Review: magCulture x Stack

It’s been another bumper year for editorial design and independent publishing – plenty of new titles hit the shelves (and blogs) in 2014 – and many events and initiatives launched or returned – all pointing towards an industry in rude health. We caught up with Steve Watson and Jeremy Leslie, two of the industry figures most passionate about print, to get their reflections, highlights & predictions…

Tell us what it is you do, and why you do it..

SW/ I send out a different independent magazine every month to a couple of thousand subscribers around the world. And I do it because I’m in love with the ideas and energy in the best independent magazines, and I know that there are a lot more people out there who would love these magazines if they could only discover them.

JL/ I design, write and publish. Most of my time is spent designing, working with clients on their magazines, apps and websites at the magCulture studio. Alongside this I promote creative editorial design via the magCulture website, conferences and other events. And we publish a few things – we just launched our first magazine Fiera in collaboration with Katie Tregidden. I do it because I find editorial design fascinating. Design in an editorial context is not surface, it is content.

Can you each give us a couple of personal highlights from the year?

SW/ Jeremy’s Modern Magazine Conference was really great – it’s fantastic that he’s able to bring magazine makers from all over the world to London for one big get together. And at the opposite end of the conference spectrum, I also had a fantastic time at Indiecon in Hamburg. It was the first time they’d held the event and it was a genuinely indie production – a group of young friends doing something because they really care about it.

JL/ Things to remember include working with Douglas Coupland on Kitten Clone; taking Printout to Bristol; eating at Noma; putting together a radio show for Pick Me Up radio; discovering Limewood with Lesley; collaborating with Vitsoe on the 620 Reading Room; helping design a live stage show to mark Maison Moderne’s 20th anniversary. And moving from home into the new studio space.

You guys collaborate on Printout – how did that come about?

SW/ Way back when I first started working for The Church of London I went from having one day a week for Stack, to having two days a week. I was really keen to experiment with magazine events, and I remember speaking to Jeremy at The Church of London offices and realising that we’d both been having similar ideas. We realised that this wasn’t going to be either a Stack or a magCulture thing, so we knocked some ideas for names back and forth and a few weeks later we were running our first ever Printout.

JL/ Steve suggested doing an event together when our paths crossed at the Church of London, and we dived in headfirst. That was three years ago; I don’t think either of us thought it could continue this long but it was one of those things that happened at just the right time, providing a focal point for the growth in indie mags. Whenever we think, ‘what can we do next?’, in comes the listings request from the Book Club and we sort an idea for it.

What changes, if any, have you observed over 2014 with regards to publishing and editorial design?

SW/ I’ve noticed a rise in the number of independent publishers that are engaging in big, important, difficult ideas. Colors has been doing it for years, as has Delayed Gratification, and it’s great to see The Outpost getting even better in their second year. But they’ve also been joined by magazines like Weapons of Reason (global challenges), Pollen (critical theory and philosophy) and Future Perfect (current affairs). Independent magazines are sometime criticised for being all about pretty pictures, but there’s a real desire in all these magazines and many more to engage in some heavy critical thinking. Pollen and Future Perfect also point to another emerging trend, of Australian publishers doing some great work. I think Kai Brach from Offscreen should get a lot of credit on that front, for sharing knowledge and helping other Aussies to reach a wider audience – I know he’s been a real inspiration. And I can’t talk about Australian magazines without also mentioning Brewster, Alquimie and Scrag End, all of which are doing very different and very interesting things.

JL/ The happiest development is seeing independent mags maturing. The Gourmand, Delayed Gratification and Wrap have all upped their game issue by issue to reach beyond their indie roots and establish a middle ground between indie and mainstream. Then there’s the digital publishers and websites adding print to their mix; Pitchfork Review was an early example of this but all year there have been more, the latest being AirBnB’s Pineapple. On a less positive note there’s more repetition in independent magazine design. What’s the point of making your own magazine and not doing your own thing? Most independent magazines get that, but it’s disappointing some don’t. One of the things that first excited me about the independents was the way titles like Kasino A4 and 032c relished playing with the format, challenging expectations about what a magazine was. More of that please – entertain us!

Any curveballs hit you this year you just weren’t expecting?

SW/ The sheer number of magazines landing on my doormat! It’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that I went full-time on Stack this year, which means I’ve been blogging more, which means more people have heard about Stack, so more publishers have sent copies over, but I think there might be something else going on too. Certainly there’s absolutely no shortage of great magazines arriving, which is obviously fantastic news (if a little overwhelming).

JL/ The number of new independent launches. At the start of 2014 I set out to count new magazines as they arrived but couldn’t keep up. I’ve heard people say we’re reaching saturation point but despite the volume all I see is increased interest. How can you not be excited by oddball arrivals like Benji Knewman from Latvia?

Any must have recommendations for the print lover this Christmas?

SW/ QVED looks like it’s going to be really interesting – that’s in Munich at the end of February. We all know which magazine subscription I’d recommend so let’s not go there. I will say that for stocking fillers people should check out Cult Movie Cards from Human After All – the original Little White Lies design team has made a deck of illustrated playing cards, and they’re predictably gorgeous. Can’t wait for mine to arrive.

JL/ Cath Caldwells new book Editorial Design is a good primer for the subject and a nice companion to my Modern Magazine book from last year. I’m helping curate QVED again, the three-day editorial design conference held in Munich every February. The lineup is still being finalised but already has enough names to attract the print lover, including Walter Green from Lucky Peach, Ricarda Messner from Flaneur and Cathy Olmedillas from Anorak as well as US heavyweights Roger Black and Steven Heller. And even Steven Watson!

With one eye on 2015 – what have you got in the pipeline we can start getting excited about? – and anything (or anyone) we should be keeping an eye on?

SW/ I’m really excited about the Stack Live events I started last month. The idea is to turn every Stack delivery into a real world event, which brings the magazine off the page and into a bar or gallery or similar space. So far we’ve had the November delivery (Ryan from Hello Mr in conversation at The Book Club, with food provided by Root + Bone recreating their Rinse and Ramen story) and the December delivery (Andrea from Huck also in conversation at The Book Club, with Ocean Wisdom, one of the artists featured in the current issue, playing live afterwards). Both were really great nights and I’m looking forward to more experimentation next year.

JL/ A radical overhaul of the magCulture site; another Modern Magazine conference; big developments with our client, online project Aeon Magazine. And generally, more independent magazines. It’s been a quiet year for the big publishers, the only big launch was the dull Net a Porter mag. I sense next year might be busier in both good and bad ways.

If Santa could bring you one thing this year – what would it be?

SW/ A few days off!

JL/ The magCulture magazine shop.

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Cheers guys! You can find Steve/Stack online via the sitetwitterInstagramFacebookPinterest. Jeremy/magCulture can also be connected with via his awesome blog, twitter & Instagram. The guys have kindly given us some discount codes for those last minute Christmas presents – use the code LUKESENTME in the StackMagazine store for a 10% discount on all subscriptions and the code Santaivebeengood in the magCulture shop for a 10% discount on all orders above £10 made before end of Friday 19 Dec.

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