Rob Alderson: My indie mag habits

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This month Rob Alderson goes indie magazine shopping and identifies nine types of purchase in his tote bag.

I have tried to write this column from somewhere between magazine fan and magazine maker; a fairly straightforward task as the latter tend to be the former too. But now that it has been some time since I was directly involved in the glorious, maddening world of flat-plans, cover stocks and “oh f**k has anyone actually proofed the contributors’ page?” it would be disingenuous not to admit to a subtle shift in my relationship with the printed page (and indeed the Printed Pages).

Standing now before a wall of publications, I don’t have the same weird mix of feelings, of excitement spiced with professional envy, that they got her for the cover and their piece on him has a better lede than our’s. Now it’s simply about surveying and selection.

The magazine buyer is a curious creature. Those who believe in cover design as a science think we are easily manipulated, beguiled by the same visual tropes time and again like lab rats, unable to control our inner urges even if we are able to acknowledge them. I would like to believe the opposite – that everything from my blood sugar levels to the humidity can affect and influence which titles I will eventually take to the till. But when I really think about it, there are a few types of magazine that I will end up buying with remarkable regularity and a really satisfying spree will usually involve a mix of the following:

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The much-hyped new one
Sometimes a new magazine comes along which is hotly anticipated before it even hits the shelves. This can be because of the talent involved in putting it together, the people they have snared for the first issue, or a savvy marketing campaign. To put it another way, this hype can be well-deserved, or, well…not. Either way, when I first glimpse it in the wild, all those breathless features and interviews with the makers come flooding into my head and I will want to find out what all the fuss is about.

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The thrillingly unexpected one
The corollary of the above, this magazine appears with little to no fanfare. In fact it’s rare not to have heard anything at all about a new title if you spend a reasonable amount of time on certain blogs, but here is something that has given you the slip. Usually you know on first flick if it’s a gem or not – there’s a certain poise that defines really great print products. The fact it’s completely new to you secures its slot in the basket.

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The trusty fall-back
This is the one you buy every time, regardless of the cover, the features or the price. Over several issues it has proved its worth, and even if you play hard to get when you first go into the store – casting an eye disinterestedly in its general direction – you know you are taking it home with you. It seems to know you are too.

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The one you know you won’t really enjoy
Occasionally I will decide that I need to broaden my print horizons, and will deliberately seek out something on the shelves that is the polar opposite of my usual purchases. I am not interested in the topic, I don’t like the design, the title irritates me. Tick all three boxes and into the armful it goes, only to sit untouched for weeks, eyeing you reproachfully as you find something – anything – to read in its stead.

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The sold-on-one-feature one
You know the magazine has a big interview with someone you are really interested in, and rifling through it you realise it is a really big interview – multiple pages, thousands of words, beautiful portraits. But you also know, however many times you try and convince yourself otherwise, there is literally nothing else in this issue that you will ever read. You start doing sums – if only you could call on this mental agility when it came to decisions in other areas of your life. £20 for 3,000 words. That’s a quid for 150 words. What are the images worth though? Have to factor that in. Is it available online? Should that even matter?

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The two you can’t decide between
You have narrowed it down to two food magazines. In the left hand the quirky, funny newcomer with its irreverent wit and spiky visuals. In the right hand, the classy, beautifully put-together powerhouse. You look left. You look right. You look left again. An audacious thought flits into your mind, a drive-by flash of an idea. What if…what if I got both?

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The one you will name drop
What, this? Oh it’s just a new Filipino magazine about silent movies. You haven’t heard of it?

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The last minute addition
You have made your decisions, your arm aches under the weight of your selections and you are en route to the counter.. You have made peace with how much you’re spending and have decided what you will tell your partner when they ask how much you spent (true magazine buyers will know these figures bear, at best, a tangential relationship to one another). Then something catches your eye, perfectly-placed by a clever mag-shop owner (looking at you here Jeremy). It’s small. It’s on the cheap end of the spectrum. It’s in.

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The one you can’t remember buying
You get home and tip out your bag to wallow in the new additions to your collection, but there is always one you have no memory of. Why did I pick this up? What’s it even about? How much was it? If this happens with more than one magazine per bundle, seek medical help.

Rob Alderson is managing editor of WeTransfer and a freelance arts and design writer.
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