This is the fifth 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.

The Ball Bearing and the Beach Ball

"Research shows that traditional advertising and public relations work pretty well for events, such as a sale. But brand loyalty and commitment occurs through experience, use of a product and talking with other people." — Tom Eiland

"A cult following is a nice way of saying very few people like you." — Martin Mull

"As a skater or skate company, you either have a Concrete Wave problem or you don't. Most folks don't and that's ok with me." — Michael Brooke

Last week I listed a number of things that fly in the face of conventional wisdom. I turn away business that is not 100% focused on skateboarding, I strictly limit the number of pages and I don't deal with ad agencies.

Sounds crazy, right? Again, I want to reiterate that not everything I do will apply to your magazine. For example, you may want to work with agencies. Go ahead, if that is your desire. But remember, they generally want huge numbers. A low cost per thousand flies in the face of a high cost per thousand, which is something as a niche publisher, you will have. Of course small is a relative word. 20,000 may seem like a big number to some publishers, but the truth is that it is small. Again, I reiterate, it's not about counting readers, it's about readership that counts. Be small but leave a huge impression on an audience that is deeply passionate about what you are publishing.

Recall that my readers aren't just consumers of skateboarding equipment, it's in their blood. They spend their time on-line, but they also spend a lot of time actually skateboarding. Concrete Wave magazine is the glue that ties things together. This is what I believe a successful magazine should aspire to do. But you can take things even deeper than this:

I am not publishing a magazine, I am building a cult.

The magazine is not a vitamin, it's a painkiller.

Concrete Wave stands apart from other skate magazines. By tapping into something that the other publications refuse to cover, we are building an entirely new community. Do we aim to appeal to every type of skateboarder? OF COURSE NOT. In fact, we might only appeal to 1% of all skaters worldwide. But since this equates to 200,000 people, that's more than enough readers for me to handle.

In Marty Neumeir's terrific book, "Zag" he discusses the concept of doing things that are opposite to what your competition is doing. I'll have more on this book in a future chapter. It is important to remember however, that to truly distinguish yourself in a market where the product is free (ie: information is free on the web) you must be doing more. Much more.

This means that I do the following:

  1. We aggressively cover all new developments within the world of skateboarding and promote the hell out of them! I love contacting new companies and finding out what is cooking. While some of my competitors won't give any ink to companies unless they advertise, we are always down to write about what is happening. We foster a sense of community - the readers want to know about new developments, the shops want to know what to buy and the companies are pleased that we are the conduit to spread this message. Does it sound like we are on a mission from God? Damn straight we are.

    We take all this information and package it in a way that Google cannot do. For example, try and google "new skateboard products." It's pretty damn lame what you'll get. Whereas, in CW you will get 2 pages filled with photos and words all beautifully laid out. We feature over 30 to 40 new products each issue. It can take up to 2 months to gather this information. It can be hard work. A two second search through Google brings a vastly different result and a vastly different experience.

  2. We work with numerous small and medium sized companies. The big guys may or may not be interested in what we do. This also goes for the independent retailer. We do everything we can to support them. If you're a ball bearing publisher, there is a power when everyone clusters together. This idea dovetails from the first one. You'll find that smaller companies generally get back to you faster, are quicker to pay and are generally more appreciative of your efforts. This is not to say the big guys aren't important - but they have more to lose and they have no problems flexing their muscle. This can lead to issues.

  3. We spend a fortune on making the magazine look as good as we can. This is an obvious point, but it bears repeating. Your advertisers will look at their ad very carefully. The better the quality of your magazine, the better off you'll be. I don't care what the conventional wisdom states. The more you can build the "marketing" into the product, the faster word of mouth will spread and the greater the stature your magazine will have.

  4. This means:
    1. the highest quality paper you can afford
    2. perfect binding
    3. a thick, UV coated cover
    4. wide format
    5. specialty inks
    6. anything else that freaks people out

    Why I am I so adamant on putting a ton of money into the actual printed magazine? Simple. It's not just a delivery vehicle for information. The magazine is a reflection of the entire community and beyond. Obviously, when you are starting out, you need to watch the pennies carefully - hell, I started on newsprint. That was the first issue - and we printed 25,000 copies - a beach ball mentality. We should have started out on nice glossy paper and 5,000 copies!

  5. Your magazine really is your media kit! Would it surprise you that my magazine's media kit is in Microsoft word? In fact there are times when I simply cut and paste it into a regular email as plain text. Do I recommend you be this frugal? Well, it all depends. First impressions count. My business card is exceptionally colorful, but I let the magazine do the talking.

  6. 99.9% of my customers live no where near I do. I only have one advertiser that I see when the issue is published. Everyone else I only see maybe once or twice a year (if I am lucky). This means that almost of my selling takes place on the phone and via email. I don't go on face to face sales calls. What this means is that I have to be very responsive - I don't think in terms of hours or minutes... but seconds.

  7. Here are my rules:
    1. I answer emails within 10 seconds... or try to.
    2. I answer the phone within 2 rings... or try to.
    3. If I am on the phone, I get back to people BEFORE I start making new calls.
    4. Before launching into telephone conversations I always ask "IS THIS A GOOD TIME FOR YOU TO SPEAK?"

  8. When you are a ball bearing publisher, you have a laser like focus that allows you to put your time to the best use. When talking with a prospect or current/former advertiser I spend a huge amount of time discussing marketing, strategy and the overall direction of the industry. This is crucial. Since I am not chasing non-endemic advertisers or ad agencies, I can share highly valuable information with an audience that truly cares and will benefit enormously from my insights. I can spend an hour helping someone grow their business. To put it another way, I am not selling advertising: I am investing in my clients as much as they are investing in me.

    You and I have 8 hours to accomplish something during each business day. A laser-like focus allows you to build a community of readers and advertisers. Next week, I will discuss more on how you can put even more focus on this laser-like focus.

Next » Laser-Like Focus

Michael Brooke is the publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine.