How to be an independent

If you’re going to self-publish, you need a passion for your subject and a unique take on it

Independent magazines seem to be attracting more attention than ever at present, a build-up of interest that inevitability results in questions. Almost every day I’m asked, “How many independent magazines are there?”, closely followed by the more detailed, “Are there more today then before?”, “Do they make money?”, and eventually “What exactly is an independent magazine?” Most of the time I’m too busy enjoying the many new magazines blocking up my hallway to pay too much attention to the questions. But to answer briefly: There is no accurate measure of numbers, but I know I’m receiving more indie mags in the post than ever before; It’s difficult to make significant money, but some are doing so. What is independent? Let’s settle for self-published and un-compromised.

There’s no point in going to the effort of creating your own magazine to just mimic an existing title. If you’re going to do it, make it yours, and this is what makes the best independents stand out. They have a unique point of view on a subject, are overflowing with passion for that subject, and set out to surprise rather than reassure. Here are some recent examples that have floated to the top of the pile at magCulture HQ.

First up, food magazines. This genre seems to be an endless source of inspiration to magazine makers, and current personal favourite is The Gourmand. This London-based magazine finds pleasure in food via art. Paolo di Lucente’s images of US diners mix with Paul Davis’ visual recollection of conversations overheard in restaurants, while Patrick Baglee rediscovers the beautiful but long-forgotten pages of 1960s magazine The Compleat Imbiber. Add in a history of Moomins crockery and you have a small sense of the eclectic but satisfying menu on offer. Modern and bright, The Gourmand is already making a big impression.

Cereal is another recent British food launch. Named after founder Rosa Park’s young habit of reading the cereal box while eating breakfast, it combines food and travel in its chunky 140 uncoated pages. It has the calm spaciousness of magazines like Kinfolk and The Weekender, and the stories are well structured across long runs of pages carrying commissioned photography and quiet typography. This first issue includes a look at the maker of Noma’s ceramics, the ritual of making Matcha and a history of breakfast cereal marketing.

I can’t read The Germans, a new German-language magazine from Hamburg, but can appreciate its design (by Bureau Mirko Borsche) and the concept behind it. The English title is intended to express the international nature of being German today, with its many immigrants and ethnic influences. German publishing finds it easy to combine such contemporary editorial design (quirky black and white typography and bold colour photography) with serious subjects – Brand Eins remains a favourite business magazine – while the UK still seems to assume contemporary means only pop culture.

OOMK (One of My Kind) is published from London by three young Muslim women studying/working in design. Teetering on the edge of the space between zine and magazine, at first look it shares a lot with any number of showcase magazines – selected art and photography presented page by page with a brief description and url – but becomes more interesting as you dig deeper. Without becoming polemical, OOMK has plenty to offer about its editors’ Muslim background. The cover art – three Victorian English women covering their faces – sets the tone, a mix of serious intent and self-aware wit that makes it very engaging.

What links all these titles together, and relates to those opening questions about success, is the complications of getting a small magazine to its customers. I don’t know how many copies each one has printed, but even 500 are hard to sell on your own, while paying a professional distribution company can be prohibitively expensive.
Typographer Peter Biľak’s new magazine Works That Work is an interesting project for its subject matter (“A magazine of unexpected creativity”) but also for its innovative thinking about distribution. Social Distribution is his name for a system that relies on early buyers of an issue acting as local distributors, taking a small cut on selling further copies into book stores and other outlets they source. Meanwhile the publisher is left to, as Biľak says, “do what we do best: publishing the magazine”. It’s a clever way of harnessing the enthusiasm of readers and I’m intrigued to see if it works. The first issue echoes the theoretical elegance of the distribution model, with a very open brief ranging from the avoidance of beauty in design competitions to the art of translating novels via the Shared Space movement. A strong debut issue.

Jeremy Leslie blogs at magCulture.com. For more information on The Gourmand, see thegourmand.co.uk; Cereal, readcereal.com; The Germans, thegermansmagazine.com; OOMK (One of My Kind), oomk.net, and Works That Work, worksthatwork.com

 

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