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How to start a magazine A beginner’s guide (from Magazines Canada)

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1 How to start a magazine A beginner’s guide (from Magazines Canada)

2 Got an idea for a magazine? The magazine publishing industry eats, sleeps and breathes ideas. A lot of the best magazines fill a niche that no one even knew existed before the magazine was invented to serve it. If you’ve got the concept, you have two options: you can sell your idea or publish the magazine yourself. Nearly all small magazines in Canada are published by the same people who dream them up. You will only be able to sell your idea to a publishing company if you can guarantee that it will make vast amounts of money, that it fits with the rest of the company’s titles, and that it will thrive by garnering steady and appropriate advertising over the long term. Basically, it’s got to nearly publish itself, and it’s got to be unique and saleable.

3 Do it yourself Publishing your own magazine means you get to maintain control of the vision of your publication, and you are its main spokesperson and financier. You may balk at the prospect of devoting yourself to the start-up of a new magazine—this is a good indication of whether you’re committed to your idea. Don’t be frightened. When you decide to publish, you join the ranks of a collegial, ingenious and diverse cultural industry.

4 Do I need a business plan? A business plan identifies the boundaries of your magazine and helps you find your way as you move forward. It serves as a way of identifying your mission and priorities, as well as your prospects as a business. Also, it is a nice, concise document to be able to hand to the bank manager who you’re asking for financing.

5 Researching the market To find out if anyone else is publishing the same type of magazine, head to a few well-stocked newsstands, perform a search at the National Library and Archives, search the names of registered businesses in Canada, use Google, contact Magazines Canada and/or the Canadian Business Press.Magazines Canada Canadian Business Press

6 Registering your business Magazine publishers are required to register their business in the same way as everyone: by contacting Industry Canada or the Business Service Centre run by the government in the province where your business is located (for instance in Ontario, contact Ontario Business Connects), paying a small fee, and waiting for your licence in the mail. This is incidentally the same way you apply for things like vendor permits, Employer Health Tax, et cetera.

7 Funding your magazine You know better than anyone to whom your business will appeal. Unfortunately there is no cache of Canadian magazine enthusiasts whose pockets are bursting with money, who are just waiting for you to call. What you must do is think broadly and creatively in your pursuit of potential investors, and develop a concerted strategy for your fundraising. Does your magazine speak to any particular industry? Seeing your magazine in the broader marketplace is a helpful place to start. Networking is your best tool in approaching potential investors with an attractive proposal.

8 Are there grants I can get? There exist in Canada several granting agencies that fund magazine publishing. The Department of Canadian Heritage runs the Canada Magazine Fund, which currently has four different types of grants available to publishers (namely Support for Editorial Content, Support for Arts and Literary Magazines, Support for Business Development for Small Magazine Publishers and Support for Industry Development.) The Canada Council funds small arts and literary magazines, as do many of the provincial arts councils. The Ontario Media Development Corporation awards project funding to Ontario-based publications.

9 What’s an ISSN and do I need one? Obtaining an ISSN (an International Standard Serial Number) is simple, and free of charge. Visit the National Library and Archives Canada website at Once you receive an ISSN, the Library will also send you information about how to go about getting a barcode.

10 How much money do I need to start a magazine? The general rule is: more than you reckon. It is a good idea to have money enough to last through three years of starting up. Some would-be publishers want to start right away with a lavish glossy, or a differently sized book that they think will garner instant praise and newsstand sales because of its obvious looks and appeal. This is not always the safest way to go—indeed it is a sure route into debt unless you have millions in seed money.

11 How do I reprint things from other sources? Knowledge of rights and permissions is important in publishing. Contact Access Copyright ( to learn the fundamentals. Don’t reprint anything without

12 What is a good editorial-to- advertising ratio? If you’re not a ‘magalogue’ (magazine/catalogue) then you’ll want to keep your editorial and advertising in careful balance. Most mainstream consumer magazines contain about 50 to 60 percent advertising. Arts and literary titles often differ quite a bit, and some contain no advertising at all. How much advertising your magazine carries depends on your publishing strategy.

13 How do I print my magazine? To print your magazine, you must contract a printer. Finding a good printer and developing a business relationship makes life working on a magazine so much nicer. If you’re having trouble knowing where to start looking, call a few publishers whose books you admire and ask them what printer they use.

14 How do I get my magazine into stores? You can try and strike a deal directly with retailers, which would entail you dropping off and picking up your own magazine in the stores and making all of the calculations of returns, draw and sell-through, or you can get a distributor.

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