A Lesson with the Publisher
Jennifer, the publisher of Spot Magazine, runs the business out of her home office in NE Portland. The spacious back yard is ideal for her one medium- and three small-sized dogs to run and relax. The tiniest one, 6 lb Scout, is 13 and blind now, so doesn’t run these days. But Roxy, the biggest, Lula, a ginger MinPin, and Peach, a white and ginger dachshund, run plenty.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Jennifer invited me to spend several hours at her home office for a one-on-one crash course in magazine publishing. She asked me to imagine I was starting a magazine in six months. What would it be about? Who would be my audience? What did I need to learn before I begin?
I already write about and photograph live music shows on a Portland culture and events blog, so it made sense to assume I would be creating a music magazine for an urban audience ages 18 to 35. I’m a good writer and have experience assigning and editing the work of others, and have also been the social media manager for Ooligan Press, so I feel comfortable with those aspects of publishing a magazine. But no business can exist without a source of income, and the primary source for most magazines is advertising. I have no background in selling ads, so Jennifer showed me the ropes.
She gave me a copy of Spot’s media kit, which gives potential advertisers information about numbers of impressions (size of audience), demographics and advertising options.
To determine the value of display ads Jennifer figures her costs — including printing, distribution, writers, graphic design and general admin and miscellaneous labor. A predetermined “ad to editorial ratio” defines how much space is available to sell per issue. That space is divided into column inches, and the rate is based on the column inches it occupies as a portion of the entire cost of the magazine. While some businesses believe they should raise prices every year or two on principle, Jennifer maintains Spot’s rates based on real costs, and takes care to keep clients apprised of any needed increases and why.
Occasionally a scheduled ad falls through, but a magazine must never have empty space. Publishers typically have “filler” prepared for such instances, which in Spot’s case include articles and short pet tips suitable for placement near relevant ads.