The Rules of Efficient, “Big Picture” Innovation

With two media ventures under my belt, and a third on the way, it’s always struck me as ironic-and a bit disconcerting-that the second question I’m often asked about them, after “What are they about?” is “How are you paying for them?”

Entrepreneurship has always been about money-making and spending it — but as we thrust headstrong into the 21st century, with all its dreamy technologies, the question of cash should be relegated to a minor detail in the broad scheme of a business plan. Modern commerce, particularly in the media sector, enjoys so many points of entry that fundraising defers to innovation, presentation (that is, ease of use) and the laser-sharp targeting of consumers’ psychologies.

Yet something must pay the bills. A rock-solid, demonstrable concept will whet investors’ appetites, but competition for their dollars and attention is growing ever fiercer as independent creators tap hitherto unavailable resources to realize their inventions. Personal connections have, as a result, never been more important.

Thus an essential question now is, how an enterprise can propel itself from the launch stage without imploding under the crushing pressures of debt? The answer, inevitably and appropriate for our time, comes down to creativity and a knack for seeing “the big picture.”

During my company’s earliest days, one of my co-founders — a logistical genius who has since moved on to other ventures — asked me how I was able to strategically plan our business development, accurately, several months hence.

I explained that broad-based strategic concepts are the net product of an intimate familiarity with the various solutions available and affordable to solve any given problem. The best choice would be the one that sets my efforts apart from the competition.

In other words: knowing, then weighing various options and then deciding which one the rest of the pack is unlikely to consider.

Every type of retail circulation — and magazine publishing is no exception — involves retail solicitations, distribution and/or postage nightmares, and partnerships of so many iterations. The chaos stems from simple supply-and-demand dynamics: there are many more companies than there are top-line retail outlets, so each retailer wields enormous power over the road to market.

But who is to say that the road most frequently traveled is the shortest or most economical distance between company and customer? Knowledge of and the willingness to serve customers’ wants, needs and likes, may reveal an alternate path that is at once more efficient and loyalty inspiring.

Consider, for example, the case of Freeskier Magazine (published by Storm Mountain Publishing), a prototypical publication among independent magazines According to Folio: Magazine (January 15, 2005), “Brad Fayfield, publisher of six-year-old Freeskier, and Mark Sullivan, a snowboard-magazine veteran who launched Snowboard in October, are challenging the mainstays of the winter-sports magazine world with a pair of magazines that depend on an essentially free distribution model to get their magazines into readers’ hands near where advertisers’ products are sold.”

Fayfield had been a member of the United States Ski Team before he turned to journalism, and his unique insight into the mind of his reader suggested a new alternative to the waste-ridden newsstand circulation model. Positioning magazines in the ski shops where skiers and snowboarders hunt for supplies and information every season would underscore Freeskier’s hip relevance. The title is currently in its ninth year.

Entrepreneurial publishing, like every other new venture, begs for chutzpah, and requires an absolute confidence in the value of products and services. “Rules” are meant to be bent, and everyone wants to get their hands on novelty. Even strapped by chronic undercapitalization, the innovator will, like water, find a path of least resistance and easiest acceptance.

Jonathon Scott Feit, M.A., is President & CEO of the Feit Family Ventures Corporation, and Chief Editor & Publisher of both Citizen Culture and With This Ring magazines. He is also the youngest lecturer in the Department of Journalism at Boston University, and the youngest member of the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Jonathon is currently working on a book about the importance of consumer psychology in modern business. He can be reached at [email protected]

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