Making a travel magazine: Boat

by Steve Watson in March 2013
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Boat travel

Have you ever thought about making your own travel magazine? If so you should come along to our Guardian Masterclass on 2 April, which will tell you all you need to know about going it alone and making a quality magazine.

I’ll be giving an overview of the state of independent publishing, highlighting some notable success stories and pointing out a few of the pitfalls magazine makers should avoid.

Then the experts will take over, with Conor Purcell, editor and publisher of We Are Here magazine and Davey Spens, creative director of Boat magazine, speaking about their experiences of making their own titles. They know more than anyone else about the realities of bringing an independent travel magazine into the world, and this will be the perfect opportunity to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

Want to know more? Read on for a preview of Davey on publishing a travel magazine, and watch out for a brief interview with Conor popping up here next week. And if you’re thinking about coming along on the 2nd make sure you book ahead – we ran a few of these masterclasses at the Guardian last year and they all sold out.

Five minutes with Boat creative director Davey Spens…

On travel magazines
Travel magazines can be quite formulaic and there’s a hunger amongst a younger generation of travellers who want something different. They don’t want to be served up the same diet of sightseeing and tastes that everyone else is doing. They want to go somewhere different – they want to go to places that are complicated and off the tourist map, because they don’t want to be tourists, they want to be travellers.

On being different
Our travel magazine is about people, not places – you’ll barely see a landscape in there because we’re all about the people and the living city. It gives a more three-dimensional view of a living city. Our test is if you type ‘Kyoto’ into Google Images, none of those images should pop up in our magazine. It would be tragic if our London issue had resembled anything you could find on Google Images… We lean so heavily on the internet for research these days and it’s a brilliant thing, but you’ve got to get out there and experience places too.

On print
The important thing about print is creating a document that has a sense of permanence. There’s nothing like the experience of spending a couple of hours with a magazine and reading it from cover to cover. Our magazine isn’t designed to be dipped into and out of and used as a guide – it’s intended to be read from cover to cover. As a piece of print you have the ability to control how the reader interacts with you in a way you’re less able to do with digital, and that enables us to really lead the conversation and I think there’s something nice about that. Whereas online the control is in my mouse click.

On digital
Digital gives us a reach we could never have had if we were reliant on people just discovering us in magazine shops, especially because we’re always being put in the wrong section (to this day Boat is often found amongst the boating magazines in WHSmith). We use the internet as our main sales device, and the stories we post online reflect the spirit of the magazine, but they could never do justice to immersing yourself in a city for two weeks.

On advertising
Boat magazine was never a smart business decision. We’re not here trying to exploit a loophole or a gap in the market – it comes totally from the passions of the people who set it up and the people who give their time and money to make it happen. As such when we look for advertising we want it to reflect the cities we’ve been to, and we want to promote some of the brands and places from those cities. In Detroit Ford took out both spaces, and for Athens we had two great Greek companies advertise with us, so it’s part of trying to reflect the spirit of the place. In Kyoto we’re changing it slightly – there will be a few more ads. Like the bus company is giving us free transit from Tokyo to Kyoto in these cocoon beds in return for ad space, so we’re trading because Japan is so bloody expensive!

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