While mainstream print media circulation figures decline, niche publications continue to sprout from nowhere like mushrooms in a sodden field. As long as there is an audience, publishers will keep churning out the content. We asked three independent publishing entrepreneurs how they seized their patch of turf.
Interviews by Paul Ryan.
ABC television business reporter and Fairfax newspaper columnist Alan Kohler knows a thing or two about business media. His independent publishing joint venture, Eureka Report, is a rich online resource for self-managing superannuation investors. With a crack team of financial commentators and a subscriber base of 4,000 and growing, Kohler reflects on the past year’s wild ride.
“There’s been a boom in DIY super over the past few years, to the point where there are now something like 400,000 self-managed super funds in Australia. While there are a few newsletters that make stock-specific recommendations – what you might call stock tipping newsletters – there was nothing that provided a flow of information on big picture analysis of markets and investments generally. We provide ideas, insights and advice on which sectors are worth investing in.
In the early days, we marketed Eureka Report through partnerships. eTrade marketed us to its client base in return for us supplying some for their website. We were also assisted by Fairfax Digital – through The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, in particular. We did a deal whereby they were given a fee for any subscribers that came via their website. So they marketed Eureka Report to the registered base of Fairfax, which was about a million people.
I’ve been around a long time and built up many friendships. People were happy to support what I had in mind. James Kirby came on as Editor, and our team of commentators includes Robert Gottliebsen and Michael Pascoe.
Hardcopy newspapers and magazines will be around for a long time. But it is now the case that when you are launching a new media offering, you don’t need to print it to get an audience. You can get your audience from being online.
Once online, you’re not confined to text and pictures. All of a sudden you have other possibilities – in particular, video and audio. As we all learn how to exploit those possibilities, business models will evolve.
We decided early on that we might as well do video and audio interviews, as well as text articles, for our subscribers. So every time we publish now there is at least one video interview, five or six minutes long. The subscribers like it because they can actually see and hear the person being interviewed. It doesn’t take up too much bandwidth. We publish it as video, audio and a text transcript simultaneously. I think that’s the future.
If I was to offer advice to someone looking to launch an independent media venture, I’d say: don’t print it. You don’t need to. There are print media business models that work very well, but the costs are still high. My advice would be to structure it online from the beginning, with multimedia. Use the full potential of the internet.”
As creative director of graphic design agency, Grin Creative, Eddie Zammit knows style. He’s also a T-shirt freak. And, as of July this year, he’s publisher of the world’s first T-shirt journal – T.
“T-shirts are my passion. I own well over 400 now. I’ve always preferred T-shirts because they are more casual. When I wear shirts I feel out of place. It’s my career ambition to wear a T-shirt every day.
It’s always been in the back of my mind to actually do something T-shirt related. I thought launching a label would come first. But the more I thought about it – being behind a few start-up magazines and being familiar with the process – I thought, “Why don’t you do a journal all about T-shirts?”
The T team consists of me, a couple of colleagues in Melbourne and our editor, Mel, who is London-based. She went to the UK just over a year ago and pretty soon she became obsessed with T-shirts, too. London is probably the T-shirt capital of the world, so it was perfect. She’s close to the action.
Our plan is to launch a T-shirt label off the back of the magazine in early 2007. I really want to release a limited edition T-shirt with every issue of T.
The T-shirts that make you think are the standouts for me. I love the ‘Shoplifter’ T-shirt that howies produced. It was plain white, had a barcode at the top, and all it said was “shoplifter”. Every time a kid went into a retail outlet, a mechanism inserted into the sleeve set the alarm off. How much fun would that be, as a kid, rocking in there and causing a bit of havoc? Unfortunately, the ‘Shoplifter’ T was only a limited run and was eventually banned in the UK.
I think one definite advantage of building a business from your passion is gaining access to circles that are normally closed. Being a publisher opens many doors.
If you don’t love what you are doing, that’s very hard to hide. There’s a real battle for a lot of T-shirt labels to be either cool or commercial. I really respect the labels that find a balance. It’s that cool/commercial balance that T is aspiring to attain.
The one thing that I don’t want T to be is cliquey. To like T, you don’t have to be a T-shirt connoisseur. You just have to like T-shirts. Everyone wears T-shirts. There are labels being created every day. And the stories are great. A lot of businesses begin through T-shirt design and then expand. Marc Echo, for example, created an empire from it. So did Paul Frank.
We are in Australia, France, New Zealand, the UK and US. Last year I did a round-the-world trip in three weeks – L.A., Las Vegas, New York, London, Amsterdam. I made contacts in each place. Meeting people face-to-face, one-on-one, is always the most effective way to do business.
To sustain what I’m trying to do in the Australian market alone would be near impossible. I need the global audience to appreciate and help with the brand. What I’m trying to do is pretty adventurous, but, at the same time, you never know where it’s going to land you. It’s worth having a go.”
For Michelle Matthews, life is a deck of cards – literally. As publisher of the ‘Bar Secrets’ cards – decks containing 52 fabulous, often hidden bars in many of the worlds great cities – this former Ansett flight attendant has transformed the niche into a blooming empire… all by herself. And bars are just the beginning.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to have my own business.
While I was a flight attendant I published a few books – shopping guides for Sydney and Melbourne. To some extent, the Bar Secrets cards were really just a logical extension. I wanted them to be small, so they would fit on a counter, and cost-effective, because there are ten times as many news agencies as there are bookshops.
Bars have never paid to be included on the cards, and never will. I do get approached by some of them. But it always amazes me that people who open new bars don’t think to contact me. It’s a full-time job trying to remember and find all of these places. Bars slip under the radar.
With the London guide, it became apparent very early on that you can’t do a single bar guide for London. There are just so many that we specifically chose to focus on style bars. For the big cities like London and New York, I’m trying to stay away from grouping specific areas geographically, because then people buy just their area.
Distribution is the key. If you can sort that out, then everything else should fall into place. The American market, for example, you don’t want to get wrong. It’s very much about finding the right distributor before getting the market going. In the first half of 2007 we are launching six American cities – L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Washington DC and another to be decided.
All of the deals to date have been deals. I have not gone into business with anyone else. Over time I certainly want to change that and develop some kind of incentive-based partnership scheme. There’s a lot of trial and error. You might succeed in one market, but another market will be completely different.
Having a suite of different streams to choose from is crucial. When I approach different cities, one of the strategies is to try and secure sponsorship from the various tourism bodies. Some cities are big on bars, but others might be more into culture, or something else.
Every title is intended to go on indefinitely. And therefore every title requires updating and additional marketing support to reinvigorate it. Seventeen titles are a lot of work, especially when they involve different countries and different topics.”
To date there are Bar Secrets decks for Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, London, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, Dublin, Barcelona, Ibiza, with launches in China and US scheduled for 2007. Other decks include brunch secrets, daytrip secrets and spa secrets, with more in the works.
Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine.