A Maco is born
Thursday, December 24 2009
While in Trinidad and recuperating, Soodeen had lots of time to think and analyse Trini culture. Having spent some of her early childhood days in Barbados, she found that Caribbean people were eating imported fruits, designing gardens with a foreign influence, giving roses and living a pseudo local life. “We were emulating the foreigners” says Soodeen. “”We were losing a great part of what we are, we needed to show the beauty of how we live”
With that insight she thought the Caribbean needed a publication that would show our homes, food and architecture.
Soodeen worked in partnership with a Barbados couple in producing, Island Life, a small magazine. She tried to get them to focus on more glamour but they felt it would not work. She sold her shares and returned to Trinidad and the magazine business was about to change.
Her vision was quite clear; create an oversized glossy magazine with a Caribbean feel. She talked to a number of people. Her parents were supportive of her (as their daughter they had no choice) but her bank manager thought it was a crazy idea. A 9 x 12 expensive magazine would not sell and therefore no financing. Her parents came to her rescue with collateral. Says Soodeen, “I wanted to be independent and not take their money.” Much of her start up work was in her parent’s apartment. She later moved to a warehouse space in Laventille with one phone/fax line. Her task was to launch a magazine with the little knowledge she had. It required assembling a team of writers, photographers and an editor. Her feasibility was literally “on the back of an envelope”. Soodeen worked out the cost of the magazine and projected revenue for advertising and magazine sales. But things don’t always work out as “back of the envelope.”
When Soodeen went out to sell advertising space she got a shock. Advertisers would not commit. They were accustomed to advertising on radio and in print media. They were asked to spend much of their advertising budget in a single shot and in an unproven magazine.
They wanted a magazine with sales before they spend. How do you prove the magazine can attract readers before it gets sold? Soodeen decided to give the first and second issues free. Which meant her projected revenues would fall and Soodeen also had to give some advertising space free. “You have to give them a taste of the candy and they will come back for more”, explained Soodeen. They all came back and some are still with her company Toute Bagai.
But there was another hurdle she had to conquer; how to get distribution. She visited every book seller, pharmacy and supermarket in Trinidad. But when she tried to export to the Caribbean and to the US, she was told by a Miami distributor that they do not carry Caribbean magazines. So she flew to a number of Caribbean countries and did the same. She was just 28 years old and reflects how confidence in her product and good salesmanship helped her build a solid distribution base.
She ended up starting a new company called Moving Magazines to distribute her products.
Today Maco has sales of 50,000 and is considered one of the leading Caribbean magazines. The other main player, Caribbean Beat, the in flight magazine of Caribbean Airline, is the only strong contender. Recently they announced plans to sell it in book shops.
Maco is sold 60 percent in the Caribbean and 40 percent internationally; mostly to the US and Canada. The typical reader is mainly female and urban with a love for design. The other 40 percent interested in food. She explains, “We have readers from far away as Australia and Singapore who are very curious about the Caribbean.” “They want to know about how we live and the sex appeal of Caribbean life, its local fruits, reggae, calypso, cricket….”
A model is born
Like any industry, what works yesterday and today will not cut it tomorrow. The global recession has cut magazine advertising by at least 25 percent and the travel industry is suffering a 50 percent decline. Some major magazines have shuttered; Gourmet, Modern Bride and the iconic Reader’s Digest filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Soodeen is worried, “magazine and print’s future is dismal.” “But Maco is safe as it has a different feel and you can take it to bed with you.”
But the business model has to change she argues. The web is the future and she plans to launch a new site in 2010 with truly Caribbean content; the parties, the great recipes, the famous people, etc. She hopes to attract advertising from hotels, restaurants and rental car companies to make the model profitable.
Happy anniversary baby
After ten years in the business, Soodeen has a special issue of Maco out. She calls it, “The best magazine we have produced.”
With a 13 member all female staff, she boasts that while men view the production of a magazine as a “project, with a start and a finish, women are more passionate, creative and they view a magazine as a baby that needs nurturing.”
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