Magazine students face their Dragons’ Den

Students on our MA/PGDip Magazine Journalism present their ideas for a new magazine to a Dragons’ Den of industry experts this week, hoping to convince the panel they have dreamed up the Next Big Thing in publishing.

Three groups of students have devised an editorial concept (target audience, content ideas for online and print), business plan (branding, target advertisers) and mock front cover for their mags. On Thursday (22 January) they will pitch to the Dragons – journalists and business people – in a bid to persuade them their mag has the best chance of success in today’s tough market.

The three magazines are:


Cast magazineThis monthly business-to-business magazine will focus on musical theatre, aiming to be a must-read for people looking for their big break or next job in the industry. It will offer interviews with established stars, specialist columns and list the latest opportunities in a dedicated jobs market sector. The magazine will also bring together news, reviews and topical issues related to aspiring musical theatre talent. Read more


Couples magazineAimed at couples 18-30, Spoon is a lifestyle mag for men and women – filling a gap in the market as there is no consumer publication aimed at both. It will focus on relationships with true life stories, a sex advice column and slots like the Third Wheel – who’s the interloper in your relationship? It will be witty, aspirational and fashion-conscious. Read more


Women's TriPitching to women who are overlooked by existing triathlon and fitness mags, Women’s Tri  will be devoted to helping its readers improve their triathlon performance, widening their knowledge with new training techniques and tips and providing inspiration in the form of interviews with successful triathletes. There will be advice on kit and equipment, reviews and blogs and podcasts with expert instructors. Read more

MA/PGDip Magazine Journalism course leader Julie Nightingale said: “We told the students two things: be clear about who your target audience is and aim it at anyone but students. We wanted them to think about gaps in the market and what would really be commercially successful, rather than a produce a fluffy magazine aimed at their own age group, and all three groups have come up with great ideas. Whether they’ll survive a grilling by the Dragons is another matter.”

The winning project will be produced by MAMJ students in April.

Like the students’ ideas? Post your comments below


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18 responses to “Magazine students face their Dragons’ Den”

  1. andrewjames0511 says :

    Great competition and good luck to all. With my hat on as Employability co-ordinator for Arts and Humanities students – I hope CAST get’s the nod. We need everyone to know about the huge pool of talent we have in our Arts and Hums students at CBJ.

  2. Ciaran O'Toole says :

    Looking at it objectively, I thought what would I put my own money in to based on little market analysis, just gut feel. I would back CAST. As a B2B product, I see more commercial potential than the proposed lifestyle or fitness mags, these are tough sectors. All three have good business plans, though I can see more potential with CAST across multi media platforms, however, I would like to see more on the market potential and competitive analysis. The business plans were helpful but could all benefit from more relevant data, special mention to Women’s Tri as they outlined a strong rationale for their product.

  3. Carole Fleming says :

    Some great ideas well presented. CAST would certainly fill a gap in the market and could also tap in to educational aspects through schools and colleges. SPOONS also has potential and it might be nice to extend couples beyond traditional male/female – that would really open the market. Women’s TRI not my cup of tea but I’m sure lots of women would welcome it. Overall great ideas – just get lots more facts to back up the pitches.

  4. David Straw says :

    Of these three, Cast has by far the most potential for success. As well as providing insight and information for aspiring performers, it has an excellent resource in the employment section. It would also work effectively cross-channel – digital resources / job alerts all transferring traffic back to the website.

    Spoon seems a hard sell, a challenge in producing engaging feature material for both parties in the relationship but also in tempting young professional couples into buying it at the newsstand. Also for a product geared toward print rather than online, use of # for sections, and drawing from online material seems a strange move. I would also fear the day my girlfriend saw my PS4 as a third wheel. If anything, she is.

    Women’s Tri is possibly as tight a niche as it is possible to find, but with the strong evidence and rationale could have legs.

  5. Andy Cowles says :

    Great work and a good debate all round.

    My view is that there is no such thing as a Gap In The Market.

    Markets are so dynamic that they’re never still long enough for a gap to be seen as such!

    It’s true that there are markets that appear to be underserved, but that’s often because others have looked and see no money there.

    As for these three very interesting ideas, the thing to keep in mind at all times is the issue of identity.

    Who we are, who we want to be, and who we want to be seen, by both ourselves, those who know us and those who don’t underpins all media today.

    Digitally, we are what we share. In print, we are what’s reflected back at us.

    Cast, as others have noticed, is a strong idea. It’s a niche insofar as Variety remains the showbiz business bible, both in print and online.

    But Cast is really focussed, it has a clear idea of its reader, and there appear to be tangible benefits to buying into the brand, both advertisers and readers alike.

    Womens triathalon has similar appeal, but the competition is stronger. Moreover, the central benefit, i.e. this is for women has not been leveraged terrible hard. There is the opportunity to be far more political here. At this stage there is no story about how women are going to kick your shoddy male arse.

    Spoon is the trickiest. It’s great name, and others have been here before, notably Sky magazine and the Face, both of which had 50/50 gender splits.

    But neither exist anymore, which suggest that men and women want something that’s for THEM, not US. That said, there could still be big opportunities here, if a brand wanted to use this a content marketing vehicle. What do people think would be a suitable partner?


  6. Stephanie Sparrow says :

    What a privilege to be one of the “dragons” at this forthcoming event! I have been studying the three interesting concepts and have been most impressed by the innovation and commitment shown by the groups of students. I really look forward to grilling them further about their ideas when they are in our ” den” on Thursday.

  7. Joe Sharratt says :

    All three look interesting to me, though I think Spoon is probably the trickiest to realise as a product. Without having much inside knowledge of the musical theatre market I’d vote for Women’s Tri. There’s been a huge rise in participation in triathlon since the London Olympics, (it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the country), coupled with the fact it’s likely to be targeting a demographic with quite a bit of disposable income, so I think there’s potentially a viable market there. Women’s Running outsold Men’s Running by more than two-to-one (according to the most recent ABC figures a quick Google search dug up) and it’s growing steadily, and 220 Triathlon is doing well too. Admittedly it’s a niche market, but that’s not a problem in itself, as long as it sells, which I think it could.

    As a former CBJer and NTU Magazine Journalism graduate I’ll be keeping an eye on this! Good luck to all involved with the pitches!

  8. Dorothy Lepkowska says :

    When you get Women’s Tri off the ground, can I have a job please? I would love to work on a sports magazine. And I disagree with a previous commentator that this is a niche market. I subscribe to a particular running magazine, which doubles up as the best health magazine on the market, in my view. I have learned more about nutrition, physiology and a whole range of issues from that than many a mainstream health mag or newspaper section. A publication is as “niche” and obscure as you choose to make it.
    But what a great exercise this is in getting students to think about their potential readership and market.

    • Andy Cowles says :

      Good comments here on a very smart publishing exercise.

      I very much agree that a good service magazine can offer a tremendous depth and breadth of expertise on a particular subject. The very nature of a specialist title allows for a level of detail and personalisation that a newspaper for example, cannot match.

      I also appreciate that for many, a specialist magazine is an excellent gateway to a particular activity, a handy first port of call. No matter how popular the subject may be, there are always many more people not doing it than those that are.

      I have worked on plenty of such titles. Last year I was looking at Outdoor Fitness, published by Bauer. (Who have now sold it, ‘cos it was too niche)

      It’s a broader appeal than women’s Triathlon, as it is not gendered, and covers a wide range of activities. The documentation to the brand was strong, as was the content.

      But the fact remains, that like women’s triathlon, it is a niche. The number of people prepared to pay for that sort of content as oppose to say, men’s health, women’s health, runners world and what-have -you is just very small.

      I’m not saying you can’t make it pay, but at newsstand, the distribution method is just too inefficient.

      Print subscriptions, structured digital content at different price points and email newsletters can all work. But chucking 20k copies into Smiths and hoping for the best is no way to proceed.

      To your point that paid-for niche can be as big as the ambition of the publisher, I quite agree. Adbusters, Private Eye and many others all work. But only if the title is defined by its reader’s sense of identity, not by the content.

      Which last I looked, could be found for free, online.

  9. Tom O'Rourke says :

    As another one of the “dragons” for this, I won’t give a verdict just yet!

    Looking at the pitches, all three have their strengths and I’m looking forward to finding out more about each of the magazines on Thursday.

    It will be interesting to see how well the students know their target audiences and whether their ideas can offer something different to what’s already out there.

  10. amandajball says :

    A lot of thought and effort has clearly gone into all three potential publications and they all look really professional – well done all the MJ students and Julie and Claire for this.

    I’m not in a target market for any of these publications and I’d like to hear the pitches but it strikes me that the magic formula requires something niche, that’s not already available, but not too niche.

    As a sports fan I’m naturally well disposed to the Women’s Tri magazine, although with so many running magazines available I’d worry it’s a bit too niche. Spoon is ambitious – if it can overcome the Mars/Venus dichotomy it could do well. Cast might do Ok as a B2B publication and it’s definitely niche.

    Well done to the MJ students for their work on this. I’d love to hear the pitches. Who’s playing Deborah Meaden?

  11. Julie Nightingale says :

    Great variety of contributions! On the ‘niche or not’ debate and whether or not narrow niche mags can make money, worth noting there are at least EIGHT magazines devoted to carp, including @TotalCarpMag, Carpworld and @CraftyCarperMag. In publishing terms, it’s the fish that keeps on giving

  12. Anonymous says :

    An interesting trinity of pitches with great content, well done! We’ve had Showtime, a consumer magazine for fans of musicals, which was highly commended in the 2006 PTC Magazine Academy awards. This was fun and popular so I think it’s exciting to take it into the business arena. Fusion was our cross-gender cultural magazine but I think the Sunday Times’ Style magazine sets a high standard which deserves to be developed as a standalone brand so Spoon (cookery title?) will have to give it a run for its money. We had Trilonger, an MA project that was indeed for both sexes, so yes it’s niche but there’s a potential female audience which needs a strong business plan based on events and a high brand profile to develop and serve that community. Enjoy the adventure!

    • Anonymous says :

      Sorry, that shouldn’t be anonymous – it’s Cathy Darby, leader of the University of Central Lancashire magazine courses!

  13. Fabian Aellig says :

    The three projects look really nice and it is not an easy task to say which one might be better, since they’ve all got positive and less positive sides.
    Personally I think CAST might be the best, as a B2B publication which might attract a certain audience.
    I love the design of the two others, great job!
    As a man, I would not got for the Women’s Tri, which would have a lot of competition on the market as well.
    I am not so sure it would be possible to unite men and women’s interests, especially when it comes to relationships (that sounds a bit old-fashioned, did not mean that that way). Stories would be hard to find but it could definitely surprise me!
    Good job to all of you !! Great potential 🙂

  14. Megan Featherstone says :

    What a great competition – I would have loved to have been involved in something like this when I studied at CBJ, although I think I’d have been a little nervous about facing the Dragons!

    They’re all really interesting concepts and the students have clearly paid a lot of attention to the brief about clearly identifying their audience. I’d be interested to see how the students envisage Spoon will be able to speak to both men and women at the same time. However, I genuinely do mean that I would be interested in their ideas rather than intending to be dismissive, because while it sounds like a challenge just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done now/in the future!

    Professionally though, I’m backing either Spoon or Women’s Tri because they’re the ones Slimming World stands the best chance of placing a weight loss success story in!

    Good luck everyone,
    Megan (Senior PR Officer, Slimming World)

  15. Jason Noble says :

    All three of these magazines look very interesting, and crucially not the kind of thing I would have instantly thought of, which means they are straying into territories not explored.

    As one of last year’s crop of CBJ mag students, I know that it is all about spotting the gap in the market, and for me CAST does that the most.

    A B2B magazine in such a competitive industry as theatre could be a vital tool for many who work in it, particularly in getting jobs and how to grab the role when so many are going for the same part.

    Spoon is a very interesting idea, and certainly a gap there, but I do wonder if it is a gap because there is an incredibly narrow line as to the kind of thing men and women might read. Still, pitched with the right content which could spark a debate, there is definitely room for a cross readership there.

    I am not much of athlete so I don’t know how much a triathlete magazine would need to be catered for one gender over the other, but as mentioned in the comments above, there is a real appetite post-London 2012 for fitness and sports stuff, and a launch in January would have been ideal to grab the ‘get fit New Year resolutions market’.

    All three of these could be really interesting, and having gone through the process of shaping my own idea for a magazine and seen it through to deadline this time last year, I will definitely be keeping an eye on how this goes.

    Good luck everyone!

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  1. Magazine Dragons’ Den: Women’s Tri triumphs | cbjbanter - January 23, 2015

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