Niche magazines are thriving, even while mass-circulation colleagues are freshening up their resumes. What’s the secret? Small and medium-sized magazines continue to niche their niche and speak convincingly to ever more hyper-targeted market segments.
With tremendous change underway, this is the perfect time for publishers and editors to review what makes a good print magazine great.
So take the time and actually connect with your audience. (The first rule is the reader comes first!) You make them your friend for life by meeting their needs. And while I’m sure you have a list of evangelical readers, make sure you engage with readers who could be critical too. You can gain better insights from varied points of view.
You can do this through reader surveys, letters to the editor, discussion roundtables at events, or something similar. Ask them what they think of your magazine and what they would like to see going forward.
I also recommend some in-depth random interviews. Face-to-face is best. Interviews should be impressionistic to the extreme. Forget about statistical significance. Even a dozen decent interviews should do. But after doing just one you’ll see the value. Record these with your subjects’ permission so you can think about them later. If you can’t meet with them in person, call them.
Here are some tips on engaging your readers in active dialogue about your magazine:
Ask your readers for their impressions of the cover and cover lines. Show them some of your recent covers. Are the cover lines interesting or are they boring? Are the subjects pertinent to their interests? Also show them the competition or other same size magazines you admire.
Remember that the questions are less important than listening well and picking up on things that might be going unsaid. Probe. Explore. Get them to expand on their ideas. People are unfailingly kind and it might take some time to get them to be openly critical so be patient. Don’t be afraid to joke around to lighten the mood. Ask for examples of other things they like in other magazines.
Work your way through the book (editorials, letters to the editor, columns, features, classifieds) to see what is of value to them. Ask what they would kill off. You might be working hard to produce a column when no one really cares.
It’s important to listen to your readers, but you can also help them build rapport with each other.
Take Pizza Today for example. For me, they get it right. It is a must read for every owner/operator in the pizza game. Everything in the book helps the reader operate more efficiently, stay abreast of trends and thrive. Features are often first-person stories from other owner/operators. It’s like chatting with your best friend in the next town who is in the same business.
Sure Pizza Today is a 40,000+ circulation association mag and has great resources but the bigger idea is how they serve their readers so completely. Anyone can mimic this approach.
Once you get readers to open up they will tell you everything you will need to transform your print publication into a reader-centric success. (By the way, advertisers are readers too and they will notice a reader-centric change.) It takes effort to do what I have outlined but it can become a valuable practice. Don’t delegate this to the summer intern; you’ll miss the best stuff. With fresh insights in hand, you are now ready to make your print product even more successful.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since the original was published in 2016.
More about Steve: Steve Rank has decades of experience in marketing for both consumer and trade magazine magazines. A former ad agency owner, he has also worked as a film publicist and news correspondent. Steve is now a Niche Media HQ advisor and guest blogger.
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