10 things we learnt launching ComicScene Magazine

ComicScene Magazine, the only dedicated monthly magazine about comics and comic culture in the UK, has made it to our first birthday – yeah!

When we developed the monthly magazine we shared our journey on our website and social media until publication date of Volume One Issue 0 in May 2018.

Initially we were to be a 48 page subscription only magazine.

Now we are into Volume 2, 64+ pages with our tenth issue on the way! We have an online shop that sells ComicScene in print and digital and also sells comic books at http://www.getmycomics.com/ComicScene . We can be bought in selected comic shops and newsagent such as WHSmith, McColls and Easons in Ireland. We are available to order in any newsagent. We have our own website and Podcast. We also recently won two awards for Best Specialist Publication in the Yancy St Awards and Best Magazine / Website in the Tripwire Awards.

So we thought we’d share 10 pieces of advice and lessons we learnt along the way while developing the independent magazine. Hopefully this will help you if you’re thinking of taking the leap into print media. You can do it!

1. Get a good mentor and team around you.

We’ve been lucky with our writers, artists, designers and people who help distribute the magazine. Time and resources doesn’t allow us to deal with major issues and thankfully most of our team just get on with the job to the best of their abilities when it needs to be done, which is great. We can also turn to some of them for mentor help and advice as some have been there, done that and able to open doors much faster than on our own. Always check for yourself any ideas you may have to develop your magazine before making a final judgement. Just because it don’t work for one person or you are advised it might be difficult doesn’t mean it is. 9 times out of 10 your mentor is right and it is difficult, but you can get the occasional bit of luck!

2. Search out help and take any help you get offered and be grateful for it.

We weren’t shy of asking questions (and still do!) and people were good enough with their time to help us on each occasion. We also have had many people come forward to help support the magazine in any way they can. Sometimes the amount of work we have to do means we are a little slow responding or taking them up on their kind offer but we are very grateful. We always try and respond and have in the back of our mind when we can call on their welcome help.

3. Get a good designer.

The visual look of your magazine is very important. Our design team don’t simply get the text and design it – they do so much more than that and help develop the magazine as it goes along. It’s evolution not revolution but we think the magazine improves with every issue.

4. Distribution is key.

We thought tens of thousands of comic fans would love a 48 page subscription only magazine when we set out and no one would actually want to distribute it in shops. How wrong we were, on both counts! Getting the magazine out there in newsagents (on the back of a speculative e mail) was a big help. We are now in selected WHSmith, McColls, Easons, Comic Shops and can be ordered at any newsagent or http://www.getmycomics.com/ComicScene and online at Magazine Heaven, Newsstand and Forbidden Planet websites. We also reviewed our cover and subscription price, making the magazine affordable and comparable with other magazines in our genre.

Interestingly our original online shop provider tictail closed down. This could have been very damaging for us if we hadn’t been working with another online provider, getmycomics.com , over twelve months – so always have a plan ‘B’ when using third party online providers.

5. Think about your paper and format size – and check your printer is solvent!

Postage charges are as expensive as printing! The heavier the paper, bigger the format and page count of the magazine can have a big impact on your bottom line if posting out or if you have national distribution. When we attended a PPA event this was the one thing most independent magazine producers brought up as the most challenging thing for them!  When printing make sure your printer is not going under. One of our extra projects (not the magazine) went south when the printer disappeared off the face of the earth with our cash! We’d used them for years but there were tell tale signs which should have sent our alarm bells ringing. It caused us a lot of grief – but thankfully we are still here to tell the tale! But if a price looks too good to be true – it probably is!

6. Expect to lose half your cover charge and more for distribution.

It costs. A lot. To get listed into shops, to deliver to shops, the % they take and what’s left goes towards printing, designers, writers, marketing and maybe a little left over for an ice cream. A year in and we just about break even each issue with sales growing steadily month by month.  Our contributors make more money than we do – so don’t give up the day job and make sure you have spare time to spend on the magazine for at least 2 to 3 years. Patience can bring returns but we do need to sell more for a rainy day (or when it’s really sunny or snows like mad and no one buys magazines!). So if you haven’t bought your copy of ComicScene Magazine yet – please do so!

7. Digital isn’t as big as you think – yet.

Anyone can read ComicScene in digital anywhere in the world. Yet most of our readers do buy the print edition. We’ve recently developed our system to send out a digital copy to people who now order the print issue. We can now provide the digital copy as you order it. You may even be able to ask Alexa for your copy sometime soon!

8. Preparing a business plan and marketing is a job in itself – but social media is only the tip of the iceberg!

We spent a year of research on the market for the magazine and our business plan. We are still researching and revising the plan ten issues of the magazine in. We spend a lot of time on the magazine itself – and marketing.

You can spend a lot of time on social media – but it will only get you so far. There is a lot of noise there and people’s brain now process faster the information that is of interest or they want to retain.  You may have over 10,000+ followers but it doesn’t translate into monthly sales.

Partnerships is key, positive word of mouth, complimentary copies at key events, getting the brand out there in different formats and hoping that others will engage and share what you are trying to do in a positive way. Some will. Some won’t. Some will take time to earn your trust. There will be lots of opinions, good and bad. Don’t take it personally! Just be as good as you can be and support the industry, publishers and creators who contribute to it – that’s what’s important. Develop by doing – not by how many likes & #rts you get.

9. Cash is king! 

Cash flow. We started with zilch, nada, nothing and no major investors at all.  Just an idea and some spare change.  Nothing in the bank for the project. No other publications to absorb our start up or losses. You can do it – we got it through advance subscribers, many of who have just resubscribed again.

We’ve just got through our first big challenge, when distributors (who can take up to three months to pay you) finally sent the first payments to us. Yet we still had to pay our bills.  Thanks to cash from other projects, direct payments to us, advertising etc. we managed it. Phew! It was close….

Then we have to balance direct subscriptions (good money – small pond) v shop distribution (less money – more sales from casual/impulse buying readers!). Sales won’t cover it alone, advertising, sponsorship, sale of content and letting your brand name be used for events etc. are also how magazines are sustaining themselves. Never close the door on an idea that saves time or helps financially – and be prepared to make hard decisions once you get your sales balance to cost ratio or you might not have a magazine at all.

10. It takes time, listen and learn – and be open and honest.

We have not hit our ideal distribution target yet. We know not every comic fan is aware of us. We know we have to pick up casual readers as well as hardcore fans to make the magazine a success. We know we have to take risks and keep experimenting with our format. We know people like what we do, we’ve won a couple of awards lately but we continue to listen to reader feedback and learn from that, making the magazine as good as we can be. We know that with every issue people become more aware of the magazine, like what they see, jump on board because it’s a good read, engage with us  and have a say on future content and how it develops.

So our last piece of advice is be more than a magazine…

We are all part of ComicScene!

Love comics and comic culture?

Love comics and comic culture? Love reading? Please buy the magazine. It’s our only source of major investment every month. It pays our printers, designers, artists, writers, distributors and allows us to share the work of comic publishers and creators every month via the magazine, website, social media and Podcast. We’ve made it as easy as we can to get you copy at a great price. Only £5.99 a month – less if you subscribe. You can get it online at http://www.getmycomics.com, in selected shops like WHSmiths, McColls, Easons and Comic Shops and can order it in any independent newsagent closest to you or comic shop.

If you are interested in distributing the magazine or advertising/sponsorship please contact comicsflix@gmail.com

You can hear Publisher Tony Foster talk a little more about the development of the magazine and future plans on the following podcasts

ComicScene The Podcast Episode 1

Mega City Book Club

Comics For The Apocalypse

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