Last June, Toronto Star’s Newspaper in Education team launched a new publication titled “Ontario Family Fun Guide” in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, the day Canada became its own country.

We initially anticipated the resource would be a one-off issue, published in 2017 to coincide with this national celebration. The inaugural issue was a success financially and also provided some good learning around publishing niche products.

Capitalising on its success from the 2017 publication, The Toronto Star published the family fun guide for a second year.
Capitalising on its success from the 2017 publication, The Toronto Star published the family fun guide for a second year.

We decided to launch a second edition this year. We had several repeat clients book ads in the guide, confirming the success of the first edition wasn’t just about the Canada 150 celebration in the marketplace, but an appetite to spend ad dollars in very targeted, print publications.

For the 2018 edition, we made some tweaks to the format, such as cutting the less profitable coupon ads and adding more fun and educational content for kids including an article on the science behind freckles, puzzles, interesting facts about our province, and more. We maintained the compact size and distribution model.

The results

While some of the advertisers may have booked an ad in the first edition specifically to have an increased presence in the marketplace during the Canada 150 celebrations, we did achieve repeat business from more than 50% of the advertisers. We also had 20 new clients book ads in the guide, including a few new advertisers outside Ontario looking to attract Canadians to their family friendly venues just across the border.

In the end, we realised an increase in our net profit over the previous year by making minor modifications to the sales plan and finding cost savings in the execution.

There’s a short online article published by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association (SNPA) listing 10 steps for starting a successful magazine (niche publication). The article quotes Brad Shurett, publisher of The Daily Sentinel in Scottsboro, Alabama, who presented on this topic at a revenue summit held for newspapers. It was published in 2013, but it’s worth the read. I can say from experience the tips are still relevant.

Shurett identified these 10 steps for starting a successful magazine (niche publication):

  1. Identify the niche.
  2. Determine if the niche has the potential to be profitable.
  3. Determine distribution model.
  4. Determine who will lead, and clearly define and communicate expectations.
  5. Determine frequency.
  6. Get a print quote.
  7. Set rates.
  8. Build a media kit.
  9. Go sell it.
  10. Repeat!

One of the best points made in the article was the importance of having a champion that is passionate about the project and will see it through to a successful completion. This is true for any project launch. I would add that making the booking, payment, and creative instruction simple and easy for the advertiser is also key.