News Flash! The small magazine publisher is thriving – – even while mass-circulation colleagues are freshening up their resumes.
The secret: smaller magazines continue to speak convincingly to ever more narrow market segments. For example, there is a very successful publication strictly for teenage Hispanic girls who are planning their traditional coming of age parties. No niche is going unfilled.
With tremendous change underway, this is a good time for publishers and editors to review what makes a magazine great.
Take Pizza Today for example. For me, they get it right. It is a must read for every owner/operator in the pizza game. Everything in the book helps the reader operate more efficiently, stay abreast of trends and thrive. Features are often first person stories from other owner/operators. It’s like chatting with your best friend in the next town who is in the same business. Talk about rapport. I know, Pizza Today is a 40,000 circulation association mag and has great resources but the big idea is how they serve their readers so completely. Anyone can mimic this approach.
First rule? The reader comes first. Make them your friend for life by answering their needs. Okay, you say, but how to go about this? Ask them. You are probably doing this via reader surveys, letters to the editor or something similar. But I recommend some in-depth random interviews. Face-to-face is best. Interviews should be impressionistic to the extreme. Forget about statistical significance. Even a dozen decent interviews should do— but after doing just one you’ll see the value. Record these with your subjects’ permission so you can think about them later.
Ask your readers for their impressions of the cover and cover lines. Have a couple of your recent covers spread out. How do they like your name? Are the cover lines interesting or are they boring? Are the subjects pertinent to their interests?
These questions are less important than listening well and picking up on things that might be going unsaid. Probe. Explore. Get them to expand on their ideas. Show them the competition or other same size magazines you admire. People are unfailingly kind and it might take some time to get them to be openly critical so be patient. Don’t be afraid to joke around to lighten the mood. Ask for examples of other things they like in other magazines.
Work your way through the book (editorials, letters to the editor, columns, features, classifieds) to see what is of value. Ask what they would kill off. You might be working hard to produce a column when no one really cares. Once you get readers to open up they will tell you everything you will need to transform your publication into a reader-centric success. (By the way, advertisers are readers too and they will notice a reader-centric change.) It takes effort to do what I have outlined but it can become a valuable practice. Don’t delegate this to the summer intern; you’ll miss the best stuff.
New insights in hand, you are ready to make your magazine a success!
Next up: Covers that reach out and grab!
More about Steve: Steve Rank has a marketing background for both consumer and trade magazine magazines. A former ad agency owner, he has also worked as a film publicist and news correspondent. Steve is now an advisor and guest blogger for Niche Media HQ.
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