Behind the scenes: Huck magazine

by Steve Watson in April 2015
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Distribution and marketing are permanent headaches for independent publishers – how do you break out of your own painstakingly created network and reach people who wouldn’t otherwise have heard about your magazine?

British title Huck is working hard to win new readers in North America at the moment, and it’s doing so via a pair of clever collaborations. Its book, Paddle Against the Flow, was released last month with San Francisco-based Chronicle Books; and its first clothing collection was unveiled last week with Canadian apparel company Roots.

I caught up with Huck’s group editor D’Arcy Doran to find out more.


All small publishers struggle to reach new readers. What led you to these collaborations?
Distribution is the big challenge. We have this strange, almost search and rescue operation going on social media, with people saying they can’t find the magazine and us trying to drive them to the places where they can get it. So even if you’re looking for the magazine it can be difficult to track it down, but we want to reach a wider audience and that means people who don’t currently know Huck exists.

That led us to thinking about the book, and the opportunity to dig through our back issues and come up with those golden nuggets that have stood the test of time. Not everyone who reads Huck now has read all the previous 48 issues, so we wanted to surface some of that great content from the past and present it to people who may be just discovering the magazine.

And we also wanted to create something that could travel in a different way to the magazine. Because Paddle Against the Flow can sit on a shelf at Quimby’s in Chicago, or Waterstone’s in Piccadilly Circus, or a bookstore in South Africa, and suddenly it’s discoverable in a way the magazine isn’t.


A book is a great way of showcasing words and pictures, but I guess the clothing collaboration is more a showcase of a lifestyle or design aesthetic?
Well the clothing collaboration came as an extension of the book, because we asked ourselves what could we do to generate even more conversations and take things a step further?

We approached Roots because they have similar values to Huck – they champion craft and quality, but they also have this element of celebrating people who are doers and adventurers, and they’ve previously collaborated with people like Douglas Coupland, who’s in the book.

I think we got three advance copies of the book at the end of August last year, and that’s when we approached Roots, initially just through email. We told them what we were doing and asked whether they might be interested, and they said yes. So we sent them a book and almost immediately we were having Skype calls and hatching plans.


Roots is Canadian and Chronicle is based in San Francisco. Are you specifically targeting North America?
Definitely. We’re independent publishers so we don’t need a partner to publish things – we can do that ourselves. But we knew that the right collaboration would open up a different way of doing things and a different distribution network, so when we started looking at publishers and figuring out what their superpowers are, we were immediately interested in Chronicle.

They do a lot of fun, quirky books and a lot of things that tie in with counterculture, but more than other book publishers they’re also very good at getting their books into non-traditional stores. For instance they have the contract to sell Moleskine notebooks in the US, so any store that sells Moleskine notebooks over there also sells Chronicle books. That’s why we wanted to speak to them, because they’re finding their own creative solutions to getting over distribution problems.

So have you also had to beef up your magazine distribution?
The next issue is our 50th and we’re increasing our print run for that. And we’re also talking to Comag about how we can educate the stockists and let them know about some of the exciting developments in the magazine.

This is a very limited analogy, but a magazine is a little bit like a restaurant; when a restaurant first opens it gets all this buzz and exposure, but after a while it just becomes part of the landscape. That’s one of the exciting things about doing a book or a clothing collection – it’s a conversation starter. It gets people talking about Huck again, and people who may not have tuned in for 10 issues will look at it again and think, “Wow, they’ve found a new gear”.


So what’s next?
That’s a good question. We’ve got the 50th issue hitting newsstands in the next month, and we’ve got some great brand collaborations coming up in that issue, including something really exciting we’ve done with Microsoft.

The great thing is that all these discussions we’ve started seem to continue; all these new friends we’ve made are now asking whether we want to do something else, so hopefully we can just keep batting on and finding new ways to add to the conversation.

Want more from the world of Huck? Read our interview with publishing director Vince Medeiros

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