Magazine prototype issueSo you have a great idea for a new magazine. You have some or all of the editorial copy ready to go for the first issue, but you don’t have enough advertisers signed on to support publication costs. And, of course, you don’t have the circulation numbers to help you market to prospective advertisers. In short, you’ve found yourself in a common conundrum faced by many new magazine publishers.

So what to do?

First, if you haven’t yet developed a media kit for your magazine, this needs to be top priority. Media kits are an invaluable tool for communicating your vision for your magazine — as well as a host of important demographic/target market information — to prospects, and having success with advertising sales will likely be difficult without a focused, well-designed presentation. Be sure to read through our blog post “Top 10 Media Kit Tips for Magazine Publishers” for valuable tips and ideas on how to go about crafting your kit.

Next, consider doing a “soft launch” of your magazine by producing an abbreviated prototype issue to distribute to advertisers, which can be a great way to show off your publication and add an important sense of tangibility and solidity to your venture. The prototype issue could contain as few as 8 pages, but going with 12-20 pages will probably make a more solid impression on your sales targets. Content should be representative of what your typical articles will be going forward, but for this initial issue, be sure to select particularly interesting and relevant stories; you’re trying to make a quick but meaningful impression here, so go with stories that will be more likely to wow readers — and, by extension, advertisers). Also, be sure your content has been carefully edited and proofread by a professional copyeditor; nothing will turn off a prospect as quickly as a sloppy, unprofessional publication that isn’t truly ready for public consumption. If you want to be viewed as a serious magazine publisher worthy of your prospects’ advertising dollars, your editorial needs to be artfully written and, of course, free of typos and grammatical errors.

The design of your prototype issue is also extremely important to the depth and quality of the impression you leave with prospects — this is your first chance to persuade advertisers to believe in your publication and invest their limited marketing budgets with your venture, so you should be aiming for a world-class look and feel from the very start (you can read more about the importance of establishing a top-notch magazine design in our blog post “Magazine Design Quality: Where It All Starts”). You’ll have a very short window in which to catch and hold the attention of prospects, and the design is most likely the first aspect of your magazine they’ll focus on, before they dive into any of the articles — so make sure your first impression is a compelling one. An experienced, savvy magazine designer will be experienced in developing designs that are appropriate for your niche target audience, and like the editorial copy, the design should be as engaging and skillfully executed as possible.

Since the prototype issue will be distributed to a limited number of recipients, you should probably consider printing a small run using a digital printing provider (as opposed to an offset printing provider, which is really only cost-effective for large runs). Digital printing will allow you to produce smaller quantities at more affordable costs — and you can always print more copies as you expand your sales efforts. While you can still (and probably should) make the issue available online as a PDF or digital flipbook, giving out printed hard copies will allow you to mail or hand the issue directly to prospects, helping to ensure that your magazine gets in front of the right decision-makers.

Beyond providing you with a powerful marketing tool, producing a prototype issue also gives you the benefit of doing a small-scale dry run, allowing you to work any kinks out of the editorial, design, production and printing processes, as well as increasing your familiarity and confidence with running a magazine enterprise. So by the time you begin your first full-scale issue, you’ll have a better handle on any aspects of the magazine publishing business that may have been unfamiliar to you previously. Moreover, since the prototype issue is only distributed to prospects (and, conceivably, potential investors), you might be able to use much of the content from the prototype as part of your first full issue — provided that the content is still timely and relevant.

Have questions about producing a prototype issue, or any other aspect of the magazine publishing process? Feel free to leave us a comment below or send us a message.