Five Deadly Magazine, Website
and Newsletter Publishing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
I guess publishing newsletters and magazines looks easy from the outside.
That's why so many people launch new publications without any previous
publishing experience. Unfortunately, most newcomers quickly fail.
My mission is to help people succeed at publishing. So I've been looking
at the worst mistakes people make hoping I can warn new publishers
about them. Luckily, all of these mistakes are relatively easy to avoid.
1. Ignoring what your audience needs.
Obviously, you need an audience if you want to be a publisher, but
a surprising number of people don't bother to study their audience
before they create their publication. They concentrate on what they
want to write, not on what their audience wants to read. Avoiding this
mistake is simple: Before you start publishing, make sure you know
what your readers need.
First, think about them. How old are they? How literate? How much
money do they have? How are they spending their time? Why are they
interested in your subject? How much (or how little) do they already
know about it? What motivates them to read: personal development,
financial gain, recreation? That is, what are they going to gain
by reading your publication?
Next, get your audience to talk to you. There are lots of low-cost
ways to study your prospective readers. For example, interview
people at trade shows, or conduct mail and telephone surveys. If
you're already in print, then run fax polls and surveys in your
publication. If you're not yet in print, then study the letters
to the editors, opinion polls and other reader feedback that runs
in related publications. In short, take every step you can that
will allow prospective readers to tell you about themselves.
Then, study your competitors. What's missing from them? What could
you do better? No matter how many other publications are already
out there, you can usually find a unique and valuable editorial
niche, especially if you thoroughly understand your readers.
Finally, after you get readers talking to you, and you train yourself
to listen to them, sit down to create your publication — one
that suits them.
2. Underestimating your competition.
When a field is hot, there will be lots of publishers jumping into
it. Before you leap, figure out who you'll be competing against and
how you are going to deal with them.
First, learn everything you can about each competitor. Get their
publications and their media kits and their subscription promotions.
Read their press releases. Visit their web sites.
Next, figure out how you can distinguish your publication from
the others. Some examples: target a different audience, publish
in a different format (like a newsletter instead of a magazine,
or an e-zine instead of a printed publication), or establish a
unique editorial mission (if theirs is late-breaking news, then
yours could be in-depth analysis).
Finally, be realistic about your resources. If you're competing
against Goliath, then think like David. That is, aim for a very
specific target. Many small publishers survive by picking a market
that is too little to attract major publishing companies. Some
of them are able create a tiny niche they can keep to themselves.
For example, instead of a general gardening publication, make one
for hybrid rhododendron breeders. A narrowly targeted audience
like that is cheaper to reach and easier to hold onto. And that
makes them more profitable in the long run.
3. Trying to do it all by yourself.
Honestly, I think people try to publish all alone because they're
afraid to let other people challenge their opinions. That's a deadly
mistake for two reasons: first, your ideas always improve when thoughtful
people challenge them. And second, publications are too much work for
one person to handle alone.
Lone publishers either burn out from the work load or they simply run out
of good ideas. As a result, I've seen very promising publications fail
just because the publisher didn't include other people in the enterprise.
Even if you can't afford to hire employees, you can include experienced
people in your business. The key is deciding that you want help and then
looking for it. Consider the following people:
a. Vendors (like your printer or your computer dealer) can often help you
improve productivity if you ask them a direct question like, "Is there
a better way to do this?" Vendors can also help you find other qualified
vendors, consultants and employees.
b. Other publishers can save you lots of learning time by sharing their
ideas with you. Look for opportunities to befriend other publishers, especially
those who don't directly compete with you.
c. Industry experts who speak at conferences or write articles
in journals are often much more available than you might think.
Look them up and ask them to contribute to your publication. These
other voices will add some sparkle to your publication.
d. Professional consultants, freelance contributors, and outside
experts can provide valuable advice and support for a reasonable
cost. Somebody out there already knows how to do what you're trying
to do. When you run into a publishing problem that you don't know
how to solve, instead of trying to figure it out alone, look for
someone else who might already know the answers.
4. Thinking only about the next issue, not your future.
Lots of people start their publishing company on a whim. They publish
a first issue — just like that — and then if readers buy
their first issue, they make another one. And so on. They live from
issue to issue, never thinking beyond the next feature article or printing
bill. Then, something happens that they didn't anticipate and they
have to quit or give up. For example, a competitor pops up and steals
the readers, or paper suddenly costs more than they can afford. Sadly,
I've seen people quit even when their problems are relatively easy
to solve just because they never gave any thought to their future and
they had no contingency plans. Even a cold can kill you if you don't
know how to take care of it.
You can easily avoid this mistake. Just a little bit of planning
can save you a truckload of trouble. Here's how to make a simple
First, study the publishing business by looking at the life cycles
and business practices of other publications. How long does it
take to achieve profitability? What kind of resources do publishers
need? What are their revenue opportunities? Figure out what you
can reasonably expect to accomplish over the years, set some goals,
and then consider different ways to meet them.
Next, gather very specific information about your own publishing
ideas. How much will it cost to print, mail and promote a publication
like the one you plan to publish? How much can you charge for subscriptions
and ads, given the competitors in your market? Who will write,
design, edit and illustrate your publication issue-after-issue?
Gathering concrete cost and revenue information will force you
to make sensible decisions about managing your resources.
Finally, consider some contingency plans. What will you do if the
advertisers don't buy your idea as quickly as you'd hoped they
would? How will you keep publishing if you lose a key contributor,
vendor or investor? Having thought about these contingencies, you
won't be devastated just because something unexpected happens to
5. Taking money from the wrong people.
Sometimes publishers are so hungry for startup money that they take
money with too many strings attached to it. Usually, their publication
suffers. Beware of the wrong advertisers, for example. You can become
dependent on them, at the expense of your editorial integrity. For
example, Martha Stewart has never allowed canned food ads in her magazine,
Martha Stewart Living, because she doesn't uses canned foods in her
recipes. Of course, Martha doesn't need anybody else's money because
she's got plenty of her own. But suppose you didn't have Martha's resources
and you did have Campbells and Del Monte pleading to buy space in your
magazine. If you accepted their ads, before you know it you would be
slipping their products into your recipes. I guarantee it.
Here's another example of "tainted" money — accepting
investment money from investors who will try to push you around.
For example, if your lawyer uncle is going to look over your shoulder
and second-guess every decision you make (even though he knows
absolutely nothing about the publishing business), don't let him
invest in your publication — even if you could really use
his money. If he pressures you to run your business like a law
firm instead of a publishing company, his money could wind up costing
you much more than it's worth.
You can avoid taking tainted money in two ways. First, spend as
little as possible so that you retain your financial independence
as long as you can. Plan ahead, be cheap, and manage your cash
very carefully so that you need as little outside financing as
possible. Second, when you do need to borrow money or take on investors,
look for people who match your editorial and business goals very
closely and hold out for them. Be choosey. You can find investors
who bring more than money to the table if you look for them. For
example, get people with publishing experience to invest, or find
lenders who are also influential participants in your market niche.
Blending money with influence or expertise is a very smart move
for an inexperienced publisher.
Want to know more about starting magazines, websites, or newsletters,
please feel free to email Help@Publishingbiz.com. We work with magazine
newsletter publishers of every variety, and the chances are good that
we can help you too.