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Notes from a Semi-Annual Advertising Salesman

24 March 2006

First off, my apologies for not posting for a solid month. I’ll bet those who read The Big Takeover regularly can guess why. Yep, that leads to the subject of today’s column: Issue 58 is rapidly taking shape.

One of the things I want to do in this space is to occasionally give you an inside view of how magazines are made. Today, I will give a glimpse of why our print mag comes out only twice a year (1982 was the last time we came out more often), since it’s a question I am frequently asked by readers. The problem is simple. We aim to produce a large, high quality magazine, but we lack the staffing resources to publish monthly like those bigger mags with splashy ads from deep-pockets shoes/beer/clothes/soda sponsors. Most of the functional duties that would be shared by several people in other mags are on the shoulders of one person at The Big Takeover—me. While this setup may insure quality, it’s certainly not built for quantity.

Part of it, I’ll admit, may be out of stubbornness. Most magazines/journals with greater circulation than ours don’t include much writing by the editor. (I remember being disappointed when my favorite writer at one New York newspaper, PETE HAMMILL, was bumped up to editor for a while. I totally missed seeing his byline in the paper as his writing predictably vanished from the pages during his tenure until, finally, he left the job.) But let’s face it, writing is by far the most creative part of publishing a magazine. It’s writing that I’ve always wanted to do. The rest is basically business and public relations. If this were purely a business, I’d just go do something else I guess, something that pays better!

Yet I am sure that were I ever to cut that writing function out of my job description, we’d still be hard pressed to publish more frequently with our small staff in the office, despite the invaluable and frequent help of our various contributors and other volunteer staffers and interns.

For the real challenge of any publication is funding. I’ve already demonstrated in a recent editorial in issue 56 the pitfalls and inherent problems in attempting to get paid, and paid a fair share, from the money spent on our magazine via distribution store sales. (And once again, I argued how, if you really want to support a magazine/label/artist, you should always try your best to buy their stuff straight from them, when it is offered from them-outside of your favorite mom and pop stores or other independent outlets that need your support, too.) Subscriptions are a huge help and make a massive difference in a magazine’s viability. It is only through the support of our readers and advertisers that we have been able to weather (so far) the endless cycle of big distributor bankruptcies, companies that folded without passing on the money owed to us for those aforementioned stores sales, sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars. A number of magazines went under last year when one longtime distributor, Desert Moon, dissolved and left all of us with the check.

But most of all, what a mag needs is advertising. As our circulation has climbed well-past the 20,000 mark, you can imagine it costs a pretty penny, upfront, to first print an issue, and then, given a finished product that weighs over a pound, to ship it to all the various distributors and stores with which we deal. For us, it costs in the neighborhood of $45,000-$50,000 a shot. No chicken feed! And as noted in that editorial, receipts from store sales are both unpredictable and paid, if at all, many, many months after this bill has come due. Thus, it is imperative that the magazine attract and satisfy a loyal cadre of sponsors.

So far we have, since the labels who have taken out space have been both enthusiastic and generous, keeping us alive these last 20 or so years of our 25 (since I started accepting paid ads for my then-hobby). Of course, that’s partly dependent on you, our equally loyal readers. Without you, we wouldn’t have advertisers. Because Big Takeover readers tend to be more enthusiastic about, and purchase more music than the average reader of entertainment-based mags that are nominally about music [We want names, Jack! -ed.], music advertisers know we’re a good place to reach you, their potential consumer. (And without you, they too are out of business, no matter how arts-minded be their inclinations.)

Given this, I spend an inordinate amount of my time contacting labels, both new and old, every time we’re about to put out an issue, to see if they want in on it. I’m not really what you would call a “salesman,” but I’ve been filling that role for 20 years because I know it is important, and must be done, and I want to make sure I’m responsible for its success or failure since our entire operation depends on its success. I thus genuinely appreciate the sponsors I’ve talked to all these years, for making what we do possible. Of course, it’s not completely altruism, as this is part of the labels’ marketing efforts for their artists—always something an artist wants to see, having been one myself for 26 years (off and on). But I often sense a spirit of altruism, anyway, in many of the advertisers. I can tell that they dig the mag, and if they have some budgets they can play with, or something they think would make sense, they seem to actually enjoy throwing it our way. And that makes this part of my job so much easier! I do feel that spirit of an arts community, sometimes, even in this essential fundraising function. If you’re someone who has ever advertised with us, or still does, thank you! Much like how we serve our readers, we serve you at the pleasure of your being pleased with the results.

All that said, since I am the ad director of this here mag, as I was saying, this is what I spend the lion’s share of my time at work doing the last two months before we launch. I have other cycles once a mag is completed with our trusty art director ADAM SYMONS: dealing with the distributors and stores about orders, the printer about the actual fulfillment, invoicing our clients, and ultimately, talking to many of the readers as they respond with orders and comments. (That’s a lot of hats for one dummy, I know.) Then it’s back to working with our writers to develop content for the next issue, first by editing their work and thereafter by working with our superb copyeditors. But the ad stuff is just the most exhaustive part of all these hats in terms of actual time. These days, I am at work several nights a week until 2:00/3:00 AM, after which I grab seven hours of sleep and go back at it again. I often skip lunch, not out of desire, but just because I get so caught up in everything.

I’m not complaining. Ultimately I like my job because I have my eyes all the time on the prize of making, with all of the people that help me/us, something good, something of which we can all be proud, something that can be inspiring/illuminating/entertaining/informative to others who care as deeply about this music and arts culture as we do. But if I disappear again from regular comment here and can barely eke out a Top 10 list from time to time, you’ll know why! (My friends long ago learned that I disappear on them for a few months every year, too.) And you’ll know why the thought of coming out even three times a year instead of two with our present staffing levels and my multiple duties, especially this one, is enough to put me in the funnies! “They’re coming to take me away/Ha ha/He He/Ho Ho….”

Anyway, the new issue won’t be out for a couple of months, as we’re still putting the last finishing touches on it. Then it has to be made into plates, then comes printing and binding, boxing, and shipping and mailing… but at least it is on the horizon! I will talk a little more about its contents quite soon. (For now, one teaser tidbit: the rather wonderful FRANZ FERDINAND will grace its cover!) But if you’re thinking of advertising with us, I’m all ears—I have that hat on at present. And like all small mags, we could sure use it! And if you are a subscriber, I hope you continue to subscribe (and to tell us your new address if you move!). For time will pass, the temperatures will rise (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and a brand spanking new Issue 58 will be a reality before we all know it!

From your humble Editor/Chief Writer/Publisher, who will now go back to being Advertising Director, dialing or emailing a label near you! Oh yes, you guessed it. It’s 12:48 A.M. When else would I have time to dash this off?


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