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Adventures in a start-up

Essay by Martha & Ed Quillen

March 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

We go into lurid detail about our publishing philosophy on page 27, and since that explanation stretches almost to the end of the magazine, there’s little point in repeating any of it here.

We kicked this idea around for years before it finally took this form.

The time seemed right because the region is changing. No matter how good a magazine you put out here in 1985, you’d go broke — why advertise when the major community event was Cheese Day? But now we see new people and new enterprises, which makes us hope that there’s room for a new publication.

The time seemed right in another way — computer prices have dropped enough so that we could afford the minimum tools, and we had gathered enough experience not to feel daunted by the challenge of making computers, printers, scanners, fax machines, copiers, modems, WordStar, CorelDraw, Spitbol, and Ventura Publisher all work together for the common good.

We picked a monthly schedule because it’s sufficiently frequent to be somewhat current, yet not so demanding that we won’t have time for other things. We decided on a magazine format because we’re not a newspaper, and so we shouldn’t look like one.

As for the name Colorado Central, we first sought a convenient name for a region described as “little mountain towns that were abandoned by mainstream America in about 1982, and evolved their own ways of doing things, and now face renewed interest from the real world, which could cause a lot of problems.”

Nothing fit. “Upper Arkansas Valley” is a mouthful, and it omits Park and Saguache counties. “Peaks Region” or “Rocky Mountains” or similar locutions are too imprecise.

Eventually we recalled that the geographic center of Colorado is near Hartsel. We’re in central Colorado. That’s our part of the world — the center, the core, the heart, el corazon. Colorado revolves around us.

Reverse the words of “central Colorado,” and there’s the name of a pioneer railroad — the narrow-gauge line that once ran from Golden to Blackhawk. Not quite this area, but Colorado Central was too fitting a name to abandon just because that railroad never reached this region, its intended terminus.

The nice thing about starting from scratch is that nobody can tell you that “we’ve always done it this way.” You can do things just the way you’ve always thought they should be done — of course, there’s no one but yourselves to blame when things go wrong, as they will.

Our primary challenge has been adjusting to a magazine’s schedule when all our publishing experience has been in newspapers. With a newspaper, you write something, and next morning, there it is.

But magazines operate at a different pace. For instance, this was supposed to be our February issue; we figured on going to press on Jan. 26, which should put us on the stands sometime during the first week of February.

Well, we stuck to our schedule, but our distributor advised us that if we’re not going to be on the stands until February, we should call it the March issue, or people won’t buy it because it will appear dated.

We’ve also learned that it’s possible, though not easy, to start on a shoestring. At the onset, we saw two possibilities:

1) Write a business plan and try raising capital.

2) Use what we had, and hustle everyone we knew into paying in advance for an ad or a subscription.

In either case, we needed to practice persuasion, and if we had investors, we’d have to accommodate their goals for the magazine, which might not be our goals.

Further, initial capitalization doesn’t seem to have much effect on whether a magazine succeeds or fails. Harrowsmith was started on a kitchen table and thrives; Rocky Mountain, slick and elegant, started with piles of money, and it died in just a few years despite all its awards.

The real factor isn’t money, but whether the magazine defines a market, an audience, and serves a need. If our concepts are right, we should grow even if we didn’t start with any money, and if we’re wrong, we won’t lose any vast sums, and our resumes will look better.

Along the way, there was a pleasant surprise — people have been more than supportive. Many have paid in advance for subscriptions or advertising in a product they’d never seen, and free-lance writers who appear in national publications have placed manuscripts with us, knowing that we can’t pay what they’re worth. Artists and photographers have likewise contributed.

Such faith, as St. Paul defined it, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We hope to be worthy of that faith.

We also hope to hear from you, so please write to us.