How to Start a Magazine

People wondering how to start a magazine are probably aware of the prevailing wisdom that the magazine industry is a very tough business. Statistics and cautionary tales abound about how otherwise successful people failed when they attempted to start a magazine. It’s estimated that 90 percent of all magazines fail.

You may have heard that one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, tried to start a magazine. It only published six issues and promptly folded. Starting a magazine is not for the faint of heart.

It’s estimated by consultants in the industry that every year a thousand magazines are launched.  They join nearly 20,000 already existing publications in the United States and Canada. It may seem to most people that the market is saturated. However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. The reason so many people try to start magazines is that it is cheap to do and a highly profitable endeavor.

Steps to Starting a Magazine

So how do you beat the statistics and launch a successful magazine?  Here are six steps to help get you started.

Develop the Concept

In other words, you need to decide what the magazine is going to be about. It should be a topic about which you:

  • Are passionate about
  • Know a lot of information about
  • Can market to others.

All three of these qualities are important in your concept. Your passion will drive you to make the magazine successful. Your pre-existing knowledge will help you focus the magazine on what is important. Marketability will also help make the magazine successful (you need people to want to read it). Find the target audience (age, gender, education level, income) and design the concept around them. In addition, you should decide the tone of the magazine: light and breezy or authoritative on the topic.

Define the Content

Defining your content will help you ensure that readers buy the next issue of your magazine. What will be the most beneficial to your target audience? If you capture them with content, you will develop a loyal readership. Look at some of the magazines that you regularly buy (it’s estimated that 84 percent of adults regularly buy magazines). What are the features of that magazine that make it worth your hard-earned money? Your content will have to do the same for the people who buy your magazine.

Get Help

Just like with any business venture, there are people who can help you to be successful. Engage with people who have launched magazines. Publishers, writers, and editors are all people you should talk to about the business of publishing your magazine.

Subject matter experts can help you with content development and ideas.  Financial people can walk you through the aspects of paying for everything and turning a profit. Attorneys have a wealth of knowledge on start-ups, online publishers, and printers that all may have experiences that can help you avoid pitfalls and succeed.

Scout the Competition

If you’ve ever played a competitive sport, you know that teams regularly watch previous games played by an opponent.  This allows them to ensure they are prepared for whatever the opponent may do in their own game. It’s called scouting the competition. You will need to apply this same theory to your own competition.

If there are other magazines that cover a topic similar to yours, take a look at them.  Ask yourself why someone would buy your magazine rather than this established, successful magazine. Then work to develop your concept and content to compete in the marketplace.

Write a Business Plan

The exercise of writing a business plan serves two purposes. First, it helps you communicate to investors what your business will do and how it will make money. It will also help discipline you around the business part of launching a magazine. There are professional business plan writers who can help you with this project. This is highly recommended because they are experts in ensuring that what you present to investors is cost-effective and well researched.

Get Funded

It’s estimated that for $100,000 or so, you can launch a regional magazine. It takes far more to launch a nationally-circulated magazine (a million at least).  Learn a little more about money before you do anything. It takes many publishers a year or more to start turning a profit. This can be a real issue if the publisher hasn’t anticipated how long it will take to do. You will have many expenses, including:

  • Staff
  • Management
  • Printing
  • Distributors
  • Legal representation
  • Other necessary costs

You should ensure that you can pay for all of these things for an entire year (or sometimes more) without a penny coming back to you. One non-traditional way is to start a GoFundMe campaign.

Good Luck as you start a magazine! If you need help with starting your magazine, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5-percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law, and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with, or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.