If you’re an indie mag fan or publisher then you’re probably excited by the announcement that subscription service Stack will be hosting their very own magazine awards: The Stack Awards. Categories have been tailored to the unique circumstances of the independent publishing world and include the likes of “Launch of the Year” and “Best Use of Illustration,” as well as the more established, senior categories like “Magazine of the Year.” Writers will be delighted to see awards for fiction and non-fiction, as will photographers and infographic designers who have their own separate categories, too.

Stack have kept the entry fee low and has assembled a well-versed panel of judges (including magCulture’s own Jeremy Leslie and author Ruth Jamieson, who you can catch moderating our independent magazine panel at Designers & Books Fair this weekend). We catch up with Steve Watson from Stack to find out more.

Tell us about The Stack Awards—what are they, and why now?
They’re an awards scheme made specifically for independent publishers. There’s so much fantastic work being done at the moment, and I felt like it was time for a proper awards scheme that will recognize the very best independent magazines. Practically that means the Stack Awards needs to do a few things:

First, they need to be affordable. The majority of magazine awards schemes need to make money for the organizations that run them—and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but if you’re a small independent publisher you just don’t have the money to spend on an expensive awards entry, and even more expensive tickets to the ceremony. The Stack Awards cost just £30 (about $45) to enter, and tickets to the ceremony will also be £30 (and will include food and drink and a totally mega night out with other independent magazine makers).

Next, we need an amazing panel of judges. It’s always risky doing something like this because you’re inevitably sticking your neck out and saying that this magazine is better than that magazine, etc. The only way to do that legitimately is to say that the judges really know what they’re talking about, and that they really spent a lot of time deliberating over their decision. Our judges are a mix of independent magazine insiders and people who aren’t at all associated with independent publishing, but who are right at the top of their game, and they will all spend a month living with the shortlisted titles to make sure they come to their judging with real passion.

And finally, the awards need reach. There’s a danger with independent magazines that they can get stuck in a sort of hipster ghetto, but I want to show that these magazines are genuinely excellent, and you don’t need to have a certain type of haircut to enjoy them. The breadth of the judging panel will help with that, but I’ll also be working hard to PR the awards across the mainstream press to try to show people who have never read an independent magazine before that there’s something really fantastic going on over here.

How did you select the eight categories?
Good question! I started out with substantially more, but whittled them down to what I think are eight core areas. This is the first time I’ve done anything like this, so I knew I’d have to keep it manageable and not stretch myself too thinly. Within those constraints, I wanted to be able to recognize the essential skills of magazine making, so the writing, photography, illustration, etc., as well as the overall impact of great magazines. That means that, for example, there’s no “Editor of the year” or “Art director of the year,” but I decided that was a price worth paying. I may change my mind on that next year.

Often awards will focus either on design or editorial. Why is it important to you that The Stack Awards bridge both?
Because for me magazines are about bringing all those skills together—that’s always what I found most exciting when I was making magazines myself, and it’s a total joy when you open a magazine and you see amazing writers, photographers, and illustrators being brought together by an editor and an art director who have a really clear shared vision.

How else will The Stack Awards be different from the other magazine awards out there?
The main difference is that they’re intended to work specifically with independent magazines, so they will focus on rewarding the things that independent publishers do well. For example, I’ve been involved in the past with magazine awards that ask entrants to show return on investment, brand awareness, evidence of efficacy, etc. That makes absolute sense if you’re a corporate publisher, but independents just don’t have access to that sort of information.

Instead, the focus for The Stack Awards is on originality, innovation, and clarity. We’re looking for original ideas communicated clearly and with a desire to do something new. Again, it comes down to that thrill you get when you see a group of people working together to create something that’s utterly their own.

With some awards, it’s often the case that we see the same old faces each year round. Do you worry that a similar thing could happen amongst the independent magazines you’ll be judging?
That’s interesting. I’ve been so focused on making this thing happen for the first time that I haven’t had chance to worry about how it will age. I don’t think it would be a problem if we saw certain titles cropping up year after year. The fact is that there are some really terrific titles out there doing exceptional work, and I think it’s healthy for the industry as a whole that we have those leading lights. And also there are just so many exciting new titles coming out that I don’t think things are going to get boring any time soon.

What will The Stack Awards be looking for when choosing its Magazine of the Year?
That’s really the award for the best of the best. It will be a magazine that has demonstrated the originality, innovation, and clarity we’re looking for in a really polished, convincing package. I’m looking forward to the judging sessions to see what gets the judges excited. I’ve chosen Jeremy and Ruth to judge that one because they have a really great understanding of magazine publishing as a whole, and they’ll be able to bring that perspective to the task.

And when will you be announcing the shortlists?
The shortlist will go up on the Stack site on October 19. To hit that we need to actually have all the magazines with us by October 9, so I’m telling all publishers not to leave it until last minute—get those entries in ASAP!

This article was originally published on magCulture.com.