FAQ for New and Would-Be Publishers
Ideas are good. The magazine publishing industry eats, sleeps and breathes ideas. A lot of the best magazines fill a niche that no one even knew existed before the magazine was invented to serve it.
If you’ve got the concept, you have two options: you can sell your idea or you can publish the magazine yourself. Nearly all small magazines in Canada are published by the same people who dream them up…at least until the reins can be handed over once the business is up and running. You will only be able to sell your idea to a publishing company if you can guarantee that it will make vast amounts of money, that it fits with the rest of the company’s titles, and that it will thrive by garnering steady and appropriate advertising over the long term. Basically, it pretty much has to publish itself, and it has to be unique and saleable. Very, very few magazine concepts begin this way.
Publishing your own magazine means you get to maintain control of the vision of your publication, and you are its main spokesperson and financier. You may balk at the prospect of devoting yourself to the start-up of a new magazine—this is a good indication of whether you’re committed to your idea. Don’t be frightened. When you decide to publish, you join the ranks of a collegial, ingenious and diverse cultural industry.
A business plan is like a compass. It identifies the boundaries of your magazine and helps you find your way as you move forward. It pays to create one from Day One, even before your magazine is launched, as a way of identifying your mission and priorities, your potential for longevity, and your prospects as a business. Also, it is a nice, concise document to be able to hand to the bank manager whom you’re asking for financing.
Even though your business plan will be based on projections and assumptions, it will be your ultimate rationale. As an overview of your entire business, it should contain information that describes your venture, your management structure, your market and audience, your targets and plans for editorial, circulation and advertising, your distribution strategy, production costs and cash flow projections. You may also include your financing plans, your design aesthetic, detailed information on your company and personnel, your partnerships and anything else you deem important. Don’t forget to include an Executive Summary at the beginning.
No. Magazine publishers are required to register their business in the same way as everyone: by contacting Industry Canada or the Business Service Centre run by the government in the province where your business is located (for instance in Ontario, contact Ontario Business Connects), paying a small fee, and waiting for your licence in the mail. This is incidentally the same way you apply for things like vendor permits, Employer Health Tax, etc.
You know better than anyone to whom your business will appeal. Unfortunately there is no cache of Canadian magazine enthusiasts whose pockets are bursting with money and just waiting for you to call. What you must do is think broadly and creatively in your pursuit of potential investors, and develop a concerted strategy for your fundraising. If your magazine is issue-based, brush up on your venture philanthropy knowledge (try reading articles on Charityvillage.com and contacting the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy.) If you have charitable status, there are online resources available that list philanthropic organizations across Canada. Are you associated with a specific group of people that holds membership in other organizations? Does your magazine speak to any particular industry? Seeing your magazine in the broader marketplace is a helpful place to start. Networking is your best tool in approaching potential investors with an attractive proposal.
Head to a few well-stocked newsstands, perform a search at the National Library and Archives, search the names of registered businesses in Canada, use Google, contact Magazines Canada and/or the Canadian Business Press.
There are no standards here, except for the legislated standards of minimum wage. Many magazines in Canada have functioned for years with a staff of fewer than five people. Most small magazines (those with circulation under 10,000) do not exceed 10 members of personnel. You need the basic minimum number of staff persons to perform the tasks laid out by your business plan.
As for payment, Masthead conducts regular salary surveys; contact Masthead to view their most recent results. It is widely known that small magazine publishing is a little like archaeology: it’s a prestigious, adventurous, hands-on, cultural and independent enterprise but very few people in the world make any kind of serious money doing it. In this sense, magazine publishing is a craft. Expect low salaries. PWYC.
Obtaining an ISSN (an International Standard Serial Number) is simple, and free of charge. Visit the National Library and Archives Canada website. Once you receive an ISSN, the Library will also send you information about how to go about getting a barcode. Incidentally, Magazines Canada has a barcode machine that can issue barcodes to member magazines in our distribution program. For more information on how to become a member of Magazines Canada, click here.
There are several granting agencies that fund magazine publishing in Canada. The Department of Canadian Heritage runs the Canada Periodical Fund, which currently has three different types of grants available to publishers (Aid to Publishers, Collective Innitiatives and Business Innovation.) The Canada Council funds small arts and literary magazines, as do many of the provincial arts councils. The Ontario Media Development Corporation awards project funding to Ontario-based publications. In Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the B.C. government, there is the Direct Access Grant Program. If you’re located in Quebec, contact le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec or le Conseil des arts de Montreal. Lastly, if your organization has charitable status, you may research cultural philanthropic and private foundations to try and find a partner that fits well with your niche.
This is a tricky question to answer, but the general rule is: more than you think. Different types of magazines will require quite different amounts of funding. It is a good idea to have enough money to last through three years of starting up; a break-even analysis can help you figure out how many years it will be until your circulation and advertising plans start earning the revenues you need to match your expenses. Some would-be publishers want to start right away with a lavish glossy, or a uniquely sized book that they think will garner instant praise and newsstand sales because of its obvious looks and appeal. This is not always the safest way to go—indeed it is a sure route into debt unless you have millions in seed money. The best way to figure out how much money you will need is to create a business plan that includes fair estimations of your expenses and realistic projections of revenue. Don’t forget when you are building your business plan to focus heavily on your circulation plan, as magazines in Canada rely heavily on subscriptions to build stable revenue.
Be aware that many banks are shy of financing magazine ventures because magazine publishing is known as a tenuous business, and that if you do approach a bank for a loan, you will need to provide a guarantee of the stability of your future business. A solid circulation plan is an effective way of showing this.
Yes. Search for 'magazine' or 'publishing' on the websites of Simon Fraser University, Langara College, Centennial College, Mohawk College, Humber College and Ryerson University (including Ryerson Continuing Education.) Magazines Canada runs a number of professional development programs every year that are open to non-members: the Schools for Advertising Sales and Circulation; Magazine Intensives; and MagNet, the annual conference in June.
It can be quite a while. It depends on your business model and how well your projections pan out. Let’s just say that only some magazines are instant successes and that it is more important to focus on your magazine’s overall health than its profit margin.
No, you aren’t obliged to join any association, but there are benefits available if you do. Your local or national magazine association is only as strong as its membership. The unofficial motto of Magazines Canada is In Unitate Vires. Read the Membership section of our website to discover what this is all about.