Art Blossom says: minizines not easy money-makers


In the other part of my writing life, where I pound out words for pay (may this munificence never cease!) one of my coolest sources was Charlotte Yee who, until very recently was an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who had helped me understand the unemployment rate, inflation and other statistics gathered by the BLS (which is dollar-for-dollar in my book one of the most useful agencies in the federal government and a great source for both data and  insight on the U.S. economy).

Not long ago, however, she traded spreadsheet for paint brush and the income security of civil service for the thrill of a startup — The Art Blossom, a web site through which she will explore how to turn those lovely drawings our children do in grade school into some sort of permanent keepsake, as both a memento and school fundraiser.

In any event, ArtBlossom, as I shall hereinafter call her, started looking through the MiniMediaGuy archives for production tips and found an entry in which I suggested that, rather than seek to extract all their from online advertising, grassroots media startups consider publishing some of their material in print and then seek ad support for this print manifestation of their online wares. I dubbed these “minizines” (other terms used in this regard include “reverse publishing.”)

ArtBlossom looked into the practicality of this technique in the San Francisco Bay Area, and after some initial excitement, sent me this more sanguine note in which she wrote:

“After doing some research into your idea about minizines, I’m going to have to take back my assessment that it’s an idea whose time has come.  I think one obstacle is print design and technology, another obstacle is motivation.  Most bloggers use prepackaged software like WordPress.  They’re not necessarily technically savvy, but have ideas and are willing to write about their passion.  Even among those who may be good with photo editing, they still aren’t skilled with the 4-color CMYK standard needed for sending copy to press.  Using professional print technology also requires expensive software – photo editing software only uses RGB additive color.  Graphic designers aren’t cheap, so that just adds another level of cost to publishing the magazine.

“Then, there’s the issue of control.  Bloggers and hobbyists blog because they enjoy the control.  They write what they want and don’t have editors looking over their shoulders.  It’s not work; it’s recreation.  Producing a magazine may give bloggers or hobbyists money, but strangely enough, they really don’t want to work hard to get it, nor do they want to cede creative control over to a graphics specialist.

“Finally, there’s the part about attracting advertisers.  Looking for businesses is also work.  The first few iterations of this minizine would be met with skepticism from advertisers.  Many, like me, would ask for steep discounts.  In addition, business owners are also not graphics specialists, and may need technical assistance.  This would have to be handled by the contracted design firm.”

First off, let me thank ArtBlossom for paying attention to this idea and for looking so deeply into the details to reveal the many problems of execution. That being said I think ArtBlossom has identified a series of market opportunities — some of which may have already been solved by vendors who understand that once millions of people create ephemera in cyberspace they are going to demand sharable memorabilia and easy tools to get them.

 So I’m putting this out there in the hopes that it will be seen by someone who has solved some  or all of these difficulties, and can offer some insights.