Whatever else went down in 2016, it was a strong year for magazines; this will go down in the books as the year independent publishing came of age. And with 2017 promising more of the same, we can’t wait to turn the page on the New Year. We spoke to some of the industry’s finest about their print highlights from the past year and what they’re most looking forward to reading in 2017.

  1. F*ck perfection: who’s sick of overly precious, overly curated minimalist mags, say aye! The next wave of magazines will be fast, cheap, and fun.
  2. No more Mr. Nice Guy: now that all the feel-good lifestyle niches have been filled, we’re overdue for some honest, thought-provoking, and accessible political discussion.
  3. The new niche: people are loving the new wave of experimental writing and publishing around seemingly mundane daily objects. Your quotidian life is about to get way more interesting.
  4. Print and digital become BFFs: as print magazines learn how to grow their brand and business, we’ll see more inventive cross-platform experiences.
  5. Go slow: marketing and distribution is still a tricky bitch for most mag makers, and we’ll see more titles go to a biannual or annual model.

Now, the experts in their own words:

Modes of Criticism 2
Modes of Criticism 2

Thorsten Keller, founder of Coffee Table Mags shop, Hamburg
How would you characterize the past year in magazines?
The independent magazines market is at a point where it isn’t enough to produce a beautiful magazine; you now need clear mission or message to set you apart. In 2016 I saw more magazines that address a small readership, but do it in such a direct way that they build a community around them. Like MC1R from Hamburg, which manages to strike a chord with redheads around the world.

How will things evolve in 2017?
Independent magazines often have small readerships, so as more enter the market, it will become more difficult to survive. Finding a niche and not just creating another feel-good lifestyle magazine will be the important thing in 2017.

I also think maybe people are getting tired of the perfection of independent magazines. Maybe not the readers, but the editors are. They are starting second magazines that are not so clean and minimal, and are produced on very cheap paper just for the fun of it.

And your hot tip for 2017?
I’m really locking forward to the second issue of Water Journal. Issue 1 really surprised me by taking a generic theme like water and creating a wonderful magazine full of surprisingly interesting stories. I am very curious about how they will continue with issue 2.

Water Journal Volume One
Water Journal Volume One

Steve Watson, owner of Stack Magazines, an independent magazine subscription service
How would you characterize the past year in magazines?
We’ve seen more of the passion and excitement that has been driving independent publishing for the last few years; it’s been incredible to see so many great new launches, as well as more established titles cementing their place. I’m always interested in the magazines that do things differently, and I’d say the most surprising new title has been Sabat, a magazine for the modern-day witch. I’d never even heard of the 21st-century witch phenomenon, but the magazine opened my eyes to this fascinating feminist subculture that has sprung up all around the world. And the design of the magazine is really beautifully considered, with all sorts of occult-inspired secrets to uncover.

In terms of a magazine that has cemented its place, I can’t quite believe that Ladybeard only started at the end of 2015. It has really tapped into something and has quickly built a passionate following; it was one of the first magazines to sell out at our annual charity sale Magazines for Good, and people kept asking for it all afternoon.

But the magazine that has impressed me most has to be Real Review, winner of Launch of the Year at this year’s Stack Awards. I just love that an architecture magazine has rethought the structure of the magazine itself, adding an extra fold to elevate the cheap, thin paper and turn it into something you haven’t seen before. I also like that it’s engaging with the tradition of the review, reflecting on the world, and asking difficult questions rather than presenting a series of simple, easy-to-digest stories.

How will things evolve in 2017?
Independent publishing is driven by people making something they believe in, and I can’t see that changing. We’ll see more magazines following the example set by Real Review and making smaller, lighter, and cheaper magazines, but filling them with fantastic quality content. The current format of thick, expensive independent magazines can be seen as a response to the mainstream cutting their production budgets and making cheaper, thinner magazines. The thick, heavy magazine was an exception to the rule. Now that has become the norm. I’m really interested in the magazines that are challenging that, like Real Review or Sofa.

We’ll also see more brands and businesses making independent style magazines. Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry this summer was a brilliant example of how this type of magazine making is crossing over into the mainstream, and I think we’ll see more of that in 2017.

And your hot tip for 2017?
I’m really looking forward to the new magazine coming in summer 2017 from Gym Class’ Steven Gregor, which promises to bridge the gap between indies and mainstream.

Sofa Magazine Issue 1
Sofa Magazine Issue 1

Jeremy Leslie, founder of magCulture 
How would you characterize the past year in magazines?
2016 has been another hugely exciting year. On a personal level, the magCulture shop celebrated its first birthday and it’s been brilliant seeing how people look at and interact with magazines, especially ones I love. It’s reassuring to see how many of the mags we stock are made by young people. This is not a nostalgia, but a rebirth.

On a more general level, we’ve continued to see small indies develop and grow. There are now two distinct levels of independent magazine, with some hitting a serious level of scale. Delayed Gratification, The Gentlewoman, Kinfolk, are among those with serious audiences that exceed the small, passionate readership of smaller titles. For some magazines being labeled independent is very important—it’s a part of their make-up—but we need to somehow acknowledge and differentiate between the small and the big. I see “small” and “big” as an alternate set of axis to “indie” and “mainstream.” All have their uses.

There is a move away from the big, bookish, matte stock, minimalist look toward a rougher, down and dirty physical format. And while content is hugely varied, there’s been a rise in the number of overtly “serious” titles, like Real Review, Ladybeard, and Migrant Journal. I’m also always excited by the more experimental end of the spectrum, like Voortuin, Ordinary, Rubbish Famzine… the ones testing what a magazine is. There’s great things happening in these various sectors.

On the practical side, magazines have continued to face the huge issue of distribution.

How will things evolve in 2017?
I don’t see a slowdown in the number of new magazines, but the cycle of birth and death will continue. There is a huge space around the political that I’d like to see occupied. I hope we’ll see more down-and-dirty simple formats packing progressive political thought cheaply, accessibly, and cleverly. The alternatives, the independents, need to challenge the rest of the media landscape more than ever at this time.

In terms of design, it’s all cyclical. The big bookish mags were a rebellion against the commoditized print in the mainstream. Now we’re seeing a revolt against that perceived indie cliché. But I don’t think Cereal or Kinfolk will fade away anytime soon. They have a committed set of readers. The magazine universe needs to continue to be rich and varied. We can’t all like everything.

And your hot tip for 2017?
It’s been getting a lot of attention recently, but right now my firm favourite remains MacGuffin. I’m already excited about their next issue, The Sink. It combines everything you want from a magazine. It’s very well researched, written, and designed while being an experimental conceptual piece of publishing. It’s rare to find both of these things in a single magazine. It genuinely stretches the form while retaining a familiar magazine format. And it’s intelligent and fun, meaning it’s able to explain design to people that aren’t design literate, and without them realizing it.

Sabat II: The Mother Issue
Sabat II: The Mother Issue

Busra Erkara, deputy editor, Wayward Wild
How would you characterize the past year in magazines?
Going biannual or once-a-year was definitely a necessity this year, as was getting leaner with content (and that applies to anyone from independent magazines to Teen Vogue.) Finally, with the help of technology, there are also better cross-platform experiences for publications who utilize them.

I feel like 2016 was the year print content adjusted itself to be more internet-friendly. At the end of 2016, I see print content more in negotiation with the internet than being an “antidote” to it, which I think was something it was going for in 2015. A good example of a high quality print story put together with digital in mind is Wonderland’s Kim Kardashian West story, shot by Petra Collins.

On the business side, the mainstream ad dollars for independent magazines are almost completely gone, but we’re seeing something interesting happening. In addition to independent brands supporting independent magazines, whole creative communities started supporting print publications and vice versa. I feel like the worlds of art, literature, and technology are more clustered together than they’ve ever been in the last five years.

One 2016 standout launch I can think of immediately from this year was Rough Trade Magazine. A lot of people who loved Pitchfork Review really welcomed it. And there’s definitely a lesson there that any brand with a visual aspect and a strong identity could be a magazine.

How will things evolve in 2017?
The fetishization of print will continue. Magazines have become more like specialty books. It’s even more about the experience than it was before. Super large format publications like Victory, 212 Magazine, and Unemployed come to mind. These are magazines that you can’t read on the subway.

Meanwhile, I think a lot of the new, standalone print magazines that mushroomed in the last two years will cease to exist. They need to either digitize properly, run their own studio, or do event series, if not all of the above. Their content needs to live, in some version or form, on the internet, and be seamless, un-obscure, and easily findable. Lucky Peach did this really well, and is the best example I can think of. If we know one thing about print magazines it’s that no one gets to stay in the business by just being a really great print magazine. Making a magazine is half the battle.

I also think people are starting to find more value in archival issues and information. The Paris Review just relaunched its website and made their entire archives available. Holiday, a cult magazine with an immense history, which relaunched in 2015 went to great new heights in 2016. I would be thrilled to see a revival of Nest Magazine in the right hands, rather than seeing another new interior design magazine. I would love to have a better way to access the entire Believer archive, whether it’s through a subscription model or something else.

Technology and information consumption-wise, I think we’re at the early stages of a huge transition, and it would be good to think about what we want to keep from 20 years ago before going ahead and making more content. Now is the time to call those shots.

Personally, I’m very sick of the cult of curation, minimalism, and order. I think honesty, disorder, and a healthy dose of anger is what is coming up next, culturally. Definitely protest, and anarchy, almost. I really can’t wait for it.

I also hope people stop calling themselves things like Editorial Magazine.

And your hot tip for 2017?
I recently found out about Sirene Journal, which has been described as a “love letter to the sea,” and it sounds like niche publishing at its finest to me. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

I also really look forward to checking out Hearts Magazine, which came out pretty recently but I haven’t had the chance to look at yet. And I’m always excited to pick up new issues of Brownbook and Slanted magazines.

Real Review #2
Real Review #2

Professor Teal Triggs, associate dean of the school of communication, Royal College of Art
How would you characterize the past year in magazines?
By their weight, in terms of 1) the increased bulk of magazines, 2) visual weight offered by design and illustration, and importantly, 3) the weight of critical engagement.

The reasons why people are publishing has certainly shifted. We have moved from an economic for-profit model to a for-love model. Magazines have become outlets for creative practices and sharing these with like-minded readers, all of whom who want to belong to a broader magazine community.

One key 2016 launch, for me, although I am slightly biased, is Accent magazine, which is published online and in print by Lucy Nurnberg and Lydia Garnett, and art directed by RCA graduates Luke Tudor Griffiths and Charlotte Maeva Perret. Accent is successfully finding its voice by exploring the extraordinary in everyday lives. The design is clean and respectful with the subjects’ lived experiences told through insightful photographic and textual narratives.

How will things evolve in 2017?
There will be more documenting and critically engaging with the minutia of daily lives, but always through new experimental writing and publishing platforms. We will see more collaborative and participatory publishing ecologies emerging, which will be responding to and changing the way we write, design, and how we experience reading.

Longform critical writing will increase in popularity as we try to make more sense of this post-truth period. I predict we will see even more indie magazines addressing issues relevant to specialist and niche readerships. We’ll also see some emerge in response to shifts in demographic and political landscapes. One hopeful, emerging trend, for me, is designers becoming the new critical writers. The graphic design magazine Modes of Criticism produced out of Portugal by Francisco Laranjo, is a case in point.

And your hot tip for 2017?
I want to be surprised! So I’ll be rushing out to see what new art and design school-based publications emerge during the final degree shows next summer. This is where we see the formation of new ideas and collaborations which often lead to new publishing ventures. Watch this space.

MacGuffin No3
MacGuffin No

Sasha Simic, magazine sales rep and publisher liaison for Central Books
How would you characterize the past year in magazines?
2016 continued the very welcome trend of strong, new titles that cater to a very specific subject and readership. They’re almost bespoke magazines and are frequently beautifully turned out. Special mentions should go to The Plant for the way it looks at cultural aspects of horticulture; Dirty Furniture, for its approach to furnishings in culture; and Eight by Eight, a football title like no other, all of which Central Books distribute. Also Nez – La Revue Olfactive, which we don’t distribute but wish we did. Another welcome trend is the continued growth of retail outlets that only (or mostly) sell magazines. Do You Read Me? In Berlin and magCulture in London are well established, but they’ve recently been joined by outlets such as Magazine Brighton and Magalleria in Bath. They’re all wonderful places to shop and have more in common with art galleries than with newsagents—no disrespect to newsagents.

How will things evolve in 2017?
Both magazine publishing and retailing will continue their modest, but real growth. Print is here to stay.

I hope that the disastrous election of Trump in the U.S. will lead to a greater interest in and a growth of radical political titles. 2016 marked the 500th anniversary of Thomas Moore’s Utopia. In addition, 2017 will mark the centenary of both of Russia’s revolutions. I think it’s high time for more Utopias and more maps about how to get there. The alternative is the barbarism the likes of Trump are peddling.

I think there’s an audience for most magazines out there somewhere. The problem is getting it into the market. While there’s a welcome growth of outlets for art and design titles, there are not the same sort of outlets for literary magazines or history titles. Very good magazines suffer for want of decent market penetration.

And your hot tip for 2017?
One of the highlights of what was otherwise a very bleak 2016 was 2000AD comics celebrating its 2000th issue last September; it’ll celebrate its 40th anniversary in February 2017. After a well-documented, but fortunately brief creative dip in the mid-90s, this seminal title is once again showing the same imaginative brilliance which revolutionized the comics industry and gave the world Judge Dredd, Strongtium Dog, and Halo Jones. There’s a consistent excellence to the title with each and every issue. 2000AD still feels like an independent magazine. Long may it continue.