This is the third 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

"Let’s get small." — Steve Martin

"Small is the new big." — Seth Godin.

"Really small is really the new big". - Michael Brooke

When I try to explain to people how niche magazines cannot only survive but thrive in today’s world, they look at me with a sense of incredulity. Reports that a magazine has succumbed seem to be a daily occurrence. Want to really feel the schadenfreude? Visit

And yet, there are a number of niche magazines who are quietly going about their business. They are profitable and while their owners worry about the future (hey, worrying is NORMAL) they are not overwhelmed with a sense of panic or gloom.


As I mentioned in my introduction, this manifesto may or may not be of help to all independent publishers or indy publishers to be. The philosophies I adhere are not for everyone and frankly, that’s just the way I like it. I did not go to school for journalism and I certainly don’t have a certificate from the "publisher’s federation." The fact is that I’ve made up my own rules and while they might fly in the face of conventional wisdom I’d like to think that sometimes "conventional wisdom" is a bit of an oxymoron.

There is a lot of advice out there and it can get confusing. Take start up costs, as an example.

Just for fun, I googled "start up costs for a magazine." Here’ what I found from

But if people get paid, and if you print in the neighborhood of 10,000 copies or so, and if you spend a little money on promotion (to get some paid readers or enough web traffic to support some ads), then you should expect to spend between $250,000 and $500,000 to get far enough along that you can hope to begin breaking even.

Now, to be fair, they did add this at their site:
At the other extreme, people start zines with next to nothing. If you stick to the web, or print very few copies (like 5,000 or less), and use mostly volunteer writers and contributors, and nobody gets paid for anything, you can start out with a few thousand dollars.

Whew, that’s better — I think I like the figure of a few thousand dollars! But understand how confusing this is. Let’s analyze what they are saying:

If you start with 5000 copies and have folks contribute for free you might only have to spend a few thousand dollars. But if you double circulation to 10,000 and spend some money on promotion then you should expect to spend between $250,000 and $500,000 to get far enough.

Whoa. I don’t know about you but there is a HUGE difference between $2,500 and $250,000. One number is manageable and doable — the other — well, let’s just say I am not prepared to gamble that kind of money — even if I had it.

The fact is that unless you are HUGE company launching a new magazine (and happen to be flush with cash to start up a new magazine), the fact is you will have to start small. Very small.

So let’s drill down and give you some tangible ideas about starting up small.
  1. Your office is in your home — you rent a mailbox — and make your box number a "suite number".
  2. You hire a freelance designer (unless you have a background/knowledge in magazine layout and design and are an excellent designer).
  3. You sell your own ads.
  4. You do your own book keeping.
  5. You handle sales AND marketing AND PR!
  6. You write stories and slowly bring in people to contribute.
  7. You have someone else proofread!

In short, you run it all and keep it small.

I know the first thing you are thinking: NO FREAKING WAY. Well, let’s back up a minute and analyze what I am saying here:
  1. A ball bearing publisher doesn’t need a fancy office. A computer, a phone and a comfortable chair and you can accomplish quite a bit. By the way, you don’t need a staff, either.
  2. You more than likely DO NOT have the skills to put together a magazine. Hire someone who does. Don’t use Microsoft Publisher to create your magazine! Invest in a designer.
  3. You will co-ordinate all the stories and photos —hey that’s like the icing on the cake!
  4. You will handle sales. Yes YOU! How will you do this even if you have a real dislike of sales? I will address that next chapter.

Next » Sales and Advertising

Michael Brooke is the publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine.