WHOAH did we just publish the first ever print issue of Harness Magazine? It feels like just yesterday I was dreaming up logos and wondering if anyone would find our cause worthy. While the process is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to talk through publishing your own magazine and some tips/tricks I learned along the way. Plus, I am going to sneak peek some of our spreads and maybe that will entice you to purchase our masterpiece.
If you’re reading this you have one of two motives: a) you’ve thought about publishing your own magazine or book; or b) you want to see what’s in-between the cover of ours. Both motives I can respect. Let me give you a little background information. I self-fund the platform. We do occasional sponsored blog posts and there is a banner ad at the bottom of Harness – but it’s not nearly enough to sustain us. Some business owners would consider this a failure, but I know we have only touched the tip of the iceberg and in time Harness will be a movement that is profitable and sustainable. Plus, I’ve listened to enough podcasts from “How I Built This” with Guy Raz to know that some of the best companies didn’t make a dime the first few years.
Why am I telling you all of this? to drive home the fact that we made this magazine on a budget – an extreme budget. It still turned out magical. So money should not be holding you back. Here we go:
- A TIMELINE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND – NOT YOUR ENEMY.
It took us roughly four months to curate, shoot, edit and design the content of our first issue. I had a timeline in my mind and one briefly scribbled out on scraps of paper – but that wasn’t enough. I needed to create a big picture of our milestones and when each milestone was due. Fleshing out a detailed timeline not only helps your team, but it helps you understand the big picture. Tips for timeline planning your first issue: build in some buffer time (you always want to leave room for error), set attainable milestones (don’t be overzealous on goals), and finally, leave at least an extra week to order – we placed an order during the snow cyclone and it was delayed by a few days.
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
Once your timeline is fleshed out, decide how your audience is going to view your product. Do most of your users read digitally? Do they want a hard copy? I find the best way to determine this is to ask your audience. What about the content? Does it fall in line with your brand? Is there enough variety? Do you have enough content? Cover to cover we had a 36 page magazine. Sounds like a lot right? You’d be surprised. 36 pages is about half of what a traditional magazine is. We decided against advertisers in our first issue and focused strictly on pure content. I attribute our absence of advertisers to how “skinny” our magazine is – but displaying it as a piece of art was more important to me. I think this is an important point – when your readers get your magazine and it’s half the size of what they are used to, you have to worry about first impressions, so just keep quality and content in mind. I would also do a little market research on your magazine segment and see what other “small shop magazines” typically set their pricing at. Ultimately, the way you decide to print will be a huge factor in setting price.
3. PRINTING ON DEMAND VS. OFFSET PRINTING.
You’ve done your market research which likely included how many copies you think your audience will buy. Based on that number you need to determine if you are going to print on demand or use offset printing. Let’s do a crash course on printing. Printing on demand means that magazines are not printed until your partner company receives the order. It eliminates the upfront risk because you don’t need to hold on to stock that may never sell and the partner company ships the product to your customers for you. However, the sales margins are lower on your product. Offset printing allows you to print large quantities at a cheaper price which will give you a better sales margin. You typically have more customization opportunities with offset printing (paper quality, cover, matte vs, glossy). However, you need to buy all the stock up front, store it and ship it. We used a print on demand company for our first issue – Blurb. The quality of the magazine and ease of use was a huge factor for us. We also didn’t want to take on the upfront risk. We went with Sellfy to sell our digital issue, which I really enjoyed. It allows you to set a base price for your product and if people want to pay additional to donate to your cause – they can.
4. KNOW YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY.
In the beginning, I thought little about marketing and public relations because I was so consumed with the design process. I think this lack of focus will set back our success on the first issue, but it was a learning point for me. Here are a few quick and dirty tips:
- Make a list of influencers and get your product in their hand by release day.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, colleagues, readers to promote your magazine. The first issue is important and they are more than happy to support you.
- Are you going to sell strictly online or in shops? Clarify shop partnerships well in advance of publishing. Also collaborate with shops to promote the product (i.e. giveaway).
- Did you have contributing writers? get the product into their hands prior to release day so they can share with friends and family.
- Schedule out marketing blasts to your readers via MailChimp or another email marketing provider. Let readers know your product is live!
5. BE HUMBLE AND BE EASY.
Be humble enough to admit that something isn’t working during the design process or after. If it doesn’t feel right, go with your instincts. You don’t want to get to the publishing phase and hate your product. Finally, be easy on yourself. The process is tedious and long – but worth it. You are going to fumble and make mistakes – that’s okay! How else are you going to grow if you don’t make mistakes?
As always, thanks for reading and being part of this community.
Ashley Rector (Drellishak), Founder of Harness Magazine.