How to Start a Magazine

How to Start a Magazine


Are you thinking of starting a magazine around your hobby, region, or interest? While the magazine publishing industry is not as lucrative overall as it once was, if you’re willing to put the work in, starting a magazine business can still create a profit, even in today’s digital age.  

Revenue for periodicals in the U.S. fell from $46B in 2007 to about $28B in 2017. However, the number of readers of magazines increased from 210.7M in 2012 to 228.7M in 2019. That’s a lot of readers.

It’s important to note that 37% of the magazine audience in June 2019 was mobile. So, if you’re thinking of launching a magazine, consider both an online and print presence.

Benefits of Opening a Magazine

Starting a magazine will let you profitably aggregate content around your area of interest, and it’ll help you create an exclusive community that, in turn, gives you a place to sell products. Further, it sets you up as the expert in your field. This can give you the opportunity to write books and get paid for speaking engagements.

Think of starting a magazine as the first step toward building an entire brand and community.  During the steps of launching a magazine, you’ll also be able to collaborate with other creatives — writers, editors, publishing managers, graphic designers, and more! 

Before you can get to all the benefits that starting a magazine earns, you’ll need to get the magazine up and running. Here’s your checklist for doing exactly that.

1. Create a Business Plan

You may want to get to work on your new magazine immediately, but you need a business plan. Writing your small business plan helps you figure out exactly what you need to get the magazine going, the challenges you may encounter, your target audience, how much money it will cost, and more.

You’ll pull this document out of the drawer (or digital folder) every time a new challenge or opportunity comes up, so don’t skip this step. A business plan is a must-have. 

To craft a solid business plan for a magazine:

  • Describe your content specifically. Think beyond “magazine” to something as detailed as “a magazine with recipes for cooking with gas, celebrity chefs who cook with gas, and makers of products used for cooking with gas.” 
  • Describe your target audience. For instance, “amateur chefs who love to explore cooking with gas.” 
  • Decide whether you will run an online magazine, a print publication, or both. Remember that 37% of magazine readers were online readers in 2019.
  • Consider your format. For instance, a “zine” subculture exists right now, according to Naples-based portrait photographer Michelle Tricca, who is starting the “BAD Vibe” zine about the Bayshore Arts District in Naples. Tricca says zine readers spend $15-25 on a magazine quarterly because it also meets their aesthetic interests (e.g. interesting visuals and high quality paper).
  • Decide if you will work from home or have a physical office.
  • Identify the necessary team members. (Editorial team, publishing manager, sales manager if you’ll have advertising in the magazine, marketing manager, etc.) 
  • Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely)
  • Consider what could go wrong and how you’ll manage it.
  • Lay out your magazine business costs, issue and subscription pricing, etc.
  • Check for tax breaks and local grants.

If you need some help organizing your plan, consider online templates provided by companies like LivePlan. 

2. Choose a Business Structure

The IRS requires that all businesses in the U.S. are registered. Multiple company structures are available. Choose the structure with the best legal and tax setup for your situation. Most small companies are either an:

  • LLC (limited-liability company), which offers liability protection and tax flexibility
  • Sole proprietorship, which is easier and cheaper to set up but doesn’t offer the same protection

Since you’ll likely publish content about other people, places, and businesses, the liability protection of an LLC is worth considering. This shields your personal assets from lawsuits and lets the company avoid the double taxation of a corporate structure.

You can file for an LLC online, but first find out which business license you may need. 

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3. Determine Your Business Costs

Start-up costs for a magazine come in three main areas.

People: Will you hire employees or use freelancers? You’ll need writers, an editor, a sales manager, publications manager, marketing manager, layout director, and more. It may be tempting to fill all the roles yourself, but be warned that this can quickly lead to burnout. When factoring up these costs, don’t forget legal and accounting.

Place: Will you rent office space? Even if you work out of your home, the business can pay you a monthly rental for the square footage it uses.

Product: Both print and online iterations of your magazine come with costs. Paper, binding, shipping, labeling, delivery to the stores/newsstands, online hosting costs, graphics, and exclusive fonts are some of the magazine industry’s expenses. Don’t forget basic business startup costs, too, like computers, pens, paper, phones, and internet connection. 

Also, find out what insurance you may need by speaking with a local agent.

How do you fund your startup costs? 

After counting up the costs, you may get concerned about having enough startup capital. Don’t worry, because there’s help available. Consider the following.

  • Government assistance: Since it benefits the nation to have businesses operating here, there are government resources available for entrepreneurs. 
  • Business credit cards: Don’t use these frivolously or you’ll find yourself saddled with long-term debt and a dropping credit score. Still, business credit cards can be a helpful short-term option if you’ve got a solid pay-back plan. 
  • Loans: The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loans through banks and other lending institutions. For that matter, consider talking to your bank about a personal loan. 
  • Friends and family: Yes, it can be tough to ask friends and family for money. But if you believe in your magazine business dream, and they have the capital to spare, you may be able to work out a plan with them. 
  • Collaboration: Are there people/businesses who may benefit from being a regular part of the magazine? If so, approach them to see if some financial support is available.

4. Name Your Business

You may or may not want to name your business the same as your magazine title. Meredith Corporation is home to several magazines, including People, Martha Stewart Living, and InStyle. Check local business registration services so you don’t use a name that’s taken. Even if your name is Meredith, you don’t want people looking for you, finding Meredith Corporation, and getting confused. 

Also check to see if the URL and social media handles for your name are available. When you figure out just the right name across all platforms, register it.

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5. Register Your Business and Open Financial Accounts

Next, register whatever business structure you selected (i.e. LLC), get an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS, a sales tax license (since you’re selling a product to the public) from your state’s Department of Revenue, and open a business bank account. That last bit is especially important because you want to keep your personal and business financial accounts separate.

6. Purchase Equipment For Your Magazine Business

Unless you intend to print the magazine yourself (likely not, since this can be affordably outsourced to local printers as you get started), there are very few equipment needs for starting up a magazine business. Beyond basic office supplies, you’ll need word processing, graphic design, and layout software.

Adobe offers plans that provide access to multiple design products across multiple team members, and there are other companies specifically geared toward creating a magazine. For instance, Issuu helps with digital magazine layout.

7. Market Your Magazine

There are over 7,000 print magazines in the U.S. While that seems like a lot of competition, don’t panic. If you’ve created your business plan, then you’ve identified an underserved magazine niche or you’ve determined how your magazine will better serve its intended demographic than the other publications.

Strongly consider hiring a marketing manager to handle promotion. They can use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, and YouTube to get the word out about your magazine. The marketing manager can also look into Google My Business and local business and tourist directories. As a tip, consider sending free issues to influencers and businesses with waiting rooms, as well as sending a free first issue to potential subscribers.

Examples of Magazines to Start

In addition to Meredith Corporation, there are several magazine conglomerates to study. Simply go to your local bookstore or newsstand, start browsing, and take note of what’s popular as well as which niches aren’t being served. Also, check out Monocle Magazine’s podcast “The Stack,” which focuses on the world of print publications. There are also videos from “The Stack” on Vimeo.

Bottom Line

More people are reading magazines/e-zines today than ever. There’s an opportunity to make money in the magazine business (e.g. through potential advertisers) for those who clearly identify their market and build community and brand around the publication. In addition to making money from the magazine itself through subscriptions and ad revenue, you could also parlay its success into other income streams like book deals, product offerings, and speaking engagements.

Magazine Business FAQs

  1. How much does the average magazine owner make?

    According to Payscale, a total compensation of $70,000 is the average for magazine publishers with 5-9 years of experience. At 10-19 years of experience, the number increases to $76,223.

  2. What type of magazine content sells well?

    Indie magazines are setting themselves apart by having “head-turning editorials and high-level design,” according to Las Vegas Color.

  3. How much does it cost to start a magazine?

    The cost to start a regional magazine can be $100,000, with each issue costing a minimum of $10,000. A national magazine costs considerably more. Those numbers are dependent on how many issues you plan to publish, how big your team is, what you’re paying them, and more.

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