Why launch an independent magazine?

Following your dreams can be daunting, but the creative rewards are priceless, says Bec Brown

We live in an age of information overload, with new magazines launching regularly – and sometimes folding just as quickly. The internet is awash with websites, blogs and millions of pages of information relating to any topic you can think of, while established newspapers and magazines are debating how to adapt to the new world of online publishing where anyone can launch a blog or website. In such an environment, why would anyone choose to launch an independent magazine? And how do you make it a success?

I’m sure many people thought I was crazy when I decided to launch Blanket magazine. But I had a dream and I wanted to follow it. There are lots of challenges involved in independent publishing and it can be daunting if you don’t have a well-thought-out plan. I’d recommend that anyone thinking of launching their own magazine, whether printed or online, should start with some basic questions, such as target audience, your point of difference, how often you will publish, contributors and how you will pay them – with love or money!

There are lots of resources available on how to start a magazine, but the real challenge isn’t the launch, it’s afterwards: how do you keep it going? And not just this month or the next, but indefinitely. I’ve produced Blanket for more than five years and have overcome many obstacles on the way, relying mainly on my instinct. I haven’t found a formula to success; it really boils down to sheer dogged determination, hard work and the sacrifice of your free time – and you need to be prepared to do it for little (or no) monetary reward. As the old joke goes: ‘How do you make a small fortune with a magazine? Start with a large fortune’.

As an independent publisher I don’t have an office of people to bounce ideas off, or help with important decisions or the day-to-day administration. But I do have a trusted support network of friends, family and Blanket contributors who have helped keep me motivated. I’ve surrounded myself with people who I’ve shared my dream with. Even if they don’t always understand it, they respect it and help push me along when I feel overwhelmed and want to quit. There have been many times when the best – and probably smartest – option might have been to fold the magazine. But, with support and determination, I’ve made it through each challenge that I’ve faced.

I launched Blanket as a free publication. However, as the readership grew, so did the demands on my time and finances, and I realised I would have to make some tough decisions to sustain the magazine. So I implemented a small download fee, which was the biggest challenge that I’ve faced in independent publishing. I’d previously surveyed my readers and more than 70 per cent said they wouldn’t pay to download the magazine. While this was disheartening, a glimmer of hope was that at least one-third of my audience would consider paying. At the time, the decision was to fold or charge a fee. It was daunting but I had nothing to lose – except my magazine – so I decided to take the risk.

When I released the first paid issue of Blanket, my readership dropped from thousands of downloads down to a few hundred. And while this could be considered a failure, the surprising result was that my confidence grew. I had an audience who valued what I was doing and thought it was worth paying for. To me, that was a personal success.

My most recent challenge was producing Blanket’s first printed edition. Again, some might have seen this as another crazy decision: I’m swimming against the digital stream – while other print publications are exploring ways to adapt from print to digital, I’m researching printers and paper samples. But this was a direction I wanted to explore, so, once again, I’m testing myself with new challenges.

Independent publishing might seem overwhelming and challenging with little reward. But to me, success isn’t just measured in monetary terms. Independent publishing requires hard work but it’s worth it: you gain the opportunity to work with lots of talented people who you admire, and are creatively challenged and inspired along the way. And in the end, if you have a dream to start your own independent magazine, isn’t the real success in achieving your goal?