Setting up a magazine is hard work, but the creative rewards often outweigh the hardship. IdeasMag talks to The Stool Pigeon's Phil Hebblethwaite and Very Nearly Almost's George MacDonald, who set up magazines and lived to tell the tale...
Everyone has a blog these days, from unborn babies to ageing grannies, and there are books, sites and newspaper articles on how to do it profitably.
It feels like the only people bothering to undertake print projects are those with a stack of cash behind them (step forward Katie Price). But there are advantages to sticking with the print model, says The Stool Pigeon founder Phil Hebblethwaite: “Nobody wants to take a crap with their laptop on their knee.”
Hebblethwaite set up the free indie music magazine in 2005 after the publishing company he worked for went bust. “Back then the music press seemed really stagnant. Online was beginning to get interesting but the regular music mags like NME and Q had become predictable. We felt there was space to launch a title that would cover mostly independent music in a way that was informative, witty and a bit confrontational.”
What Hebblethwaite had and what he says is essential was “good contacts”. He adds, “We needed those contacts – writers, snappers, illustrators – to make sure we could get the stories.”
For the first issue they printed 10,000 copies and distributed the publication themselves by hand. Says Hebblethwaite, “For the first five years, we did all the distribution ourselves – and that meant two vans covering 2,500 miles each time we printed. The number of towns and cities increased to 50, then 75 and currently almost 100.” Last year the non-London distribution was outsourced to Worldwide Magazine Distribution in Birmingham.
Stool Pigeon’s now a full-time operation but, says Hebblethwaite, “It’s still hard to make a living off it, even after six years.”
One thing has become certain to Hebblethwaite is that, “you simply can’t be a printed title only. You need to be just as intelligent online.” Part of this, he says, is “making sure you have distinct identities in print and on the web.”
George MacDonald set up his magazine, Very Nearly Almost, in 2006 after he saw the lack of publication covering his passion: street art. He explains, “I’ve been photographing graffiti since 1997 and when street art emerged in the early 2000s I began to photograph the likes of Banksy and D*Face and that led me to put together a small zine which I gave away for free in galleries and shops.”
He began to sell it around issue three and by issue seven the “zine” became a proper magazine. He says, “We’re all massive fans of printed matter. There’s something amazing about a well-produced magazine that’s beautiful and collectable. I don’t enjoy reading magazines online and I believe in keeping printed magazines alive.”
MacDonald still hasn’t got back the money he put into the magazine, but says, “I like to think that in the future it will be a successful full-time magazine with a healthy turnover and hopefully some profit.” The key is distribution: “It’s taken us a while to get to where we are now with our readership because of getting the right stockists and distribution. It’s all well and good having an amazing product but if it’s in the right places no one is ever going to see it, let alone buy it. The internet can only take you so far.”
But it’s possible. Hebblethwaite says, “You can still make a printed title work, but you’d better have a bloody good idea and a whole load of dedication. And you need to run a site that’s just as good as the printed version of your title.”
Making it work:
- Know your niche
- Have a bank of willing writers/snappers or content providers
- Sort out a good distribution deal
- Make sure you have a decent web presence and that your website is as good as your magazine.
Read more How to articles.
Fancy setting up a magazine? Check out The Anthology brief – your chance to win £2,000 of funding to set up an online publication.
Image: 1 year of magazines in the bathroom by noodlepie, under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.