Prevailing wisdom is that if you want to have a successful business, don’t start an independent magazine. Flying in the face of such gloomy advice—and proving that indie publishing is, in fact, coming of age—media company Wayward Wild has just launched an exciting new incubator for up-and-coming titles, offering investment, expertise, and other essential services that free up fledgling publishers to concentrate on developing their brand instead of Googling “what is distribution?”
One of the first brands to benefit is Posture, a print and digital magazine exploring gender, queerness, sexuality, feminism, and race through fashion and artistic practice. We caught up with Wayward Wild’s founder and CEO Brad Smith, Posture’s editor-in-chief Winter Mendelson, and designer and illustrator Lotta Nieminen to find out what an indie incubator actually does and how it’s benefiting Posture. Oh, and we got a sneak preview of Posture’s hot new look, too.
First, can you tell us a little bit about Posture magazine?
Winter Mendelson: In 2012 I was 21, I had recently come out and moved to New York. I was really excited to find a queer community here. I love print so I immediately went to try and find publications covering queer culture and fashion and art, but I really didn’t find anything that was covering all kinds of identities. We have lesbian magazines and gay boy magazines and trans magazines. I identify as gender queer. A lot of people in New York do, or are starting to identify more on spectrums and outside of the binary. Even though that’s growing I just didn’t really see a publication dedicated to identity, so I was inspired to start my own.
I launched the site in 2013, then put out our first print issue last summer, and another this March. We signed with Wayward Wild this summer and now we’re officially starting on a biannual printing schedule, as well as building out the website and move into other arenas within digital.
Amongst other things, Wayward Wild is offering a Silicon Valley-style incubator for independent media publishers. Let’s talk about that.
Brad Smith: I’m from a tech background and our the aim with Wayward Wild is to bring together the best of technology and editorial expertise to help young websites, podcasts, web series, and print magazine publishers reach their potential. “Incubator” is really just the closest word we can use that people can relate to.
With Posture, for example, we don’t just say: here’s a check and some advice. Rather my team is deployed into Winter’s brand. We have pillars of expertise varying from editorial strategy to social media, to all the other facets that a growing media brand needs. We can then say, this month we’re working on building a better editorial strategy for Posture that will last for two to three years. This month we’re going to work on completely rebranding the design of the print magazine. Once that’s done we’ll redesign the website to be more cohesive with the print. We feel more like coworkers than that we’re incubating the brand and then say off you go, keep us posted. We dive in and get our hands dirty, whether that’s sales, printing, social media, or editorial strategy.
And Lotta, what’s your involvement?
Lotta Nieminen: I’m a graphic designer and illustrator and I’ve been working on the rebrand of the Posture print magazine. I work a lot on brand identity projects but my background is in editorial design. Editorial has always been really close to my heart and I was really excited when Brad reached out to me about this project because I hadn’t worked on full-on editorial projects in a little while. It’s really nice to come back to it with the things that I’ve learned from other types of graphic design.
There are a lot of independent publishers out there who I’m sure would love to benefit from Wayward Wild’s input. What makes a brand right for Wayward Wild?
Smith: We don’t build brands for the hell of building brands. We feel very passionate about certain issues and we want to foster content for the world that we want to live in. And we feel that Posture is doing something very important for a very large group of people. It’s something that needs to be created. You will not see us incubating a generic fashion magazine down the way, because that’s not who we are. What benefit is that giving society or a group of people? What good is it creating? What need is it fulfilling? If we don’t see a brand that can fulfill a need then it will not be a brand that we will work with.
Beyond Posture and the print element, we have several other brands that are digital only. We very much believe that print is alive and well, but we also know that for certain brands print doesn’t make sense. There’s a big difference between wanting to be in print and needing to be in print. Posture is a brand and entity that has to have a print extension. I can’t wait for you to get your hands on this new issue. It’s a head-turning, stunning piece.
Nieminen: I really, really love this new era of print. Maybe there are fewer things that get printed, but those that do are worth printing. To begin with, from an ecological standpoint, I’m all for that. Newspapers online, those things just make complete sense, and thinking about what is easy to digest in what form.
“The opportunity for us as designers is that if something is worth printing, then let’s make it look like it is as well. Make it something that feels good to touch, something very tactile, that’s a keepsake.”
For example, the cover stock for Posture is this pearlescent paper chosen by Winter and Wayward before I came on board. It is probably one of the first things that really lured me into the project. I could see that a lot of attention was going to be put on not just the design, but the actual tactile object as well.
Smith: I did learn to not show Winter the most expensive paper options, because then I don’t have anywhere to go from there. But it is stunning and unlike any cover stock that I have seen; it’s really going to help the design even more.
What kind of a difference has the relationship with Wayward Wild made to Posture already?
Mendelson: I’m self taught, so having access to such a wide array of expertise is making a real difference. It’s growing Posture exponentially just having people with editorial background. Having someone like Lotta as a senior designer has bought us up so many notches because there’s only so much that I can do being one person.
Smith: One big flaw that I saw with Posture was that Winter was doing this on nights and weekends. Yes, we’re assisting in printing the magazine and in bringing in Lotta, but the biggest thing was we needed the person who’s passion it is to be working on this all day long and not worrying about how bills are going to get paid.
Mendelson: That was the first step. I’m used to staying up really late and being pulled in a lot of directions. It’s really hard to manage other people when you don’t have time to do your own stuff. It’s made the content stronger. I’m able to plan for the future, and grow stronger relationships within the Wayward Wild team, too. That was August 1, and even just since then we’ve come light years.
Wayward Wild aims to tackle the unique needs and challenges of indie publishers. What do you see those needs and challenges as?
Mendelson: Money is definitely up there. Printing, design, finding talent, making strategic partnerships; it’s difficult to do anything without resources. To grow you need to have a really tight strategy, and relationships, and funding. Almost everyone I know that’s doing small print publishing is working a day job, they’re doing it for passion, but they don’t know major desingers, they don’t know major photographers, and these are the things that get you noticed.
Smith: A lot of the inspiration for the incubator and the style of growth came from my time over the last year and a half helping The Great Discontent on the business side. I came out of tech three years ago after running a DIY website builder company for eight years. The next thing I know I’m dealing with online editorial and print magazines.
I came to it with a very logical business perspective and started meeting brands like The Great Discontent, or Posture, or dozens of others. They all have very similar problems. The most successful print magazines are the one that can do the most things themselves. They can handle editorial in-house, the design, the social media, the public relations. They’re good marketers. You have to be a team of one, or in The Great Discontent’s case, a team of two. And that’s the key to their success. That means that there are a lot of ideas out there that need to exist, but will not exist for very long because of lack of resources and money. And those resources are the same; design, distribution, printing, marketing. Those are the pain points for any young growing media company.
Nieminen: My outlook is different because of my role. As a designer, I see huge opportunities in indie publishing. Obviously the things you get to do in a big publishing house can be amazing, but when nobody’s expecting you to meet these big, insane, out-of-this-world sales numbers, you can take more risks.
“From a designer’s point of view, indie publishing presents an opportunity to do something that’s more groundbreaking. You can still sell large quantities, but you get to do more boundary-pushing things.”
Part of the beauty of independent publishing is that it’s driven by a lot of self-taught creatives, and when people are self-taught they do things in different ways. Is there a danger that by bringing in experts we lose some of that creativity and that freedom?
Mendelson: What I like about Wayward Wild and the reason it excited me is that Posture runs as an independent brand, but Wayward offers consultation and services. I’m still the—I hate the word— visionary, and Wayward is just helping me make it better and make the work reach its highest potential. But I don’t feel like my creativity is stifled. I’m being handed resources so that I can become a better creator and create more.
Smith: We’re not looking to bring in brands and then change them, because that could break them. That’s not to say we might not have ideas and little course corrections, but the passion and the drive and ethos of the brand we will not be changing.
Nieminen: The danger with self publishing is that you take on too many roles. I do that sometimes as a design studio and I always try to remember that it’s important to collaborate and go to other people for expertise as well, letting everybody focus on what their core skill set is and bringing on other people to complement that. That’s how you can make something that really stands out.
Let’s talk about the redesign of Posture.
Nieminen: Posture has a tagline that I really love: “the creative expression of identity.” One of the things that was happening with the magazine before is it had a really fun feeling of not being stiff or restrictive. I wanted to retain that vibe, but still create something very cohesive.
The photography is pretty broad stylistically. Each shoot is more or less by a different team of people. That’s one of the strengths, but it does present a challenge for the design. How do you give them enough room to stand as pieces and still knit it all together to create a very cohesive experience? For me the answer to that was color, and that tied to the Posture tag line.
The other thing we used to create a cohesive experience was the typography. I went with a pretty narrowed down typography, just choosing two title typefaces: one serif that’s skinny and tall, and one sans serif that’s bold and wide. That and the overall use of color really helped to bring it together, whilst being another analogy for expression of identity.
Smith: Winter took a very big risk on Wayward and Lotta. We will not be naïve to say this has not been without bumps. It’s been finding that perfect spot between grown-up design and cohesiveness whilst still maintaining that feeling of creative exploration.
Mendelson: I’ve always wanted to move toward raising these topics to a level of sophistication. A lot of queer platforms come in zines or are really cut, and I wanted Posture to stand out and present these topics and themes to the world in a way that’s fun and bold, but has that grown-up sophistication. The moment someone picks up the issue I want them to be really excited about it and want to dive into it and take it seriously, not something that is just crazy and queer.
Nieminen: Early on I was slightly nervous about visualizing and interpreting a community that I’m not directly a part of, but Winter and Brad made me feel very comfortable and I felt trusted with the task. The other thing that’s interesting about the magazine is the idea of creating something that would lure anybody in, because the broader you can spread that message and those stories, the bigger the impact. So maybe being from an outside perspective can also be a strength.
What does the future hold for Posture?
Mendelson: Print has always been really important to me and I want that to be a key part of the brand, but I also really want Posture to be a multi-tiered brand: to build out the digital, have more events, build out our video, and develop a podcast. I want to continue to build different relationships and conversations with people and then ultimately develop e-commerce to work with designers, especially independent designers, and give them a platform to put their work out there.
I don’t want Posture to be gay, gay, gay and have it be really specific, because I think that scares people and I think people can have innate bias against a culture that they don’t understand. I want Posture to represent this lifestyle that can be for anybody, it’s not about policing someone’s identity or who they love, but about this openness and this freedom to explore yourself and your identity and to push boundaries.
And the future for Wayward Wild?
Smith: Our vision is to keep doing what we’re doing with Posture with other brands. In late 2017 we’re also going to build a venture fund for our brands. We’re going to continue to grow our creative studio and offer the creative services that we offer to Posture to much larger outside brands as well, on more of a client basis. We’re developing a union for writers, freelancers, and photographers—the people that make the least amount of money in the media industry today but do the most work.
“We’re going to try to set a new standard for how contributors to media are taken care of.”
We’re launching a consumer-facing podcast distribution platform so anyone that wants to create a podcast can easily distribute it to iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. We have plans to build a smarter content management system for editorial companies, so we will have a technology division as well. And that’s the sweet spot I think, we not only need to control the content, but we also need to have a hand in technology that helps deliver that content.
And Lotta, do you have the editorial bug again?
Nieminen: I think to be successful you need to be the right person for the job. I always want to come in with expertise and to know that I am one of the best people for that specific job. So in terms of my future I hope I get more of those projects. If that’s editorial, great!