Real Review 12
Delivered to Stack subscribers in  May 2022

by Steve Watson in June 2022
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Real Review looks and feels unlike any other magazine I’ve seen, thanks to an extra vertical fold that means it folds out from a tall, thin format, into an ultra-wide ‘quadruple-page spread’. It’s dedicated to understanding the forces that shape the world around us, asking, “what it means to live today”, and jumping from stories about the evolution of ancient mankind, to a review of the lateral flow process, to a nostalgic look back at the Yellow Pages. Scroll down to read our interview with editor Jack Self…

Jack Self

Job title

What is Real Review?
Real Review is “what it means to live today” – we are trying to describe contemporary life, and make sense of it all. We do this through a push-and-pull process of analysis and imagination. The result is what we call the “current mood” – an attempt to capture in a few hundred words our take on the ever-changing zeitgeist. The current mood for our 12th issue is “Absolute Proximity”, which describes how space and time have become miscalibrated. The pandemic kept us painfully apart, while the digital forces us painfully together. I think we all have screen fatigue. The conditions of contemporary life are leading to a feeling of claustrophobia (we all crave spaciousness) mixed with isolation (the things we want feel very far away). It is a paradox, that is what it means to live today.

What makes it different to the rest?
So much. We are a materialist magazine, so we focus intensely on specific objects and spaces that are just appearing or disappearing from everyday life – like lateral flow tests or the Yellow Pages. But we are also into symbolic meaning and narrative – how does it feel to live today, and how is that different from other times? For example, in the current issue philosophers Slavoj Zizek and Timothy Morton explore the idea that we might already be living in hell…

To my knowledge, at a circulation of 8,000 copies we are the largest independent publication in Europe to carry no advertising. They said it couldn’t be done. We fought hard to build a model with total editorial freedom – that does not rely on advertorial, commercial partnerships or sponsorship.

Real Review is print only. You cannot find any of our content online. That is in part because we respect the privacy of our readers: we don’t want to monetise them, to measure them or collect their metadata. This also means you have to buy it when it comes out: you can’t browse back issues if you don’t own them.

Maybe finally, and at the most superficial level, Real Review is the first magazine to use a vertical fold as a design element. The effect is to create a three-dimensional space of the page, and a constantly changing relationship between image and text. What I really like about this design is that it takes something really standard and common – the machine used to make horizontal folds in newspapers – and through a single simple move creates a completely new situation. That gives me a lot of hope about design generally. Even when you think there is no room for innovation of a model, even a very small change can radically alter the outcome.

Who makes Real Review?
Real Review is a small team: myself, our Assistant Editor Maddy Weavers, our designer Elif Tanman, and a cast of half a dozen contributing editors – friends and colleagues who help shape the magazine’s editorial agenda.

Who reads it?
We don’t really know. We don’t collect data on our readers!

Why do you work in magazines?
Magazines are like real estate. They have a cost per square foot. They have a finite area. This means you can create a consistent and complete editorial position with each issue – basically a series of rolling manifestos. The magazine, unlike the book or the website, has an ephemeral quality tied up in its physicality. The question of completeness, frequency and timeliness can only be addressed through magazines.

Aside from the print magazine, what else are you involved in?
Who is asking?

What would you change about Real Review if you could?
As a vehicle for defining the contemporary, its design and format are basically perfect. The only things I want to change are already changing: we keep pushing the limits of its aesthetic, and we are continuously evolving and maturing our position on the meaning of everyday life.

Where do you see Real Review in five years?
The pandemic taught me to focus on one day at a time, and I have abandoned a relationship with the future that could answer that question.

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