Music Inc. staff

Music Inc.’s team accepts the Magazine of the Year award during ASBPE’s 2012 banquet. From left: ASBPE’s Deborah Cassell, Music Inc.’s Andy Williams and Katie Kailus, ASBPE’s Tina Barbaccia, and Music Inc.’s Zach Phillips and Frank Alkyer

By Zach Phillips, ASBPE National Board Member and Chicago Chapter Vice President

Two weeks ago, the publication I edit, Music Inc., won ASBPE’s 2012 Magazine of the Year. I think I’m still in shock.

While I’m very proud of our magazine, I’m also well aware that we had some fierce competition. Driving home from Chicago’s Azbee awards banquet, I wondered what we did differently. I compared our magazine to other trade pubs in the industry we report on, musical instrument retail. And that’s when it hit me. We’re not the biggest. We’re not the broadest. But I’d argue we’re easily the most focused.

Traditionally, Magazine of the Year recipients discuss their publication at the ASBPE national conference. Since there’s no 2012 conference, I’ll lay out our strategy here.

Focus on the reader. Our core audience, music retail, is mostly made up of hard-charging small-business owners with little time to read (or watch videos). They covet useful ideas that can help them improve their operations at little expense. To accommodate their schedules, we keep articles short and digestible, focusing on quick hits of best practices. Feature stories usually run no longer than 2,200 words, and they include multiple subheads and sidebars as quick entry points for the reader. (Think USA Today.) Profiles hover between 400 and 650 words. New product announcements get a paragraph each, no more. We also use lots of numbered and bullet-pointed lists. This way, how-to articles double as checklists that retailers can hand out to their staff. The format delivers the information our readers want, on their terms.

Focus on the message. Everything from news items to feature stories to columns has a simple angle: “news you can use.” Each article, no matter how long or short, drills down deep to report on best practices. So a music retailer sold $30,000 worth of Fender Stratocasters during his holiday promotion. What did the promotion cost him? Who did it target? How did he market it? How many employees pitched in? What was his ROI when all was said and done? These are typical questions we answer. Likewise, we use mostly music retailers — our readership — as our columnists. They’re branded as “The Experts” on our website and have their own section. Again, this establishes us as an indispensable source of information and tried-and-true ideas, two things our readers crave.

Focus on consolidating resources. Like many B2B publishers, we don’t have a huge staff or exorbitant budget. Our print magazine editors handle our other products, too — the website, e-newsletter and digital edition. To make our jobs manageable, and to remind our readers of articles they may have missed out on, we’ll often repurpose print and online content in our e-newsletter. When it’s the back-to-school season, we’ll rerun a column about how to sell step-up instruments to kids in school band. When November rolls around, we’ll rerun classic features about holiday marketing. That said, a few larger monthly expenses are sacred. We believe great design is as critical as great editorial, so we’ll often splurge on high-quality photography if the story calls for it. (And all cover stories feature professional photography.) Managing resources is a challenge, but it’s everyone’s job here. And it’s made everyone, from our publisher to our interns, think like owners.

We don’t try to be everything to everyone. We just try to be the best at delivering what hits near and dear to our readers hearts and pocketbooks.