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How I found fun, fame and fortune publishing a satirical newsletter.

Three months ago, I began a local, quarterly newsletter, The Rhinebeck Beagle, taglined "With a Nose for the News" and published "Periodically and Parodically by The Cold Nose Press."

It is distinctive in the news-letter field for at least two reasons: it's sold on newsstands only (at the corner smoke shop and newsstand and at the health food store), and in just a few days it drew in enough money to pay the printer even before the bill arrived.

The four-page newsletter satirizes the Village of Rhinebeck, N. Y., population 3,000. All the names and titles are real (except for the fictitious masthead and Letters to the Editor) and all the stories are fake.

Very popular

The Beagle (as it's affectionately referred to--as in, "When's the next Beagle coming out?") has proven very popular. People have asked me to autograph their copies. I'm pointed out to strangers in restaurants and stores, who then approach me, smiling.

I have received fan mail and fan phone calls.

Copies have been purchased and distributed to Rhinebeck's unofficial retirement community in Florida. Tourists even lap it up, not even knowing the players but recognizing universal small-town characters and situations.

One tourist from the North Shore of Long Island whom I was introduced to asked if he could subscribe. I responded that we don't sell subscriptions. He said, "You journalists have no sense for business" and handed me $10 and his business card.

Mimics "real" newsletter operations

The proprietor of the local, old-fashioned men's barbershop in Rhinebeck has been a stalwart supporter. He has copies spread among the magazines for waiting customers but tells each one to go buy his own copy.

I laminated a copy for his shop--my version of a site license.

I also combined advertising rates with bulk orders. At first I didn't accept advertising, but after a few business people said they wanted to advertise, I settled on $50 for a small display ad. With that they also receive 20 free copies.

The master marketer Jeff Greenburg, a member of NL/NL's advisory board to whom I sent a copy, said I should franchise The Beagle. He suggested just changing the names and publish a version in every small town in America. I declined, fearing phalanxes of litigious lawyers.

Complaints

Poking fun at the local library, our zoning officers, our churches, the hospital, the owner of the venerable Beekman Arms Hotel, even the dog catcher, is risky.

But the only person mentioned in The Beagle who has (jokingly) threatened to sue me is my own lawyer. I told him that would probably be a conflict of interest--his sitting with both the defense and the prosecution.

On a more serious note, I did receive a polite letter of reprimand from the president of the board of trustees of the hospital. I had written a story stating that the hospital was adding a major mental health unit because a government agency concluded that "Rhinebeck was populated by a disproportionately large number of people described as 'nuts.'"

It seems the hospital CEO received "several" phone calls inquiring about the new mental health facility. I responded with all due journalistic probity, apologizing if I offended anyone, but also pointing out that the phone calls only underscored the point of the satirical article.

Publicity

Jack O'Dwyer generously featured The Beagle as the lead media story on www.odwyerpr.com, the most popular public relations website in the world. That resulted in contacts from media distribution services and media directories.

O'Dwyer also wrote up the publication in his print news-letter, as did NEPA in Hotline.

The local weekly newspaper interviewed me for 45 minutes and took my picture--although the article never appeared (no doubt because of some threatened mainstream editor?).

At one point, the reporter asked me the motivation behind The Beagle enterprise. I replied, "Fun. But it's also a sort of occupational 'valve,' a release from my day job. All professions are subject to it--nurses and doctors making gruesome jokes, restaurant workers having food fights and mocking their customers, that sort of thing.

"Since I edit and publish a 'real' subscription newsletter, I wanted to push the genre I know so well with satire and parody."

Distribution

In a combined Village and Town population of 10,000, about 600 copies of the first issue of The Beagle were sold--"Still only one dollar, cheaper than The New York Times and without those pesky podiatrists' ads."

Multiply that by five, which is the estimated rate of pass-alongs and illegal photocopying (the American Legion post is a culprit on that count), and that's not a bad market penetration.

Any subscriber to NL/NL who wishes to see a sample of The Rhinebeck Beagle, just e-mail NewsOnNews@aol.com with your postal address. Now back to our regular programming.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Publisher Profile
Author:Swift, Paul
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Aug 6, 2004
Words:801
Previous Article:NEPA details the government's "clamps on information release".
Next Article:The Beagle wins national award.


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