How Women Leaders at Niche Publications Carve Out Territory in the Competitive World of Magazine PublishingPublished: January 10, 2007 in Knowledge@Emory
Behind the scenes at many of the nation’s magazines are innumerable women working on the editorial and sales side of the business. Yet, considering the amount of women in these positions, the top spot of publisher, chairperson, or CEO, remains one dominated by men. Short of the success of Cathleen Black, president at Hearst Magazines, or Ann S. Moore, chairman and CEO of Time Inc., the pickings are slim when it comes to women occupying the executive suite at the top magazines. (Insiders don’t necessarily consider Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey as part of the pack, despite their success in the field. Neither worked their way up the ladder in ad sales or put in the time on the editorial side of the industry.)
While the glass ceiling appears to be at play in the magazine world, entrepreneurial efforts might be the answer for an industry out of step with the times. However, breaking into the field is extremely difficult, says Andrea S. Hershatter, associate dean and director of the BBA program and a senior lecturer in organization and management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. She notes, “Experts say that 80% of all magazine launches fail in the first year. From an entrepreneurial perspective, it’s an incredibly challenging undertaking. In addition to understanding the readers and creating the content that will appeal to them, there is the equally complex task of serving the corporate market that supports the publication through advertising dollars. The cost structure to start, staff, and produce a well-edited, high-quality publication is very high and can only be recouped through sponsorships, advertising, and subscriptions—all of which require ongoing, intense marketing efforts. Then, there is the additional struggle to obtain shelf space in a highly competitive arena with a narrow distribution network. An entrepreneur who succeeds in doing all of this doesn’t have the luxury of enjoying the fruits of her labors; she must reinvent her product again, every single issue.”
With the difficulty of breaking into the market, and many more magazines from major publishers going under or being shelved over the past twelve months, including well-known titles such as Teen People, Cargo Magazine, Organic Style, and Elle Girl, it would seem to be the wrong time to launch another publication. However, the success of “narrow casting” or niche vehicles seems to be the next trend for those looking to break into the industry. While many of these targeted publications remain niche spin-offs from the larger magazine publishers and titles, a number of independent upstarts, created and run by a handful of women, are working to break into the fray by providing distinctive editorial content for a targeted audience.
Pink Magazine owner and founding editor Cynthia Good says that her publication appeals to an ever-growing base that was overlooked—the professional woman. (Good previously launched Atlanta Woman Magazine.) Despite the paucity of women in magazine publishing and a lack of publications that target their specific needs (outside of the fashion realm), she remains optimistic that this will change. “We’re seeing an evolution as far as marketing to women,” Good notes. “The large companies will realize that the bottom line is the bottom line, and that women are making a majority of all of the purchasing decisions, from their position on the job buying office software to their purchasing decisions in the home.”
Pink Magazine hit newsstands with the Summer 2005 issue, and Genevieve Bos, owner and founding publisher, adds, “We really started talking about what to do nationally for women, and we wanted to have a connection to women’s goals in order to help build better communities for them. We’re not really competing with other magazines, in the sense that, we are the only national professional magazine for career women. The majority of women out there can’t afford what’s in the consumer-based magazines. Most don’t need or want a fashion magazine, but they may need a magazine that tells them about fashion as a tool or as an expression of their creativity and aspirations.”
Today, Bos says the challenge as a publisher remains “managing the fear and the energy level required for working at a startup. You have to do many things with a limited budget and resources. Every day, you need to be creative. But the big issue is that most women don’t learn enough about the finances to run the business.” Goizueta’s Hershatter, who is on the editorial board of Pink Magazine, notes, “From a business perspective, what’s noteworthy about the success of the Pink Magazine launch is that it was a truly independent venture. It was not a new title from an existing publisher, nor was it attached to some well-known brand or personality. Doing what they have done without the capital, expertise, and reach of a parent company is really remarkable, and is proof that there was a genuine need for an intellectually engaging and well written magazine for professional women.”
But there are other pressures to bear, even for those who manage to break into the field—the ever-evolving way in which information is delivered. Bos adds, “The magazine industry is altering—web events, the iPod, and all the various new technologies out there to deliver content are bringing about that change. I come from a tech background, and so I have an advantage. We are working on things to take advantage of those new platforms—including Podcasts, for example, on career development or negotiating for salary.” But it won’t be the technology alone that will address the shifting paradigm. Says Bos, “Without a good online strategy, the ability to reinvent traditional magazine publishing, and the ability to move away from the old brand definitions and the old way of distribution, many magazines will be dead.”
Linda Ruth, co-founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Women in Periodical Publishing, notes that a number of other independent women publishers are breathing new life into the field. She says, “What I find in my work with Women in Periodical Publishing is that some of the most exciting, inspiring work is being done by the independent women publishers, who are working on creating publications that they themselves would love to read.” She cites a number of women and independent publications that fall into this category, including Discovery Girls publisher and founding editor Catherine Lee, New Moon Magazine publisher Nancy Gruver, The Women’s Review of Books founder Linda Gardiner, and Women’s eNews editor-in-chief Rita Henley Jensen.
Ultimately, making money in the long-term will determine the true success of each of these publications, with or without the critical success of the editorial content. The fact that many new and independent publications manage to even get off the ground is often half the battle. Ruth acknowledges, “The challenges these women face are often funding ones. Women get about 3% of the venture capital dollars out there, and to raise money for these independent publications can be a daunting task. But these women persist and even triumph, to the benefit of us all. Because much of mainstream media does still trivialize women, the options these women are offering are important to the rest of us.”Additionally, straddling the delicate line between business leader and someone attuned to the needs of your readership can be a daunting proposition. Often, this sort of expertise requires a team approach. Sheila Gibbons, editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly newsletter of news, research and commentary about women and media, and co-author of Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism, says, “To be a leader on the business side of magazine publishing, you need the business acumen and the passion for your product that will carry you to the front and to the top. What’s needed are people that can make the relationship work between the magazine and the advertiser, and then make that all work for the benefit of the reader and the editorial content.”