What print does best

A second successful outing for the Modern Magazine conference continues to explore how print can thrive in an increasingly digital world

In his opening remarks at this year’s Modern Magazine Conference, organiser Jeremy Leslie likened planning the second edition of an event to releasing a second album: if the first is well received, there’s always a worry that the second won’t live up to its hype.

Fortunately, the conference didn’t disappoint, and featured the same well-balanced mix of visual inspiration, in-depth discussions and practical advice on making magazines as its predecessor.

Like the inaugural event, the follow-up was primarily a celebration of great magazines, but it also considered the future of the publishing industry – whether independent titles can become sustainable businesses; how print and digital platforms can co-exist; and whether mainstream titles should in turn be looking to successful independent mags for inspiration.

First to speak was Rob Orchard, co-founder of quarterly longform journalism title, Delayed Gratification, who delivered a witty, if worrying, look at the problems facing mainstream news media today. With publishers under pressure to deliver an endless stream of content despite limited resources, Orchard said that magazines were becoming more like the web (less words and more pictures), and rarely covering important events beyond their immediate aftermath. Delayed Gratification, he said, was set up to do what print does best, and produce in-depth content in a tactile format with high production values.

Riposte editor Danielle Pender cited a similar frustration with mainstream media in her talk, criticising the artifice and limited content in women’s magazines, from gossip titles fixated with celebrity bodies and break-ups, to fashion mags full of Photoshopped imagery and interviews focussed on sex, clothes and motherhood. Riposte was founded, she said, as a magazine to celebrate women of all ages and cover a broader range of topics, from music to design and visual arts.

Throughout the day, several speakers discussed the value of print, and why there is still a place for it in an age of seemingly endless online content. Kai Brach, editor of Offscreen (a printed title about online creativity), said he had become fascinated with books and magazines after growing frustrated with the intangible nature of his work as a web designer. Rather than thinking about paper and screen as old vs new, Brach said print and web should be seen as complementary experiences, for different content and times of day.

Delivering a dose of visual inspiration were Wired Italia’s creative director David Moretti and Veronica Ditting, art director of the Gentlewoman. Ditting gave a fascinating insight into establishing the visual language of the magazine – designed to be no-nonsense, yet warmer and friendlier than its sister title, Fantastic Man – and how she uses type, colour, handwriting and intimate or humorous photography to ensure it doesn’t appear too structured or formal. Moretti shared the stories behind some of Wired’s most ambitious covers and spreads, and discussed how these have to be designed with both a printed edition and iPad app in mind.

At a panel discussion in the afternoon, Brach, Orchard, Pender, Little White Lies co-founder Danny Miller (who also spoke about his latest venture, Weapons of Reason) and Simon Lyle of White Light Media, which publishes consumer drinking magazine Hot Rum Cow, discussed some of the challenges of running independent magazines, from organising distribution to marketing on a limited budget. Pender also noted the particular challenge advertising poses for design-led magazines, and all agreed that, while independent magazines can be successful, there is a limit to their earning potential. Brach, added that while Offscreen is now his full-time job, the likelihood of it becoming “very big” was very small.

Alongside speakers from smaller titles, Jeremy Langmead, chief content officer at Christie’s, spoke about developing the brand’s editorial content online and in print – from the end of October, the auction house will be publishing daily content online, and the new-look magazine will feature articles from high profile writers such as Zadie Smith – while Adam Moss, editor-in-chief at New York magazine, discussed the many changes that have taken place at the title under his editorship in an interview with Leslie, including going fortnightly, and undergoing a comprehensive redesign.

Others included Gratuitous Type founder Elana Schlenker, Pekka Toivonen, the ‘art dictator’ of Norway art magazine FAT and Peter Houston, founder of publishing project The Magazine Diaries, a book featuring 100-word entries from people working in magazines on how they feel about the industry. The line-up was diverse – but what each speaker shared was a genuine passion for making magazines, and for creating inspiring and innovative editorial. Magazines may still face major challenges but, as this year’s conference proved, the outlook for the industry is far from bleak.

The Modern Magazine conference took place at the London College of Communication in September. More at magculture.com

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