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FAQ for New and Would-Be Publishers


1. I have a great idea for a magazine. How can I find a publisher?

Once you have a concept, you have two options: 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 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. In short, it has to nearly publish itself, and it needs to be unique and saleable. Very few magazine concepts begin this way.

Publishing your own magazine allows you to keep control of the vision of your publication. You will also be its main spokesperson and financier. Devoting oneself to the start-up of a new magazine can be a daunting prospect. As with any new business, it will involve a great deal of effort and risk. Work, learn and persevere, and you will join the ranks of a collegial, ingenious and diverse cultural industry.

2. What's a business plan? Why do I need one?

A business plan is like a compass. It identifies the boundaries of your magazine and helps you find your way as you move forward. Creating your business plan is one of the very first steps you will take, long before your magazine is launched, as a way of identifying your mission and priorities, your potential for longevity, and your prospects as a business. It is also a concise document that can be shown to potential lenders or investors.

Although 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. There are many sample business plans available for free online.

3. As a magazine publisher, do I need to register my business in any special way?

No. Magazine publishers are required to register in the same way as any other business: by contacting Industry Canada or the business service centre run by the government in the province where your business is located (e.g. Service Ontario), paying a small fee, and waiting for your licence in the mail. This is roughly the same procedure used to apply for things like vendor permits, Employer Health Tax, et cetera.

4. Where can I find someone to invest in my magazine?

You know better than anyone to whom your business will appeal. 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. 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 for finding potential investors to approach with an attractive proposal.

5. How can I find out if anyone else is publishing the same type of magazine?

Head to a few well-stocked newsstands, perform a search at the National Library and Archivessearch the names of registered businesses in Canada, use Google, contact Magazines Canada.

6. How many staff should I have? How much should I be paying personnel?

Many magazines in Canada have functioned for years with a staff of fewer than five people. Most small magazines (those with an average per-issue circulation under 10,000) do not exceed 10 staffers. You need the basic minimum number of staff persons to perform the tasks laid out by your business plan.

There are no clear standards here, except for the legislated standards of minimum wage. The Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) offers suggested standards for paying writers. Small magazine publishing is a prestigious, adventurous, hands-on, cultural and independent enterprise but very few people make a lot of money doing it.

7. How do I get an ISSN? How do I get a barcode?

Obtaining an ISSN (an International Standard Serial Number) is simple, and free of charge. Visit the National Library and Archives Canada. Once you receive an ISSN, the Library will also send you information about how to go about getting a barcode. Magazines Canada also hosts a hotsheet about UPC codes and can issue barcodes to member magazines in our distribution program. Contact the Membership Office for more information on how to become a member of Magazines Canada.

8. How can I get grants?

Several granting agencies in Canada fund magazine publishing. Magazines Canada’s online resource library features a list of grants and subsidiesThe Department of Canadian Heritage runs the Canada Periodical Fund, which currently has three different types of grants available to publishers (Aid to Publishers, Business Innovation and Collective Initiatives.) The Canada Council for the Arts 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  Quebec, contact SODEP (Société de dévelopment des périodiques culturels québecois) for a list of cultural organizations and AQEM (Association Québécoise des éditeurs de magazines) to promote your french magazine, and for a list of guides and grants. If your organization has charitable status, you may research cultural philanthropic and private foundations to find a partner that fits well with your magazine. We also have a list of grant programs available in Canada on our website.

9. How can I get start-up money for my magazine? How long does it take for a magazine to make money?

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.

10. Are there courses I can take in magazine publishing?

Yes. Search for "magazine" or "publishing" on the websites of Simon Fraser UniversityLangara CollegeCentennial CollegeHumber College and Ryerson University (including Ryerson Continuing Education). There are also many other resources for magazine and writing education across Canada listed online if you use a basic search engine. Magazines Canada runs a number of professional development programs every year that are open to non-members: the Travelling Circulation SchoolMagazine Workshops and Intensives and the annual MagNet magazine conference in June.

11. How long does it take before most magazines make money?

It depends on your business model but the rule of thumb is three to five years.

12. Do I have to join a magazine association?

No, but there are benefits available if you do, including shared knowledge and resources and up to date communications about the industry. Magazines Canada is the national association for consumer, business and cultural titles (English and French) while the regional magazine associations provide services to a geographic member base. The unofficial motto of Magazines Canada is In Unitate Veris. Read the Membership section of our website to discover what this is about.

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