Danielle Pender, Riposte
After a pandemic-induced break, Riposte founder Danielle Pender is relaunching the magazine with a membership scheme and monthly digital issues to complement the biannual print magazine. Today she shares the thinking behind the new initiative as she looks ahead at her week.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
This morning I’m working from my dining room table. I work solidly from 9-1 pm then I make sure I go for a walk every day otherwise I feel ill and fried by the end of the day. I also take short naps in the afternoon when I need to, it took a long time to re-programme my way of working after being in an office so such a long time but grinding 10-6 pm isn’t good for anyone.
Describe your desk and your workspace.
My desk is the dining room table. I have a lot of books and magazines around for reference. There’s a cat that comes around every day for a little hang out but we have quite a complicated relationship; she’s very fickle and kind of violent but I’m obsessed with her.
Are you feeling optimistic about 2021?
I feel like I’m hanging in there and still subconsciously processing what happened last year. I don’t feel optimistic as I have an underlying sense that anything could happen at any given moment so I’m feeling hyper-alert but I have a plan that I’m working towards and I’m trying to just be a lot more in my body than in my head, I’m trying to soak up any given moment and really enjoy things when they’re good.
Which magazine do you first remember?
I’ve always been obsessed with magazines. I used to remake Vogue covers when I was a kid, drawing or painting new covers.
I loved J-17 and More when I was a pre-teen. More featured a lot of quite graphic sex stories so me and my friends loved that as a way to channel into something a bit off-limits.
Then as a teenager, I started to buy The Face and i-D which were links to lives that felt much more exciting than what I saw around me in Newcastle.
When I started to travel with work I loved picking up random zines and bizarre pieces of print in little bookshops. I really miss finding those bizarre hidden gems at the minute.
Describe Riposte in three words.
Independent magazine for women (sorry that’s four!)
The magazine has always been positioned as a riposte to traditional women’s media; what have you seen change since you launched in 2013?
So much has changed.
When we first launched women’s media was very embarrassing. It was very white, very negative, and very beauty/fashion orientated. There was a shift around 2014 and a lot of new titles and platforms came out that reflected a real rise in consciousness around feminism.
Bigger issues were being covered in more mainstream titles and a wider, more diverse range of women’s voices were being featured but many have since folded which is sad because there were some amazing magazines and platforms.
I think there was a lot going on. I don’t think it’s that the audience isn’t there but the digital media business model of giving away content and turning your audience into the product isn’t very sustainable. I also feel like feminism was treated like a trend for a while.
There was a lot of Girlboss content that was basically capitalist feminism dressed up as empowerment and people saw through it pretty quickly.
I think the titles and platforms that have longevity are the ones with really loyal readers and who very obviously stand for something like gal-dem, Polyester. They have both pivoted to membership models which have done amazingly well for them.
It’s been a while since the last issue of Riposte appeared; what have you been up to?
When lockdown hit we lost all of our money. We had a print issue, events and brand partnerships lined up for 2020 but they all fell through or got cancelled as brands pulled budgets and we all went into lockdown. I kind of went into hiding.
I was home-schooling my daughter which was a whole new experience. I found it very stressful and unsettling, as did most people; I don’t think my situation was any different to what a lot of people were experiencing.
I did some freelance work to earn some cash to tide me over and lived very simply. I started writing short stories as a release and they’ve ended up as a book which is coming out next year.
Taking that time out and doing something different gave me a new perspective on Riposte. I started to miss working with people, the team, the events, our readers, making things happen.
In the future, I think I’ll balance writing books with putting out the magazine and that’s not something I would have ever made space for if it wasn’t for the pandemic so in that respect it’s been a really transformative experience.
The next print issue will be out in the Autumn, we’re developing it at the minute. I think it will be an evolution but very recognisably Riposte.
Riposte has always been more than ‘just’ a magazine, but now you’re making that evident with a membership scheme. Talk us through the strategy.
During lockdown and beyond, I’ve helped out locally with food banks and fundraising. I’ve invested in the platforms that I value and that I want to see thrive.
I think that sense of community has come to the forefront in the last 18 months and it’s something I really wanted to bring to Riposte; to bring our readers in, to get to know them better and invite them to be part of what we do on a regular basis.
‘I’m really looking forward to publishing pieces that are a bit weird and niche that aren’t driven by google analytics and buzz words.’
I want their feedback, I’d love them to submit to the magazine and website, to come and meet each other at our events. I feel really excited about this new chapter.
We’ve worked with Steady on the back end who has been brilliant in advising us. We did an audience survey before we decided on the tiers and benefits, this informed what we offered. There’s a range of prices and benefits from Nelly at £5, Erica at £10 and Betty at £15. The names came from some of my favourite women that we’ve featured in the magazine over the years.
We’ll still work with some brands that we respect and who align with what we stand for but this new approach will mean we’re not solely reliant on that income and will mean we can commit to more regular events and content.
How does the new digital magazine work?
With all of the closures in women’s media, I’ve really missed a regular and diverse range of articles and things to read online. Everything has become so siloed to a few media companies and a few titles online. No one is blogging anymore, everyone has moved onto social media and the deeper exploration of our lives and this time we’re living in just isn’t there.
It’s basically a shopping app now where influencers who promote oversized beige outfits from Arket have hundreds of thousands of followers and people of colour have their content shadow banned or deleted. Why are we all clamouring for more ‘engagement’ on an app that operates like that?
I wanted to create a space on the internet that brings together a collection of different perspectives around one topic each month. Something that leaves you feeling like you’ve just spoken to a bunch of brilliant people and you come away feeling inspired. We’re not going to be shying away from difficult topics but we’ll approach them in a considered way.
I’m really looking forward to publishing pieces that are a bit weird and niche that aren’t driven by google analytics and buzz words.
That’s where it feels like a lot of digital publishing is going and it feels really dangerous – if we only publish things that gets a lot of eyeballs and clicks aka make money, what is happening to the stories and people that don’t drive traffic? Does that mean their stories aren’t as valid or worthwhile? I don’t think so.
I don’t want to feel pressured to feature people with a huge social media following just so we can grow our following – what is all of this growth and attention for? Where is it taking us? It feels more like a distraction.
That’s why independent media is more important than ever. We need different voices and different stories and a wider perspective on all sorts of issues – even if we don’t totally agree.
Vice is literally sweeping up titles and they all have to make money and if making money is the main driver your content is compromised. That’s why being supported by the community you serve is important, to have that regular support that isn’t dependent on aligning with a marketing campaign is so crucial.
Our online pieces will be shorter, to be read on your phone or at lunchtime, but I still very much believe in print. I think it’s essential to invest in the media and talent we want to see continue. We really invest in what we print, it literally costs thousands to produce from the contributor’s fees, the printing, the design, the distribution etc but I think it’s so worth it.
To take that time away from digital distractions and give attention to new ideas, stories and exciting visuals that look and feel different on paper in your hands is a special thing.
Every time I read a magazine I feel better for it. Also, there’s that thing that print is still radical, you can’t trace eyeballs, you can’t trace who it’s passed onto and I think you can express and explore really powerful ideas in print that isn’t possible online.
What will be your highlight of the coming week?
I’m looking forward to sharing stories from the new digital issue and we have our first event of 2021 which I’m really looking forward to that looks at the topic of Joy As Resistance and features contributors to May’s online issue.
The first digital edition of Riposte is availble free during May.