Why make an independent magazine?

by Steve Watson in March 2022
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I’m always fascinated by the question of why somebody decides to make a print magazine. It’s such a difficult, time-consuming and expensive thing to do, and yet we see new titles popping up almost every day, joining the old favourites that have been at it for years.

Every time we send out a surprise magazine to our subscribers we ask the editors / designers / publishers why they do what they do, and over the last 13 years we’ve built up a wealth of responses in our magazine archive. There’s some wonderful stuff in there – inspiring and exciting, the short Q&As offer a window onto the world as seen by independent print publishers. It’s worth taking a scroll through the whole thing, but since there’s a lot in there I’ve also pulled out my favourites below – one per year from 2009 to 2021.

I put these same texts up on Twitter last week as one long thread, but the whole thing became a bit cumbersome, so I’m hoping that this blog post will feel more scrollable and easier to use. It also gives me the chance to add in a few thoughts that came up while I was pulling it all together.

First, I was struck by the number of people who mention the importance of print being both permanent and disposable – something that will sit on a shelf and potentially last forever, but which can also be dropped into the recycling bin without too many guilty feelings. Stack launched in the early days of social media, and there has always been a sense of these magazines acting as some kind of foil to the speed, transience and algorithmic targeting of the big social networks, and I think that has an influence here too.

I was also really pleased to see ideas of rebellion and troublemaking cropping up across the years. The notion seems to be that these small, independent titles operate outside the restrictions that come with pleasing a client or achieving broad, mainstream success, so they’re a great way of challenging authority and questioning the status quo. I didn’t include it in the selection below (I had to leave out loads of great quotes) but Zan Boag, editor of The New Philosopher, which we sent out in May 2016, uses this rebellious tendency to draw a line from his magazine right back to the earliest magazine makers:

“Ever since the rise of magazines in the 1800s, thinkers from Dickens to Orwell have written magazine articles to challenge the status quo and critically analyse the direction in which society is heading. We aim to continue that tradition by publishing essays from leading writers and philosophers, featuring prominent artists and photographers with something to say, and running interviews with the great thinkers of our time.”

I really like that through line, and the notion that there’s some critical, challenging trait that unites independent publishers through the years.

And finally, I was struck by the number of people who speak about magazines as being a great way of combining things. On the simplest level that can be the combination of words and pictures on a page, but there’s also the combination of ideas and opinions that wouldn’t ordinarily sit alongside each other, and the combination of diverse perspectives that can be brought together under the banner of a magazine title.

Bringing these quotes together in one place, I realised that all my favourite magazines do a brilliant job of this combining function, helping to present the world in ways I wouldn’t otherwise see it. Take a look below and you’ll see that the notion of combining weaves its way through lots of the quotes in various different ways, but check the ones from Delayed Gratification, The Outpost and MacGuffin for some particularly good examples…

Dec 2009 – Eye

“It’s a great medium. At its best, a magazine can be a great marriage of content and design – slower and more considered than newspapers or blogs, but speedier and less permanent or daunting than a book. A quarterly is a good pace at which to reflect upon the constantly evolving present, and to re-evaluate and rediscover what’s gone before.”
John L Walters, editor

Read the full interview
Buy Eye in the Stack shop

Jan 2010 – Zoetrope

“There’s an opportunity to be experimental, to take chances. As well, I appreciate that so much work and thought can be poured into a vessel that’s essentially disposable, transitory.”
Michael Ray, editor

Read the full interview
Buy Zoetrope in the Stack shop

May 2011 – Delayed Gratification

“I love the fact that ideas are the currency of good magazines and that each one is packed with tons of them. You can bring together lots of totally disparate subjects in one place, united only by the fact that they’re fascinating. I also love how passionate people feel about magazines they identify with and respect.”
Rob Orchard, editor

Read the full interview
Buy Delayed Gratification in the Stack shop

Feb 2012 – Huck

“Magazines are unique in that they can potentially combine great literary journalism with beautiful photography. And I’m a sucker for text and images. When beautifully combined, it’s pure magic. Plus, I think a genuinely free media that illuminates and challenges authority is key to any functioning democracy. That has certainly been a personal motivation.”
Vince Medeiros, publishing director

Read the full interview
Buy Huck in the Stack shop

Jan 2013 – Little White Lies
“I love movies, and in this industry I get to build a gorgeous shrine to that passion every two months.”
David Jenkins, editor

Read the full interview
Buy Little White Lies in the Stack shop

May 2014 – Offscreen
“I’m asking myself the same question most of the time. It’s certainly not an easy industry to be in, especially if you’re trying to make a living with it. I think I live off the feeling I get from unwrapping the first copy that comes back from the printer with every issue. It’s the ‘you made this thing a reality’ moment that keeps me going (unless I screwed something up). The idea that thousands of folks across the globe share that experience of unwrapping their own copy is empowering. I feel very lucky to have an amazing bunch of readers that send in the most heartfelt feedback.”
Kai Brach, editor

Read the full interview
Buy Offscreen in the Stack shop

Sept 2015 – The Outpost
“Because magazines matter. They can open people’s eyes to injustices and missed opportunities, they can shift perspectives and inspire thought, and they can offer a space for a group of people to imagine and dream of a better future. And by doing so, magazines can help in changing the world. Or not to sound overly ambitious, they can help in making the world a tiny bit better.”
Ibrahim Nehme, editor-in-chief

Read the full interview

Jan 2016 – The Lifted Brow
“There is work that should only appear in print magazines — or more accurately, there are particular pieces of writing and artwork that are best suited to be read in a print magazine, and if such work is published and read in another format, something is lost. Books are excellent, the internet is phenomenal, zines are ace, television is television, films come at you, gallery spaces are sepulchral, music lives in your core, and virtual reality is all-encompassing, but sometimes a piece of writing or a narrative comic or a double-page infographic hits home truly and only when it is encountered by a person who is inside that bubble that is formed when someone is head-down reading a magazine.”
Sam Cooney, publisher

Read the full interview
Buy The Lifted Brow in the Stack shop

May 2017 – Anxy
“We’ve all spent a lot of time making media of all kinds, especially in the digital world. It’s a lot of fun. But there’s something about making physical objects – things that you can bump into in your real life, things that allow you the time and focus away from the distractions of the screen – that really connects with the idea of living our lives a little better. Besides, nothing can replace beautiful type and imagery on paper, with that warm smell of fresh print.”
Indhira Rojas, creative director

Read the full interview

Oct 2018 – MacGuffin
“We thought it would be the best way to create layers of text and images that tell the stories we wanted to tell. Like a portable exhibition that you can keep and carry with you.”
Kirsten Algera and Ernst van der Hoeven, editors

Read the full interview
Buy MacGuffin in the Stack shop

Feb 2019 – The California Sunday
“I’m interested in how we tell stories and who we tell stories about. I love the magic of bringing together reporting, storytelling, art, and design in service of an idea. And in this moment when we’re all distracted, receiving and promptly forgetting a million fragments of information, I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell stories people will remember. Stories that might change the way people see the world around them.”
Douglas McGray, editor

Read the full interview
Buy The California Sunday in the Stack shop

May 2020 – Journal Safar
“Print magazines allow us to work together as a team to combine voices from many different fields and places and experiences into one beautiful, physical object which we hope readers will keep, cherish, and come back to. While so much is available online these days and forgotten instantly, we like that print magazines are more permanent, more present. Additionally, Safar aims specifically to document and share the visual culture and graphic design of the region [Lebanon and Middle East]. With that, printing and then distributing copies of this documentation all over the world in real, tangible, physical form is significant and powerful.”
Maya Moumne and Hatem Imam, editors

Read the full interview
Buy Safar in the Stack shop

Sept 2021 – Dirty Furniture
“Publishing these essays pushes us – each new issue surprises us and challenges how we think. It’s such a privilege to be able to do this. And as for the print factor – we still love the smell and allure of ink on a page. It’s just how we like to read.”
Anna Bates and Elizabeth Glickfeld, editors

Read the full interview
Buy Dirty Furniture in the Stack shop

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