Fancy starting a magazine?

Second-year feature-writers learnt this week how to set up a magazine while still at university.

Guest lecturer James Thornhill did just that. He set up The National Student – in 2002, while studying Journalism at the University of Lincoln. The first publication to target students right across the UK, it became part of The Big Choice Group in 2010, with James as Head of Communications. He now acts as head of contents strategy as well as being an editorial and marketing consultant.

“The questions you need to ask yourself when setting up a magazine,” he told the Feature Writing & Publishing students, “are: What are you? What do you want to achieve? And who are you for?”

Where all three are concerned, he stressed the importance of taglines – the snappy phrase summing up a magazine. The quarterly Delayed Gratification, for instance, calls itself “the magazine for slow journalism” and claims it is “proud to be last to breaking news”. MC1R‘s tagline is “The magazine for red-heads”, while The Idler‘s is “The Art of Living”.

The National Student now has over 600 student writers, covering everything from news and current affairs to food and travel. The editorial side is the glamorous part, James pointed out. But magazines are also businesses, so would-be publishers need to think about revenue sources, distribution methods, different business models – everything from platforms to paper quality, layout to legalities.

A few years ago, commentators were forecasting the end to print journalism, and there has certainly been a decline in the print versions. But, said James, “This has created a new space for independent publishers and publications to thrive. People want print, but more specialist print that fits their personal needs and requirements.”

And, as the range of indie titles has grown, so too have the shops selling them – shops like Ideas on Paper in Nottingham, MagazineBrighton and magCulture in London.