Real Review #4

This week’s page 23 is from the latest issue of magCulture favourite Real Review. Parodoxically, this page 23 shows how arbitary page numbering can be, while also illustrating the vital part numbers play.

Much has been written about Real Review’s unique format – square pages folded vertically to create a tall, narrow page shape. When unfolded and then opened out, the pages still conform to a traditional double-page spread, but the fold divides each of the two pages in half and the layout treats the resulting four tall sections as individual pages.

If we take a traditional approach to counting the pages, Real Review consists of 64 large, square pages and page 23 would be situated just over a third of the way through the issue. Instead, every one of the tall sections is individually numbered, as shown in the image above, a simple technique that allows articles to start and finish in the middle of spreads. A further numerical complication is that, unusually, the front cover is not counted as page one; instead the first right-hand page after the cover is assigned as the start. These two factors together mean that this is a rare example of a left-hand page 23.

The picture above also shows how these factors have led designers OK-RM to make a feature of the page numbers; they are the only regular piece of page furniture and are unusually large in relation to (most of) the body text. They alone define the four-page per spread concept.

The content of the page finds us in the middle of a typically sharp Real Review analysis of a detail of contemporary life. Hannah Foulds visits The Collective, a new shared co-living space – the inevitable extension of co-working spaces – and finds it wanting as she compares its rent with other London accomodation and contrasts stories of bullying and violence with the idealism of Le Corbusier’s 1952 Unité scheme in Marseilles.

The page itself is half text, half image, the space above two columns of words taken up by one of a series of photographs by US photographer Daniel Shea depicting an idealised yuppie-ish lifestyle, a young woman enjoying balcony life in the sun, mimicking marketing material used to sell city apartments.

It’s a typical Real Review page, with intelligent text illustrated by a cleverly sourced and relevant piece of art rather than a promo shot.

real-review.org

The Believer, #114

The Believer was founded in San Francisco 14 years ago, part of Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s empire. After a two-year lull, it has now moved to a new publishing home at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. It reintroduces itself this August with a Believer staple, the Music Issue.

While The Believer’s first issue since its relaunch feels fresh and exciting, it also features many of the magazine’s much-loved, recurring fixtures, including Daniel Handler’s column examining the work of Nobel Prize Winners. Here, he reviews the work of Italian laureate Eugenio Montale, hilariously deconstructing his book Satura, which he describes as being ‘great like a great ice cream cone’.

More surprising highlights include interviews with iconic rock ‘n’ roll muse Bebe Buell, an inspiration for Almost Famous character Penny Lane, and ‘elven songstress’ Enya. Sandi Rankaduwa provides a detailed history of women who rap, which finds its milieu in Nicki Minaj’s recent statement that she no longer considers herself a rapper. And Micheal Snyder examines how contemporary Christian music has taken over in the hills of Northeast India.

Although the magazine has moved to drier, hotter planes, it still advertises its iconic publisher, McSweeney’s, on its inside cover. The Music Issue also stays true to its commitment to rich content and skilful writers; it pays tribute to Alvin Buenaventura, an editor and publisher who produced The Believer’s ‘Comics’ column for the past five years, and who passed away in February 2016.

The 114th (!) issue of The Believer feels like a relief – it’s still as well-crafted and loaded with engaging content as it was before its hiatus. As they say, if something ain’t broke, why fix it?

believermag.com

08.08.17

Hamburg, 25-26 August: Indiecon features OOMK, Anxy, Hello Mr, The Outpost, Lost and Missy. Plus Jeremy will be interviewing Justin and Isabel from Migrant Journal.

Edinburgh, 15 September: MagFest2017 features John Brown, Alec Dudson (Intern) and James Hyman among the speakers, plus the magCulture shop on site for the day.

Veronica Ditting’s favourite books from her collection.

Monocle launch a weekly newspaper, replacing the summer one-offs of previous years, to appear four times across August.

Swim #1

London-based multi-disciplinary studio Filthy Pyjamas have just launched Swim, a biannual art, photography and literature magazine. Its inaugural issue (funded by Kickstarter) explores human nature, or more specifically, how we relate to one another today.

Swim strives for fluidity; it does not intend to reach any resolutions, and it has no definitive sections; you are invited to start reading anywhere. Instead of offering structure or any answers, it presents itself as a conversation: a chance to observe how others interpret human nature.

The outcome is a wonderfully varied first issue, which follows no set form in terms of content or design, yet remains wonderfully engaging. Each page has a different font, and the imagery moves between black-and-white scribbles, grotesque cartoons, and intimate photographs. At points the paper becomes thin and glossy, before morphing back into matt-finished paper. There are occasional die-cuts and perforations too.

Swim was imagined by its creators as a space to showcase their friends’ work, in order to bring together the ideas of like-minded people. Highlights include a series of illustrations by Joey Yu (above), which are inspired by the hidden intimacy that is found within busy environments, and can then mutate into feelings of being watched, and an interview with director, animator and illustrator Johannes Helgelin (below), about how he is able to make money whilst also creating the things he loves. Other parts of the magazine feature poetry, short stories and think pieces.

Although the concept of building a creative platform for your own group of friends is nothing new, Swim is set apart by its carefully considered theme, and exciting, intricate design by duo Archie Nock and Samuel White. The first issue is packed full of thought-provoking content, much of which is focused around art and identity, and we hope the next issue will be just as compelling.

Rosa Park, Cereal

From its 2013 launch, Cereal quickly established itself as a key part of the independent magazine scene, with significant sales figures and an interntaional reach. In this seventh interview from his book ‘Independence,’ Jeremy Leslie talks to editor and co-founder Rosa Park about her magazine and how she and partner Rich Stapleton launched it.

Jeremy: I’d like to go back to when you were planning the magazine, three years ago. Had you been working in magazines before?
Rosa: I didn’t have very much editorial experience prior to launching Cereal, Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. My background was in marketing in the fashion and beauty sector. I’d been living and working in New York for about six years and I realised that I didn’t really like my job, so I decided to switch my career. When I was working as a publicist, I was always very jealous of the magazine editors!

It’s quite daunting to change career half way through, so what I decided to do was quite my job, move to England to get a Masters in English Literature. Not that that necessarily correlates with becoming an editor, but I needed the breathing space to think about what I wanted to do. When I graduated I started looking for jobs in magazines. I ended up working for a local title called Bath Life, because I live in Bath.

During my 11 months there I helped the company launch a food magazine called Crumbs; I was so excited to be part of that process. It was a really small team, just me and one other editor. My love of magazines had always been there, but then the desire to actually make my own kicked in. It made me realise I could maybe start my own magazine with my partner, Rich.

What were the first magazines you were looking at?
Cheesy ones as an adolescent. Well, I used to read my mother’s Vogue.

That’s not cheesy!
I’ve started with Vogue so you don’t judge me! My mother got Vogue, and I never let her throw any out, so there is a stash of copies still in my room at my parent’s house. When I was 13 I read Young Miss and Seventeen. That’s what you read when you were a 13-year old girl in America.

I thought Young Miss was very cool, but I’ve seen it recently – it’s terrible. As I got older, my interest in magazines broadened, and the true classics for me are still National Geographic, The New Yorker, Paris Review and New York. And now I have a great interest in indie titles as well.

Was it very obvious what your new magazine would be about?
Yes, it really was. Rich and I were doing it together and both of our interests are quite similar; we knew that it had to be about travel and food. We let go of food, it was an official part of our strap line for the first year, but that happened because you could always talk about food through travel and we didn’t want to pinpoint it as its own thing. I knew that it had to be a magazine about travel because it’s something that I love.

The first issue was one of the most complete, finished launches I’ve seen. How much planning did you put into the magazine?
I’m glad you think that, because I hide copies of volume one now. All I can see are the flaws! Rich and I spent four months on the title prior to launching. I don’t know if that’s long or short because neither of us had that much experience, we just kind of gave ourselves a deadline of Christmas 2012. I think we made the decision to make the magazine at the end of that summer, we just went for it.

That’s quite a short time.
In hindsight, it’s a relatively quick turn around, especially because we both had full-time jobs. We were moonlighting as Cereal editor and creative director before we actually launched.

What process to you go through – did you research all the travel magazines or did you just go for what you wanted?
We didn’t do a lot of market research, but what I knew was what existed in the mainstream market, the glossies. They do what they do well, but the way we wanted to approach travel was quite different. We asked ourselves what do we want to talk about? And we made a list. We had our audience in mind – for me, it was just my friends and myself. What would they want to read in a travel magazine?

Can you describe that difference?
Condé Nast Traveller is the most recognised travel title out there. But I never feel that I get a sense of place when reading it, because they have so much content, they really can’t dedicate that much real estate within their pages to a single place. They do round-ups, lists, restaurant reviews. There is nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what we wanted.

I said, wouldn’t it be nice if we could give 30 or 40 pages to a single place? So that you knew about the culture, the history, before you visit, and you have a wider context of understanding before you get there. That was our number one goal.

And we are of a generation where the way things look is important, and having a brand identity that filters through all of your images and design was very important to us. Those two things led to Cereal.

The magazine does have a very specific aesthetic and palette. Do you ever worry that makes the places you feature look a bit similar?
We’ve had that conversation many times! It’s a hard question, because I think ultimately, we find the ‘Cereal’ in the places we go, and some places lend themselves much more easily to that aesthetic – any of the Scandinavian cities or countries, it’s super easy and awesome for our photographers.

But if you’re going somewhere like say Marrakech, it’s not as easy to find the serenity at the souk on a hot July afternoon. But that’s what makes it fun. You get there, and you still find elements of everywhere that you go that fits in with the way you look at the world, for better or for worst. Our goal is to show people different places around the world, and to cover as much ground as we can, but to ultimately present it in a Cereal way, because I think that’s what our readers want, and that’s what we enjoy doing the most.

You’ve grown very fast in terms of readership.
I suppose we have. I don’t actually know the numbers of other titles, I only know our own, but for us we have been happy with the rate of our growth, having said that I am very wary of growing too quickly. That is something that has really become at the forefront of my mind this past year. As we grow our circulation and distribution, how do we do it in a way that doesn’t cannibalise the sales of our independent stockists, while being readily available elsewhere? And that has been quite a challenge. But we have grown, and I think we have done it in a way that we are comfortable with.

How many are you selling?
This issue (volume nine) we printed about 27,000 and we’re happy because we are down to our last 100 copies already, which is awesome. For our next print run we’re looking at 30 – 35,000 because we are printing a separate print run for America. America is a very big country obviously, and we feel as if we haven’t maximised our potential there simply because we’re in the UK, and shipping logistics have always been the biggest obstacle for us. We’ve found the solution to that, which is to print specifically for the States, and get it over there, and work with distributors there. I think volume ten will see another big step in growth.

In the context of independent publishing those are big figures. Have you relied on specialist distributors from the beginning to help you manage it?
We didn’t work with a distributor until volume three. I realised I could no longer pack and send every issue from my living room. After that I hired a fulfilment house and a London distribution company who I absolutely love, they’re called MMS, they distribute a lot of the independent titles in London. I worked with them well into the first year, and then I realised I needed more help. It came in increments. We started with an international distribution company starting with volume four. We still do a lot of our distribution in-house. We sell direct to vendors ourselves, but, we do that in tandem with five distribution companies.

Were you surprised by that side of the business?
You don’t really think about all of that stuff… I always say to people when they talk to me about starting a magazine that they should be prepared to spend a hell-of-a-lot-of-time selling, shipping, packaging. You think, oh what stories am I going to make? How am I going to shoot it? Who is going to write it? That’s the best part. But 60-70% of my time is spent on the phone to shipping companies and ordering boxes and figuring out how it’s not going to get damaged. It’s great if you love that side of things but for me it was a challenge, I wasn’t prepared for that.

But you have to sell your mag. A lot of people say independent magazines are a labour of love, which they are, but it’s a business, and when you want to run a legitimate business where you’re paying your contributors, where you’re expensing all your trips around the world as we have to as a travel magazine, you have to sell magazines. In our case, we ended up carrying ads in our second year. That’s what you have to do to be sustainable!

There’s sometimes an assumption that independent magazines don’t carry ads because they’re loftier or higher than that, but actually most of them sell so few copies that advertisers aren’t interested in them.
When we launched, our sales were low and I knew it would be foolish to try to sell ads. I knew the calibre of advertisers that I wanted. We worked on raising our profile and sales to a point where I could go to those advertisers and have something to offer. We waited an entire year before looking at ads. It’s the same as how we approached distribution, you have to take it at your own pace. We wanted ads, but to go from none to 50 would be jarring. We took it in very slow increments. The first issue that had adverts had three adverts, two Rich photographed and designed himself in tandem with the brand, and now we have 15. It’s been slowly growing, with no complaints from our readers.

You clearly had a detailed business plan underpinning all this.
We have overall goals, a list between Rich and myself of what we want to achieve every issue. Rich will always say he doesn’t want the advert which I think is interesting. As a designer he is so concerned with the purity of the magazine that it’s a constant battle between myself and him. I think that’s why we were able to grow at the pace that we did, and then get to this point where we’re very comfortable with the ads and we’ve been able to work with brands that sit well with our aesthetic. It was the balance of both our perspectives that has brought us here now.

Not many independents can boast your sales figures. What is it about your magazine that has made it so successful?
I don’t know. I never really ask myself that. When you’re working on something day in and day out, it’s difficult to take a step back, and look at what you’re doing. I should take myself out of the situation, and figure out what is going on. But for Rich and I it has just been so busy for the past two and a half years since we launched the title, and we have our head down.

I think you have to make a decision as a title, what niche do you occupy on the market? Because then the lines between independent and mainstream gets very blurred once you get to a certain size. Where are you stocked? And where do you want to be stocked? Will you still be stocked in the cool museums and galleries if you’re also found in supermarkets? I’m still figuring that out. I do have a sales figure in mind that I’d like to ultimately hit.

You’re not selling through supermarkets yet are you?
We’ve not taken that step. Yet. But I have looked into it. At the moment the biggest thing that we’ve done in terms of mainstream channels is we’re now available in WHSmith at key train stations and airports in the UK simply because you don’t have independent boutiques in those areas.

We knew that people often buy magazines when they’re travelling, so it seems foolish for us not to be there. Working with WHSmith has been the biggest learning curve of my life. No other vendor that we work with is like them. The fees they charge, the system you have to go through, the cut they take. I’m not openly criticising WHSmith, they are who they are, but for independent publishers it’s very challenging to make that work in tandem with other things that you’ve got going on. Obviously it’s cooler to buy your magazine at Tate Modern than WHSmith, Tate helps creates your brand perception to your readership. I don’t know if it’s always about being cool or being practical as well.

There is obviously an element of being cool.
As an independent title, cool – whatever that might mean to you because it’s obviously fluid – is important. Especially with advertising. Either you’re a niche, independent title with smaller figures but you target influencers, and you’re stocked in these very cool places, or you have huge sales, and you have power by numbers.

When you get stuck in the middle, you’re really neither here nor there. That’s why, in terms of our growth, we’ve slowed it down. Our projections for it were much higher at the beginning but I’ve had to hold it back because I realise that I don’t want to end up in a situation where we’ve grown too fast, and we’ve offended a load of readers and stockists, and we don’t really know where we are anymore.

Cereal has a very clear, identifiable brand identity. That presumably came from your background and your previous work in that area, and must have been a very deliberate part of the project.
Both of us came at it from a very different place, but we ended up at the same point. I worked in fashion and beauty, and you could say that that’s quite a superficial industry, being occupied with how things look. Richard came from an engineering background, and I have never met anyone more meticulous and obsessive. When he decides something, he’s super stubborn.

I would never win a fight against Richard at work. I have a certain sense of aesthetics that I think kind of comes from my parents, they are ultimate minimalists. When my friends come over to my family home they’re like ‘Oh, this is where Cereal comes from!’ One chair, white walls. It all makes sense if you get to know me, and then Richard’s meticulous about planning and designing, he’s about symmetry and muted tones and a very controlled environment.

He’ll never take a photo between sunrise and sunset when people are actually out, because our rule is that there isn’t allowed to be a single person in our photography. That is something that we’re very adamant about. I don’t know if people notice that. That’s the aesthetic that we’ve driven forward. We’re both happy that we have a very recognisable identity which works well for us when people are looking to purchase the magazine. They recognise something, the familiarity keep people coming back.

You have come up with strong, familiar brand, but you have made some significant changes too. With the latest issue you changed the cover design. Is that the result of your own personal decision making, or, are you getting feedback from distributors or buyers?
I work on this title with my partner, we’re a very small team, so things do become personal, even if it’s work. I like to say that we’ve never moved that far from our core, but there have been a lot of iterations within those boundaries. It’s still kind of the same, but there have been semi-significant shifts. Not just in design, but in editorial style and tone and the ground that we cover.

The reason for that is very simple. You have to keep evolving, it’s crazy how fast things are now, the rate at which things change and become trendy or not trendy and the rate at which magazines are launching. To stay relevant you have to constantly push yourself to evolve. Never change what you are about, stay within that framework, but challenge yourself and see what else you can do to make a better product.

That’s one of the joys of making magazines, isn’t it? But that’s easier, perhaps, when you’re a quarterly. Now you’re biannual, those changes are going to be slower.
Going bi-annual was not an easy decision. We had that discussion for a while. But I knew that it had to be done because I also didn’t want to fall into a trap where you feel like you’re churning out issues. Three months may seem like a long time for a reader, but as a producer it’s not. You spend one month in production, another month planning, another month to create a hundred and forty to two hundred pages of content. And two full time employees.

It’s a lot of work, especially when you throw in the travelling. I said to Rich, we have to go biannual, because I don’t understand how we are going to make each issue better than the one before at that pace… so we went biannual and for that very simple reason – we wanted to make the magazine better. We felt we’d be doing a disservice to our title by forcing ourselves to stick to this quarterly schedule.

You must have had people asking, why are you doing a magazine? Why not a website?
Of course, it’s just one of those things that people say to you when you say you’re going to start something printed. That’s also something quite simple for us too. I just like print. It’s not that I don’t like digital, digital is great, and it serves a very different purpose, but print is print and there is something really wonderful about how final print is, when you have it in your hand and you can’t change it. I think digital feels a lot more flexible, it’s not that permanent.

My contributors always want to work on the printed magazine. If I gave them a choice: I have a feature that I would like for you to write, do you want to write it for print? Or for online? Ten out of ten times they will choose the printed version. It just feels more substantial, more permanent.

Cereal does have a website, of course, and with six months between each print issue, the site is going to become a lot more important.
Yes it is. Our web numbers are higher than our print numbers, so we treat the site like a window shop to the world. People may not have even have seen our magazine, but it’s very easy to access our website. For Rich and I it must be an accurate representation of what we do, so that it actually entices people to buy the printed publication. I don’t think that digital is on a different par to print, it’s equally important. But it’s difficult to compare because they are so different. They’re dependent on each other.

Were the guidebooks always part of the plan or were they a natural development?
We knew that the magazine would develop and grow in different ways, but we didn’t know that we would do printed guides. It became very clear, a year after launching, that we needed to do city guides. In the magazine we don’t have a lot of content that tells you what restaurants to go to, or what hotels to stay at like traditional titles. We needed another component that did that. I think with the printed title and our city guide you have a very complete view of a place.

Tell us about your partnerships with brands – do they subsidise the magazine?
It varies. We will work with partners on a project and it’s not financially driven. But obviously we do do consultancy work for brands where we do get paid by the brand to create content for their website and provide them with a service. That other stuff isn’t necessarily linked to Cereal at all, it’s very separate. But the partnerships that I’ve pointed out are just that. It’s collaborating with the brands to do something fun.

You’re making things together as partners, but other times using your expertise in content and design, and selling that as a service to client.
Yes.

You talked about the difference, or the perceived difference, between independent magazines and mainstream magazines. Where do you think you sit at the moment given your sales numbers? Do think of yourself as a small, independent magazine?
Very much so. We’re still a tiny independent magazine. Rich and I are the only full-time employees of Cereal. We have two part-time employees, one doing ads, one doing sales. We’re looking to hire one more part-time person to be part of our team. It’s a really, really small team. So I think we’re still very much independent.

Do you look at a lot of other independent magazines?
Yes I do. I read magazines all the time, so many, very different ones as well. Magazines that maybe people wouldn’t think that I read. People make the assumption that if you work in independent magazines then by default you must read a lot of independent magazines. I don’t know if that is necessarily true. I do read some magazines, but I predominately read mainstream titles.

But looking at the independent scene, are there ones that you admire? If you go into a shop and you see the indie mags, who would you like to be next to?
Oh wow. I’ve never really thought about that. The independent magazines that I greatly admire – I love The Gentlewoman, I think it’s very intelligent content, I love Fantastic Man. I’m a big fan of Inventory. Port does what it does very well. Lots of menswear magazines, oddly. I guess I have a masculine taste. I really like Apartamento, I mean it is a world apart from our aesthetic, but I still appreciate it and I still respect it, I think that they do what they do extremely well. Those are the independent titles that I really love.

Do you see the indie scene continuing to grow?
Somebody asked me that the other day, and I think, if you go to WHSmith, let’s use that as an example, and you look at all the mainstream titles that exist, I mean, there are so many. I don’t know how many they have, but when I met with their rep, they said that their Selfridges store has over 500 titles. Mostly mainstream, and some independent. That is perhaps the direction that independent magazines are headed in, to have as much variety and breadth as glossies.

Do you worry, or are you conscious that some of the independent magazines are beginning to look like each other?
I think it’s inevitable. In every industry you have trends and within that trend things that come about that seem very similar when you’re skimming the industry. I don’t think that you can let that effect you or bother you too much, it’s just how every industry is. You have to do what you do to the best of your abilities, and hope that people like it.

In a sense it is a sign of a successful industry.
Absolutely. Every time I go into a store and see the many independent magazines, it’s very reassuring, this is a market that is thriving and growing and it is very much in demand. I can’t complain.

This interview is from the book ‘Independence’ by Jeremy Leslie, first published in October 2015 and now sold out. The twelve interviews took place in front of a live audience at the Pick Me Up festival at London’s Somerset House, in Spring 2015.

Portrait of Rosa by Ian Pierce.

readcereal.com

David Lane, The Gourmand

The sixth interview from Jeremy Leslie’s 2015 book ‘Independence’ features David Lane, co-founder of the beautiful food and culture magazine The Gourmand.

Jeremy: First of all I’d like to find out a bit more about what you’d been doing that led you to work in magazines.
David: I studied Communication Design at Central Saint Martins when it was in Holborn, in the old building – it’s going be a hotel soon. And then I worked for design agencies, a big global branding agency and then a really small studio where we designed things like exhibitions for the Science Museum. And then I had my own studio, my partner and I designed lots of books, record covers and exhibitions. We designed exhibitions here at Somerset House. It was brilliant, but we were being asked to design things and I was getting into the content first to discover how it should be presented and thinking, ‘Oh, I’d like to make this a little bit better.’ A little bit more interesting or, you know, they’ve missed a trick.

The designing bit at the end was great, but I was getting less and less excited by it really. I was more excited by gathering together great groups of people for photo shoots, illustrations and writers and organising it all together. So we did The Gourmand, me and my partner, Marina.

With magazines you’re involved from the very beginning.
Yes, and it means you’re involved in everything. Often as a designer or art director your job-description is only to do one specific thing. You can’t really question the brief. Well, you can…

…it’s difficult…
…it’s difficult. And you certainly can’t start rewriting people’s titles and, like, thinking ‘Oh, I know someone who would’ve done a much better interview than that’ –you know? These kind of things.

Do you remember looking at magazines when you were studying? Looking at magazines when you were younger?
Yeah, definitely.

What was the first magazine that you can recall having?
I always collected comics when I was really small, and then magazines after that. When I moved up to London just before uni I had stacks of Sleazenation, Dazed, and i-D, and all those kind of mags. And music mags when those were good, I used to be into those. NME and stuff.

And were you interested in food at that stage?
Yeah, always. I was working in delis and restaurants and bars before I was doing design stuff. I used to cook a lot. Marina, who I set the magazine up with, she worked for big restaurant groups, event organising companies, we ate out a lot and went to supper clubs, we were really into it. Everyone is, really? Right?

They are, but not everyone starts a magazine about it.
I guess we never really worked together, and we realised it was the one thing we had in common, and the one thing everyone in the world has in common. So. It’s what’s made it possible really. If it were about motorbikes or something, it would have been a lot harder.

So was it magazine or food that came first? Did you decide you wanted to do something about food and then figure out ‘magazine’, or did you want to do a magazine and then think ‘food’?
The studio I’d started was becoming really hard work. Marina and I were always talking about food, and we really wanted to do something that no one else could tell us was wrong. At first it was just intended to be a little pilot, we put aside a bit of money to do it, and we didn’t expect to make anything back, which was good.

Because presumably you didn’t.
Yeah, but we didn’t lose anything, which was a surprise. We got a really positive response from people that knew what they were talking about.

So this was evenings and weekends, while the studio continued.
Yeah. They ran simultaneously for two issues. And then, I decided to just concentrate on the magazine.

Can you remember how many you printed?
I’d designed quite a few books before, and whenever I’d get quotes back from people, 2,000 seemed to be the number that made the most sense in terms of the print per unit of something. With magazines, it’s probably a lot lower. I was doing books with all sorts of stuff that make it expensive. Just because I was doing that, I thought that was the right amount. Luckily Marina was amazing at managing it all. It’s why it’s worked. As well as the content and the creative side of it, there is someone dedicated to making it work, running it.

And Marina handles that side of things?
She does. We’ll both go to meetings with distributors and editorial meetings, everything together. But she’s much better at all the things that I’m not very good at.

None the less, it’s a big step, printing 2,000 copies of a magazine. Did you have everything set up at that stage?
The first one we didn’t. We literally got in touch with every shop around the world that we wanted it in. On a personal level, people seemed willing to pay more for that personal relationship. It’s something sad, we’ve found the bigger you get and the more you have to work with distributors, you lose connection with people in the shop. You loose the connection then with the people who are buying. When you speak to people who work in shops, it’s always interesting to find out why one cover has sold more than another.

And they’ve got a point of view?
Definitely. They’re there in the shop selling it.

That first issue was a pilot. But it had proper content, you commissioned the photography, illustration, writing. How much of a challenge was it starting from scratch, putting together an entire magazine.
We only spoke to people we really, really admired, and let them do what they wanted to do. The more we could be involved early on with the discussion, the less we had to be involved later on. I think that’s how we got the content we did. The editor of Dazed at the time interviewed some amazing musicians for it. We had an interview with artist David Shrigley about his opera and he gave us a load of unpublished drawings of costumes he’d done. Everything in it was commissioned and unpublished, it wasn’t regurgitated press releases. I think at the time we thought that all magazines were like that. We’ve kept it that way.

It was still a pilot though. You were testing the water. It was called Zero. That’s why every sale discussion with a shop or anything is always so confusing. They say, but there have been six issues? But there’s five. We were thinking of it like a TV series.

There was still a thought that it might not work. You were unsure if there’d be a number one.
We were naïve or ignorant. It’s so much effort so you have to pretend it will work, otherwise you wouldn’t make the effort.

That’s a recurring theme this week: the effort. Were you surprised by the extent to which the magazine took over your time and brain space?
Definitely. It was great, we were going to all these lovely restaurants and meeting these people but after a while you do realise it’s work. After a few issues we had to step back and think, we’d like to have a weekend, or see friends that aren’t involved in the magazine.

What’s the hardest part?
Finding the balance between enjoying it and making it commercially viable. You have to put so much effort into it making sure it’s enjoyable. Finding the balance there, and how that works with other projects that we do. We work on a lot of other projects. Every issue it gets easier.

It seems easy from the outside; you came up with a pilot issue, you started selling, and it’s grown since. Does it feel like that inside?
I guess. It’s worked. I’m sure everyone has said this here every day, it’s certainly not something you do as an intelligent investment of money, but it’s an intelligent investment of time, effort and creativity. All the other work we do around it is greatly improved by it, and of a much more interesting standard because of it.

Can you tell us a little bit about what that work is?
Yeah. We make content for other people. That’s films, or designing books, or re-designing magazines, designing restaurants. Lots of different things, but all the same elements. Putting together a publication for somebody, art directing a shoot, directing a film. Pulling a team of people we know together and getting them to fulfil a brief, it’s really the same, although
it might be different platforms and for different people.

Presumably it’s a useful symbiotic relationship with the magazine and the studio?
The magazine’s really a 150-page business card that’s sold all over the world.

Would the magazine work on its own? Or do you need the studio income to pay for the magazine?
The magazine would survive, I don’t know if any of us would survive around it. If it was its own living thing, it would carry on living. Everyone puts in far more effort for far less than they earn. Ourselves included. If everyone got paid their full day rates, the sales wouldn’t pay for the production. Some of the photographs and illustrators we work with get a lot of great work from it. Although we can’t pay them as much as we should for their work, I hope in someway it has gone towards getting them this other work.

The work you commission is generally reproduced full page, whereas illustration in most magazines is cropped down or surrounded by text. It’s a much better vehicle.
We have a balanced presence of text and image. If we have an incredible interview with somebody, the photo story isn’t meant to illustrate the interview but it’s a photo story in its own right. They live together and rather than briefing someone, ‘can you take a photo of this person we’ve written this thing’, we like the imagery to be its own idea and its own thing, to add to the text as much as the text adds to the image. And make sure it’s really big. Unless it’s meant to be really small, and then it’s really small.

There is a huge range of independent food magazines. You put it well, we all eat every few hours, so it’s a natural subject to publish about.
There are a lot of food magazines, but proportionally less considering every single human eats. Not everyone buys couture McQueen dresses, and there are far more fashion magazines.

So you think there is space for more?
I think so. Everyone seems to have their own take. We were in Singapore recently, and Chris Ying, the editor of Lucky Peach was there, and I think that magazine is fantastic. We were chatting, and really there is absolutely no cross over in what we’re doing. They’re both completely independent in their approaches and they kind of share an audience but no one would ever decide between the two. It’s nicely uncompetitive.

What sets The Gourmand apart from Lucky Peach and others?
It’s food as a form of communication, food as a way to discuss art, music, film, fashion, literature and all sorts of other things. Food as a way to interview people, food as an inspiration for creatives to produce new work. Meals are a time when you sit down with people you know and talk about things. It’s a time when you’re creative even if you’re not a creative person. Your not looking at a screen, your forced to communicate with other people. People are getting more and more interested in food as a common language, they’re more interested in restaurants, and we wanted to reflect that. We weren’t so interested in ‘Six Delicious Omelettes Using Summer Herbs’.

That’s certainly the other end of the publishing spectrum.
And we feature chefs, but we might write about their art collection or books they’re interested in or commission short stories like this. Food is the hook, but everything is different around that.

Steve Watson was one of my guests earlier in the week. He mentioned that he felt that the first few issues of The Gourmand were good but not so great, but that latterly you’ve gained a turbo thrust and it’s suddenly just grown into itself. Does that ring true for you? What do you feel when you look back at the first issues?
I’m not a great proof reader. And that was a job I shouldn’t have been doing. The longer it’s gone on, the more we’ve involved other people who are far better at those things.

Generally the whole standard has been pulled together a lot more. I think it was always good in terms of the people, just technically the production of the written side of it has gotten better. Also as the name has gotten more recognised it’s allowed us to speak with bigger names, more interesting people. I guess we’ve distributed more copies. I still like some of the features in the first ones more. They’re a bit more fun, I remember the enjoyment
of it more.

The novelty maybe?
The novelty, but also the purity of ideas. And not having any ideas in the back of your mind about why this was or wasn’t a good idea. You know. Which we do now.

So you’ve learned a lot more now, you’re making more judgements.
Yes. But they’re also the judgements that were the reason we started the magazine. You look at mainstream publishing and you think, I want to do it completely not like that. But you do realise there are certain things that are just practical.

But you have to get there on your own terms.
Yeah I think so. I’m very fond of the earlier issues.

Some people would have you believe that these magazines are all beginning to look the same, that there is a familiarity settling in amongst independent publishing. Is that something you notice?
Yeah definitely. But I think it’s not just true of independent publishing. It’s true of anything. You see it with music, you listen to a band and then they become successful and then you hear loads of other bands that sound a bit the same. They’re probably just as good. But it’s getting – what’s the right word – homogenised slightly. The one thing that does upset me a little bit is that there are a lot of new magazines and I’m not quite sure of the purpose of them. But there are some amazing ones, more and more there are amazing ones, and I go into a shop and I’m like ‘it’s brilliant!’

Which ones would you pick out?
All those at the Singapore event we did together, all the people who were speaking, there was Chris from Lucky Peach and Jop van Bennekom who does Fantastic Man, Penny Martin from The Gentlewoman, they’re  all brilliant magazines. Nathan Williams from Kinfolk, which is not a magazine I find speaks to me personally but I think it’s very well done. I thought, great, get to see all these people. The magazines I was most interested in seeing were ones I’d never ever heard of.

The local ones?
The local magazines from Singapore and I just thought these are absolutely fantastic. Rubbish Famzine is put together by a family – two kids and their parents – that was just so pure and lovely. The guy runs a successful design agency and he knew what he was doing, and he managed to set his kids the parameter of what to do to make sure the content was brilliant. It was
so pure and nice. There are lots of examples of brilliant magazines that people keep mentioning or sending me that I think are great.

At the same time, I see a lot of new magazines starting up that I feel… maybe it’s a graphic designer who wants to design a magazine or a photographer that wants to have their work published… They don’t seem to be offering me something of interest.  A lot of it is a reaction to how busy people are, and the more work and the less money people have. It’s not surprising that there are magazines about carving spoons and drying lavender and moving to a hut. People like to read about these slightly idyllic lifestyles because they will never be able to do it for real – they have to work all night answering emails. I see it as a reaction.

Magazines are particularly well suited to that, you do lose yourself.
It’s a really interesting time. The wave of internet content that was meant to destroy everything printed has receded a bit. People have realised it’s not nice reading 2,000 words of content on a screen and if you are spending a week working on an amazing still life photo story you don’t just want to see it 300 pixels wide surrounded by adverts. There are lots of things the internet is right for, short news and quick points, something to look through and click through.

As a response to that, magazines have once again become this place where there is a point of putting something out there. There is a point for this photo essay to exist in print, because it’s so good, it should be kept on your bookshelf. This interview with this person who might not speak to another journalist ever again and it’s 10,000 words long, I want to keep, and the internet can’t have that, because it’s too good. But at the same time, there is a lot of stuff from the internet that’s being made into a magazine, which I’d rather look at on the internet. A lot of commercial magazines try to battle the internet a bit, and I always find it baffling. You can never win that battle.

Which actually reflects what you’ve done recently online, with issue five – the sixth issue – you redesigned the magazine, and re-launched your website with two very specific ideas.
It’s the eternal battle for anyone publishing anything, whether or not to have a web presence. The guys at Apartamento have never ever had a website with anything on it, and I think that’s brilliant because the magazine is great and they don’t need it.
But we were getting a lot of stories sent to us, and we don’t really ever publish anything that people have said ‘would you like to publish this?’

We like to be involved in the making of it all. But then a lot of the stuff was just brilliant, and we wanted somewhere to put it somewhere but which we couldn’t justify being in the magazine. So our new site has two distinct parts, ‘On screen’ and ‘On paper’. We thought that once a week we’d put a feature online and we’d make the online an editorial experience as close
to the magazine as possible. So it’s really clear and clean and pared back, you can read, with nice images. So we’ve done that. And now we have an online editor, so the site will grow as its own thing, separate to the magazine. And then on the ‘On-paper’ side, there are photographs of the magazine, and you can buy it. And that’s it.

Do you use social media much?
We really like Instagram. We have quite a big following, well I don’t know what big is, there are tens of thousands not hundreds of thousands. We use it as a place to put things by other people that we love that we wouldn’t put in the magazine, because they already exist. If there is a photographer who’s work we think is brilliant, or already been published somewhere else, we put it up. We also use Twitter a bit. Passively. I think we have Facebook and stuff. It’s sort of in the wake of the magazine, rather than the other way around. There are magazines that have started because they’ve had such huge social media followings.

There are also magazines that earn a lot via their Instagram feeds.
It’s a hard thing – why would a brand pay hundreds of pounds for a page of advertising in your magazine when you could just give someone a pair of trainers and they’ll take a photo of it, and half a million people will see it. We’ll never print half a million copies of our magazine. It’s kind of killing the old school model of publishing, but that’s probably good.

Talking to various people generally but also during these interviews, there is a mixture of guilt and relish that the mainstream is suffering. Do you feel that?
I swing from side to side. I did a talk with a few other people and the direction of it was pushed into ‘Isn’t commercial and mainstream publishing crap, and isn’t the new wave of indie magazines brilliant’ and we all got a bit carried away. And then there was a whole team of people in the audience from a mainstream magazine that had really valid questions, and I felt really stupid. I thought, actually, you know what, I could easily be doing that, there is a whole other set of rules there, a whole other set of parameters. It’s a completely different audience. If it’s natural because it’s fading out because of the way things are going, then I don’t want to be the one to kick it along and help it into the gutter.

It’s a bit like your music analogy – people perhaps haven’t got that original spark of wanting to start something but still want to join in. Just as there are some great mainstream bands, there are some fantastic mainstream magazines.
There are. And I’ve got more into the because I appreciate all of the things that go into making them now. Also, the line between what is commercial and not is harder and harder to define. There are magazines that would look like a commercial magazine that are perhaps actually independent magazine, there are independent magazine that have a bigger print run
and sell more copies than a lot of mainstream magazines. The Guardian has a new supplement which has the same kind of content and tone of voice and commissioned illustration that would appear in an independent magazine. It’s hard to define where the lines are a bit. But if I’m going to sit on a plane for a while I’ll buy The New Yorker, I’ll buy lots of magazines that would probably be seen as commercial magazines. And enjoy them. And appreciate how well they’re put together.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out now with an idea for a magazine?
Make it about something you’re genuinely interested in, and not something you think everyone else is interested in. It almost doesn’t matter what that is, if you bring it together with lots of passion and you care about it. Those are magazines that are the best. Thinking that a magazine is made up of these things, and these people should be in it, and it should look like this, and the cover should look like this, and it should have these typefaces, there is no point in that.

Also, you’ll never start a media empire or make money out of it. So enjoy it. The guy who makes Rubbish Famzine with his family said he just put aside some money he wanted to lose and it completely freed him up to enjoy every minute of it. And it was worth that and more. I think that’s a great approach.

This interview is from the book ‘Independence’ by Jeremy Leslie, first published in October 2015 and now sold out. The twelve interviews took place in front of a live audience at the Pick Me Up festival at London’s Somerset House, in Spring 2015.

Portrait of David by Ian Pierce.

thegourmand.co.uk