The newsstand is a daunting place for any magazine publisher, let alone a startup. Securing newsstand space is hard enough but coping with the excruciatingly slow turnaround of newsstand data (which often lacks enough depth to give publishers a true sense of why or why not their titles are performing), can be even worse. For Dale Dougherty, who launched in 2003 O’Reilly Media’s “Hacks” book series;a D.I.Y.-ers paradise of how-to books like “Google Hacks,” “Linux Server Hacks” and “Tivo Hacks”;the company’s launch of Make , a quarterly magazine for technology hacks and like-minded geekerati, has qualified as both a book and a magazine. The advantage? Being privy to the more efficient and expedient way book sales are tracked.
Building off O’Reilly’s publishing relationships and loosely-based on the Japanese concept of a “mook,” Make launched in March, 2005 with a book-like trim size (modeled after Popular Science and Popular Mechanics of the fifties) and both ISBN and upc codes, allowing the magazine and its $14.99 cover price to be sold like a series in the book channel well after a volume’s newsstand life has expired. The magazine is currently in the third printing of Vol. 1 and second printing of Vol. 2, with Vol. 3 currently on the shelves. “In designing the magazine, we felt like it was worth keeping, it wasn’t a disposable item,” says Dougherty. “A lot of magazines view back issues as overstock, but it’s not a big part of your business. For us, it’s an important part of supporting the channel.”
And the results, so far, seem to be worth keeping, too. Make has rocketed to a paid circulation of 70,000 through its first three issues;including 35,000 subscribers and 35,000 in single-copy sales, 10,000 of which are sold through the book channel, numbers well beyond Dougherty’s initial projections of 10,000 subscribers in year one. “What we’re finding is that someone goes by the newsstand, discovers Vol. 2, piques their curiosity, they subscribe, get Vol. 3, and then want to know what Vol. 1 was all about,” says Make associate publisher Dan Woods. “So there’s this really interesting feeding going on between newsstand, subscriptions and driving people all the way back into the book channel. And referrals work the same way.” To leverage this kind of synergy, Make struck a promotional deal with Amazon.com to offer the magazine exclusively for 30 days prior to hitting newsstands.
At the newsstand, Make has enjoyed a sell-through of 50 to 70 percent, according to Woods, helping generate about 35 percent of Make’s estimated $3 million first-year revenues. And all of this without a national distributor, something Woods says is in the works and part of the more traditional magazine growth strategy at the newsstand. “We’ve been pretty cautious as far as going into places where we didn’t think we could succeed,” says Dougherty.
Make has proceeded with similar caution in signing up advertisers, with the current edit to ad ratio roughly 90-to-10. “It was a very much an upside down model,” says Dougherty, who counts Yahoo, Apple and Radio Shack among his core group of clients. “We focused on what people want to read about, and getting advertisers we could develop relationships with and who get what we are doing.” But Dougherty concedes that advertising growth is something worth pursuing, even cautiously. “People tell us, ﾑI love reading a 20-page project without a single interruption by an ad;we want to honor them, but it’s also important to find the right kinds of advertisers to bring in.”
With the model up and cranking, the company’s focus is beginning to shift toward some of the other traditional magazine buzz-words, like the multi-platform, integrated media brand. “There are different pieces of the Make brand we’d like to extend,” says Woods. “We’re hearing from an awful lot of people the need for community, including advertisers. Events would be a way to do that.” If it sounds like a bit more of Make’s “gee-whiz” first-time publisher earnestness, it is. But it’s also a bit of an act for the analytical geeks who make Make, too. “What’s with finding out newsstand sell-through six months later? In book publishing, pretty much on a weekly basis we can tell how a book is selling,” says Dougherty. “That’s been a bit of a struggle for us;knowing that there’s several layers of distributors doing their job, yet it’s like driving down the highway at 80 mph looking in the rearview mirror.” But politely accepting and then going in a different direction is something the Make guys have gotten used to. “People have told us you can’t do $14.99, you have to do $6.99, you can’t do a quarterly;we just decided to do it differently,” says Dougherty. “Whether or not in the long run that was a smart move, it’s probably too early to tell.”
For now, Dougherty says Make will remain a quarterly, at least through 2006, yet another non-traditional move for a publisher presented with success. “If we went bi-monthly, we’d probably do fewer pages and look less book-like,” says Dougherty. Make’s unusual launch, you might say, was a hack in itself.
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