Behind the scenes: Stupid magazine

by Stine Fantoft Berg in January 2016
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Crowd funding has become the de facto way for new magazines to get their start in the world, but not all Kickstarter campaigns are created equal. It’s no secret that a great campaign is all about preparation, and Toronto-based writer Holly Knowlman has spent the last four months painstakingly preparing for the launch of pop music magazine Stupid.

But the hard work paid off; her campaign launched on 21 January, and after only one day Stupid magazine had raised more than 75 percent of its $5,000 goal. I caught up with Holly six days into the campaign to find out more about Stupid, her preparations ahead of the Kickstarter, and the things she’s learned so far.


Why did you want to start a print magazine about pop music?
I knew I wanted to start something within media. I’ve worked in tech and seen a lot of cool projects being realised, so that inspired me to think that I could do something myself. I’m attracted by a print magazine because it’s restrained and it just seems manageable.

Then I thought of pop music and it blew my mind that no-one’s really made an independent pop magazine yet. Pop music is one of the most common cultural expressions, and certainly the most shared. I wanted to make a magazine on pop music that’s critical, fun and playful.

How far along are you at this point?
I went public with the project in October 2015 and started doing some of the ground work, researching Kickstarter and contacting contributors. At this point I’d say the magazine is 20-30% on its way to being finished, but lately the main focus has been the Kickstarter.


And why did you decide to do a Kickstarter?
First off, it’s a really good way to test your product and find out whether people actually want to buy it. But also, I really wanted to immerse myself in learning about it and trying to understand the mechanics behind it.

You must have done something right! You raised 75% on the first day?
Yeah, that pretty much blew my mind. From my research I’d learned that it’s common to make 20-35% of the goal value on the first day and I thought of that as a good target to aim for. So the first day massively exceeded my expectations.

Yeah! Do you think Kickstarter is especially suited to funding independent magazines?
I don’t know about indie magazines specifically, but I think it’s great for creative projects and for building a community around cool crazy ideas.


What were your preparations leading up to the campaign?
A lot of reading! There’s so much information on the internet – any question I had I’d Google it and find lots of answers. But you’ll also find a lot of conflicting advice, so I started picking out the tips that made sense to me.

And then I’ve just talked to everyone about it, asked people if they could check copy and give me feedback. I’ve got a great mentor who’s been really important to me. I think it’s really important to have a solid network of people supporting your project, so I started collecting email addresses in October to try and connect with people and spread the word about Stupid.

What was your approach to contacting people on email? It’s such an effective way to get in touch with people, but you really don’t want to come across as a spammer!
Yeah, it really is a fine line. I just tried my best to be polite and respectful of people’s time, as well as being really direct, sending links and giving concrete action points. I have a background in marketing and communications so I’ve read a lot of email copy.

And what has that taught you?
I guess being able to tell a story that’s concise and to the point. Most importantly I wanted to involve people in the process and share my excitement with them. And actually most of the people on my mailing list have backed the campaign, so that’s a good sign.


Indeed! What advice would you give others looking to launch a Kickstarter campaign?
I think the best advice I could give is to look for campaigns that are similar to yours and analyse them to figure out what made them succeed or fail. And again, you’ll come a long way with a solid network and people around you willing to give feedback and help you out along the way.

When the campaign is over I’m going to write a huge blog post with everything I’ve learned and hopefully it’s something other people will use. I’m still learning so it’s not like I’m an expert, but I want to share my experience so far.

Why share your secrets?
I’ve been blown away by how generous people have been dedicating their time and effort to me, so I guess this will be my way of paying it forward. Also, I really like writing; it’s a great way to finish a project, like a post mortem. And maybe it can help grow Stupid as a business, if it can put me in front of new people, potential readers, that’s always a good thing.

Where do you see Stupid a year from now?
Well, I’ve decided to dedicate one year to really go all in and see where this can go. I know I want to do at least three print issues, and that’s what I consider phase one. After that I’ll evaluate and figure out what the next steps will be. There are several possible outcomes; I may want to continue, investing more and growing the brand, perhaps I’ll take everything I’ve learned with me into something else… Time will tell!

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