The spirit of independents

Countering the gloom felt in mainstream publishing, a host of web-literate, esoteric and beautifully designed indie magazines are thriving

The number of new independent magazines being launched continues to amaze me. Not a day goes by without at least one message dropping into my inbox telling me about a new project. They come from all over the world and cover just about every conceivable subject. Fashion, food and music are some of the more obvious interests that spark people to launch their own magazines, but other recent arrivals have dealt with hair, poetry, India, gay cinema … it seems almost any subject can be covered. There’s even a magazine about magazines out there. Not all of these are great examples of their kind, but a high proportion are, enough that I can’t find space for them all on my magCulture blog.

My surprise at this seemingly unending cascade of new magazines isn’t that anybody should be making publications for print today – I’d be the last person to suggest that – but that this ongoing conversation with magazine makers runs in stark contrast to another daily storyline. This is the continuing saga of mainstream magazine sales dropping, advertising income falling, further closures, budget cuts and job losses at the big publishers.

And yet those indie magazines keep coming. People, it seems, want to make magazines and while they rely on the web to promote and sell their publications it is the tangible, physical medium of print to which they turn for self-expression. Many of them have experience of working for larger publishers and have expressed themselves through blogs before combining these experiences to launch their own print publications. In doing so they have been quicker and sharper to spot the similarities between magazines and the web. Both seek to develop communities of like-minded people who connect and share around joint passions and interests.

It doesn’t always work. Titles such as Fantastic Man, Little White Lies and Anorak have all established themselves in their respective worlds, but for every one of these there are plenty that failed to grab the imagination or simply ran out of money. Yet still
they come.

Recent newcomers that look like sticking around include Fire & Knives, Apartamento and The Ride Journal, covering food, interiors and cycling respectively. The design of these magazines is a key part of their success but this doesn’t mean they represent the victory of style over content. All take traditional genres of publishing and reinvent them very successfully using innovative design, content and production values.

Following in their wake comes the next wave; projects such as The Green Soccer Journal, issue one of which is just out and takes a broader cultural look at the sport, with reflections on the injuries suffered by professionals and the reinvention of Manchester City alongside interviews ranging from Bryan Ferry to TV sports presenter Steve Ryder. Poetry title Popshot is another example, seeking to bring poetry to a new audience by matching poems to commissioned artworks by young illustrators.

All these magazines present an alternative view of a single subject matter. There is also a tradition of independents going a step further and covering just about whatever they, or their editor/publisher, want to – harder to categorise and succeed but potentially even more exciting for the reader. Over the last year or so there have been several launches in this vein.

Gym Class Magazine (‘For the guy chosen last’) follows the whims of editor and self-confessed magazine geek Steven Gregor. Luckily for us his interests extend across a broad range including design, typography, horror movies and independent magazines.

Underscore is a heavier tome that arrives from Singapore with the aim of expressing quality of life. This is a beautifully presented and paced publication that opposes the rush of much of today’s media, expressing real quality rather than the materialist high-end luxury implied by the word today. Bookish in pace and style, this is a wonderfully curated piece that reaches out globally to source its stories, and each issue is backed up by an online audio soundtrack to help the reader immerse themselves. Issue two is available now and highly recommended.

Gopher Illustrated is a similarly satisfying project, published from Venezuela, and funded by Kickstarter. Again, the content is wide ranging in scope, with material ranging from an investigation of Icelandic supernatural beliefs to a portfolio of the work of artist Mario Wagner (who designed the front cover). Its serious intent is lightened by the design, with each headline commissioned from a different illustrator/designer to provide variation across the pages.
A last and very recent example is Teller, from London. As its name suggests, this is ‘a magazine of stories’, with photography from the last days of colonial Nairobi sitting alongside reflections on a Tamil’s life in today’s Europe. Traditional journalistic fare in some respects, Teller’s careful editorial mix presented in a magazine context makes it seem anything but ordinary.
All magazines deal in storytelling of course, but few are brave enough to make that their primary focus.

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Jeremy Leslie runs the blog


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