White, brightly lit and spacious, soda is like a museum for magazines; a Munich-based independent magazine shop located next to the central market square. The store is the first of its kind in Germany to have opened up a second branch in a separate city, and their new sister site is in Berlin’s design hub, the Mitte district. This week, we speak with owner Sebastian Steinacker for an insider’s take on the German independent publishing community.
When and why did you set up soda?
I set up soda with a partner back in 2004 in Munich. I had just come back from London, where I did my BA in Fashion Design.
While studying at the old Central Saint Martins fashion facilities on Charing Cross Road I had come to know Magma, of course, which was just down the road. Back home, the lack of a similar shop was apparent. soda became not just the first store of its kind in Munich, but in Germany.
Our first shop was tiny, only about 20m2 in size. In 2007 we had grown out of it and moved onto much bigger premises in the centre of town where we have been ever since.
The reason for opening a second branch this year was mainly to profit from the international focus that is on Berlin. I'm frequently asked whether it was a deliberate decision to set up shop in the Mitte district, but it was just a coincidence: while I was in Berlin hunting for locations last year, I remembered that I had a customer who was in the hotel business there. I figured that it might be a good idea to get his opinion on locations and prices, so I contacted him. As luck had it, he had a store right next to Rosenthaler Platz, which he offered me.
How do you lay out the magazines around the shop and how did you decide on that set up?
We don’t put too much emphasis on the layout of the items in our store. When it comes to design and inspiration, I firmly believe in cross-pollination. I find that designers must look beyond their particular subject in order to generate truly original ideas, so I want customers to come across titles that might not fit in with their particular niche.
Having said that, our selection by now is so big that it can be overwhelming if there isn’t some kind of order. So we try to counter that by forming loose subject groups like ‘graphic design}, ‘photography’, ‘men’s fashion’, etc.
There’s no visual division between these groups however, and in most cases, it's actually quite hard for us to actually determine which section a book or magazine should go into.
Personally, it still makes me happy when someone comes in looking for, say, a magazine on architecture - and leaves with a beautiful book on photography. But we try not to clutter – which is not easy – and I think we've succeeded so far.
Who are your customers?
Mostly professionals and students in all areas of design. One of the many perks of running soda is that we are in touch with so many people: fashion designers, graphic designers, architects, photographers, illustrators, you name it. The creative community of both cities comes in to find information and inspiration. So there is a big bunch of very interesting people to talk to! And the beauty of it is that there are hardly any twerps in sight! 99% of our customers are really nice people.
I’m assuming it has to do with the job. I guess you don’t opt for a career in design if you don't feel a passion for it. And when you love what you do for a living, being friendly and relaxed is easy.
What’s your best-seller this month?
Our best-seller this month is The Travel Almanac.
Do you have a favourite local magazine?
Generally, I love magazines with concepts that don’t have to be explained twice. Curves magazine from Munich is a good example. It’s about the publisher’s favourite hobby: driving mountain passes. Nothing else. No cars, no people, no products or gadgets, just landscape photography of winding roads in mountainous regions. And it’s insanely successful.
Other examples of truly unique magazines are Flaneur from Berlin (an in-depth report about various aspects of just one street in different cities), and Das Buch als Magazin from Munich (The Book as Magazine, each issue, a classic literary text gets enhanced by journalism, photography and illustration).
What has the biggest challenge been?
The biggest challenge so far was definitely the setting up and running of the second branch. We’re still busy figuring out how to handle the logistics involved with have stores in two different cities.
What changes have you seen in the magazines since you opened?
There have been so many changes it's hard to decide where to start. On the whole, I think we could differentiate between two major parts. There's the design of the magazines on the one hand, and on the other hand there's the market: which magazines are being bought and why?
Regarding design, I’d like to highlight just two of the major changes that have taken place over the last 11 years: firstly, when we started out, there were none of the frame style covers that are ubiquitous today. An image at that time filled the whole of the cover, no white frames to be seen anywhere - until Fantastic Man started this trend with their third issue in 2006.
And secondly, these days a magazine designer can choose from a much bigger variety of formats. Back in 2004 there still seemed to be some sort of unwritten agreement that a magazine needed to be roughly A4 in size, heaven knows why. There were hardly any of the pocket size magazines that are so popular today.
When it comes to the magazine publishing, I notice that we seem to be in the middle of an atomization process. Back in the days, there were a few big players who dominated the scene. By and by the number of smaller independent publications increased. Nowadays, readers literally have hundreds of titles to choose from - many of them made by only a handful of people, conceived for a niche audience and with just a small print run. New ones are still popping up on a constant basis.
And while the large publishing corporations are still moaning about their losses and wondering what to do next, many of the independents are thriving.
Sebastian is photographed above with Berlin store manager Isabell Hummel.