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Terence Doyle

Hey! Let's start a magazine

British Journalism Review
Vol. 16, No. 3, 2005, pages 67-72

Terence Doyle has followed the writer's time-worn eclectic career path – encyclopaedia salesman, PR, teaching, property developer, travel agent, sub-editor, short stories, unpublished novel and diary writing – before pursuing freelance journalism and screenwriting, and launching Britishfilm-magazine.

Contents - Vol 16, No 3, 2005

Editorial - Pass the salt 3

Matthew Bannister - Suddenly, my hands were shaking 7

Gill Farrington - The tattered man with only one shoe 12

Jason McLure - All quiet in Dubuque 17

Peter Wilby - Swimming (weakly) against the tide 23

Mark Mardell - Why I'm taking on Europe 31

Bill Hagerty - Mr Deedes takes a gamble 37

Peter Preston - How not to defend your source 47

Rob Blackhurst - The freeloading question 53

Lloyd Page - Disability: lessons to be learnt 61

Terence Doyle - Hey! Let's start a magazine 67

James Lawton - How best to wrestle a giant 73

Bill Hagerty - It's cricket, but is it journalism 79

Richard Stott on Bob Woodward 85

Frank Whitford on Martin Rowson 87

Mark Hollingsworth on Annie Machon 90

John Herbert on Hugh de Burgh 92

The way we were 36

Political correspondents poll 95

Paul Foot Award - Inside back cover

Most journalists harbour a dream. They either want to write a novel – best-selling variety preferred – or satisfy proprietorial longing by owning a newspaper or magazine. One such budding entrepreneur tells a cautionary tale...
THE IDEA IS BORN: By the autumn of 2002, I had survived two decades of freelance journalism followed by seven years of scriptwriting during which time I had penned 10 feature films, the first two commissioned (total fees, £4,000) and two others that had been optioned for development (total payments, just £100). This was moderately encouraging in the hand-tomouth battles that pass for the British film industry. However, even I realised that more money was needed and I planned some articles for the national press.

One of the ideas I pitched was an insider's guide to “the film industry”, which got me pondering the scarcity of articles focusing on the wider British film world and, in no time at all, to wondering why there was not a whole magazine devoted to examining it. Thus was born the idea for a magazine devoted to British film.

TAKING CANNES BY STORM... NOT: At this point I had no intention of launching a magazine on my own, but rather thought the concept so brilliant that it would be snapped up by any number of confident entrepreneurs, and I could get on with writing for it every month. I did talk to various journalist friends to figure out what my pitch needed, and roughed out a business plan, which has never much changed. Publishing is, in some ways, astonishingly simple. The editorial content is easy to put to together (everyone knows someone who will write for almost nothing). Ditto staff. Total cost: £5,000. The design can be bought off the peg – allow £10K max for 100 glossy pages. And there are hungry printers everywhere – say another £10K at most for 10,000 copies. So £25,000 is all you need to get the magazine out. And all that was needed to cover that was 25 ads at a measly £1,000 each. Easy, surely, with a hot topic like film? Then any copies sold would be profit.

To accompany this business model, I mocked up a cover, using the Times font from the narrow choice on my computer and stealing a photo of Kate Winslet in a lavish red dress from the internet. The end result looked more like a magazine from the 1950s than a cutting edge guide to Britain's most glamorous industry, but it clearly made the case that this was a magazine devoted solely to home news.

I took this gem to Cannes in May 2003 and, surprise, surprise, the response was underwhelming. Worse, I began to understand that the British film industry is constantly in trouble because it doesn't have any self-belief. The whole of the industry wining and dining in Cannes concluded there wasn't enough British product to fill a magazine, nor enough people interested in reading about the product there was. They were spending their lives in the industry but felt: “We don't do anything of any interest.” Talk about an epitaph.

RE-GROUPING – CANNES 2004: Discouraged, it wasn't until the autumn of 2003 that I picked up the project again, thanks to a PR company that wanted to break into film which introduced me to a small publisher who might like to invest. The PR company was to invent a variety of more professional covers, the publisher started refining the business plan, and I began dreaming that Cannes would be different this time.

But only one cover ever arrived, at the last minute, and it was worse than my own – like a plug for a funeral parlour – and the business plan made no sense to me. So I went back to Cannes with the previous year's materials, never a good tactic, as even the best-endowed starlets of last year tend to suffer rejection unless subtly enhanced. But a funny thing happened. I actually met “money”. Indeed, I met it three times, all on the same day and, as is usual in Cannes, it happened by accident. It began with a well-connected entrepreneur named David Blake offering to introduce me to some people on a boat. He didn't explain why, but I was not about to say no to any offer of help. And on the way to the boat, we bumped into an acquaintance of his who happened to be the head of a well-known private bank. A good start, I thought. Money No 1.

On the boat, I found it difficult to establish whom I was to meet, although one or two people seemed somehow involved in the launch of a new highincome lifestyle magazine called Boom. And the champagne in the sun was comforting. Money No 2, in a way. Strolling along afterwards, I crashed a party on another boat, which proved to be chartered by a firm of accountants who immediately took to my concept and said: “We'll do it. Not just one issue, but a year or two. Up to £1million.” Money No 3.

SERIOUS BUSINESS: Back in London, I visited the Boom magazine offices in Soho, and the reception was more kind than encouraging. But I did meet a Birmingham man who was showing off some ads he had recently printed. He liked my proposal and a day later e-mailed me something that actually looked like a magazine cover and suggested he had the facilities to help me. Two days later he was back in London bringing with him a contract giving him 40 per cent of the project and the news that he had bought every possible website containing the British Film Magazine title.

This was an impressive display after a year and a half of dealing with unresponsive people. But at the same time it was alarming. To that point, I had given very little thought to the practical business aspects of the proposal and now I seemed to be handing over much of the control to someone I had only just met. But two weeks later, when he joined me for the meeting with the accountants, bringing with him a jolly eight-page dummy, the sun was shining and the birds seemed to be singing just for me.

DOING IT THEIR WAY: In the event, the accountants suggested raising £250,000 rather than £1 million. In return for £5,000 upfront and 8 per cent of any money raised, they would tidy up the business plan and introduce us to six investors, any one of whom could fund the project single-handedly. If none of them bit, it probably meant the magazine was not viable.

Birmingham man assured me he could raise the money on better terms elsewhere. So the June birdsong went quiet, the summer rolled into July, and I waited. Or rather fretted, increasingly concerned about the ambitions of the Birmingham man, until he said that he had finally raised some money, but not a lot – I never found out how much – and that it was not all for the magazine in any case, “because the concept was not exciting enough on its own”. We scheduled a meeting in London to discuss the details and he apparently arrived, but was too busy in the end to meet or even answer the phone. When finally I reached him and told him I was disappointed, he gave me a tongue lashing and, despairing at his contrary behaviour, I ended our fledgling “partnership”. He rebutted with an invoice for the work he had done on the unordered dummy, followed by threats of suing. Even as I write this, I receive a call from a collection agency. Not a happy experience.

MORE SURPRISES: I spent the next few months looking not for money but for an experienced film magazine publisher and an editor. I knew several, but neither one of the two I most favoured ever answered my calls. Then I formed a new partnership, with an old friend who had not only published a magazine but was good at marketing. He said it was time to stop talking and to produce an issue. Back to Plan A: a magazine financed by ads. Buoyed up, I finally managed a meeting with the publisher I had been chasing and he brought along a colleague who suggested that he could find the advertising and even arrange cheap printing. Suddenly we were on our way.

Just before Christmas I had drinks with a friend who specialises in branding and he opined that the title of my magazine needed work. He suggested I go for something more evocative. So over Christmas, instead of focusing on the editorial content as I should have, I pondered alternatives, thousands of them, realising that Anything and Everything could be a title. I went from Arcane to Zenith via the Slough of Despond, because it was terrifying to discover that after two years of development I still didn't have an acceptable title. Indeed, that I might never have a title. But as the New Year dawned I decided to go with what I had in the first place. The decision proved to be a stroke of genius, as Britishfilm-magazine eventually turned out to be a big selling point with everyone from advertisers to film stars.

It seemed the game was on

In the run-up to Christmas, I was also a little alarmed to find that my wannabe publisher went incommunicado. But when I rejoined my partner and the Ad Man for a drink at the St George's Hotel rooftop bar in early January, it seemed the game was on. I planned the editorial and commissioned writers, begging help from the various luminaries I knew, from Stephen Fry to Melvyn Bragg and a half a dozen well-known film hacks, with a view to a March launch.

Then, disaster. Through no fault of his own, my partner lost his principal marketing contract and could not devote time to the magazine. Certainly he did not monitor Ad Man as planned and, a few weeks later I discovered that he had done nothing and disappeared off the face of the earth. By now I had commissioned everyone and much material was already in and being processed with the help of a former journalist colleague, so I simply worked harder, remembering that film projects were often thus fraught, even sometimes going to first day of principal photography without funding. The important thing was to hold your nerve. Things would be all right on the night.

In addition to handling the editorial, I began sourcing pictures as I had not been able to find anyone to do that without pay (assuming that most films would proffer free photographs, I hadn't budgeted for illustration). I was also “selling” advertising, which proved to be both easy and hard. One company volunteered that it had ample funds and would gladly take a page. Others would pay very little, if anything, but at least they would supply artwork. And, naturally, dozens upon dozens never even returned a phone call. I think my strike rate was one reply for every 20 calls, and one ad for every 20 replies. So, some 400 calls, some 20 ads.

THE MAGAZINE IS BORN: In late March, I talked with another publisher whom I had met at Cannes the previous year. He kindly took over the dreary business details, such as setting up the company and opening a bank account, and he introduced me to media financiers who might be able to raise some money quite soon. In the event, print day came – with a £10,000 bill that I had to put on my credit cards before heading down to Dorchester to see the magazine hit the presses. It was an astonishing moment. As the magazine rolled into life, I worked out for the first time that 10,000 copies equated to a million pages...ONE MILLION PAGES! And then shuddered again at the thought of having to market these 10,000 copies.

First stop was the specialist division of market-leading distributor Comag. I was resigned to not getting into WH Smith – the small print run didn't warrant its attention, let alone a decent shelf location. Instead, we sent some 2,000 trial copies into 90 independent newsagents in London and some 30 Borders shops nationwide. And we had a launch party, thanks to help from London's Groucho Club, and went on to have another in Cannes. The British Council kindly shipped 500 copies southwards and I was able to distribute these liberally to the mighty and good, with a strong positive response. And the financiers were present with a draft of the document to go out to investors, so as Cannes wound down at the end of May it seemed likely we would have the money by the end of June, in time to work on the start of monthly issues from mid-September.

DISASTER STRIKES: Within hours of returning from Cannes, the wheels came off. On the first Tuesday back, and trying to finalise the document, I learnt that a long list of details was still needed, meaning that it would be several more weeks before it went to investors. Further work also raised an unexpected £10,000 legal fee, raising my costs to date by 50 per cent at the stroke of a pen. Worse was to come. The document detail called for my publisher and myself to formalise our roles and duties, and it became painfully clear that we had very different views about how to proceed. My attention was on ensuring distribution of the 10,000 copies we had printed. His emphasis was the document for investors. Six weeks later we finally agreed... to an amicable parting.

During this time I discovered that 60 of the 90 independent London newsagents had returned the stock offered without putting it up for sale. Worse, several stores that had put it up for sale had sold out weeks earlier but not bothered to re-order. Part of the problem was that, having originally planned to launch in March and finally coming out in April, I had mistakenly put June 2005 on the cover, rather than Summer 2005, and various stores assumed they should simply wait for the next issue. So a crucial month of sales had been lost. Meanwhile, the formerly-enticing document became ever more complicated, with clauses and sub-clauses about everything – from the risks of investing, to the spectre of a criminal offence – if I overstated the pitch for investors, until it seemed that it was illegal even to tell anyone I was intending to publish a magazine, let alone ask them for money.

As July began, I still didn't know when the document would go out, let alone how it would be received. I knew only that time was running out on my chances of making the deadline for the proposed September issue. Then, in mid-July, came potentially the killer blow. Yet another bill, this time for £10,000, for accountancy, tax, and audit work. But as I write, things are looking up. After meeting 842 with the magazine finance people, it looks as though the document is ready to go out to potential investors. And as the company now in charge is also raising £50million for various movies, I'm hopeful. Fingers crossed...