Gloria Hildebrandt, a freelance writer and editor, has contributed to many magazines over her career, but now has a magazine of her own. Along with co-publisher Mike Davis, she has a little over one year of publishing Escarpment Views under her belt. Learn how she's keeping her readers and advertisers happy, even in a tough economic climate.
How long have you been publishing Escarpment Views?
Since January 2008.
Tell us about your target market?
Our target market began as the people living in communities close to the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Tobermory. It has expanded somewhat, to include people who enjoy visiting Escarpment lands for sports, recreation and culture, or even just reading about these activities. We know this because of subscribers we have with addresses beyond Escarpment communities.
Have you been interested in the area long?
Yes. Since childhood. My co-publisher Mike Davis and I grew up and still live close to the Escarpment and have always enjoyed exploring its lands close to home, first with our childhood families, then on our own as adults.
What was your business or employment prior to starting your publication?
With a specialist degree in English literature from Trinity College, University of Toronto and a certificate in magazine journalism from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, I was, and continue to be, a self-employed magazine journalist, writer, editor, researcher and communications consultant. Mike Davis has a bachelor of science in engineering from University of Guelph and was, and still is, a Professional Engineer who works with brownfields.
Would you consider yourself an expert on the Escarpment area?
No, we aren't experts on Niagara Escarpment communities. There is a lot to learn and discover, and we're becoming better educated with each issue. Our role is to help experts communicate their knowledge to our audience.
Did you see a need for your magazine in the market? What need did you meet that made your magazine successful?
Yes, we saw a need for our magazine - at least we hope we're meeting a need. We saw similar values, attitudes and concerns among separate communities. We identified a community of like-minded spirits who for the most part, have chosen to live close to the Escarpment in order to have proximity to nature and rural lands, where development is somewhat controlled and the unique small towns and villages can continue to be important economic centres. Seen in this way, there is really no other place like this large geographic area. A surprise for us has been that we also have subscribers who live away from the Escarpment but who enjoy reading about the lifestyle. Have we identified a "Niagara Escarpment state of mind"?
We know that a bulk of revenues from 'conglomerate' magazines comes from advertising revenues. Does your niche provide good opportunities for revenues from advertising?
We believe and hope so. Our audience includes wealthy people with large rural and smaller urban properties as well as cottages or second residences that require regular maintenance. They also have significant disposable income that they are willing to spend on good quality goods, services and experiences.
Do you pursue advertising yourself, use a rep, or a marketplace like mediabids.com?
My co-publisher Mike Davis and I both work at getting advertisers, and we have recently added two sales reps, including my sister Barbara Jennings, who are covering distinct areas for us. It's too big a geographic area for us to be able to cover entirely by ourselves, so there are opportunities for more sales reps with us.
What do you see as the biggest benefit to advertisers in magazines in general and in your magazine in particular?
The biggest benefit that good magazines in general (but they must be good, and we are told that ours is) offer to advertisers is long-term exposure and awareness. Magazines are not the place to advertise next week's sales, but for companies that intend to remain in business indefinitely, magazines provide awareness long after issues are no longer current. Good magazines get kept for years and then sometimes get passed on to new readers or donated to hospitals! A great out-of-date magazine can be as interesting to read as the latest issue. Advertisers can continue to get exposure as long as the magazine stays out of the recycling bin.
The biggest benefit that Escarpment Views offers advertisers is this long-term exposure, and over a much wider area than just their home town, as well as exposure to receptive consumers. Because we are told that our magazine gets read, our advertisers get noticed. And they report that they make sales to people who said they came because they saw their ads in Escarpment Views. We are told that paying customers drive a long way from other towns specifically because of the ad. In this way, we help with tourism.
We noticed that your magazine is available at no cost at your advertisers' locations. How did you decide on that method of distribution?
Other local and regional publications in our area give their copies away. We feel we have to do the same to compete. Yet we restrict our locations to advertisers because we see a value-added benefit for advertisers in carrying Escarpment Views for the public to pick up. We have plenty of offers to stock the magazine from non-advertisers, but we know that it drives traffic to people's facilities, so it seems fair to reserve that for our advertisers. Our regular advertisers tell us that they get calls from people asking if the next issue is out yet, and we are asked to restock with more copies.
What is your circulation?
How often do you publish Escarpment Views?
Quarterly: March 1, June 1, Sept. 1, Dec. 1.
Are there any restrictions on where you deliver your magazine?
No. We distribute to postal routes along the Niagara Escarpment, but have subscriptions from across Canada and also the U.S.
Is your magazine available on any shop newsstands?
How do you market your magazine?
Our advertisers help as well. They distribute free copies to the public, and some of them place our magazine in premier locations in their stores. One large retailer had us as the only magazine available on their counters. We also find some advertisers placing us in their own magazine holders, saving us the expense of purchasing display stands. We also offer "Escarpment Views available here" signs with each new issue, which some advertisers post on their doors, windows or interiors.
Where do you find your writers? Photographers?
We find them by approaching local writers and photographers whose work we admire, and writers who are members of Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the Halton-Peel Communications Association. Many people also approach us wanting to contribute. We tend to avoid advertiser-written content because it is self promotional. I look for professional, high quality skills in writing and photography. We pay an acceptable rate for assignments - not the industry's top dollar, but the going rate for magazines of our size. In some cases we pay by giving ad space that is worth more than the fee for the contribution. As a former national director of PWAC, I would not exploit freelance contributors.
What is your editorial mission for Escarpment Views?
Reflecting the lifestyles and values of people along the Niagara Escarpment. Our magazine title, Escarpment Views, has a double meaning. In addition to the beautiful landscapes and scenery we feature in each issue, by the word "views" we also mean the attitudes and opinions of people near the Escarpment. We also want to give a voice to those views.
How would you describe your magazine's editorial style?
Professional and high quality. We aim to give readers a "you-are-there" experience. We often observe what we call the "Alice-in-Wonderland-down-the-rabbit-hole" phenomenon. People open the magazine and glance at the pages, and then their heads bend down and they can't be easily interrupted. They get caught up in an article. It's very gratifying to me. I used to teach my magazine writing students to place the reader on top of a slide at the start of an article, and send them rapidly down the slide so that they finish reading it before they know it. That's the editorial style we aim for.
What are your biggest challenges when it comes to content?
Covering everything we want in a limited number of pages. There is no shortage of fabulous stories to tell.
Does your latest issue look similar to the issue you launched with? What has changed? What's the same?
Our latest issue looks similar to the premier issue but improved.
What has changed is an added column and department, and better ad placements. We responded to advertisers who said they didn't want to be on a page of solid ads.
We also have stronger, bolder covers. Our Art Director Branimir Zlamalik taught us how to compose cover photos that have room for the masthead and cover lines, and I'm always trying to improve the appeal of our cover lines. We have also recently agreed with Branimir who, from the beginning, said we should add our mission statement to the cover. We're learning and getting better. One reader told us after only the second issue, that "the magazine keeps getting better and better!"
What has remained the same is our commitment to excellent writing and photography, and our signature centre spread of a landscape photo. This has become very popular and people tell us they can't wait to see the next one. Some even frame and hang them.
Is the content of your magazine available on-line?
Yes, at www.EscarpmentViews.ca we post content for pieces when we own the copyright for them or when we have permission to post them.
Has the Internet helped you with your subscription sales?
Yes. We get subscription orders through a form on our site.
With the internet being touted as a resource for information, how are you faring in terms of competition with the Internet and what challenges do you face?
We need a good Internet presence to be taken seriously and to help us market the magazine, but our audience seems to prefer the hard-copy permanence of our magazine. We don't fear the Internet, we see its opportunities for us.
What was your initial investment, approximately, to start Escarpment Views?
Around $20,000, hard and soft costs, per issue.
How long did it take before Escarpment Views began to see a profit? If you're not yet seeing a profit, when do you predict you will?
It depends on how you define profit. We began to cover our most basic costs by the start of Year 2, but that's a very limited view of profit. Our goal is to be able to compensate ourselves, all our staff and contributors professionally, so increased revenues can go to that goal. I guess you can say we plan to reinvest to improve the magazine.
What do you see as your biggest challenge over the next year?
Our biggest challenge will be communicating personally with all our ad prospects.
In your opinion, what sets apart successful independent magazines from those that are not successful?
Passion, quality and hard work.
In general, what would your advice be to someone considering publication of their own magazine?
Be prepared to risk the loss of a significant amount of money. Be passionate about your niche. Be prepared to work harder than you ever have in your life, for little pay. See that as an opportunity, not a problem.