This is the fourth 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.
"Sales may lead to advertising as much as advertising leads to sales." — Michael Schudson
"Advertising is, actually, a simple phenomenon in terms of economics. It is merely a substitute for a personal sales force - an extension, if you will, of the merchant who cries aloud his wares." — Rosser Reeves
"I hate sales. I love sales." - Michael Brooke
If you recall our famous hedgehog concept, you'll remember that it's not enough to have passion, or to be determined to create the world's greatest magazine on left-handed soccer players... no you must also include a valid economic engine.
As a ball-bearing publisher your magazine is built upon an idea and you measure your success by how widely this idea spreads. But it costs money to print a magazine. It's also expensive to ship it to places and yes, you have to pay yourself something for all the work you're doing. Art vs. commerce – don't you just love it?!
The biggest one-liner about publishing is as follows: "How do you make a small fortune in the publishing biz? Start with a large fortune."
But it doesn't have to be this way. Remember, as a ball bearing publisher, your mode of operation is SMALL. People either get what you are doing, or they don't. This is how I treat sales. I spent years selling products that I somewhat believed in. Actually, I believed in most of them, but the truth was I was a pretty lousy salesperson. In fact, I hated selling. It was just a way to make a living not make a life.
Something changed when I started to sell ad space for my own magazine. It really didn't feel like I was selling. It felt like I was helping people grow their business. It felt like I was utilizing the power of money to spread my message to more people (and with more force). In short, I don't believe I sell advertising space. I feel that I am gathering people together to help change the face of skateboarding. It's a multi-symbiotic relationship that benefits everyone: advertisers, readers, shops, distributors, my designer and my printer who gets paid promptly – every time!
Over the past number of years, I have had 6 to 7 people try to sell advertising. They come on board because they love what Concrete Wave stands for. They want to help... they want to be a part of things. The sad truth? They can't sell.
Let me suggest for a moment that if you are uncomfortable in selling ad space in your magazine, you might want to forget the entire thing completely.
I am serious. Here's why.
Sales, especially selling something that is an intangible like advertising can be a very difficult experience. But you have to remember that as a ball bearing publisher, your magazine is your destiny. It was what you were put on this world to do. It goes way beyond just "selling ad space."
I see the idea of a magazine and sales in the magazine as completely connected entities. You cannot expect a third party to have the same kind of passion as you do. For many publishers, things are pretty clear: The "difficult/unpleasant" work of selling can be farmed out to a third party and the "easy/fun" work of writing, editing and collecting photos is something you keep for yourself.
I believe this is the wrong approach. Here are 5 things about sales that fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
I don't worry about counting readers. I worry about readership that counts. This means I am a small publisher who works at building a fanatical following. Big circulation means big overhead. I am not interested in that. I want small overhead with a big impact.
I don't muddle up my magazine with mixed messages. It is CONCENTRATED and FOCUSED! The magazine is filled with highly targeted ads that focus strictly on skateboarding. Putting in non-endemic advertising would weaken my message. This means I turn away advertising if it is not completely related to skateboarding. Yes, I have turned away Pepsi.
I don't deal with ad agencies. Taking into consideration the first two points, you have to add two others: they generally are slow to pay and want a huge amount of value add (ie promises of editorial coverage).
I limit the number of ad pages in the magazine. I actually limit the number of total pages. I will not go past 100 pages. Once we are sold out of space, we are sold out. Snooze, you lose. My advertisers love this. They know that eventually the magazine will be sold out and all the Johnny Come Latelies will have to go somewhere else. Put it another way: you dance with the one's who brung ya!
We will tell many advertisers who want to start out with full pages to start with ¼ or 1/8 pages. Yes, we undersell. We tell them to start small and see what happens.
So, now that you know what I don't do when it comes to sales, I want to share with you what it is that I do. You'll read about that next week.
Next » More About Ad Sales
Michael Brooke is the publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine.