Coffee Table Mags, Hamburg
Good morning Friday! If you’re a mag-lover, you’ll know these words well, because you probably follow Coffee Table Mags on Instagram. Coffee Table Mags is known for its daily pictures of magazines sat next to creamy flat whites, which are always accompanied by a joyous morning salutation. As well as boasting a great Instagram feed, Coffee Table Mags is a source for independent publications in Hamburg, and its first branch is located at the back of the Public Coffee Roasters café. Every time you visit there will be around 20 magazines to choose from, all set out on a rack next to the coffee counter. For this week’s Source, we speak with the mind behind the project, Thorsten Keller.
When and why did you set up Coffee Table Mags?
I launched Coffee Table Mags in April 2014. As a print designer, I was always interested in magazines - especially independent magazines. I went to magazine shops in train stations and would spend lots of money, but the magazines that really got my attention weren’t available in Hamburg. I had to order them online and pay a lot for shipping, or sometimes I got them from shops in Germany like Soda or Do You Read Me?!. This wasn’t enough for me. I wanted a shop for independent magazines in Hamburg too, so that people could touch and smell and flip through the pages before buying something.
I put the plan aside, because it was too expensive. I also had this dream that I’d sell the magazines in a coffee shop, so that people could read a great publication whilst enjoying a good cup of coffee. A friend of mine, who is a coffee roaster, then opened up his first coffee shop in Hamburg, and he asked me if I wanted to sell independent magazines in his place. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I of course said yes.
Two months before the opening, I had no name, no website, no money, and no idea how to do any of it. I just had this love for great coffee and independent magazines. A year on, and now I’m going to open another magazine rack in another coffee shop in Hamburg, around August/ September. For two months now, I’ve also been selling a few magazines in a new craft beer shop in Hamburg called Beyond Beer. And there might be other places in the future.
How do you lay out the magazines around the coffee shops and how did you decide on that set up?
For me, coffee and magazines are the perfect combination, so we’ve positioned the magazines next to the counter. There is nothing more relaxing and inspiring than drinking an excellent cup of coffee whilst reading a wonderful magazine.
In this hectic time, with push notifications always pining around you, it’s good to slow down and recover sometimes. What I like about the idea so much is that I’m bringing a selection of independent magazines to where people are – instead of selling them in another magazine shop. I also hope to get the attention of customers who might not know of some of these independent titles, too.
It was a logical conclusion to collaborate with specialty coffee places. They are very selective in everything they produce, buy and sell, from roasted coffee to delicious food – so this selectivity extends to the magazines I curate. Right now, I’m providing magazines for almost ten specialty coffee places in Germany. And it’s still growing.
Instagram also plays a very important role the success, and in how the customers first see the magazines. Every morning, I take and upload a picture of a magazine with a cup of coffee – it’s a morning ritual to greet the new day. I get direct feedback from my customers, and sometimes I get orders just half an hour after publishing the picture. It’s a good way of seeing how interested my customers are in buying a particular magazine.
I always try hard to take a beautiful picture: the editors/ customers/ roasters might share it, so my shop will get even more attention. Instagram is also international – so it’s why I sell my magazines to people all over the world. Most of the customers are in Europe, but also I have ones in the USA, Brazil, the Middle East, and even China and Japan. It’s crazy! When I asked them how they knew about me, the answer is always: Instagram.
Who are your customers?
Mainly creative professionals: architects, designers, fashion designers, journalists, photographers. But there is also a growing group of people who don’t work in the creative industry, but who are very open minded, and who are creative in their free time and value quality products. They love organic food, specialty coffee, and fantastic independent magazines.
What's your best-seller this month?
Drift. It’s a wonderful magazine about coffee culture, and it focuses on a different city each issue. The last one was about New York – there’s lots of white space and nice typography. It’s also full of wonderful stories, and therefore it’s my favourite coffee-related magazine at the moment. My other best-seller is Oak – The Nordic Journal
Do you have a favourite local magazine?
It’s hard to say, but one of my favourites is The Weekender from Köln. It’s about ‘insights and side trips’ – they tell stories in a very personal way. It’s the perfect magazine for a long, relaxed weekend in the park or on the beach.
What has the biggest challenge been?
The biggest challenge is ordering the right amount of magazines. Or even the right magazines! I never know if other people will like a magazine as much as I do. And as I only stock magazines that I really like, I’m sometimes a bit disappointed when others don’t love them as much as I do. After one year of selecting and buying magazines, I’ve learned a lot, and I now don’t really end up with shelf warmers anymore.
Apart from that, my biggest challenge is having enough time to give my best to Coffee Table Mags, because it’s still a side project for me. I wouldn’t mind doing Coffee Table Mags fulltime, but it’s not possible at the moment. I work as a freelance designer fulltime, and in my free time I do this. That’s why some things aren’t as perfect as I’d like them to be.
What changes have you seen in the magazines since you opened?
Content is King! That’s the way that the magazines are changing. Before, a lot of magazines were incredibly beautiful, but their content was just touching the surface. Kinfolk and Cereal are two good examples, and both are my all-time favourite magazines. Kinfolk did a redesign, and now as well as short pieces they include long- form articles – sometimes a spread will be filled with text. And Cereal – which is so compelling with its photography and very minimal design – just added a literary supplement. I welcome these changes a lot.