This Friday morning we’re in Bath visiting the newly opened independent magazine shop Magalleria. We catch up with store manager Daniel McCabe to hear about the first week of business since their launch.
Why did you set up Magalleria?
I’ve worked in book publishing and health communications in most areas, but other than a spell in logistics I haven’t intersected with magazines on a professional level. All the same I’m fascinated by how print media operates – how it attracts, messages, informs or persuades. Last year some friends working for a magazine distributor sent us some unfamiliar magazines that seemed not only intriguing but substantial on a number of levels. Susan got the idea to find similar titles to sort of ‘gallerise’ them in a shop setting. The stock was easy to source and at the beginning of this year we started searching for suitable premises.
Bath has a lot of galleries and museums but none have any developed retail extension – somewhere you can pause before fully exiting a show or exhibition because you’re experiencing an intellectuel afterglow or creative stimulation that still needs channeling. We have two of the country’s best independent bookshops close by but we feel there’s an opportunity for the specific browsing experience that quality magazines can offer. We even provide seating.
In the 1980s Susan worked in Milan near the Galleria and hasn’t forgotten the magazine stands selling a staggering array of Vogue, Harpers and all the other heavyweight magazines. Our name ‘Magalleria’ stems from this and although we don’t agree I think the mash-up also has an appealing kitsch quality.
How do you lay out the magazines around the shop and how did you decide on that set up?
We’re literally still building the shop and we’re still finding our way with stock arrangement. Anyone who’s merchandised magazines knows they’re difficult to display effectively. While it’s great to have the whole cover of a magazine on view they can be flimsy and that’s a reason retailers go straight to racking. We’re not a newsagent and didn’t want rows of mastheads; we wanted maximum, gallery-like visibility so we asked Edward Douglas (FAF Workshop) to come up with something. He created a grooved wooden shelf and angled support system that not only works superbly but, because he chose attractive timbers, it’s a thing of beauty on its own terms. It wasn’t the cheapest way to go but magazines are no longer throwaway things – they’ve become desirable objects and they require a suitable setting. The shop might be rough around the edges but the magazines and their shelves look fabulous.
When the last shelves are up the display will be based more on an intuitive arrangement whereby we put stock titles together that might ordinarily be more rigidly categorised. Certain art or craft magazines sit well with travel titles, for example, because they’re already morphing or melding into each other.
Who are your customers?
Bath isn’t a large city and we’ll find out soon enough whether it’s misguided to focus almost solely on magazines, but as well as galleries and museums the city does have vast numbers of people who would define themselves as artists and an even larger group of craft-oriented or artisanal people who aren’t catered for. You can push that out into nearby Frome, Bruton and other towns because there’s a lot happening in Somerset at the moment. Bath has a disproportionately large number of design agencies and software consultancies as well as a lot of architects and engineers (Bristol is a hop away). We have two universities in the city one of which has faculties based on disciplines we stock towards: art, design, fashion, photography and literature. There’s a developing food scene so we’ll tilt at that, as well a range of festivals we’ll gear towards next year. And of course there’s the weekend influx of sightseers and shoppers into Bath.
What’s your best-seller so far?
When we opened it was Eight by Eight and until the next Uppercase appears the holy trinity of Kinfolk, The Gentlewoman and Cereal has prevailed. We use Vend to handle our inventory so we have a very good picture of our stock movement, so quite significant sales of lower profile titles such as Rialto or Nous haven’t gone under the radar.
Do you have a favourite local magazine?
There’s so much output from the South West and a lot happening in Bath itself; everyone knows about Cereal because it’s becoming the defining style and travel magazine. At the other end of the scale we’re big fans of a new, hugely readable reportage mag called Union that we think is one to watch. We’re honoured to stock the first two beautiful, innovative, award-winning and rather mammoth volumes of ladies erotica from Bath, The Quite Delightful Project. The Eighty-Eight is gorgeous and Hop & Barley from down the road in Glastonbury is an impressive digest for craft beer brewers and drinkers across the land.
What has the biggest challenge been in opening a new magazine shop?
Selling enough magazines is the obvious answer, but there are more interesting issues; going into a sector we know little about is one of them. We’ve had to work out how the supply chain works and manage its vagaries and deal with customers who know so much more about magazines than we do or ever will. Fortunately I don’t mind any of this and I’m grateful for all the advice we get from across the counter.
Coming in from outside we also see the business from another perspective and we’re keen for more control rather than just being at the end of the chain. We haven’t wasted time going directly to publishers for better discounts and we’ve funded one Kickstarter project for the same reason. We’ve started importing titles ourselves and we’re building a strong range of back issues. Ultimately, though, we plan to take the magazines out of the shop and into other businesses as much as we can.
We also have to encourage people to tackle unfamiliar magazines. For all the enthusiasts who come in there’s a legion of mystified visitors who gravitate towards the same well-known titles. So we have to work on engaging them a bit more, to foster interest in what we consider ‘gateway’ magazines such as The Gentlewoman and Cereal to get across the effort we know goes into making these things. We choose our terminology carefully: magazines are ‘established’, ‘specialist’, ‘limited edition’, ‘luxury’ and so on. I’m happy to point out we stock mass-produced ones and selective about using ‘independent’ too often because I feel some people think – maybe it’s a Bath thing – it implies that a magazine might not appear again or fall apart when you get it home.
What changes have you seen in the magazines since you first became interested in them?
You can’t fail to notice the improved production values over the last five or six years and the immersive, less deadline-driven content which gives magazines much longer currency. They seem to hang around our house for months rather than weeks. I worked for a magazine importer in New Zealand just before the Internet age when magazines were fast moving consumer goods. Back then we had to airfreight a percentage of fashion, style and music magazines for hardcore fans and industry people who paid a considerable surcharge to pick up on the latest fashions, trends and ideas from Europe and the US before anyone else. Obviously wherever you are now you’re liberated from that, and for readers and magazines alike it’s got to be a more satisfying and sustainable.