To an outsider the world of print media can appear to be complex, with the inner workings of magazines often shrouded in mystery. However, understanding the mechanism of how a magazine is put together, printed and ultimately sent to the reader is essential for companies looking to gain positive exposure in the press through advertising. This blog post offers a few tips to help understand how a magazine is created from start to finish (or rather, from finish to start).

Firstly, the publisher sets a publishing date for any given issue. This takes into account various factors including the magazine’s frequency, bank or national holidays, or important trade show dates for example. Once the date is set, the publishing house will be developing its production schedule backwards from there resulting in a timeline looking something like this:

– Mailing date: let’s call the mailing date our ‘D-date’ or delivery date. That’s when the finished product is mailed out to the readers and the electronic version – if there is one – is made available online.

– Printing dates: D-date minus 3 or 4 days. This is when the magazine gets printed. The pages are cut, the magazine is assembled and it takes its final shape. It may be inserted in a plastic cover at this stage, ready to be sent in the post along with other promotional flyers (also called inserts). The publisher will want to hit this printing window precisely; missing a printing spot can incur penalties from the printer whose entire production calendar will be delayed (not to mention displeasure or even claims from advertisers if the print copy comes out late).

– Layout dates: D-date minus 4-16 days. That is when the magazine is conceived and the content is carefully put into shape, following the publishing plan and based on the overall advertising volume. The editor looks at what press releases received in the previous weeks could be of interest to the readers; contributed articles are formatted and author’s bios are chased; high res images are requested in a hurry. The sales director will assemble all the media bookings, and the publisher will inform the design team how many pages the magazine should have (16? 32? 48? 98?…).

For a technical and trade controlled-circulation publication, the ratio of editorial and advertising content will usually range between roughly 45 and 65 per cent. So the more advertising is sold, the more editorial content there is. The graphic designer will mix adverts of various sizes with the editorial, intertwining everything into a finished magazine. This period of time is when the creative staff get most grey hairs. Final adjustments are often made right up to the last minute.

– Closing date for the advertising material: D-date minus 8-16 days. That is so the graphic team can have everything on file when working on the publication layout. A few days’ leeway will always be built into this official closing date.

– Actual closing date for the material: D-date minus 6-7 days. If a media booking was made in the final push to sell advertising, there might be some leeway given to accommodate advertisers. The publisher will trust that all the bookings will be honoured and will be working on that basis. This means the graphic designer can start working on the magazine, leaving blank pages here and there – waiting for the material to arrive.

For some magazines, the ‘real-world’ closing date may be as late as D-date minus 4-5 days. Be warned though: this will make everybody sweat a great deal more than they really need to.

– Bookings closing date: D-date minus 12 days. That is so the publisher can decide on the actual size of the magazine. Is there a lot of advertising? Is there little? Was he or she hoping for twenty full page ads and how many were booked in the end? Enough, or not enough? Can the sales team do a final push to get more bookings through? Setting a closing date helps everyone focus, even is the period of time leading up to it sees the sales staff… get most grey hairs.

– Actual bookings closing date: if an advertiser wants to buy space and the advertising material is available & ready to be submitted, then the closing date is probably around D-date minus 6-9 days. It quite possibly won’t be later than that: that’s because the design team will need to know how many pages they are going for. If this decision is left too late, the team won’t have time to finish the magazine and could miss the printing spot. But close the magazine too early, and its the publisher that will miss out on advertising revenues. Clearly, it’s a balancing act here.

– Advertising selling dates: D-date minus up to a year (sometimes more!) A media representative will always be happy to schedule advertising activities and get an insertion order signed off. For a publisher, knowing a few months ahead what revenues are expected can also be of great help. It can also serve as a ‘financial MOT’ of sorts.

There you have it: a no-nonsense guide to publishing a magazine, from start to finish. It is worth keeping in mind this publishing timeline when media representatives approach you. If a late offer is made with a tempting, heavily discounted rate, then in all probability you won’t have the luxury to cancel the insertion at a later stage. Once you’re committed, an advert will need to be provided come what may. So it’s worth being fully prepared from the start.

It’s obviously a different story with online advertising, where the lines are much more blurred. Often, failing to deliver your banner ad will simply mean a slight delay in your message being shown on a website. No drama – or not as much drama anyway. Just a few more grey hairs.

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