Publishers should see their readers as stakeholders, says Mary Hogarth who believes the way forward is to create a highly valued magazine.
In my previous article, Learning from market sectors that pay, I cited The Home Handbook, a franchised, regional title launched by Peter Ward in 2010. If done well local publications make money due to the community factor and meeting a need for both parties, which in this instance is the audience and advertisers. It is a classic case of supply and demand – give the readers what they need and focus on quality but keep your costs low.
Often the model isn’t as simple. To produce and distribute nationally or globally requires significant investment and a long wait before achieving ROI.
So how can publishers build a stable of loyal readers and engaged users? Taking ego out of the picture and putting readers at the heart of any value proposition is a good start. It is vital to see readers not just as consumers. The aim should be to create a sustainable title that is valued by all its stakeholders.
And while sustainability is good, the aim should be to thrive. To achieve this, publishers should embrace change and alter their perspective.
Such a shift means looking for new ways to move away from traditional distribution models and develop relevant brand extensions that readers not only want but need. Moreover, publishers must see the audience across all their products as essential stakeholders.
Community is key
Despite the doom and gloom, print magazines are beginning to make a comeback – and rightly so. That said the digital age is to be revered as it demands more flexibility in terms of how your readers can access the content.
However, access options must be packaged in the right way to maximise revenue potential. Thus, an opportunity exists to create a community by developing a variety of subscription packages based on the readers’ needs or membership-style tiers. The latter works well in B2B and specialist sectors, notably where publishers have amassed valuable content which can then repurposed into a knowledge bank.
Membership subscriptions work best when the focus is on creating that sense of community – one that is about mutual benefit and sustainability. Moreover, reaching out to readers and creating a sense of community can also save a magazine.
In 2017, New Internationalist, an ethical, current affairs magazine – founded some 34 years previous – had run into severe financial problems. The magazine reached out to its readers with a community-share offer to sustain its independence and achieve financial stability.
Loved and valued by its readers, New Internationalist, according to media sources, raised more than £200,000 via this method – with actress Emma Thompson being among the first to invest along with musicians Jarvis Cocker and Billy Bragg.
Case study: The Mint
Continuing with the community theme, The Mint is an uplifting story. Inspired the campaigning genesis of The Economist, Henry Leveson-Gower had a passion for new economic thinking, solid background knowledge and a shoestring budget, but knew little of magazine publishing.
Fast forward four years and the magazine had recently produced its ninth issue. Here Henry shares his publishing journey.
The Mint evolved because I wanted to raise awareness and develop a deeper understanding of economic systems and how they interact with political, social and physical systems. A digital magazine seemed the perfect platform to share knowledge and ideas. Start-up costs were minimal, around £5,000 to produce and launch the magazine with £1,000 spent on the launch party. Funding came from a personal business loan and The Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics, which helped finance initial research into the viability of the concept.
Although the magazine has yet to become profitable, I’ve realised that promoting the magazine to those more ‘converted’ to economic reform and pluralism for non-profit organisations is potentially a more successful approach.
Subsequently, my thinking was to create a paid membership system for PEP the non-profit company, which owns NEKS, and giving members access to The Mint for free as part of a range of membership packages, while starting to charge a small amount for the magazine to those who are not members.
Overall my experience has been a steep learning curve, with one of the biggest lessons being not to forget about the user interface.
Magazine publishing is not just about content, because if people find an interface difficult to use or it doesn’t work on their laptop, tablet or phone this will impact on engagement and uptake.
In the long term? I want to make The Mint a monthly title, but it’s got to pay for itself. Production costs are kept low, working out around £4,000 an issue. While the editor and designer both work on a freelance basis, there is a network of writers who produce the content, volunteering their services to gain a voice and share knowledge.
My goal is to achieve a much higher readership and international distribution – creating a global community within the next 18 months to three years. The idea is to grow events on a global basis all on the same URL but with different versions of the site for each country.
Building a community and magazine in tandem is essential to ensure both become sustainable.
My three takeaways
- Start seeing your audience as stakeholders, put them at the heart of every decision.
- Change your perspective. Nothing is static, so if something isn’t working try a new strategy. The worst thing publishers can do is continue to do what they did yesterday.
- Build your product around a community. Those publications that meet an actual need are more likely to be sustainable as we have seen with The Home Builder example.
This article is based on the sixth chapter of my latest book, Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing, published by Routledge and available from Amazon.