A couple of weeks ago Dan and Paul from Field and Spiel magazines dropped in to say hello. I’ve been massively impressed by the way they’ve launched a proper national magazine going out to 50,000 football fans at Premiership grounds up and down the country every week, so I took the opportunity to interview them about how they’ve made it happen.
It turns out the secret to their success is dogged determination, a healthy amount of scepticism and an unhealthy amount of Creme Eggs. Unfortunately the noise in the bar we were sitting in made it hard to work out who actually said what, so the following interview mashes both of their responses together into one Liverpudlian football-loving hybrid…
So how did the first few issues go? Was Field received well?
The fanzine sellers weren’t happy at first, but that’s starting to calm down now. Maybe they thought we were trying to be like an ultimate fanzine but that’s not what we’re doing – theirs is club-specific content but we’re trying to be more like a football paper for the whole country. I think they’re starting to realise that what we’re doing isn’t affecting what they’re doing, so it’s all getting better now.
We’re getting more people coming back too – that’s quite nice. We’ve done some of the distribution ourselves – partly to make sure what we’re asking people to do in terms of handing copies out is realistic, and partly to get feedback from the people who are actually reading it. I had someone cross the street the other day to come and get it, and we didn’t have that at the start!
At the beginning there was a real pack mentality to handing them out. At City of Manchester Stadium there’s a lot of traffic lights and if you can get the first person who comes past in that surge from the traffic lights to take a copy, everyone will want one. So that would be dead important – it didn’t matter who the first person was, you just had to make sure they got one, so you’d be staring them out across the road at the traffic lights and they’d be like, ‘I don’t know what he’s giving out but I’ll just take one! He’s been staring at me for like two minutes!’
Aside from staring out fans, what have you been most surprised by so far?
We haven’t lost all out money yet.
So you’ve sold some advertising then?
Yeah, the last issue did really well. Three of our adverts in that issue came from people calling us because they’d seen the magazine. They all paid decent rates as well – the issue wasn’t far off breaking even, and when we started we forecast that we’d be breaking even by around Christmas.
You’re five issues in and nearly breaking even? That’s brilliant.
We were taking phone calls from advertisers and just thinking, ‘is this what it’s like on Metro?’ Mind you, it might have happened sooner – on the contact page on the website we typed our email address wrong, so instead of saying ‘info@’ it said ‘inf@’. It was only when we changed that we started getting advertising enquiries, so we were like, ‘oh no, what have we missed?’
Maybe you accidentally set up this image of yourselves as being too busy and important to get back to advertisers – you’ve created a demand! I think it’s amazing what you’re achieving with it.
Well we’ve kept it simple – it’s a football magazine given away to football fans. It took us six months longer than planned to get it out though. There was more red tape than we expected – when you plan it in your head it’s always really simple but then you do it and problems crop up, but you’ve just got to keep on going until you’ve solved most of them.
Week one distribution was absolutely disastrous. We still got a good number out, but it was really hard work. We were still testing the companies to work with – outside White City tube station for QPR the distributors were outside the front with all the stacks of mags thrown into piles and they were just lounging around having a smoke. I saw that and thought, ‘oh no, you’re getting paid to stand there and do that, and I’m the one paying you.’ I could see money going up in every puff of smoke and every sip of coffee from the Shell garage. The problem is that when you get the license from the council you have to specify who’s going to be distributing, so it’s not like I could go over and start handing mags out. So I was just watching people going to the match and the magazines sitting there.
So did you go and have a word?
You ring the head of the team and get them to sort it out. We’ve checked on all our distributors at least twice and if you see them doing it twice okay that tends to mean they’re alright. So you carry on working with the ones that are good and you find alternatives for the crap ones.
It’s hard work though – we did it for five weeks, working through the week and then travelling to games on weekends, and I don’t think we could do it again. You get knackered. There was a point during Easter when I was running off four Creme Eggs a day. Every time I got hungry I’d just pop in another Creme Egg – I was a wreck! So we’re going to make sure next season we don’t go working weekends – you need a bit of time to recover.
What about Spiel? Are you going to make another issue?
Definitely, yeah. We’re thinking we’ll keep it free, but we’ll distribute it in just a few select shops and make it into a pack that could be sold on our site. So we’ll still have the free element, but we’re not going to do as many – it gets to the point where you see them just thrown on the floor and we don’t want to see that. Also for the next one we’re going to get somebody in to art direct the whole thing, which we’ve never had before. So we want to be very particular about how we distribute it.