Debika Ray, Crafts
This week, the UK Crafts Councils’s Crafts magazine relaunches as a biannual, with a fresh new design and improved paper stock.
‘Essentially we’re now an independent, self-published magazine,’ says editor Debika Ray, who also explains that the magazine is now the centrepiece of a new membership scheme.
We last heard from Debika in 2018 when she published her own magazine, Clove, about the culture of South Asia and the region’s international diaspora. As well as writing for some of the world’s leading newspapers, magazines and websites she has since had senior roles at design magazines Icon and Designo. She was appointed editor of Crafts earlier this year.
What are you up to this morning?
I’m a stone’s throw from the magCulture shop, at the Islington offices of the Crafts Council, which has published Crafts since 1973. Last week we released our latest issue—redesigned as a biannual, rather than a bimonthly—so our focus this morning is on practical logistics such as marketing, distribution and subscriptions. We’re totally rethinking our business model, so all these things have involved as much creative thinking as making the magazine itself.
Describe your desk and your work space
Our building is behind the Crafts Council Gallery on Pentonville Road—handy for when we need a bit of lunchtime creative inspiration. We sit on the first floor, looking out over a courtyard where we eat our lunch on sunny days.
Which magazine do you first remember?
I grew up in Delhi, and my first subscription back in the 1980s/90s was to Newsjoy, a magazine for children that was distributed nationwide. I don’t remember too much about it, but one detail that has stuck in my mind is that every subscriber would get a mention on their birthday, which shows how much of an impact you can have by making readers feel like they’re part of your community.
There probably won’t be birthday shout-outs in the new Crafts, but we’re definitely aiming to have a closer relationship with our readers.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
At the moment, I’m lamenting the closure of the art magazine Elephant, which recently announced that its current issue will be its last. The loss of its bold, energetic and irreverent approach to the art world is depressing—the cultural sector urgently needs a diversity of fearless, critical voices, but that can only happen if we find ways to sustainably fund independent journalism. That’s something I’ve been mindful of while making changes at Crafts.
Describe (new) Crafts in three words.
Thoughtful, optimistic, crafted.
Crafts has been published since 1973; tell us about its latest iteration
Now that we’re publishing only twice a year, we’ll be able to put more care and attention into each issue and reduce our environmental footprint. As each issue now needs to feel relevant for at least six months, our approach is more timeless—long-form writing and thought-provoking commentary win over anything that’s too time-sensitive.
We worked with the creative studio S-T—who previously designed the Royal Academy’s magazine and the online news platform Tortoise—on a design that makes Crafts something you'll want to keep for much longer than six months.
The page count has doubled, it’s printed on better quality, sustainable paper, and the features are spread over many more pages, with more breathing room and ample space for beautiful photography. We will have a themed section in each issue, for a deep-dive into a subject—this time, an exploration of the past, present and future of cotton, pegged to the Crafts Council’s current exhibition about how the cotton trade tied together Britain and South Asia.
Did you look back through the archive for inspiration?
Yes—unbelievably, you can read every one of the 295 issues of Crafts online in one place, via the online platform Exact Editions. With 50 years of magazines at your fingertips, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. We looked at how the graphic treatment—logos, font, cover design—has evolved, from the explosive, irreverence of the 1980s to the more stripped-back approach of the 2000s.
Overall, we discovered that the magazine’s mission has always been clear: to champion and critique contemporary craft and give a platform to makers—and that will continue. What has changed more recently is that there’s now a mainstream understanding that craft values such as human skill, sustainability, localism, community and personal connection are crucial as we seek to tackle some of the most urgent challenges of our time. As a magazine, our ambition is to lead those conversations.
Describe the redesign/relaunch process.
The changes to the print magazine are just one part of a broader set of changes. The main one is that we've set up a membership scheme, which we’re running through a platform called Steady.
Previously, you just subscribed to the magazine. Now you can choose between three packages that include a mix of the printed publication, our programme of online and in-person talks and events, access to paywalled online editorial and back issues, and perks such as exhibition tickets offers and discounts with independent craft brands.
We’ve also moved from working with an external publishing company to managing everything ourselves. That shift has involved a massive cross-team effort across the Crafts Council—with colleagues in our website, marketing, communications, data, finance and administrative teams all playing a substantial and continuing role. We’ve also appointed new designers, advertising managers, and a community coordinator to manage our relationship with members.
Essentially we’re now an independent, self-published magazine—although with the advantage of being part of and supported by a national institution. The hope is that this will allow us to be far more agile, and more responsive to what our readers want.
Share one story that sums up the magazine
There’s so much wonderful writing and photography in the magazine, but the piece that springs to mind as something that’s very different to what we’ve done before is this spread from the cotton section—a poem from 1864 by a cotton mill operative during the Lancashire cotton famine. Our designers did an incredible job bringing the rhythms of the poem to life on the page. It’s a great example of how a slower publishing schedule and more pages means we can be more experimental in our choice of material and play around with format and graphics.
What one piece of advice would you offer somebody wanting to launch their own publication?
Making magazines is amazingly fun, but never underestimate how much work needs to go into the less visible but equally important questions to do with funding, budgeting, distribution, printing and marketing. These are what will make your magazine successful and make sure all those wonderful pages you’ve poured your heart and soul into actually get seen and read.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
Party planning! We’re having a belated launch event for the magazine and membership scheme on 3 November at the Crafts Council Gallery, for members, contributors and other guests, so I’m looking forward to spending some of this week discussing music and cocktails, instead of printing and posting.