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Independent publishing: 5 minutes with… Michael Chinnery

Independent publishers face the same tasks and challenges that big publishers do but with far less resource. Overstretched, it’s all too easy to overlook something important. CPUK’s Michael Chinnery lists some of the key things smaller publishers need to be aware of.

By Michael Chinnery

Independent publishing: 5 minutes with… Michael Chinnery

Q: What do independent publishers need to consider at the project design phase?

A: Designing a magazine is no easy task. But you need to ensure that what you’re designing brings together the principles of what you’re trying to create for an appealing and functional magazine that delivers to your industry, readers and advertisers.

Whether you publish a lifestyle, news, business or consumer publication, the principles are very similar, but here’s some tips to consider:

  1. Purpose: Your magazine has been created for a purpose and should have a unique vision, and design focus. Whether your magazine is keeping up with the latest news, trends and opinions, or background information for events in your industry or simply enlightens and entertains, the purpose of your magazine must become your mantra. Ultimately, never lose the purpose of the magazine in its sector, and it must remain relevant in design and content.
  2. Audience: Now you have fixed your purpose, when creating your magazine, the target audience (your readers or advertisers), should be your key focus. Design your content that you can create just for them. Ensure you deliver content they want and need from your magazine. Speak the language of your audience, using design concepts that they are already familiar with and will respond to.
  3. Research: There are plenty of magazines in the market (both online and in print). Spend some time researching the magazines in your sector, which magazines are your competition, which are the key advertisers, and what components of other magazines do you like or dislike. Make a plan that you’d like to emulate. You will quickly form an idea of the design techniques, colours, typography, and use of images that magazines in your sector deliver successfully. Remember to consider the ways you can add more value for your readers, and how will your magazine be different and stand out from the rest.
  4. Build your team: Most independent publishers wear more than one hat, more than any one person can balance on their own when delivering their magazine each issue: editor; photographer; advertising sales. However, most outsource their design and print services. These decisions are generally key to the success of your magazine, so get recommendations from reliable sources, and take up references from similar sized publishers.

Q: What are the key design questions they need to ask themselves?

A: A well-designed, professional magazine should demonstrate design consistency throughout and include impactful covers with creative content that packs a punch to capture your readers’ attention, thereby increasing subscriptions as well as gaining the interest of your advertisers.

Here are ten tips to consider:

  1. Cover Design: Creating an attention-grabbing cover is key to selling your magazine to your readers.
  2. Images: All images should be high-resolution with balanced light and colour, so the image is clear. Everyone knows a picture can speak a thousand words, so make images the focus of your layouts.
  3. Infographics: There is no better way to deliver complex content and text-heavy information than illustrating articles with infographics, thereby helping readers to engage with the layout.
  4. Fonts: Associate font styles that are specific to your magazine genre; use consistent fonts, weights and sizes: for example, sans serifs for a younger trendier audience, serifs for a more luxurious brand.
  5. Single Colour Usage: Using colour sparingly, with one striking bold colour, can be more effective than lots of different colours.
  6. Design Templates: Create a theme and style synonymous with the brand and stick to it. Use a consistent theme (eg. running headers, borders, folios) throughout the magazine. Create in spread format and go large with photos and imagery.
  7. Contents Page: The reader’s first port of call before they get to articles and features is the contents page: make sure it’s functional, highlighting easy-to-find articles and therefore selling the magazine’s content to the readers.
  8. Deliver Creative Content: Every decision on content and design should be made intentionally with your reader in mind, but be creative (e.g. pull-quotes, 3D layers, aerial shots for food, wrap text around images).
  9. White Space: Make sure there is not too much text on a page; leaving white space not only makes your design look stylish but also helps to draw the eye to the content you want your readers to focus on.
  10. Final Product: Ensure you marry your content and style with the correct format size, cover and text paper weights, binding and finish. Ensure your print supplier provides you with a like-for-like paper dummy and some printed examples.

Q: When it comes to choosing the right print supplier, what are the options for independent publishers?

A: Confronted with so many potential print suppliers in the magazine and periodical market, it’s a difficult decision to find the right service provider when there are so many to choose from. The best philosophy is to marry your magazine to the right press, and this is generally established by pagination and print run which will decide whether you use a litho press (500 to 10,000 max printed copies) or web press (7,000 upwards). Your chosen print supplier should deliver quality, fast turnaround time and an affordable price.

Again, research is key. Long established magazine titles tend to do the rounds with proven and trusted print suppliers, so do your research and speak to your peers. Most publishers promote who prints their titles, so use other magazines and find out who they print with for guidance. Established titles tend to know their print market, and make the right decisions to delivers their print each issue.

Q: What do you advise independent publishers on mailing and fulfilment matters?

A: Mailing your subscriptions each issue can be costly, so it’s imperative to find the right methods of fulfilment to ensure your subscribed readers receive their publication promptly and with consistency. Some print suppliers have their own in-house mailing line, but these services can be limited. A dedicated off-site mailing house, for example, will focus on the most cost-effective postage tariff for your UK and overseas mailing. Mailing houses will be able to provide a range of different fulfilment materials as opposed to the standard conventional polythene (LDPE). As most publishers are steering away from single use plastic, mailing houses can deliver compostable, biodegradable film options, as well as paper-wrap for larger mailing runs.

Q: The final piece in the jigsaw is distribution and delivery – what are the factors to consider?

A: As an independent publisher, tackling the newsstand process (wholesale and retail) can be daunting, and you are going to need the help of a reputable distribution partner specialising in delivering your publication to your readers via newstrade. If you’re not blessed with an in-house circulation specialist, I would recommend hiring a consultant – they’re not as expensive as you may think and will help you develop effective circulation and distribution strategies so that you can achieve your sales goals and maximise every opportunity for your magazine.

An alternative option is to target your desired market effectively through the appropriate media channels and create bespoke distribution channels.

Q: What’s in the pipeline from CPUK?

A: Following the undeniable challenges set by the pandemic in 2020, we were then faced with industry paper price increases and energy and transport surcharges through to the end of 2022. However, our customers and the industry as a whole adjusted and become more creative and coupled with the introduction of fixed price deals, we are delighted to experience some industry stability in 2023.

Moving forward, we are optimistic for the industry and we’re looking to build positively along with our customers.

For the past twelve months, we have embraced change for the business in opening up more opportunities for our design offering to the industry, delivered specifically to benefit independent publishers. We will continue to develop and grow in this area.

About us

If you are seeking a one-stop magazine design, print, production, and delivery service, then look no further than CPUK Print Publishing.

The CPUK team offers more than 35 years’ publishing and print-management experience. Choosing our bespoke combined service not only guarantees high-quality, professional design but also ensures production schedules are accurate and distribution deadlines achieved – all key factors in saving time and money for any publishing business.

Whether you are at the first stages of design and production, need some mailing or distribution advice or simply require your title to be printed professionally, CPUK can help.

Telephone: 01480 861 962