Ideas on Paper, Nottingham
Set off from the central market square in Nottingham is a hidden courtyard called Cobden Chambers, the home to local magazine shop Ideas on Paper. The store is chock-a-block with publications and a selection of stationery, which line the walls and stack up on every possible surface. For this week’s instalment of Source, we spoke with owner Alex Smith to find out more about the independent publishing haven in the East Midlands.
When and why did you set up Ideas on Paper?
I launched Ideas on Paper last spring – March 2014.
The aim was to bring something of metropolitan retail culture back to my hometown of Nottingham. Customers often say that the shop is the type of place you might expect to find in Shoreditch, but an amazing surprise to find outside of London. I felt that it would be a really great idea to open a shop that brought the recent renaissance in independent print alive for the people of Nottingham. There are several design agencies in the city and two universities – so there’s a large population of creative and independently minded people who are keen to buy into what I am doing. I wanted to act as a catalyst for my hometown – bringing inspiration to the people of Nottingham so that they can get their ideas on paper.
The Raw Print events we run with Nottingham Trent University build on this enthusiasm that people here have for visual culture, delivered the old fashioned way!
There were many people putting creative energy and entrepreneurial talent into magazines from the production side, but not many people opening up shop and actually selling them.
How do you lay out the magazines around the shop and how did you decide on that set up?
I come from a fashion retail background – I spent several years as retail operations manager for luxury menswear brand Duchamp London. My approach to displaying magazines in store has been to treat them as beautiful objects and play great attention to cover design rather than subject category when deciding how to display them – so almost everything is displayed cover facing out/or up and I like to surprise my customer with curious juxtapositions – so a high fashion publication might sit next to something on mindfulness even though the two are on one level quite contradictory.
Colours May Vary in Leeds kindly pointed me in the direction of Ikea’s Ribba picture ledge which I have combined with galvanised steel cable tray to create a continuous run of shelving that stretches right round the store. That’s one of the things I like about this sector – independent practitioners helping each other to get started – like BIP in Bristol – magazine makers sharing knowledge with each other.
I also display magazine on tables in small piles as it makes for very easy browsing and I can do a feature table all themed around a particular colour palette when I see a trend coming through.
Who are your customers?
My customers are a combination of those already working in the creative industries, students immersed in design related subjects and regular people who enjoy reading/holding/looking at something that is well made, written with beautiful illustration, terrific photography and smells good too! As human beings, we have five senses and enjoy it when they are all stimulated – holding and reading a magazine is more exciting that just looking at content on a computer screen and so most people, when presented with the kinds of products I sell, can see the value in them.
I love the name of the German project ‘Coffee Table Mags,’ this tells the story very well and speaks to the fact that these are beautiful objects that enrich our lives and belong on display.
There is an egalitarian element to what I do also – not everyone (myself included) can afford to shop on Bond Street, but everyone can sit down with a great magazine and a well brewed cup of coffee and have a wonderful experience – possibly escapism, but not necessarily so – it could be a motivating and galvanising experience also. Yes, I will make that trip, start that project, pick up my camera again…
What’s your best-seller this month?
Right now the Brownbook out of Dubai is my best seller – they are doing something really special and exciting by telling positive and engaging stories about the MENA region – but sales are spread broadly across many different subject areas.
Stationery from The School of Life is very popular too – I love Alain de Botton’s idea of bringing philosophy into everyday life.
Do you have a favourite local magazine?
There is a terrific local magazine called Ingram’s Review – it’s like Monocle magazine but for the east midlands, with stories of interesting people, organisations and brands from this part of the world.
What has the biggest challenge been?
No single huge challenge – just the main thing to remember for anybody starting a new business is that it’s all consuming and any start-up project has to be done out of love and not simply a desire to make money – yes my aim is to build a sustainable long-term business that I can hand on to a future generation, but I’m dealing with a product that I love and so am happy to work seven days a week! It’s a marathon and not a sprint.
What changes have you seen in the magazines since you opened?
The genre is growing all the time so there is more of everything each month; we are seeing an improvement in the quality of writing as magazine makers realise that great images surrounded by lots of white space are not enough on their own.
Also indie-culture seems to be getting its act together with long established titles like AdBusters upping their game and being joined by the likes of The Great Discontent and magazines like Fathers (from Poland) these magazines are all showing an alternative, more considered, sustainable and thoughtful way to live – far more influenced by the current awareness of mindfulness and slow food than by consumerism or fast fashion.
So there’s a point where the socially worthwhile meets the aesthetically desirable and the chance of a better life for all is explored and celebrated. As a shopkeeper, that’s a product I’m proud to offer my customers – one I really believe will enrich their lives.