Magazine Publishing is the act of putting a magazine into circulation in some way or another.

There are many different types of magazines, such as magazines published by manufacturers of goods (such as "Liv", published by Volvo about Volvo products, promoting automotive safety and general Swedishness) or services (such as Reach, published by an UK train company). There are trade publications, which aim to inform businesses and traders (such as MotorTrader, which is distributed to car sales outlets and manufacturers in the UK). There are B2B publications, such as information newsletters or magazines published by Microsoft, distributed to their customers to keep them up to date. There are business-produced publication such as PC WORLD Magazine, for customers of the PC World chain of outlet stores. There are official independent magazines, such as official Playstation 2 magazine, which is produced under licence from Sony, but otherwise independent. And there are completely independent magazines, such as most of the ones you'll see in a magazine shop.

Needless to say, a single write-up cannot cover all the different forms of magazines, nor all the specifics about one type of magazines, and all ways of funding them. This write-up will take a closer look at how a magazine comes into existence, how it is run, and how it all works behind the scenes. A lot of it is applicable also for newspapers and for different forms of magazines, but by and large, this write-up covers the inception, production and distribution of a large (100,000 copies plus), monthly magazine.

Setting up a new magazine

When someone has an idea for a magazine, they can try to start it independently, but usually it makes more sense for a publishing house to take on the risks connected with the launch of a new magazine.

Once the idea for a commercial publication has been raised, a process will begin, to find if there is a business case for starting the magazine. Market research will be done to find out what the competition (if any) is doing. It will see if there is a readership for the magazine. It will try to outline if there are advertisers out there who could be interested in advertising the magazine. All this work is normally done by a person whose job title will either be associate publisher or a launch publisher. In early stages of research, a publishing house may also have a launch researcher, who does initial research work.

If there is a business case for launching a new magazine in a particular sector, one or two people will be hired. The first person on the case will be a launch editor - this is a person who is experienced in the rough times involved with starting a new magazine. This editor might stay on once the magazine is running under its own steam, or might move on to the next magazine launch. Initially, they are responsible for the content and direction of the new magazine. The second person who is hired is an arts editor, who will start thinking about the look and feel of the magazine.

Between the publisher, the launch editor and the arts director, a small concept magazine is produced, which will be used for attempting to attract advertisers, to do more market research with focus groups both in the target market and in potential markets. This magazine will be 'eyes only', and have an extremely limited print run - frequently only of about a dozen copies.

The whole process from idea to final greenlight can take anything from a month up to a year or more. Frequently, a magazine launch will experience several big delays in the set-up process, and a magazine launch can drag out for absolute ages. Changes in management in this point often results in the whole idea getting canned.

Once a magazine has been launched... well... Let's skip forward a year. The magazine is about to publish its 12th issue, and is running on its own steam.

Who does what in magazine publishing?

All magazines will have a publisher. There are two meanings of the word - one is an entity (i.e the publishing house which owns the publication) and the other is a person (who publishes a particular magazine). The two can be the same thing: A single publisher publishing a magazine on its own, with independent funding.

A large publishing house might have many group publishers, who look after a sector of magazines, such as 'computer titles', 'car titles', 'lifestyle titles' etc - any taxonomy that works for lumping magazines together can be used. Each group publisher reports to a publishing director, or a board of publishing directors, who are responsible for the publishing branch of the publishing house (a publishing house might have other businesses as well. Emap, for example, owns several radio and television stations).

Ignoring the upper echelons of the publishing house power structure, a magazine publisher's job is the overall strategy of the magazine. Long-term direction, big advertising deals, and large-scale economical considerations are made by the publisher. Ultimately, it is the publisher's responsibility that a particular magazine is churning out a profit, and the publisher will issue the editor instructions on how much money the editor can spend on making the magazine. Publishers are part of management ('the suits'), as opposed to the editorial team. They will not normally influence the editorial content or the day-to-day running of a magazine.

Now, the editorial team.

The lowest of the low in editorial land are the editorial assistants. Researching, writing fractionals (small articles, 'top 5' lists etc), finding photos in photo libraries, admin work and making tea is all in the menu. Anyone who needs something doing can boss the editorial assistants around.

The next rung on the ladder are the staff writers. These come up with ideas for stories, features and news, do the bulk of the writing work, and are responsible for the vast majority of the copy that end up in the magazine. The staff writers are told what to do by the various editors on the magazine.

Up from there are section editors - a reviews editor looks after reviews that go in the magazine. They can either write them themselves, they can commission freelancers to write reviews, or they can use the staff writers. News editors look after the news sections, product editors look after... well, you get the drift. Section editors will usually be responsible for requisitioning photography to be done, either through freelancers or staff photographers. Section editors will be answering to the editor.

The arts team is not part of the copy-generation team, but they are the people who create the visuals on the magazine. Generally, there will be an arts editor, who is the boss of the arts team, and who has the final say in the looks of the magazine. They will also be artistic directors for photo shoots etc. The arts editor will have one or more designers working for him. A junior designer will do run-of-the-mill layouts (regular pages such as the letters pages, and other pages who don't have to be designed specifically), while senior designers and deputy art editors will have a bigger influence in custom-designed features in the magazine. If the magazine uses illustrations, the arts editor will normally be the person to commission them from artists.

The editor is the top honcho of the editorial team. The editor is legally responsible for what gets printed in the magazine, so if laws are broken, the editor is the one who takes the fall. On small magazines, an editor will write, but on our 100,000-copies-plus title, the editor will probably not be too closely involved with the writing of the magazine. In addition to editorial direction of the magazine from the start of the publishing cycle, the editor will help the sub-editors edit the copy. Towards the end of the publishing cycle, the editor will sign off pages as they are sent to the printer.

The editor might have one or more deputy editors, who will offload the more menial tasks of editorship.

Sub editors don't really come into it in magazine publishing (the title 'sub editor' is more common in newspaper publishing), but obviously, stuff still needs proof-reading, fact-checking, and generally sorting through. This filters through from the writers to the section editors, to the deputy editor, and finally the editor.

Now that you know what everybody does, it's time to put it all into context, in the form of...

Magazine publishing cycle

A normal publishing cycle of a magazine will vary from publishing house to publishing house. It depends on how high-tech the production is, how long the lead-time for the printer is, and further depends on a lot of factors that some times can and other times cannot be predicted.

A typical production cycle will start with the magazine staff coming off deadline. This is where the magazine has been sent off to the printers, and the magazine production is out of the hands of the magazine editorial and art staff.

The cycle starts with a production meeting. During the production meeting, the editorial staff of the magazine come up with ideas for features and stories for the new magazine. If the magazine is themed (Total Film might do a James Bond themed magazine, for example), various takes on the topic are discussed. The production meeting is generally an open meeting, where ideas are discussed, slaughtered, promoted, and decided upon.

After the production meeting, the editor goes off and creates a flat-plan, which is essentially a road map of every page in the magazine. The length of the features, how many pages is allotted to news, advertising space, and everything that goes in the magazine. This flat-plan is passed to the advertising department of the publishing house, or the advertising sales people linked to the magazine, who then have to try and fill all the advertising space. With some luck, most of the advertising space will already have been sold (and will have influenced the editor's work on the flatplan), and all the advertising team have to worry about is chasing up the advertisers for the actual adverts - creatives, text, etc.

While the editor is flat-planning, the writers and section editors are told roughly (and later in more detail) how much space they have for their sections, and go off to create the content for their respective features, stories, and sections. As soon as possible, the arts editor will start the work on the front page of the magazine. The front page is the 'shop front' of a magazine, and a lot of time goes into the design and content of the front page - a front page can mean the difference between a best-selling magazine and a complete failure.

About two weeks elapse, during which the designers can't do much work for the magazine itself. They will usually be involved in creating 'house ads' (advertisements for the magazine itself), or working with features that have been written at an earlier date (known as pegged stories). In addition, if the editorial team need illustrations, the arts team can get started on those.

As stories start filtering through from the writers, the arts team start putting pages together, drawing from the written words, the photography, and illustration resources available. As features or pages are finished, they are passed to the section editor or editors of the magazine, who do a final check on that everything is as expected. The page is then signed off and sent to pre-press.

Pre-press can be done either by the in-house designers or by a division external to the magazine, but generally, pre-press work is highly specialised, and involves colour-matching the colours used in the magazine against known colours through the use of Pantone spot colours, or colour profiles for CMYK printing, to make sure that the artwork comes out as well as possible. Pre-press will also be the people working on advanced photo retouching (making models looking prettier, etc).

Once all the pages have been 'sent', the pages are checked one final time before they are sent digitally to a printing house, usually in the form of high-resolution PDF files. A full 250 page magazine will routinely be in excess of 25-30 GB in size, just in PDF files. Once the files have been sent to the printers, they are out of the hand of the editorial team, and the cycle is complete: On to the next production meeting.

While the editorial team starts preparing for creating the next issue of the magazine, the printer will be working hard to print the magazine, binding it, and bagging it, if the magazine has gifts, promotions, or similar. This process will take about a week. From here, the magazine goes into the national distribution network - which will take it to your local shops - and into international distribution, if the magazine is so inclined. For particularly large international markets, some of the magazines might be printed abroad, and some of the advertising will be replaced with advertising more relevant to the market in question.

Magazine Funding

Media funding is a vastly complicated science in itself, and wholly beyond the scope of this write-up, but here are a few tidbits that might help you understand how it works, and where the money comes from:

Most magazines are funded around more by advertising and commercial deals than by the cover price. In other words, magazines can earn a lot more money through advertising than through actually selling the magazine. You would think that this means that a magazine therefore isn't interested in selling more magazines, but the more copies of the mag are sold, the higher advertising rate card a magazine can command, and the more demand there will be for prestigious advertising space.

This means that some times, magazines can do stunts that allow them to sell vastly more magazines: one method that is used many times, especially by populist 'lads mags' in the UK, is to sell the magazine for a very low price - typically less than half price. Because they are doing this combined with television campaigns, they can predict with high certainty that that particular issue of the magazine will sell many more copies than a normally priced magazine. Because the advertising sales people will know this in advance, they can charge higher prices for the magazine in question, and ultimately the magazine publisher can 'afford' to sell more magazines at a lower price, because ultimately the income is the same. In addition, publishers have to have faith in their product, which means that they have to believe that there is a chance that the readers who bought the magazine at the lower price might buy the mag again later, which means that the temporary drop in cover price can lead to long-term increase in market share.


I've written quite superficially about magazine publishing. If there are any obvious questions I have forgotten about, please do drop me a /msg, and I will add additional sections and explanations.

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