Meet the brands with Magazine B

by Steve Watson in August 2012
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I first saw Magazine <B> earlier this year (I think it was the Brompton issue) and was kind of confused. Each issue focuses on a different brand, devoting the entire magazine to the history, philosophy, style and innovation of that brand. It’s very respectful and doesn’t pose difficult questions, which means it looks at first glance like a very long and very nicely put together advertorial. But there’s more to it than that.

It’s made in South Korea and my first thought was that maybe this very sincere engagement with a brand is more common over there (it’s not). My second thought was to wonder how much Magazine <B>’s publishers get paid for making such in-depth brand material (the answer is nothing – they make all their money from their very healthy sales).

And that’s the most interesting thing about Magazine <B>. People love it. We’re used to approaching brand tie-ups with caution, seeing them as a threat to credibility and independence, but the lesson from Magazine <B> seems to be that people want to know more about the brands around them. I emailed editor-in-chief Taehyuk Choi to get some more detail on his magazine, and the following is a slightly edited version of our exchange.

Could you briefly explain the concept behind Magazine B?
Brand-named products are inundating the consumer market these days, and B aims to be a messenger to help readers discover what good brands are. We analyze a brand from head to toe, by covering only one brand each issue. We aspire to be worthy of collection and advertisement-free.

How do you select brands to work with?
The choice is basically determined by our subjective point of view. We follow our sensibility and unearth “well-balanced brands” from around the globe that meet the following criteria: beauty, price, practicality and brand philosophy. One brand at a time.

This very earnest engagement with a brand’s messages looks unusual to western eyes – is it also unusual in Korea?
The answer would be yes. It’s hard to find some media that has this kind of perspective to a brand. And I may find the reason from the relationship between media and industry. For most of the media in Korea, just like in many other societies, it is not easy to be free from the brand’s industrial leverage. Thus, they’re getting hard to keep an independent perspective and depth. That’s why we don’t receive any financial support from the brands that are covered, to keep the distance from each brand we choose and hold our point of view.

How do brands respond? Are they surprised when you tell them you don’t want them to pay you?
Of course they’re surprised. And the customers and our readers, just like the industry, are curious about how we can keep our  business without any financial support from the brands. And that’s where our business’s point lies. We want to show them we can build a good business without following money. And keeping our original intention will be the most important thing to do that.

So what is the business model? Does you make all your money from the cover price? 
We’ve already seen some positive signs with the sales profit. The whole copies of eight issues have sold out and three of them are already in the process of the second printing, and issue no. 6 Lush was sold out within the releasing month. As you asked, many people also wonder how we can maintain our business whilst we don’t receive any financial supports from the brands featured in our publication. But it’s our strong will. As all the brands we introduce in Magazine B do, we want to think outside the box. We would like to prove that we can actually do what we believe ‘right’, rather than just following the money.

How many copies do you print?
B is published in two different languages: Korean and English, and 25,000 copies in each language.

That’s a lot! Where is Magazine B sold?
In Korea, a few popular independent book shops and most major bookshop chains regularly stock our magazine both offline and online. In Europe, we deal with a couple of independent bookshops and also Design Museum London as our retailers, but we’re still in the early stage of overseas sales. We’re keeping exploring new global sales and promotional routes. For instance, last month, we introduced Magazine B for the first time in the US through the online flash sale site

Would you ever want to move beyond the print magazine to work closely with brands in other media?
That would be a great idea. The possibility is wide open. At the same time, however, we’re very aware of the value of the paper media. It’s not about something classical, it’s about the human nature. I don’t think the ‘media 3.0’ era will come only in the digital fields. Paper media will progress for itself, and we aspire to be a part of the change. This doesn’t mean that we prefer papers to digital media. We’re already considering the expansion in mind, but paper gives irreplaceable emotional value to human beings in certain point. We’re going to keep that special relationship no matter what way we transform into.


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