This is the second article in TheMediaBriefing’s multi-part series examining the viability of print for magazines. In the first part we examined whether the ability of the internet to enable niche communities has afforded small publishers the opportunity to launch niche print products targeted at those communities. In this second part, we look at what it takes to actually get those niche print products off the ground.

As of March last year there were just shy of 2,000 funding campaigns for journalistic products on Kickstarter. And though not all have been successfully funded – a quick look at the current crop of campaigns reveals more than a few that are unlikely to get funded – there are enough successes to demonstrate that crowdfunding is a credible option for people trying to start a niche print product.

Though it’s not certain that any of that current crop will sustain the interest of an audience in the future to become a long-running magazine brand, there are many that have done just that.

David Ziggy Greene is the editor and publisher of Save Our Souls, a new magazine featuring articles and comic strips side by side. Its first issue was initially put up for crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Greene says:

“I’d wanted to start publishing a mag of some sort for about 3 years but never had the funds to do it. Other projects always got in the way.

“And I never intended to publish something that relied on the work being supplied for free by the creators. One point of doing this would be to create somewhere people could get published and get paid something. That is possible with crowdfunding which is a good way of getting pre-orders.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Jeremy Leslie, founder of magCulture, whose brick-and-mortar store specialising in niche print products we featured in the first part of this series. He believes that a successful Kickstarter is more than just a proof of concept; it’s also a proof that the potential audience is there.

Featured in this FIPP round-up of successfully crowdfunded magazines is the science and art journal HOLO. Its editor-in-chief Greg J. Smith said this of the ability to find an audience on crowdfunding sites:

“While we certainly did not expect to receive 200 per cent of what we asked for, we did know we have an audience in place before our campaign began. Our publication is tightly connected to, we’ve been writing about art and technology there for years and have a sizeable readership there. So we knew some of those readers would be game to support our foray into print, but apparently quite a lot of them were!”

pj-2016-01-20-kickstarter-0-03.pngAnd research published yesterday by the Pew Research Centre showed that it was more likely to be smaller publishers, down to the level of individuals, who are the primary beneficiaries on Kickstarter, with 43 percent of all journalism projects funded being from individuals and another 29 percent from small groups, compared to the quarter comprised of larger media outlets.


But setting the funding goal for crowdfunding can itself be a challenge. As Kai Brach, editor and publisher of Offscreen Magazine, puts it:

“I thought I could use the success of my Kickstarter project to — at the very least — measure the popularity of my idea, but it’s not as simple as that. If 30 backers love your idea enough to throw $1000 at you each, you might have reached your funding goal (and need to deliver!), but 30 backers don’t make a sustainable readership.”

As a result, he suggests that even if your campaign is successfully funded you should expect to have to use some of your own cash to fund it – and not even expect a profit on the first issue at all.

Marketing maladies

Even with a successfully funded campaign, the costs of printing and distributing a magazine are steep enough that there’s unlikely to be too much left over to market it. Delayed Gratification, the quarterly ‘slow journalism’ magazine and one of the early success stories of the niche print renaissance, didn’t have a dedicated marketing budget for the first five years of its life.

And even then, its success relied in part on its five founders – already established in the publishing game, being in the right place at the right time. Its co-founder and editorial director Rob Orchard told TheMediaBriefing:

“The best business day of my life to date was in February 2011, we’d launched the third issue and it had sort of sunk without a trace. I thought we were going to go bust because there just weren’t enough new subscriptions coming in. My co-editor managed to get a spot on The Today Programme. He was on for the last five minutes before 9 o’clock in the morning, and I was listening to him on internet radio and I was watching our subscription feed. That day we sold hundreds and hundreds of subscriptions.”

Despite those headwinds – which many niche print products are likely to face – Orchard believes crowdfunding is a huge opportunity for new publishers in part because the more established magazine brands have slowed their production of new titles:

“The internet, having completely ruined the entire industry as it was before, has now opened up these unbelievable new avenues. If you’ve got a really good idea for a magazine you can generate global support for it through Kickstarter, you can have hundreds and hundreds of subscribers cued up in advance who already bought into it.

“I also think a huge amount of the reason for this recent uptick in independent magazines is because the big media groups that used to launch tons of new magazines haven’t; they’ve just stopped, basically.”

But the hard reality of a print product – the physical artefact you can actually hold – is likely to be one of the key reasons so many smaller publishers without the necessary capital to go a huge launch opt for a crowdfunding. As Greene explains:

“Working in print is also an easier way to generate funds. I’m not a fan of producing in digital because it is a format which can be shared more easily. And when people share work they lose the thought of paying for it and it flows around without
any financial reward to the creator.

“And as a publisher of many creators, it a kind of responsibility to help protect their work and help them make a little money from it as much as you can.”

So while it’s possible to lauch a niche print magazine off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s vital to think about how you’ll continue beyond the second and third issues. The third and final part of this series will highlight some examples of niche magazines which have done just that – and answer the question ‘are niche publications the future of print?’

Image used courtesy of Jessica Spengler via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license.