Canadian Magazine Industry News
24 March 2009,     CALGARY
Tips from the AMPA Conference, part one: Brand building for small mags
The Alberta Magazine Publishers Association held its annual conference in Calgary on Thursday and Friday last week. The good folks at AMPA have been kind enough to let us re-post material from the Alberta Magazines blog. In the article below, Avenue Calgary editor Käthe Lemon re-caps a seminar on brand building for small magazines given by Spacing publisher Matthew Blackett.

“You have to find your niche and what your audience is interested in,” said Spacing publisher Matt Blackett. Photo by Don Molyneaux.
In good news for some, Matt Blackett reported that he got his kick-in-the-pants start with his magazine Spacing by being laid off from The Hockey News. (This seemed in fact to be a central, if unintended theme of the conference, as Al Zikovitz, who delivered the keynote speech, had a similar trajectory for the start of his mag/media empire Cottage Life.)

Spacing got its start with a self employment program that Blackett was able to access and launched in December 2003. The first run of the first issue was 1,500 copies and sold out in the first week. The magazine enjoys a 94% sell-through on newsstands, which Blackett attributed in part to its unique design (it’s bound on the short side rather than the long side meaning that it often gets placed on the front of the rack) and to building community loyalty.

Blackett’s top tips for doing this at any magazine were:

  • Create products that extend your message but aren’t necessarily branded. Spacing’s wildly successful subway button collections are about the idea of public space and about Toronto, like the magazine, but have the Spacing web address listed only on the top edge, not the front. A second line of buttons as well as T-shirts have also helped extend the message of the magazine. Spacing works with only a small group of retailers, which then drives customers to their shops, again building loyalty.
  • Have a very open editorial policy. Spacing takes submissions of photos, story ideas and stories from professionals and non-professionals alike through their website, calls for submissions and so on and seem to pride themselves in rarely if ever turning down a potential avenue for ideas. Spacing has also benefited from allowing the community to have their own takes on their products, in particular the buttons.
  • Have a website that is as useful as possible for readers. 30,000 people read the magazine each issue, but 10,000 readers go to the Spacing blogs each day. Create value and use and keep them coming back. Spacing has built and built on their Web successes, adding more regional coverage (Montreal, Hong Kong, Vancouver etc. are in the works or on the go) and a Spacing Votes site for election coverage. Spacing also has Spacing Radio for podcasts.
  • Create events. Spacing hosts a launch party for each issue with themes that match the issue themes. Event tickets are sold at the door for $10, creating about  $2,500 in revenue per party. The magazine has also partnered with a Toronto architecture firm to host the Toronto the Good party each year during the architecture and design festival.
  • Target a niche audience.
    . It’s been said before. It will undoubtedly be said again. Fortunately, it bears repeating.
— Käthe Lemon
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