About 20 years ago, I’d decided that I wanted to launch a magazine. Though I had lots of experience in the wire service business and had written for many magazines, I’d never actually worked on staff anywhere.
Not being a total idiot, I realized that I needed maybe a little more information before diving in. That’s when I found Jim Tobak.
Tobak is pretty much the World’s Leading Expert about magazine launches, and I spent a couple of days in a seminar room with him at a Folio: magazine show. Tobak has been consulting for something like 50 years; I’ve forgotten details of his background, but he’s successful enough that he lives up in Connecticut and apparently manages to stay true to his stated goal of never having to wear long pants again. He wore shorts to my seminar, and it was not a warm day.
Tobak’s advice about how to launch magazines hasn’t changed much in the 15 years since I first met him. I’ve learned a ton about the process since then, and I can only say that he’s as right now as he was then.
Here, from the current Folio: are his nut grafs:
The basics have changed little: Despite technological advances, we still print magazines en masse and get most of them to readers via the mail. And most mags still depend on advertisers who target certain readers….
A magazine exists because people have an interest. If that interest is strong enough ﾖ and a magazine satisfies it ﾖ the magazine will be profitable. If you can’t see that a magazine will be highly profitable, you shouldn’t be in the business.
Wishful thinking about what interests people remains the biggest cause of failure in new magazines.
Tobak was not impressed by my projections or ideas, which didn’t stop me from getting a pretty serious look from Rupert Murdoch. Some 15 years later, though, the magazine I had in mind has finally been launched : the intriguing Tracks. At the time, though Tobak was right: I couldn’t prove that a) there was an audience, b) that I was the right guy to find it, I still have our exchange of memos, and I prize them.
Tobak was right about a point c), too: that a big company was almost certainly not the right place to publish it. Simon Dumenco writes, also in this month’s Folio:, about the difference between a BigCo launch and a LittleCo launch — and why the latter is better from pretty much everyone involved.