Last year, we noticed a trend of innovative fashion brands finding success with a little help from popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter. One menswear company raised a whopping $400,000 to get off the ground and since then, a sweatshirt line raised over $1 million from the site's pool of benefactors. Of course, Kickstarter is home to a wide variety of projects--and recently we've noticed another segment of the fashion industry using it as an outside-the-box funding method: magazines.
Typically, to launch a successful print magazine (or sometimes even an unsuccessful one), one must have, or have ties to a recognizable name. Being associated with an e-commerce site, coming from an important role at a well-known publication, or--obviously--being part of a major publishing house are generally helpful qualities. So is having a lot of money--publishing and distributing a print magazine is really, really expensive (hence the slow death of print).
But thanks to Kickstarter, anyone with talent, motivation, and a unique, appealing idea can now potentially launch a fashion magazine. And there are apparently still people willing to pay to read a good one. However, publishing is just as cutthroat in Kickstarter world as it is in the real world--it has one of the lowest success rates: 33.22% (The only category with a lower success rate, in fact, is fashion). However, in total funding, publishing-related projects have brought in a total of $35.81 million on Kickstarter, quite a bit more than most other categories.
To learn more about how to get a magazine funded on Kickstarter and why people are doing it, we spoke to a few EIC's who did it, and whose magazines are still alive and well: Cherry Bombe, a magazine blending food and fashion; Intern, a magazine showcasing the work of and encouraging discussion about unpaid interns in creative fields; and Fashizblack, a France-based high-end fashion glossy that describes itself as "more than just a Black Vogue."
MAKING THE CAMPAIGN A SUCCESS
To get a magazine funded on Kickstarter (and in general, really) you've got to give potential backers something to see--to know whether or not the magazine is something that would appeal to them. A Kickstarter campaign, when done effectively, is a pretty perfect platform.
Have good visuals, especially video, and take advantage of resources around you: Alec Dudson, who started Intern after several months of working unpaid internships, created an "Issue 0," a 12-page promotional newspaper meant to run alongside his Kickstarter campaign. Dudson had already put six months of work into Intern--finding contributors, shaping content and aesthetic, creating Issue 0--before launching his Kickstarter campaign.
He said his motivation for using Kickstarter stemmed from seeing a Kickstarter exhibit during Design Week in Milan (where he was interning), and subsequently meeting Kickstarter's art director. Dudson told us he spent about three months working on nothing but the Kickstarter campaign--from visuals to copy to determining the goal amount and rewards (Kickstarter's rule is that each person who donates money must get something in return--rewards vary based on donation amount) to promotion. "If your rewards don't really resonate with your target audience, that can make a big difference."
He also used video--considered to be one of if not the most important feature of any Kickstarter campaign--to get across the story, message and aesthetic of Intern. He felt a lot of pressure to make it good and he succeeded--his is one of the strongest Kickstarter videos we've seen. "Especially for a magazine dealing with the creative industries, the video needed to be suitably slick," he explained. He didn't have "the ability or the means" to make one himself, but through his shared studio space he found talented folks who were willing to get on board and work out a deal once he explained his idea. "The challenge was making the video evoke a feeling about what the magazine was about without having much to work with," since he was essentially asking people to "fund something that didn't exist."
However, Cherry Bombe didn't include a video in their campaign at all because they couldn't afford to produce one. They still wish they had, though. "We put a lot of time into [the Kickstarter], but could have and should have put more time into it," Editorial Director Kerry Diamond told us. "For example, we should have made a video. Kickstarter seems to favor projects with videos, especially on its app. But we just didn’t have the time or the money or the brain space for a video. The prices we were quoted by filmmakers were crazy. They were the kind of prices I paid video teams when I was at Coach and Lancome. Plus, we deliberately set out to do a print vehicle without a web component. So video didn’t feel right at the time. But in retrospect, we should have done a video."
Fashizblack had more to show, as it had already existed online for three years. Publisher/Managing Director Laura Songue used Kickstarter to extend the magazine to print. "We really believed that our concept needed a print version to complete our brand and to publish our high-end editorial content in a glossy," she told us. The magazine's pre-existing audience became participants in the campaign. "Given that we were born on the Web, and that from day one, our readers were very much involved in the process (by commenting, giving ideas, sharing content, etc), it felt very natural to have them participate in this fundraising." Still, they did their research: "We really took time to read over everything on how to run a Kickstarter campaign, every piece of advice, the best tips, the guidelines, etc. For example, it was highly recommended to make a video, so we obliged. The more precise and well-defined the projects were, the better were their chances to make it. The best visuals, videos, the sharpest texts, and true consistency, made the very good projects stand out; so we knew we had to do the same." Once the campaign launched, they reached out to industry colleagues as well as newsletter subscribers to get the word out.
Do a lot of research to determine a realistic and sufficient goal amount: Determining the goal amount and what that money will go towards can also be a challenge that requires quite a bit of research beforehand. Dudson had to determine what the size of the magazine would be so that its production resulted in as little waste as possible. All of this goes into determining the goal amount. With Intern specifically, an important part of Dudson's goal was to pay every contributor. Since the message of the magazine is to support unpaid interns, it would be hypocritical not to.
The physical size of the magazine also factored into Cherry Bombe's goal amount. Diamond told us printing, shipping and storage were their biggest costs. "The first issue of Cherry Bombe weighs almost two pounds and the paper is really beautiful matte paper, so it’s a beast. In a good way!"
With Kickstarter, you also have to consider the fact that if you don't reach your goal, you don't get anything. Dudson sees this as a positive in a way, at least for a magazine: "While that may seem a little daunting, it's brilliant for a number of reasons. If we only got £3,000, that's not enough money to do the print run, let alone to pay contributors, to buy packaging, so you're in this horrible situation where you've got to deliver on these promises you've made people. You'd essentially get yourself in even more trouble." The format can also encourage donations, posits Dudson. "Having that threat of, unless they get all [of their goal amount], I get nothing, is actually a great motivation for people to back." Pressure=stress=here's all my money!
But it also means you really don't want to ask for too much... or too little. Dudson impulsively stuck and extra 500 pounds onto his goal amount the morning it went live. Luckily, it worked out.
You also have to determine the length of your campaign, which can go up to 60 days, but Dudson recommends only doing 30 because the pressure can get pretty intense.
THE BENEFITS OF STARTING A MAGAZINE USING KICKSTARTER
There are a few ways in which magazines can benefit from using Kickstarter. The most obvious and straightforward way is getting funded, to literally get the magazine printed and off the ground.
But another, perhaps even more valuable benefit of using Kickstarter is the exposure it can offer--exposure that can help secure the magazine's future. "For an indie magazine, it’s a great way to sell single issues and subscriptions and build awareness," said Diamond. Cherry Bombe got "lots of attention, all of it good" following the launch of its Kickstarter campaign. "It ranged from people wanting to invest in the magazine to people wanting to work for us to book deals. A lot of that, obviously, was premature! One step at a time."
Press: "If it hadn't been for the incredible press coverage we got throughout the campaign, we certainly wouldn't have ended up finishing where we did," said Dudson. In addition to coverage everywhere from Bullett to Vice to S Moda, Dudson was asked to speak at Print Out, an influential magazine night in the UK, based on the strength of his Kickstarter video. Granted, unpaid internships have been a pretty hot topic lately. Still, Dudson didn't turn down a single interview request, regardless of where it came from.
Readers: In the case of a magazine, Kickstarter can also attract a whole readership--obviously necessary for one's success. "Kickstarter allowed us to solidify our fanbase and have clients prior to the actual release of the first magazine," explained Songue. "It's a kind of pre-order system, so it provides security. 354 people participated in the campaign and during the six months before the launch, we kept them in the loop, posted the magazine updates on social networks, in a newsletter etc, so they could feel involved."
Contributors: Kickstarter campaigns also attracted aspiring contributors for Cherry Bombe and Intern--almost to a fault. "As soon as we went up on Kickstarter, I've been absolutely inundated with submissions," said Dudson. While many of the submissions were of great quality, Dudson was frustrated by some of their willingness to work for free. "I don't take on interns at all. It's something of a frustration. I've been contacted by at least two dozen people since the Kickstarter started asking if they could work for free for me. Obviously they can't, because the moment I take on one person unpaid I completely undermine the project. The bigger issue is it just proves how deep-seeded this attitude is amongst today's young workforce, where they're just prepared to offer up their services unpaid. It proves how lofty a task trying to change people's attitudes towards that is going to be, but you know, you've got to start somewhere."
Life after Kickstarter
Fashizblack (which launched print in 2012), Cherry Bombe and Intern (both of which launched this year) are all still alive and well post-Kickstarter.
Fulfilling Rewards: One piece of advice Diamond offered for Kickstarter users was to "be prepared to be successful." Fulfilling rewards took up a lot of their time once the campaign ended. "We never anticipated the amount of time that would take. It’s a great problem to have, but you need to be extremely organized and methodical. Your whole life will become emails and labels and post office runs," and unexpected setbacks: "We mailed all of our rewards and roughly 10 percent went missing or were returned to us. I’d love to see Kickstarter and US Postal Service get together. Maybe Kickstarter can help save the Postal Service!"
Keeping the money coming in: Once rewards are fulfilled, the magazines have to find ways of keeping momentum and funding future issues (without the support of hundreds or thousands of internet strangers). Cherry Bombe has a sole funder for Issue #2 (out in mid-October!) and they're "exploring a combination of advertising and native advertising/advertorials" for the future.
Intern's funding plan involves having eight sponsors per issue, so each one gets a single page that Intern designs in-house. Dudson plans to make sure it's always "a product or service that is relevant to our readership" and that each page blends in with the magazine. Money coming off of sales of the magazine has also helped with funding. They're also focused on not printing too many copies. Dudson is "pretty confident" that Issue One will sell out and is also working on future ideas for expansion that could generate money.
But why are people so eager to fund (in, you know, 30% or so of cases) print magazines? Kickstarter-funded magazines may appeal to people because of their transparency. Successful projects tend to be the ones that come across as genuine and whose founders seem open and humble. Dudson essentially bared his sole in his description, and was heartfelt in describing the story behind Intern. Songue advised: "You have to make your point come across and be transparent about what you want, what you are going to do with the money, and why do you need them to get involved."
Perhaps other, more established magazines, whose ethics and are often called into question, can learn something from that.