When fans of print magazines see the name Omar Sosa, they immediately think of one thing: Apartamento (a.k.a. the bible of interior style). Cool new publications on niche topics may enjoy wide appeal now, but Apartamento, with its excellent editorial and striking design, was one of the very first to break through. Sosa admits that he started Apartamento with his business partner Nacho Alegre as an opportunity to work with photographers and creatives he loved, but it was also a chance for him to make the kind of magazine he actually wanted to read.
Although it has cult status now, Sosa says Apartamento’s success was a surprise; he and Alegre started with no business plan and low expectations. Setting up a magazine in 2007 at the start of the economic crisis, when many magazines were being shuttered, posed a clear challenge. But it may have been precisely these difficulties that gave new print titles an opportunity to flourish. “It allowed publications to focus on content instead of advertising revenue,” Sosa comments. “Readers became the most important factor, and quality advertising-free content was the rule again.”
This content-led approach has continued to develop over the years, and Sosa believes the prevalence of new magazines has been fueled by the greater opportunities for people to make and distribute publications without relying on expert knowledge or even support.
“We’re all sons of the internet,” he says. “Nowadays it’s easy to find great collaborators online, and there are thousands of talented photographers, writers, and illustrators.” He also points to a new world of independent magazine festivals, blogs, talks, and stores that have sprung up around the movement. But though the internet may be facilitating these new publications, Sosa believes the revival of print is also a direct response to it. “It’s probably a reaction against the permanent source of fast information on the screen, and the non-physicality of it,” he adds.
While readers and publishers may be rediscovering print, it brings its own challenges, and Sosa is realistic about its viability and the sacrifices it requires. “I wonder how many of these magazines survive for themselves, or make any money,” he says, reminding us about the sad truth that many independent mags don’t generate enough revenue for their makers to quit their day jobs. He recognizes that advertising can play a key role in this and explains that it’s been important for Apartamento’s development. “We always wanted to play the game from within the market. The journey would have been half fun without it, but we don’t put advertising before content, and we decide what goes in every issue depending on our own tastes.”
He also believes there’s a need to clearly differentiate between what is “truly” independent and what isn’t, remaining wary of magazines claiming the title despite having the support of a publishing or advertising organization. “Without the money of those groups, they wouldn’t be able to do what they do. You’re only truly independent when you can produce, print, and distribute your publication with the money you generate with sales and advertising. The rest are by-products of agencies. Nothing against them—we may become one of them one day–but they shouldn’t be called independent.”
For someone who’s been immersed in the scene for almost a decade, Sosa admits he rarely buys contemporary magazines (although he mentions Fantastic Man publishers Jop Van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers as well as The Gentlewoman as examples of how to succeed in the industry without selling your soul). These days he’s drawn to older magazines. “They’re time capsules, and have a huge cultural value just for that reason.”
For Sosa, making magazines has radically changed his outlook on design, which he now sees as far more than simply building a framework for content. The success of Apartamento has allowed him to open his own studio, which he has plans to expand in the United States. Sosa believes his work as a magazine maker is perhaps more about the opportunities to connect with a wider world than just making a beautiful print product; he compares the sensation of people reading a publication he’s designed with the kind of personal reward and connectivity that you get from social networks. “That becomes very addictive,” he says, “and, at least in my case, makes me want to be better.”