Teaching students how to launch a magazine

I am looking forward to reading How To Launch A Magazine In This Digital Age, the new book by Mary Hogarth and John Jenkins, and while waiting for it to arrive I have been thinking about how I teach our postgrad students about launches.

At the moment I follow the tried and tested ideas laid out by John Wharton in his 1992 classic Managing Magazine Publishing. With a bit of tinkering to accommodate websites and digital media, and extra input garnered from industry figures like Mel Nichols and Nicholas Brett, the principles laid out there still make perfect sense.

Even Future's approach to developing Mollie Makes – which essentially boils down to "follow the social interactions" – can be accommodated into Wharton's plan; it's basically just another kind of reader research, albeit far more of a two-way and managed conversation than more traditional forms.

But the thinking behind the Wharton-style launch plan is highly commercialised – it works to the PTC/PPA agenda that accredited courses must be aware of. Yes, everything can be applied to smaller, independent titles and, if they are to succeed, their publishers must have answers to all the traditional questions. Passion for a subject can take you so far but to be able to continue publishing about that subject, and not to lose the shirt off your back, some of the assumptions and some of the details need a different emphasis.

For example, I have read a couple of things by small publishers, almost micro-publishers, that lay the stress not on making a profit but on breaking even – in essence, making enough so they can re-use the money to make another issue or a completely different magazine.

In this context teaching students about distribution takes on a completely new aspect. Trying to get 6,000 copies of a title in front of committed enthusiasts is a different job to contracting Frontline to get 60,000 into W H Smith and the supermarkets.

We do add this into supervision of MA students who undertake an Enterprise project but given the increasing emphasis on entrepreneurialism and small start-ups I really need to rebuild a couple of lectures.