This is the year to strike out on your own. But don’t go in blind. Learn from the young upstarts who’ve made a success of setting up magazines, podcasts and TV streaming services.
There has rarely been a more exciting time to set up a brand in the media industry. New technologies and ways of disseminating information are creating unprecedented opportunities, while more traditional models are experiencing a renaissance, as digital-weary consumers begin to crave more certainty and solidity.
The possibilities are endless but so are the challenges: the competition is fierce and many an indie magazine and record label have fallen by the wayside. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to establish a magazine, a film-distribution or music-production business you’re going to need some help. Here we’ve compiled a few top tips from media entrepreneurs who have been there and done it all before.
Co-editor in chief of biannual art publication ‘Yuca’, Bogotá
Where you work from, as well as your cultural background and personal history, give you a vantage point that no one else in the world has. And being aware of this and using it to your advantage can be part of what makes your brand especially attractive. Even if being far from “where it all happens” might seem a shortcoming, it actually makes you more resourceful and creative.
Minh Bui Jones
Founder of ‘The Mekong Review’, Sydney
If I were producing a mass-appeal magazine, say, on health or fashion, I could look at the sales data, read the market research and make some educated guess as to the size of the potential market. But how do you do that for a magazine about Southeast Asian literature published in English? For it to work, we had to imagine a new readership – a large group of mostly disconnected individuals who share two things: an interest in literature and an interest in Southeast Asia.
Co-founder and editorial director of ‘Delayed Gratification’, London
We have an experimental publishing model in which our journalism is funded by our supporters. There’s no advertising in the magazine so we rely on revenue from subscriptions, newsstand sales and running classes in how to make infographics and how to be a features writer. It’s already sustaining itself and we find that the reader-funded model helps create a sense of community around our “slow journalism” project.
Nick Payne & Rebecca Grierson
Founder and executive producer, respectively, of music-supervision company SixtyFour Music, New York
Balancing creativity and the business side can be a challenge, especially when you make the leap from being a full-time creative to running the business administration side. It’s important not to lose sight of why you started your brand in the first place. We all attend a gig, festival, gallery or screening each week to make sure we’re feeding our brains creatively.
Founder of ‘Suitcase’ magazine, London
In the beginning I knew it would be hard to get advertising so we set up a different business model that relied more on sales. We did a big print run that would get us through the first few issues and a big launch party for journalists. I got them drunk and we had lots of press the next day. That was definitely worth doing a launch party for.
Owner of podcast channel Maximum Fun, Los Angeles
Think of your favourite band when you were 19 and what it meant to you when you met someone else who loved them. Your goal is to build a web, a community of shared values, so you’re an essential part of people’s lives. This can happen in real life, in media or social media – you’re trying to forge connections around ideas and values among groups of people.
Editor in chief of Southeast Asian design magazine ‘art4d’, Bangkok
Print has to become very premium, very collectible, just like art. You cannot just write something and print it. You have to present it nicely, with a powerful message and the right type of graphics, pictures and content. Once you create something really great, your creation will find its way to the right audience and, of course, the right investors.
Founder, Light in the Attic Records, Seattle
When Light In The Attic started taking shape, very few distributors and record shops wanted to open accounts with us. We quickly decided to launch our own distribution network by finding like-minded labels with a similar love for archival releases and re-issues. By 2004 our catalogue had grown from a half-dozen titles to nearly 500. We’re now distributing nearly 100 amazing record labels and selling direct to hundreds of record shops.
Co-founder of live TV streaming platform Bolt, Singapore
It’s about the people, not the medium. It’s always about the people. There are 47 million TV households in Indonesia but there are 333 million mobile-phone lines. On any one of these phones, when they’re on live service we can say, “Hey, watch this match, watch this news segment” and that’s influence. The biggest challenge is understanding all the cultural nuances and people’s behaviour.
Publisher at TCO and founder of ‘Huck’ and ‘Little White Lies’, London
We started out in a hole-in-the-wall office in east London. We were making mags using our own laptops and with minimal infrastructure. It’s a miracle we even thought we could make something. And then a week before Huck’s launch issue was scheduled to go to press, our offices were broken into – and all computers were stolen. Did we have any backup, you ask? Of course not. We had to start the whole thing from scratch and the magazine was a month late. Moral of the story: get a hard drive. They’re cheap now.
Founder and editor in chief of music magazine ‘Record’, New York
While you can’t look past getting your magazine distributed to shops, selling your magazine directly through your website is the quickest way to cover costs. Building a basic website with a shop function is fairly straightforward these days and using a service such as Heftwerk in Berlin to handle shipping orders was a game changer for us. It’s really these quite mundane, back-end things that make the whole thing work.
Co-founder of ‘Put A Egg On It’, New York
While bloated corporate magazines attempt to be all things to all people, casting a large net, Put A Egg On It zeroes in on a more intimate, personal and irreverent editorial and design style. It is key for magazines to find their editorial point of view and tailor all of their decisions around it; this is the only way to find an audience in a world where so much information is freely accessible online.
Co-founder and editor of ‘Proper Magazine’, Manchester, UK
The magazine is the most important part of the business but it wouldn’t sustain itself on its own. With the skills we’ve picked up over the past decade putting the magazine together we’ve found people keen to work with us in other ways. So Proper is now a creative agency, albeit one with its own community, its own magazine and its own merchandise.
Founder of film-streaming service Mubi, London
In the first months you’re the biggest ambassador of the company. In the early days I took every speaking opportunity going, every opportunity to meet my customers. Mubi is an online platform so getting in front of your customers is really important; you need to find out what they like, what they don’t like, what can be improved. It’s a typical mistake that online businesses make: they treat their users like numbers on a spreadsheet but that will never give you the kind of insight you’ll get from them in person.
Editor in chief of ‘The Gentlewoman’, London
To make an impact on the newsstand you need a strong cover concept and good design. The tacit industry logic is that black-and-white portraits fare worse on newsstands but we’ve found no truth in that. In fact, a black-and-white portrait of an 86-year-old actress is among one of our biggest-selling covers.
Founder of ‘Apartamento’ magazine, New York
We found our own unique voice and aesthetic by listening to ourselves more than looking at what’s out there. Some isolation is sometimes beneficial. We listen carefully and learn from our collaborators and people we feature more than our readers or advertisers. Our motto is, “Content before money”. You need to have a strong and clear direction but at the same time trust your contributors.
DJ and founder of Worldwide FM and Brownswood Recordings, London
There’s no way you’ll do anything in art or music unless you truly believe in it. I don’t look at forecasts – even if I think it might not work, I’ll give it a go. When I set up Brownswood Recordings 15 years ago, it was the worst time in history to be setting up a record label. But now major record labels are looking at us because they’ve just been investing in lowest-common-denominator artists with no cultural resonance. Audiences switch off the moment they think there’s something fake or not authentic going on.
Founder and editor in chief of ‘Macguffin’ magazine, Amsterdam
One challenge was (and is) the funding. We’re not a fashion magazine so finding ads and investors is not easy. And the magazine we make is high-quality and heavy so it’s not cheap. But the print run has quadrupled and the interest is growing so we have high hopes. And we like to recite editor Tina Brown’s mantra: “If you don’t have a budget, have a point of view.”
CEO of online radio marketplace Public Radio Exchange, which owns podcast network Radiotopia, Cambridge, Massachusetts
In 2014, Public Radio Exchange received support from the Knight Foundation to start a podcast network. Our hypothesis was to curate high-quality shows and cross-promote them to reduce the ramp for success. An early challenge was all the competing logos of varying quality and creating a [shared identity] that pulls them all together. As with any network, the question of when you are together and when you operate alone is something we discuss a lot.