How To Run A Successful Magazine: A Frankie Case Study

When I’m released from my cryogenic slumber in the year 2372, I’ll bounce my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren on my one good knee and reminisce about a time when magazines were the lifeblood of popular culture. “What are magazines?” they’ll ask sheepishly, sext messages transmitting from their brains in ways I won’t fully comprehend and ear bleeding new-nu-metal soiling their lithe bionic ears. “This” I’ll reply, rummaging through an icy coffin of 21st century relics (which may or may not include a DVD box set of Seinfeld) “is a magazine”. Then I’ll pull out an early issue of Frankie to stunned silence and like, crazy eye lasers or something.

That’s what Frankie is, I think. It’s an archetypal magazine. It’s a magazine’s magazine. Like if magazines were anthropomorphic entities they would probably read Frankie when no one’s looking or scribble disparaging remarks like “Frankie loves cock” in public toilets. You could attribute this to a few things. It’s identity is crystalline for one. Twee in that non-annoying Belle & Sebastian way, but acerbic as well and intelligent and funny. Always funny. Its senior writers in particular, Benjamin Law (interview here), Edmund Burke, Mia Timpano and Marieke Hardy are all engaging, hilarious and conversational but at the same time, completely different. Hardy is the established wit, Timpano the ceaselessly acerbic one and Law the self-deprecating raconteur.

Then there’s Frankie’s audience. Or should I say congregation, a readership which ranks among the most engaged and, quite crucially, loyal of any in niche publishing. The magazine boasts 16,000 Twitter followers and 60,000 Facebook fans, for example. But don’t just take my shitty anecdotal evidence on why Frankie is a rad magazine (built on six years of on-off reading starting from late 2004 when I used to steal my sister’s copy to perv on girls with bangs) here’s some cold, hard mathematics. After an industry leading 31.60% increase in circulation last year, Frankie has just been crowned the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s fastest grower for the second year in a row, recording a 43.20% increase in circulation for the Jan-June period of 2010. The second faster grower in the loose realm of women’s fashion and lifestyle was Harper’s Bazaar Australia with a circulation growth of 9.04% over that same six month period.

In an age where print publishing’s influence is being usurped by the internet and MP3’s and embeddable videos, that kind of growth is not only encouraging, it’s necessary. I mean, I swear to God, if my great-great-great-grandchildren can’t know the same joy I felt upon first discovering The Face I’m gonna have to choke the internet out (sorry the internet). Thankfully things aren’t that grim yet because Frankie still exists and continues to increase its circulation year on year. To shed some light on their astronomical growth, Pedestrian asked Frankie Editor-in-Chief Jo Walker to share the secrets to running a successful magazine. Check them out below budding independent publishers.

GROW AN ENGAGED COMMUNITY (KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE): We’re really all about our readers – all about the Frankie community. The blog and all our social media sites are really about lending another aspect to our brand and keeping in contact with readers between issues because two months is a long time between drinks. Ditto with real world events. We’ve tried to align ourselves with bigger projects and more underground events. We also do things like special prizes for long-term subscribers, because we know they’re a big part of our audience.

PROVIDE A POINT OF DIFFERENCE: We often get lumped together with titles like Yen or Russh in the ‘independent women’s mag’ type category. It’s good that we’ve got a little niche happening but I do believe we set ourselves apart. We put a lot of emphasis on beautiful, clean design and top notch writing. Serious quality every single time. In terms of maintaining this point of difference we don’t take too much notice of what other magazines are doing. If it feels right to us, if it feels Frankie, we do it. The recipe hasn’t changed much over the years. We just do stuff we genuinely love and we want to share with others.

CURATE A CLEAR IDENTITY: Again it’s more of an instinctive thing. It’s very clear to Lara (Creative Director, Co-Founder) and I what Frankie is and what it isn’t. We don’t do celebrity stuff, we don’t pander and we always strive to create content that’s easy to relate to. Each new issue is really just a continuing chapter in the adventures of ‘Frankie’. Readers address letters to Frankie. They get tattoos based on our artwork. They name their kids and pets after us. They really relate to the personality – which is communicated through design, the kind of products and fashion we feature, the attitude that comes across in our writing and the kind of topics we cover. We don’t do focus groups, maybe we don’t over think what we do. We just try to create something that we love and hope other people will be into it too!

CONTENT IS KING (INVEST IN TALENT): My background is in writing so I’m pretty picky about the kind of writing that goes into the mag. Our basic rules for Frankie content are: is this something we think is interesting or cool or cute? And is this something we can’t imagine seeing in any other title? I’m constantly amazed by our senior contributors – they lend a lot of their own personalities to the mag. I love deadline day when all their stories come in. I get a real kick out of reading them.

BECOME INDISPENSABLE Frankie really is a quality magazine with lots of content compared to other women’s magazines because you can’t flip through it in 10 minutes and be done. It takes about 3 hours to read through properly and I know because I do this in final proofing, which is a good bit of entertainment for the cover price. Also our readers aren’t being catered to anywhere else. We’re pretty much the only magazine they read so I guess that raises our “must-have” stakes.