Oh Comely is an indie publishing success story – not many independent magazines crack WHSmith as one of their first outlets. Sian Meades asked editor Liz Ann Bennett (pictured below) for advice on setting up and running a magazine...
How did Oh Comely start? Was it really because you wondered how hard it could possibly be to run a magazine?
My co-editor Des [Tan] asked that. He felt that many women’s magazines had a terrible effect on self-esteem and that it was time to start something different that would make people happy. The magazine happened because he managed to convince a lot of people that this was a good idea, most remarkably WHSmith.
Isn’t it all about digital now? Why did you want to make a print magazine?
Digital has been pretty wonderful for independent mags. Indie mags are having a moment and strangely, that’s been helped by the rise of internet culture. The only way to distribute a magazine used to be via a major distributor. Now you could launch a magazine off the back of a successful blog, sell it online, keep costs down by printing on demand and market it using social media.
How do you make it profitable? Aren’t all of the big brands spending their cash on glossy magazines?
You’re right – most classic glossy mag advertisers not particularly interested in Oh Comely. The thing is, many of our readers aren’t particularly interested in them either. But there are lots of other companies for whom Oh Comely is a perfect place. We focus on our relationships with those.
Describe a typical Oh Comely day – the magazine conjures up tea and cool bands and kittens.
I wish we could have kittens. Instead we have a Venus flytrap, but you can’t stroke them. I think people would be surprised how much passionate disagreement goes on. We’ve worked together for a long time and we care a lot about what goes in the magazine, which can lead to some heated debate.
What would you do differently, if you had the chance?
I wish we’d got someone involved at the start with a real knack for the nitty-gritty of business. Oh Comely was started by a bunch of idealistic perfectionists and that hasn’t always been the best thing for our bank balance.
How do you balance who does what, and working in such a small space on such a huge project?
Rosanna [Durham] and I run the magazine day-to-day; she does images and I do words. Des has a guiding role in the direction of the business and in ensuring the quality and consistency of the magazine. We also have a totally invaluable team of people who manage different sections, but don’t work from the office.
What advice can you give to people wanting to set up their own magazine?
Get advice from as many different people in the magazine industry as you can. People love being asked for advice and you’ll be surprised how many people will be happy to chat to you for half an hour.
If you look at the magazine racks and think, “Why isn’t there a magazine for people like me?” that's definitely a good sign.
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