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Sampler, London

Sampler, London

For the past few months we’ve been looking at different places to buy magazines from around the world—from online retail ventures to small, independent boutiques. This week we’re catching up with Steve from Stack for a different perspective on online, independent magazine retail, and we’re checking in to see how his weekly Sampler is getting on. If you haven’t used it yet, Sampler is an exclusive magazine offer that arrives into your email inbox every Thursday.

Steve Watson
When and why did you set up Sampler?
The first offer went live on the 18th of June, but work really started on it just after Christmas last year. I gave myself the quiet bit of time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve to figure out what I wanted to do next with Stack, and I ended up with the idea that became Sampler for three main reasons:

First, there are just so many fantastic magazines out there at the moment, and I was feeling frustrated that I could only send out one of them per month on Stack. Twelve magazines per year just doesn’t do justice to the ridiculous amounts of creativity and innovation we’re seeing amongst independents.

Second, there are all sorts of problems around selling independent magazines, and I wanted to see whether I could help to overcome some of them by going direct to customers with a weekly email. They’re all really boring, niggly, prosaic problems, but I got totally fascinated by the challenge of rethinking them! I went into all that in detail in our interview when Sampler launched so I won’t go over it all again here.

And finally, I wanted to launch Sampler because it’s another way to promote Stack. We do loads of content marketing, a fair bit of tweeting and instagramming, a sprinkling of events, etc. but there’s just no substitute for delivering a fantastic magazine to somebody’s door so they can enjoy it for themselves. That’s the best way to get people hooked on independent publishing, and my hope is that by providing a brilliant service, Sampler will act as a Trojan horse for the main Stack service, moving people along from a single, one-off purchase towards a long-term subscription that lasts for maybe three years or more.

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 22.28.43Who are your customers?
Our core customers are the regulars – they’re the ones who know what we do, they love the magazines, and they use Sampler as a quick and easy way to enjoy more of them. But every week we see a few new people buying for the first time and ticking the box to say they’d like to be added to the mailing list in the future.

When I was planning Sampler I saw it as a system that would work brilliantly with Facebook – each week we’d be able to use Facebook advertising to reach a specific audience with a magazine offer relevant to their interests and they’d be able to buy a copy in a couple of clicks. We tried that with the second week’s offer and it didn’t work at all, but the weekly email has been so effective that it hasn’t really mattered. Once we’ve got a bit more breathing space on the other side of Christmas, though, I’d love to give the Facebook angle a bit more thought to see whether we can figure out a way of making it work.

Weapons Of Reason
What’s your best-seller so far?
Weapons of Reason sold 200 copies and would have gone on selling more if we hadn’t capped it. The standard Sampler offer is limited to 100 copies, but when it’s clear that we’re going to sell out in the first few hours we’ll add an extra 50 or 100 copies because I hate the idea that people might wake up on the West Coast of the US, for example, and find that we’ve already run out of copies.

Do you have a favourite local magazine?
I’m spoiled for choice here in London – there are tons of brilliant magazines being made within a half-hour bike ride of where I’m sitting right now.

What have you learned from the Sampler service since its launch?
So much!

  1. Email is a brilliant way of selling to people.
  2. Shipping and logistics are a complete nightmare.
  3. Magazines under £6 sell much better than magazines over £6.
  4. You should only sell magazines once they’re actually available.
  5. Mistakes are inevitable but should be fixed asap (see no.4)
  6. Nobody publishes magazines in August.
  7. There are more brilliant magazines out there at the moment than you could ever hope to sell via Sampler and Stack combined.

What changes have you seen in magazine distribution since you first became interested in independent publishing?
I’m not sure there have been that many – I’ve heard Smiths is now running an independent magazines unit, which is a big development, but by and large distribution seems to be pretty much the same now as it was seven years ago.

I’m sure that’s going to change, though, because interest in these independent magazines is growing all the time so somebody is bound to come along with fresh new ideas about how to get the right magazines in front of the right customers.

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