Mark Kiessling, Do You Read Me?!
Støy is a Danish fashion store based in Aarhus that specialises in designer clothes, and it also produces it’s own magazine of the same name. Each issue is inspired by the people that Støy surround themselves with – be it designers, artists, photographers or even other shop owners, like Do You Read Me?!’s Mark Kiessling.
In issue two (above), Kristoffer Dahy Ernst spoke with Mark about his design practise and the history of the legendary Berlin-based magazine store; it’s a great, in-depth interview, so we asked Støy if we could share it here on the magCulture Journal. We’re seeing increased coverage of independent print in the magazines we feature, so we hope to be publishing more of the articles that we spot in the future. For now, it’s over to Kristoffer and his article for Støy magazine.
Photography: Jannick Børlum, Publisher: Jakob Støy
Mark Kiessling is the owner and co-founder of Do You Read Me?!, undoubtedly one of the best curated magazine stores in the world. In the location on Auguststrasse in central Berlin he and his business partner Jessica Reitz have developed a hub dedicated to all things print. The magazines on the shelves range from ultra popular fashion titles to obscure publications, creating a unique selection with a personal touch. As if Do You Read Me?! didn’t keep Mark busy enough, he also runs the design studio Greige. We travelled to Berlin to meet the man who keeps the German capital well-read.
Hi Mark. How many magazines do you read every day?
It depends. Today, with blogs and the fast paced of the internet, sometimes it can be hard even to focus on one magazine. So it’s more like bits and pieces here and there. The good thing about magazines is that it’s more about browsing that actual reading. If you find something interesting, you jump in, read, look at photos and then you can put it away. It’s not like a book where you have to follow the same story line for a very long time. But before we opened the store, there were maybe 5-10 magazines that really caught my attention. Now it’s more like 500.
Does it feel like work?
No, I wish I had the time to read everything, but it’s just not possible. When people come in and ask for a specific magazine, you can only handle it if you know each title, but you don’t have deep knowledge about the content in each and every magazine.
Have magazines always been a part of your life?
When I was growing, my parents had a store where they sold leather goods, so I was always used to being in a store. Before we opened Do You Read Me?! I frequently went to other good bookstores like ProQM here in Berlin. Some magazines would be difficult to get our hands on, we always tried to buy rarer titles when we went traveling, and that was also part of the decision behind opening the store. Because it was too hard.”
What is your main motivation for going to work every day?
It’s a mix between a few things. Being self-employed means that I don’t really see it as going to work. Plus, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t have any hobbies. I like to discover how to do stuff and handle stuff. I like researching a lot. I’m very interested in materials, paper and binding, and I like to be surrounded by print in one way or another. I guess I just like having something on my own, something that no one talked me into. Of course it’s nice if it works, and right now it does.
What does your day look like?
In the summer I get up around 6 am, in the winter maybe an hour later. I’m not a heavy sleeper. Sometimes I wake up at 5 am and feel fresh. On a normal day I get up, have breakfast, read the newspaper and then go into the office around 9 or 10. If I’m working on a project I try to close my email and turn off my phone. I like to have a calm, creative atmosphere in the office. I visit the store every day, sometimes several times a day, exchange ideas with Jessica, plan something for the future. Normally I leave the office around 7 or 8 in the evening. If it’s a good day, I’m off around 6pm.
Mark Kiessling graduated from Cologne International School of Design before settling down on Berlin. After freelancing at various agencies he opened his own design studio, Greige, with a friend from Cologne, in 2002, and together they built themselves a name on the Berlin design scene. Offering a wide range of creative solutions, Greige is today working both locally and internationally with clients ranging from Y3 to Vitra and Artek. The office space is located on the top floor in a green backyard in Mitte, a five minute walk from Do You Read Me?!.
Do You Read Me?! is located on Auguststrasse in Mitte in Berlin. What do you think your store has done for the neighbourhood?
Obviously, Auguststrasse is a lot older than Do Yo Read Me?!. We made use of a structure that was already here. When we found the spot, there were two vacant spaces on the street. The owners were very careful not to invite big chain stores to rent their spaces. Maintaining the spirit of the neighbourhood, which I think is a very clever decision. I’m also very interested in our neighbours. It work like a small community here, where everybody knows everybody. There are changes happening of course, but everything just happens a bit slower than in the rest of the city. When word got around that we were opening seven years ago, people became excited that a proper magazine store was coming.
What is the neighbourhood like today?
There are plenty of galleries here, attracting an interesting crowd of people who are not only looking for shopping opportunities, but something else. The area around us, Hackesher Höfe, has developed quite heavily in the past 10 years with large monobrand stores and lots of tourists. Here, it’s a bit more hidden with smaller, owner-driven shops and the occasional curious tourist looking for culture, art, coffee and just a relaxing time. The exploring kind. There is a good mix of people.
I think it’s fair to say that Do You Read Me?! is more than just a magazine store, that maybe it has turned into a brand itself. How did you approach the brand development of the magazine store?
This is where my background with my design studio comes in. A bit of background: Before opening the store, we worked a lot with Adidas on concept, interior design and overall retail planning for their store here in Berlin. When we were done, we had so many ideas left, I thought to myself: “Why don’t we just make the ideas come to life ourselves?” When you run a design studio, you always work for client, so I thought, maybe I can be my own client. Everything I like to do can be done through the store. Concepts, event, collaborations, branding, not only selling things. The idea was to be very straight with graphic design, corporate design and interior design, and be consistent with the branding. For example, everything you buy should be put in a paper bag with our logo on it.
So you created Do You Read Me?! and executed all the ideas you had?
Yes. Print was my background, so doing a magazine store was a natural choice. It was more like an idea to have something on the side of the design studio, not only as an extra income but also to have something different to focus on. Magazines are something people can relate to. It’s on a smaller scale than books, which for many are not something that you are actually able to consume like everyday objects.
Before I came here, I saw a guy with the recognizable tote bag from Do You Read Me?! It had just the question mark and the exclamation mark on it. He was wearing it like symbol of loyalty, connected to the values you represent.
We have kids from the age of 15 coming in wanting to buy something to get the tote bags. We get orders from Korea from people who saw a tote bag on a blog and want it. They don’t know what we do and probably never will. I get sent pictures from all over, friends going to Israel or Australia that write “look what I saw on the beach.” I don’t know how many thousands of them we have produced over the years.
With a satellite store in Vitra’s Design Museum in Weil am Rhein and Greige’s involvement in the museum’s changing exhibition catalogues, Mark travels a fair extent. Two years ago it was for the Alvar Aalto exhibition, right now it’s for the Bauhaus exhibition opening in the fall 2015. He just came back from Art Basel where Do You Read Me?! in partnership with the art fair curates a massive selection of magazines and books. This year was the sixth in a row, and with 1,8 tonnes of printed matter shipped to the Basel, it's bigger than ever. Not only do you get the sense that magazines are here to stay. But for Mark, magazines are here to define who we are - remembering the past and outline the future. Besides the satellite in Weil am Rhein, Do You Read Me?! also operates in Bikini Berlin together with Vitra and Artek, and also in C/O Berlin Foundation, a private gallery, and very soon the first international branch will be with STØY in Aarhus.
It’s seven years ago since the start of Do You Read Me?!. How has the magazine business changed since you opened the store?
When we opened all the big publishing houses struggled and had to adjust their revenue streams. They were afraid that print was dying or already dead, and that the internet was the villain. I saw the internet as a platform that allowed for easier publishing methods and ability to share information about publishing. The fact that you didn’t have to be a journalist working at a large magazine or newspaper changed a lot for people, I think, and gave them a reason to write and create something for themselves and for others. At the same time, lots of different printing solutions like print-on-demand and cheaper printing houses made it much easier to publish a magazine and distribute it. You could sell it online or through stores like ours. You had a point when things came together again.
During the last five years we have experienced a significant increase of independent titles. What has that done to or for the magazine industry?
When we opened, there was a fair bit of indie publishing, but it wasn’t very accessible to the public. And people were a bit hesitant as well. No one knew if we were facing the end of print publishing because everything was going digital. But soon we got more and more titles, and some of them became very successful.
Was there a specific magazine that drove the innovation?
I think it really took off with the interior magazine Apartamento. It pushed a trend which showed that a magazine didn’t have to be a big, glossy thing like Architectural Digest. It proved for other people that they could create something as well. There were lots of copycats imitating content and visual direction of course, but Apartamento sparked the small revolution.
And where are we today?
There are so many good magazines today. In terms of niche, I think Printed Pages from the blog It’s Nice That is very good each time, focusing on creativity in general. When it comes to food it’s totally crazy, I think we have 10-15 different publications ranging from almost copied DIY-pages from Put A Egg On It to a glossier publication like The Gourmand. We’ve also seen a wave of comfy interior lifestyle magazine where Kinfolk are at the forefront. Traveling is an area that has traction as well. We’ve seen cycling and that now slowly shifting to magazines about motorcycle culture. Magazines about pets are also doing well, at first I thought it was a joke but a magazine like Puss Puss actually has really good fashion photography.
But do they make money?
Depends. You don’t have to go bankrupt if you publish something, which a lot of people wrongly assume. Take a magazine like Offscreen that is published by Kai Brach. He is able to make money while being totally independent. He is controlling the advertising by art directing the ads that goes into the magazine. Offscreen is a great example of a magazine that does things differently than everybody else. And from the advertising perspective I think it’s interesting for companies to invest in something that is not normal.
Do you have a best selling magazine in the store?
I don’t know. Seriously. We don’t have a good system that tells us how many we sell. We know the rough numbers, but we are not only sales driven and I like it like that. We always try to put a new magazine or a less commercial publication on the shelf next to one that is doing very well. Of course we need the sales for running the store, but in the end, it’s the gut feeling that drives my motivation.