The Best Time to Publish

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Non-profit Magazines: Pick Your Date!

Publishing non-profit magazines is bliss – there’s so much freedom! With freedom come choices. One major decision is to figure out when and how often to publish the magazine. It’s very easy to pick a traditional pattern and let the budget direct the choice. Common options for a traditional print magazine are monthly, six times a year or four times a year. All potentially good choices, depending on the purpose of the magazine and the way it is financed.

Two Main Financing Options

The main financing options for non-profit magazines are subscriptions or advertisements or the combination of these two. However, it seems that most often it’s either one or the other. Advertising option requires a lot of effort to sell advertising space, so if the subscription model is functioning, most publications tend to content themselves with it.

This also stems from the nature of many non-profit magazines as a mouthpiece of the association publishing them and the magazine being originally just a bonus for the members. However, many magazines have evolved far from that humble origin and could in fact start to consider themselves as independent publications.

Subscription Model: Reader is the King

In the case of subscriptions, consider the topics of the magazine and when they would be most valuable and entertaining for your readers.

Let’s take Maatiainen, one of the magazines I edit, as an example. It is published four times a year. The main topics of Maatiainen are gardening, animal husbandry and traditional landscapes. The magazine is financed entirely by subscriber income a.k.a. association membership fees. Its publisher is an association, whose purpose is to promote all these topics: Maatiainen ry.

Maatiainen comes out on February, May, October and December. There’s logic to these dates:

  • The first issue of the year is published in February together with a seed catalogue, the latter determining the publishing date for the magazine too. The seed sales are an important income source for the association, so this issue is very important.
  • Second issue comes out in May, just before the summer begins. This is a good time to escort readers to the delights of gardening and husbandry at the beginning of the peak season.
  • Third issue is published in October. It is the time of harvest, afterthought of summer’s activities and preparation to the autumn.
  • The fourth issue is published in December with Christmas theme.

This schedule has its pitfalls:

  • December and February issues are very close to each other, so in practice they’ve being made partly at the same time.
  • February is a bit late for seed orders, as other seed catalogues come out earlier. However, Maatiainen association gets its seeds in later. This is a bit of a problem.
  • There’s a very long pause between May and October issues. There are good reasons for it, though. For Maatiainen subscribers summer is an outdoor season, when reading is not the priority. It takes time after summer vacations to get in the articles from the contributors. And October is the natural harvest season, which gives a good theme for the autumn issue.

In other words there are quite a lot of external factors determining the publishing dates. How would you arrange Maatiainen’s publishing schedule? Let me know in the comments!

Advertising Model: Reader and Advertiser Both at the Throne

Are advertisers your financial backbone? In that case the needs of the businesses should be kept in mind, when planning the publishing schedule. This can be a difficult task in the withering ad markets of the print media.

Different types of businesses have very different needs regarding advertising. Supermarkets look for, if not daily, at least weekly publishing. Fortunately, the slower publishing rate works for the local small businesses. A plumber and a hairdresser are mostly looking for exposure, which suits perfectly for a magazine with more spread out publishing dates.

The other non-profit magazine I’m editing, Oulunkyläinen, is a good example of this.  Oulunkyläinen is a magazine published by Oulunkylä-Seura, a local residents’ association. The magazine is distributed in 11 boroughs and is an important platform for discussion on local issues. It is published as a tabloid newspaper and comes out six times a year.

The publishing months are February, March, May, September, October and late November. There’s a long pause in the summer with this magazine too. The reason for the pause is summer vacation, which keep both readers and voluntary contributors at bay. The publishing dates are set to precede major events: Valentine’s Day and the school winter break, Easter, the end of the school year and the start of the summer vacations, Halloween and the school autumn break, Christmas season. These are all also major commercial opportunities for businesses and thus interesting advertising seasons.

Would a different publishing schedule work better for this kind of magazine? The physical appearance of the magazine seems to arouse one recurring misunderstanding. A tabloid form being connected with daily newspapers, it is difficult for the readers and contributors to understand that the magazine is in fact a periodical. There are similar local magazines in Helsinki published by associations that come out monthly or even weekly.

Next year there will be an exception to the normal publishing schedule. Communal elections are being held in Finland on the 9th April and thus it is important to publish the second issue right before the elections. Why so? There are two main reasons: to have the opportunity to dwell in important community issues on the articles and to get the ever so important candidate advertisements in the magazine.

This brings us to the second main factor of magazines financed by advertisements. It is important to think businesses when planning the publishing schedule, but it is equally important to keep the readers in mind. Because ultimately, the magazine is interesting for the advertisers only, if it is interesting for the readers. With timely, discussion provoking content, which also the readers deem important, it is possible to create and maintain a broad readership.

What is your publications publishing schedule and what’s the logic behind it?

Susan

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