New Digest Takes Mental Illness To Task
Unlike many publishers, Schizophrenia Digest founder Bill MacPhee has an innate level of insight into the needs of his readers. MacPhee was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1987 at age 24. Following several years of treatment and a suicide attempt, he emerged looking for his life's work. After hearing about a woman who sold a self-produced magazine about soap operas to her friends (and eventually many others), he decided to give publishing a go.
MacPhee admits that finding financing for the magazine was an uphill battle. "You can imagine somebody with schizophrenia going to a bank manager and asking for a loan," he remembers. "Essentially, I had to launch the magazine without any advertiser support. Talking about it wasn't enough; I had to have a product that people could see."
With help from his family, MacPhee cobbled together $60,000 and went to work. The first issue of the Canadian edition of Schizophrenia Digest in 1994 had a print run of 2,500 copies; the magazine is up to 50,000 copies of at least 44 pages each. It's not exactly Reader's Digest in terms of reach or circulation, but it has certainly exceeded expectations.
"People would always ask me, 'How are you ever going to find enough to write about?'" MacPhee recalls. "I always told them to look at the number of golf magazines out there. I mean, how much can you write about golf?"
Similarly, the magazine's audience is not as limited as one might think. In addition to individuals suffering from schizophrenia, the magazine is being marketed to their families as well as psychiatrists. For advertising support, MacPhee has relied on the pharmaceutical industry ("medication is the foundation of schizophrenia treatment"), with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Eli Lilly and Pfizer serving as the mag's primary benefactors.
For the upcoming U.S. launch, scheduled for the National Mental Health conference in Washington D.C. in a few weeks, MacPhee has maintained the same roll of primary sponsors. When asked if he plans to expand beyond the pharma category, he responds, "We're focusing on pharma right now, because that's what worked best in Canada."
He does, however, hold out hope for a more diverse roster of advertisers in the future: "As we grow, we'll be able to do more mainline advertising. Just because somebody suffers from schizophrenia doesn't mean that they don't buy running shoes or jeans." Another target is automobile manufacturers; MacPhee believes that such companies might be lured by the many doctors that he hopes will read the magazine regularly.
As for the future, MacPhee is unflinchingly optimistic. "If we prove ourselves within the next six months, we'll go from quarterly to six issues per year," he says. "There was no doubt in my mind when we launched in Canada that we'd be a success, and I feel the same way about the U.S."