the market.

"We compiled a list of potential advertisers, made a business plan, did the research and discussed risks," Dayna said. They used census figures for demographic information and the Encyclopedia of Associations to find various baseball programs across the country.

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