This is the twelfth article in a series about surviving as an independent magazine publisher. If you want to start at the beginning, check out the Introduction to The Ball Bearing and the Beach Ball.
On a recent trip to California, I started to think about what it really means to be a publisher. Is it worthwhile to be as big and noticed as a beach ball? Or does it make more sense to strive to be a ball bearing?
As you know by now, I am firmly on the side of the ball bearings. But I wondered is there more to it than what I've laid out? And then it hit me...like a ball bearing! I realized that niche publishing today is more than about being continuously polished. It's more than just being small, yet leaving a huge impression...it's more than being dense - no, niche publishers today need to be more than just ball bearings...they need to be the GLUE!
When you look at a magazine, the ONLY thing that really keeps things together is the glue. All those pages have to be bound together. Staples, or saddle stitching as its called can provide most publishers with a somewhat sturdy method of keeping that paper together. But the truth is that it's PERFECT BINDING that really keeps things nice and tight.
Ok, I admit it. I am a perfect binding enthusiast. I love perfect binding. Sure, the pages don't lie flat like they do with saddle stitching, but I love the fact that a finished magazine looks more like a book. I love the neatness and the feeling of sliding my thumb and forefinger down that perfect spine.
Of course, if it wasn't for the glue, the entire mechanics of perfect binding would fall apart. The glue is crucial. In much the same way, a successful niche publishers need to think of themselves as glue.
What do I mean specifically? Niche magazine publishers are in a unique position. We concentrate on one particular subject and as such we become experts in this field...or we strive to become experts. The fact is that I can pick up the phone and reach practically everyone who makes skateboards. I don't fare that well when it comes to reaching the skate shoe or clothing companies - but then again, I don't go after those markets. I can connect dozens of people, simply and effectively. We bring people on board to the magazine - into the fold, as it were and we bind them together with others. Inclusion is something I strive for.
Skateboarding, like all industries, is highly competitive. The fact is that many folks who advertise in the mag (or are a part of the mag) have a friendly rivalry with fellow skate companies. Actually, some are more than just rivals. They are extremely competitive with each other and sometimes the tension can be awkward...if not downright brutal. So where does our magazine fit in? We become the glue.
At Concrete Wave our goal is to bind everyone together-not just advertisers but advertisers who may not get along that well. We bind readers together - that's obvious. But we bind readers who might feel isolated or cut off. This is a huge responsibility. This means our magazine has to stand for something. If the message is weak or weakened then the repercussions can be immense. Going off message or confusing folks just hinders the magazine.
With a huge amount published on-line, I sometimes wonder how all these MEGApixels can possibly bind everyone together. I am convinced that on-line forums can absolutely make people feel they are part of a tribe. But there are also some folks who want more. They want to experience more than what they see or experience on-line. As a niche magazine publisher, you can be the glue that ties everything together.
Next- what happens if you try and glue beach balls together and what happens when you try and glue ball bearings together...
Michael Brooke is the publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine.