Q & A with Editor & Publisher Kathy Jentz
How did you formalize your magazine idea concept?
After working for 15 years in association publishing (both trade and professional organizations), I was looking for an opportunity to strike out on my own. In my previous jobs, I had revamped a few magazines, launched several newsletters (both print and online), and oversaw web site designs.
I was a life-long gardener, but for the past 5 years or so I'd really caught the bug. Looking around I saw that the DC (MidAtlantic) region had a wonderful, rich gardening and farming community, but they were being ignored by national publications. Most stories you see on HGTV or in gardening magazines portray gardening in three parts of the country: the Northeast, deep South, and West Coast (esp. California). None of these stories on other areas applied to our local zones and it was frustrating. I began to formulate the idea of a local publication for gardeners with tips they could actually use - not just sigh over the pretty pictures or read only to think it was out of their abilities.
For about a year or two, I toyed with different format ideas (online vs print, newsletter vs full-color mag) and ran the numbers over and over. For a while I planned to do the "smart thing" and launch the publication while still at my current job and leave only when the income from the new business equaled at least one-third of my salary. My workload and long hours however never left me any time to do more than a few hours of research or writing a week. It became clear after six months of trying to squeeze in the new business on the side, that this was not going to realistically happen. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and gave notice at my last job - that ended on 12/31/04 and Washington Gardener began on 1/1/05.
What did you do to get the ball rolling on the startup process?
I began by building a brand identity by selecting the name, creating our logo, and getting our web site online (http://www.washingtongardener.com/). Shortly after the new year 2004, we launched our free enewsletter (http://subs.zinester.com/85920/). It goes out the 15th of each month and has completely different content than the magazine. We were able to get the word out quickly in online garden communities this way and had two issues of our enews, prior to the magazine launch in March/April 2004. It was supremely important to launch in early spring to capture the garden growing season here. If we had missed this window, I would have waited another year to launch. We work under very short and tight deadline schedules to keep the content timely for each issue.
To get the word out and build recognition, I attended as many local gardening event as I could during the spring and early summer from big convention center exhibits to small-town festivals to historic garden tours, I set up tables and sold subscriptions and individual copies. Most of these events I was able to get in free in exchange for ad space in our publication or promotion in our enewsletter.
Our latest promotions include launching a blog that gives our readers a behind-the-scenes on the magazine (http://washingtongardener.blogspot.com/) and creating an online garden community with our list serv ([email protected]).
In addition, I have made numerous appearances on local gardening radio shows and I am starting to get many requests for speaking engagements. Personally, I do not think this is my strength, nor do I think this will have a direct impact on the publication's bottom-line, but it is something I will explore more in the next year or two.
Finally, I am always on the look-out for out-of-the-box promotion ideas. One I came up with is hosting a LIVE seed exchange - as opposed to the traditional way which is via snail mail lists. We are partnering with the U.S. National Arboretum (http://www.usna.usda.gov/ ) for this first event at the end of January. I hope to make it an annual one and build up a nice amount of local publicity around.
What was your initial budget and how did that change up to your launch?
My initial investment was $50,000 of my own savings. After doing lots of research into various funding options, I realized that self-investment (if you can swing it) is the optimal way to go. Mentally, I was not prepared to have loans (and interest/payment pressures) hanging over my head for the first few years of the business.
That amount had not changed pre-launch but I did add another $20,000 to it in the last quarter of this year.
Describe the physical properties of your magazine - paper, dimensions, print process, # of pages.
It is 8.5 x 11 magazine on semi-gloss coat, white paper stock with full-color printing throughout. The full-color was most important feature to me as a good reason for reading garden publications is the photos and accurate depictions of gardens. The first issue was 32 pages. The last 5 have been 40 pages and I hope to increase to 48 soon. As we get more advertising we can increase our page count - there is no lack of content or future column ideas.
Tell us about your target readership demographics and circulation model and how you made these selections.
Because we are a regional magazine and have focused on gardening, the reader demographics are pretty much set for us. The DC area is a very affluent one and it has one of the highest average education achievement levels in the nation. This makes for a robust audience and great source of contributors as well.
Other regional magazines for Chicago, the Carolina, and Upstate New York, that I had contacted handle their circulation in various ways. Most are by subscription, but a few are free to targeted zip codes or at garden centers. The editor of the Chicagoland Gardening magazine was most helpful and his high number of subscribers convinced me that having a solid base of proven readers was the way to go. This was one of the best decisions I have made so far as subscriptions make up the majority of our income at the moment and also give us a legitimacy that free or "controlled circulation" publications do not have.
Our current press run is 5,000 copies - we send out about 1,000 to subscribers, another 500 to retail store sales, and rest go to garden events, groups, purchased lists, etc. My goal is to build subscribers to at least 3,000 by end of 2006.
What's the next big challenge and in what areas would you like assistance (if any) from existing publishers or industry professionals.
Our current challenge is advertising dollars. I have hired an outside sales rep working on straight commission to handle national ad sales, but we are struggling to get local advertisers. Truthfully, I thought that getting local garden centers, landscapers, etc. to advertise with us would be a "no brainer" - just send then our ad kit and they'd sign right up. Instead it seems to be the most labor intensive part of my job and requires repeated contacts. It has been difficult finding even a few minutes a day to make those ad calls. Any ad sales success tips would be greatly appreciated!