My First Media Startup: Choon Magazine

choonmagazineThis year I spent Christmas at my family home in London, and took the opportunity while I was there to sort through some old belongings. Deep in the back of an old wardrobe I found a copy of the first issue of Choon, the music magazine I founded during my final year at Southampton University in 2006. It brought back a lot of memories.

At its inception the idea behind Choon was simple: It would be “Southampton’s finest music magazine”, covering everything from local, unsigned acts, to the major artists that for some reason decided to tour through the dreary south-coast city. It would be written by a small group of passionate music fans for an audience of equally passionate music fans. More importantly, it would also allow me to hang out backstage at gigs and to drink with musicians for free.

Things got off to a good start. For the inaugural issue I was lucky enough to secure an interview with then-popular indie band Razorlight, using contacts I’d already established during my time as editor of the University newspaper’s arts section. 500 copies of the first book were printed, and distributed though local retailers and live music venues, which were happy to have them sitting on their checkout counters and bars.

The reception was great. Music fans in and around Southampton seemed to like the magazine’s tone and content, and by the sixth issue I was having around 3,000 copies printed by a small mom’n’pop shop somewhere in the North of England.

Building an audience wasn’t hard, it seemed, but unfortunately selling advertising was. As the print runs grew, I found myself spending the majority of my time pitching prospective advertisers, most of which were small businesses with meagre marketing budgets. The numbers weren’t adding adding up, and the content was suffering. I had exams to study for too, of course.

At that point I decided Choon would make the jump to the Web exclusively. I ditched my pirated copy of Adobe InDesign and fired up a WordPress installation instead. After teaching myself some coding basics and modifying a WordPress theme, was born.

Suddenly, life was easier. Distribution was all but free, and Choon’s content was reaching far more people online than it ever could in print. Monetizing that audience wasn’t a laborious process, either. I hooked up with a few music-focused ad networks – MOG’s ad network being one of them, I recall – which kept a steady stream of revenue trickling in. To my surprise, Choon grew from a fun side project to a nice little business.

By the time I graduated University in the summer of 2007, however, Choon wasn’t generating enough profit to support me entirely, so I decided to get a “real” job and to run the site on the side. That lasted a couple of years until eventually I decided I’d rather spend my spare time doing other things, including helping small businesses build websites and online marketing strategies. As a result, the site was eventually shuttered in the summer of 2009.

I learned a huge amount from my experience with Choon. I’d already managed editorial teams and designed pages during my three years with the student newspaper, but Choon taught me the economic realities of running a media business, and the challenges and opportunities that publishers face when it comes to digital.

It’s no coincidence I’ve ended up writing about digital media and advertising, therefore. Starting Choon gave me a great peak into the media business and the world of online advertising, and I liked what I saw. In short, it’s probably the reason I’m doing what I am today.

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