Repro man

You may not know his name but you’ll know his work. Ralph Wills and the team at PH Media handle the repro for many of the UK’s leading art, fashion and design magazines, from Avaunt to Wonderland (and CR!). We talk to him about the changing world of magazines and what he thinks the future holds for print

CR: PH Media is pretty much the go-to prepress provider for high-end magazines, particularly independent titles – why do you think we’ve seen such a renaissance in niche, indie titles?

RW: That’s a difficult question for me to answer as I have always been a sucker for a finely crafted magazine. I think we all like the tactile elements that can’t be achieved with digital and as far as I’m aware my iPad can’t simulate the smell of ink on a freshly printed uncoated title. I think that’s one of the fundamental changes with the resurgence: publishers were quick to learn consumers want something different. It could be as simple as a unique format or varying the stocks, we’re also mixing and matching cover finishes and running spot Pantone colours in the editorials. None of this is particularly reinventing the printed page as PH cut its teeth creating groundbreaking (never been done before) covers for Creative Review – it’s just far more prevalent now.

From Avaunt issue 3
From Avaunt issue 3
Avaunt issue 3
Avaunt issue 3
SoccerBible issue 5
SoccerBible issue 5
One of ten Nick Knight covers for 10 S/S 2015 featuring Victoria's Secret models
One of ten Nick Knight covers for 10 S/S 2015 featuring Victoria’s Secret models

CR: What are the biggest challenges for anyone trying to produce an independent print magazine today?

RW: I would say getting the balance right on how to make it financially viable and able to be self-sufficient and not a ‘vanity project’ that haemorrhages money. There are some incredibly talented designers and contributors out there but advertisers won’t flock to a title with unproven sales unless you have a name that people associate with a successful publication. Alternatively you reject the traditional revenue stream and hope your product is strong enough to support a high cover price.

Port, issue 4
Port, issue 4

CR: There’s been so much change in the way that printed magazines are produced since the switch to digital technology, what do you and your team spend the bulk of your time doing now – is it colour correction, retouching work…?

RW: Ultimately a lot of the processes in the organisation are not dissimilar from the traditional skill set but digital allows us to expand that offering. An example would be profiling of imagery for press, whereas originally we would simply have prepared for press we now have coated and uncoated considerations for ink coverage and numerous variants within those for the imaginative stocks our clients now use.

Mark Pillai for 10 magazine
Mark Pillai for 10 magazine

CR: What about photography – are there any particular trends that you are seeing in terms of what clients are asking you to do with images?

RW: The supply of images is arguably our biggest challenge as the rules of photography no longer seem to apply. Photographic techniques are dynamic and multifaceted, focus, depth of field, and contrast no longer apply. Mark Pillai one of the exceptionally talented Parisian photographers we work with on 10 Magazine, called me recently to ask retouching not to ‘correct’ the moiré pattern on some images he was about to submit (see above). The effect he was looking for was created by capturing the images, importing to his Mac before reshooting on screen to enhance the screening effect.

Man About Town: The Gay Issue
Man About Town: The Gay Issue

CR: What was the most complex project you have worked on recently?

RW: It’s not that recent but ‘The Gay Issue’ of Man About Town set us a number of challenges. M/M Paris constantly push the boundaries and this particular issue had a masthead and headlines created with a bespoke hand drawn Chilli Font that took an age to process through our rips. They also have scant regard for section splits so in some instances we had an image split across a DPS where half was on coated and half on uncoated paper, setting the challenge of profiling twice and attempting to get a close read across.

Arena Homme+ S/S 2015
Arena Homme+ S/S 2015
Pop A/W 2015
Pop A/W 2015

CR: How do you see the future for printed magazines playing out?

RW: Shorter print runs than historically for sure, but I think we’re in a fairly healthy place at the moment. Some of our fashion publications have truly eye watering page numbers currently and advertising seems to have returned to paper. How we consume information will ebb and flow but ultimately whilst there are talented writers, photographers, illustrators and designers out there paper will continue to be an attractive medium on which to showcase those skills.

So It Goes, issue 7
So It Goes, issue 7
Wonderland, 10th birthday issue
Wonderland, 10th birthday issue

See more of PH Media’s work here

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