My Unique Experience Running a Print Magazine
Two and a half years ago, the last ever physical version of deBanked Magazine rolled off the printer (Nov/Dec 2020). Some were shocked that we stopped it while those who knew the print business wondered how it had ever gone on for so long. It was a nice addition to our website, placing content in hard copy format and shipping it out to thousands of offices across the industry for a total of six times per year, every year. Covid disrupting the traditional office work arrangement made it impossible to keep a magazine going that had such a large percentage of office distribution. I wasn’t sad when I made the decision to cut the cord, more like relieved, for it was an extraordinarily tough product to consistently produce for very little return in exchange.
And that’s where my unique story begins. With an average print run of 3,000 – 4,000 per issue and distributed for free, our little b2b magazine left a big impression on many who received it. So much so that some subscribers began to wonder if the real lucrative business of this era weren’t all the financial products covered in the magazine but perhaps the magazine business itself! LOL. But on this I am not joking. Rumors spread and I found myself on the receiving end of both admiration and condemnation about how much profit people thought the magazine was probably making deBanked. The most common estimate I heard? That the magazine was guaranteed to be yielding at least $1 million per year just to myself personally after all the expenses. Which, man, would’ve been pretty awesome! Some threw out ballpark valuations for our magazine of $10 million (or even $100 million!!!!!) based upon assumptions that it made multiple millions a year in profit. Not the investment bankers of course, who knew better.
These numbers blew my mind, especially since I knew that they were very much rooted in complete delusional fantasy. If you want to know the truth, my internal personal valuation for our magazine had consistently been $0. This wasn’t some secret that I didn’t want anyone to know. I had just assumed it was obvious to all. I mean we were printing and mailing a free b2b magazine in the internet era. A magazine. A magazine…
In a good year, deBanked Magazine (when examined as a standalone) generated somewhere between $5,000 – $9,000 in total profit. That was with no salaries because it couldn’t afford even one full time employee dedicated to working on it. Not even myself got paid from it. The personal financial benefit to me throughout was a whopping $0. Thus with its extremely tight budget I played the role that a normal publication might have five people for in addition to working with a small number of freelancers for help in order to do the parts I couldn’t. I spent nights proofreading with a highlighter and days trying to figure out how we were going to fill up 30+ pages in a single issue. It was an incredible amount of work and truthfully, I really enjoyed it, which was the entire reason it existed in the first place. I thought it was a cool way to reach people that maybe weren’t reading our website and it provided us with a channel to create some long form stories we otherwise wouldn’t have created. I did not have one ounce of regret throughout that it was not a great financial business to be in and I promised myself I would just do it until I didn’t want to do it anymore or it started to generate a standalone loss.
But I admit the experience was slightly marred by the perception of how much some believed we were making from it. Everybody seemed to know somebody who had been in the magazine business and had apparently become a billionaire from it. They supposedly knew all the numbers, assumed our numbers, and as a result it made any humility I exhibited about it come off as disingenuous. I actually ended up becoming the target of some unusual hostility that I could not seem to shake about its “success,” no matter how obvious on its face that it wasn’t what they thought. There are those that will apparently take what they see and invent numbers off of how something looks and then tell others that those are the real numbers. I guess you live and learn.
And so when my wife questioned why she sometimes found me sitting at the dining room table at 2am hunched over a stack of crumpled printer paper with yellow markers on one side and a cup of coffee on the other, I made sure to tell her that what she was seeing was a billion dollars in wealth creation. My big find of the night might be that a product that wasn’t a loan had been characterized erroneously with loan-like language.
“Page 27, left column, 4th paragraph down, 3rd sentence, it says ‘repay,'” I’d write off to the printing press who was under the assumption that it was otherwise all ready to be scheduled for a job. “It shouldn’t say repay, it should say….”
Which was then replaced by something too long or too short that threw off the page count of the book and I’d wake up 3 hours later to be told that they’d need me to draw a chart, create a half page article, or maybe curate some photos to take up some space. “Also, there’s something wrong with the bleed on page 4 and these other photos you sent are RGB not CMYK,” I’d be told. “This needs to be fixed right now to meet the new deadline because you already missed the last deadline.”
Such is the mystical story of it all, the coming together of words on paper that then got sent in the mail. A good number of people enjoyed them. That was the reward. When it could no longer break even despite having no employees, I made the call to cut it. It was a lot of fun to be in print while it lasted. Also a heck of a lot of work. We tried a digital only version for a while thereafter but it just wasn’t the same.
I have a tendency to sell things at just about our cost of doing them because I know other companies have tight budgets. The hope is that people will like what we’re doing, it’ll have a positive impact, and they’ll want more of it. That’s pretty much what makes me tick. Had I another motive and the temperament for it, I’d be out there doing all the stuff that the people I write about are doing. It does look fun, but it also looks like a lot of hard work!
I don’t believe the magazine will ever come back, but I’ll never forget the experience of doing it.Last modified: August 12, 2023
Sean Murray is the President and Chief Editor of deBanked and the founder of the Broker Fair Conference. Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on twitter. You can view all future deBanked events here.