Quick flick – Shoppinghour

by Steve Watson in July 2011
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Last week the new issue of Shoppinghour arrived on my desk. It’s issue seven but this is the first one I’ve seen, and it’s obvious from the first glance that this is a magazine seeking to do things differently.

The cover’s borders are filled with information, which is also carried through every other page of the magazine. It’s not unusual to see stuff like page numbers and author names around the edges of a magazine’s pages, but not normally as obtrusively as this. Look at it all!

The obsession with this sort of domineering, page-by-page metadata continues with these big, red overlays. There’s one for every story, telling the reader which pages contain words and which contain pictures. At first I liked the conceit – it takes a minute to work out what the numbers refer to, and I was quite charmed by the excessive pointlessness of it. I mean, I don’t need to be told where the pictures are within a story – I can see that.

But after a while the funny charm started to feel more like belligerence. The overlays aren’t used as highlights – they’re stamped on every story, at the same size and weight, so what starts out as a new and interesting idea quickly feels dogged.

That’s not to say that I don’t like the design. I really like the way Shoppinghour looks, especially its use of images and the way they sit alongside text. As with the overlays (at the beginning at least) it feels like somebody is trying to do something different, something a bit challenging.

And that’s true of the whole magazine. Shoppinghour is hugely ambitious, presenting big, difficult ideas in long, dense essays, articles and even a few stream of consciousness pieces. This issue is themed around the notion of rights, and the editor’s letter explains the impulse to take on these tough subjects: “Shoppinghour is driven by this need for critical, yet active, reconstructive scrutiny whereby the nuances of contemporary society and culture are exposed.”

Serious stuff, and some parts work better than others. I really enjoyed those stream of consciousness pieces by Jovita Berlin and I’d never have come across them if it weren’t for Shoppinghour putting them under my nose. But overall it’s just not quite as fun as it could be. That might seem like an irrelevant criticism – Shoppinghour is clearly intended to be a serious magazine, and there’s absolutely no doubt that its writers have got the chops to pull it off. It’s intelligent, informed and genuinely challenging, but I found myself struggling to stay with articles and see them through to the end. Even a piece like an interview with the graffiti artist who created Stik (below) becomes a bit plodding, a bit navel gazing. There’s a humour and humanity in Stik that works on a very basic level, and that gets lost in the seriousness of the interview.

With a slightly lighter touch Shoppinghour could have major widespread appeal. But then I suppose it wouldn’t be Shoppinghour.

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