Some worthwhile advice: The best un-named (by request) vaporzine spotter this weblog knows e-mailed me a link to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (free registration required) about not one, but two, vaporzine projects there.
The first magazine, Worthwhile, is slated to launch in September. It’s the idea of former Wall Street Journal staffers Anita Sharpe and Kevin Salwen who say it will be a national magazine with an initial circulation of 60,000. The magazine, which Sharpe describes as “Oprah meets Fortune,” is aimed at people who want their work lives to be meaningful.
Sharpe and Salwen, who each have the title founding editor, are trying to raise $5 million to get Worthwhile off the ground. They have already closed “on a good chunk” from angel investors, mostly in Atlanta. They’ve signed distribution deals with business schools, which will send the magazine out to students and alumni, as well as some retailers.
They hope that Worthwhile will be the first business magazine that attracts as many women as men, a distinction that could help sell advertising.
“Business magazines are all aimed at the brain,” Salwen said. “This will be the first business magazine focused on the heart and soul.”
I hate commenting on stories like this because every time I do, I get a call or e-mail from some start-up’s founder who feels the need to convince me that I’m wrong. So, let me put it this way: Rule number one when starting a magazine: Never say, ‘this is the first magazine that (blanks).” Why? Because, one, it’s probably not and you’re going to look like you haven’t done your research when someone shows you that somewhere among the 115,000 magazines published in America, one does what you say you’re going to do first; or two, because all the magazine entrepreneurs who have considered the concept in the past figured out why it won’t work.
Bottomline: I think Worthwhile is a great idea for a group weblog.
The second vaporzine is called James (after the founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, get it?, James? Ogelthorpe? I guess you had to be there) and will be about state politics and “edgy business stories.” Founder Matt Towery says the magazine will have a small niche (he doesn’t expect circulation to exceed 10,000) and declined to reveal how much he’ll invest in it, but said, “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have $1 million or so to put into it.”
Towery expects to make most of his money from advertising. Every cover will have an illustration, and columnists will include recently retired state legislator Larry Walker and former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr.
Okay, let’s do the math. An advertising-based business model and a circulation of 10,000. Willing to put up $1 million. $1,000,000-$1,000,000=$0.
Here is my sincere advice for all of these well-meaning magazine founders. Rather than raising millions, raise a few thousand dollars and sign up for this July’s Stanford Professional Publishing Course. There, you’ll get to spend nine days with lots of people who have started and run some really successful magazines and have also been associated with some that have failed miserably. Take your business plans and prototypes and show them to people like Dick Stolley, the legendary founding editor of People, or Dorthy Kalins, currently the executive editor of Newsweek. They have heard many hundreds (thousands?) of ideas like yours and will be happy to share with you what they’ve seen that has worked…and what hasn’t.
Before you start spending those millions, do this. Your angel investors will thank you one day.