ModMag report: Late morning

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I took time during our early-morning break to chat to a few of the attendees. It seems that this morning’s talk on the Migrant Journal was very popular, with a few people telling me that they were on their way to buy a copy from the pop-up magCulture shop. Many were also looking forward to the upcoming talk by Takahiro Kinoshita, the current editor-in-chief of Japanese lifestyle magazine Popeye.

But first, we’re hearing from Anja Aronowsky Cronberg on the annual fashion journal Vestoj. Anja, as well as the other upcoming speakers touch on the problems faced when you try and keep a magazine going in an era of declining print sales, increased printing costs, a growing lack of skills in print production. How do you deal with advertisers, what stays and goes, how do you balance editorial opinion, and can you revive a declining publication?

11:25: Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, Vestoj
Anja describes the manifesto she laid out for fashion journal Vestoj, “a bit dry and pretentious, perhaps, but having a pretension is a good starting point, setting your aim high is important”. She details her two most important points: Number 6, Everything shall be questioned, nothing is holy; and number 8, No advertising. “Fashion magazines are typically financed by adverts. This can lead to a problematic, thorny, complex and uneven power dynamic.”

She describes how when envisioning Vestoj – the name comes from the Esperanto for clothes – she saw it was a more theoretical, educational publication. Rather than trying navigate the vicissitudes of fashion and set trends, Vestoj would take a step back, publish annually, and consider fashion beyond simply purchasing clothes. She gives the example of an article on the use of clothing in psychiatric hospitals to help patients recover a sense of agency and purpose in life; clothes can be freeing, and equally they can help form a daily schedule of washing and ironing.

By avoiding trends, she allows the magazine to publish only a single issue a year. Doing so, she can put more time, more effort, and more money into a single-high quality issue, rather than face rushing to meet deadlines twice or perhaps even four times a year. Working as a research fellow at the London College of Fashion has helped her too, she even describes them as ‘part patrons’, as her salary comes from the institution and goes straight into the magazine. She admits part of it is down to sheer luck, but notes that there are plenty of fundraising alternatives to advertising, and that by getting out of the advertising industry, you can be freer to work with who you want.

11:45: Owen Pritchard, It’s Nice That
It’s Nice That probably needs no introduction. For the past decade they’ve been working to ‘enable creativity to thrive’, no matter the medium. Owen shows slides of the staggering amount of videos, animations, writing, and design that has been featured over the website. He talks of how over the past decade they’ve watched trends in design and writing come and go. Wes Anderson is always popular, almost too popular, and apparently their more risque articles always see a peak in traffic at around 11pm…

But to keep pace with such a quickly changing industry requires a highly dedicated staff and a lot of energy. Over the time, they’ve built the business founded up Will Hudson up to a large staff, alone there are 14 people working on It’s Nice That, with more in the other companies that comprise the HudsonBec Group. The website is supported by advertising, but also by commercial partnerships. Owen sees these less as a compromise, and more as offering people the opportunity to make things that inspire their audience, and help them tell stories in a new way.

Owen talks on how they balance between the It’s Nice That website as well as Printed Pages. The in house magazine that has gone through changes, reformatting, different papers, different editorial styles, been dropped and relaunched. He notes the massive difference in the logistics of publishing, how to work with large teams of different opinions and skills, and how creatives’ work is shared between the two.

Despite all the hard work, he loves the ‘crackle of energy’ when the magazine returns from the printers. It’s a permanent physical record of their values. The two publications complement each other, while It’s Nice That ‘shouts loudly and daily’, Printed Pages quietly reflects.

12:15: Takahiro Kinoshita, Popeye
Takahiro laments, with a distinct sense of humour, the state of Japanese magazine publishing. He shows slide after slide of incredibly niche magazines, with different formats divided formulaically by gender, age demographics, and class. But despite the sheer number of publications, he thinks they look far too similar, he shows one magazine on mushroom collecting that appears almost identical to a magazine that looks at river dams throughout Japan.

He describes how the founder of Popeye, Yoshihisa Kinameri, founded the magazine 40 years ago after visiting the US and buying the last issue of the cult counter-culture magazine, Whole Earth Catalog. Kinameri didn’t speak English, but he found the idea of the magazine fascinating. Popeye was started to, ‘Keep an eye on pop culture’. It introduced to Japan many trends and fashions that were popular in America, particularly the west coast, and showed readers what was popular, what was cool, and how to understand them.

Takahiro describes the magazine’s journey, from the 1970s to the present day, and it’s simultaneous move from focussing in the 1970s on the fashion of the US, to the 1980s and European culture, while in the 1990s it was Japanese hip hop and trends in Tokyo. He talks derisively of the early 2000s, when the magazine fell to a circulation of less than 20,000, and it was, ‘too similar to other magazines, with too many adverts’.

Takahiro joined in 2010, and made it his mission to turn the magazine around. He looked back to the very first issue to try and find the essence of what made Popeye. He first found that they’d never gotten permission to use the cartoon character Popeye as their logo. He went back to a minimalist preppy fashion, reintroduced a cleaner layout with more illustrations, and turned it back into a catalogue to teach you how to live your life in the new urban landscape of Japan.

What About?
Just before lunch, Jeremy introduces Rob Alderson to announce a new collaboration between WeTransfer and magCulture.

What About? is a podcast about ideas, words and magazines by WeTransfer Studios and magCulture. Magazines are built on stories, and every story starts off as a spark. This series looks at those sparks and the stories they become.

Each episode features a short interview with an editor and a full reading of some of the world’s best magazine writing. We dive into international big-hitters like The New York Times Magazine and ZEITmagazin, plus much-loved and much-missed food publication Lucky Peach. We also hear from the intelligent fashion magazine Vestoj, the art-world bible Frieze and Victory Journal, which reinvented how we think about sports magazines.

The stories themselves cover all manner of topics – they’re about pastry chefs and New York’s birdlife, mascot design and a high-end German vineyard. But crucially we also hear the stories behind those stories, and in doing so get an intimate insight into how magazines get made.

Listen to the podcasts here.

Report by Jacob Charles Wilson; photographs by Owen Richards.

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