2017 saw indie magazines rise to the challenge of our turbulent times, engaging with the year’s many social and political upheavals. In an industry that once prided itself on style, this was a year of substance. It was also the year of the good taste backlash, with magazines taking great bites out of the graphic design rulebook, chewing it up and vomiting gloriously all over magazine racks. If you like being mentally and visually challenged, this has been one hell of a year. But as our subscription to 2017 draws to a close, what will the newsstands of 2018 offer? We asked the industry’s finest to gaze into their crystal balls.
1. Things are going to get weirder
2017 saw readers tire of perfection, cleanness, and minimalism, and embrace deliberate mistakes, mess, and so-called “bad” design. But what’s next for the anti-design movement? “I think we’ll see things getting more weird,” says Steve Watson of Stack.“Magazines are drawing upon strangeness as a way of representing niche points of view, communities, or alternative ways of understanding the world.”
Angharad Lewis, author of So You Want To Publish A Magazine, agrees. “For me it’s been a year of the weird and wonderful, the ugly and the strange, in a good way. New mags and old have arrived apace with ugly-strange typography and frankly mental layouts and fearless photography, like MOLD, Buffalo Zine, Fukt, Accent. There’s a new energy now, and a future-looking tone and ethos to editorials. I hope this continues in 2018.”
2. Mags must have a mission
The annual Modmag conference and the Stack Awards, both of which take place in early winter, are always good indicators of the flavor of the publishing year to come. In 2017, both were peppered with magazines tackling big, complex themes. Migrant Journal, which concerns itself with circulation of people, goods, and information around the world, was the surprise hit of ModMag and walked away with two commendations at the Stack Awards.
Likewise many of its fellow winners and runners-up were concerned with hefty subjects, like mental health mag Anxy Magazine; Good Trouble, which covers resistance culture; and Weapons of Reason, which aims to explore the biggest global issues we face today. Even when general-interest mags were lauded, it was for dealing with big stuff, like cycling magazine Rouleur scooping a prize for its piece about Syrian immigrant cyclists in Germany.
“Over the last year I’ve been impressed by independents like Migrant Journal, MacGuffin, Real Review, and Double Dagger with real meat to their bones,” says Lewis, “where solid research, informed criticism, and outstanding production is center stage.” But how important will it be for magazines to have a mission in the coming year? “It’s the most important thing. If there’s no mission, there’s no magazine. Niches can no longer just be about a subject or genre, they have to take a standpoint.”
Migrant Journal art director and co-editor Isabel Seiffert agrees: “There are so many titles out there. If you really want to add another one, you should be sure to have a mission and a new perspective to share.”
3. Fashion will finally get interesting
We can’t mention the Stack Awards without talking about Magazine of the Year winner, Buffalo Zine. This nuclear reactor of creativity is an anomaly in the formulaic world of fashion publishing. Meanwhile, Nii Journal is challenging the lack of diversity in the field, and of course there’s a new editor at British Vogue.
Jeremy Leslie of Magculture explains the appeal of Buffalo: “For all its self-importance and desire to be seen as cutting edge and creative, the fashion industry is incredibly risk-averse and conservative. There’s too much money at stake, so it’s no surprise that fashion mags are just as safe and conservative. When a magazine does step out beyond the self-imposed safe zone, it’s worth taking notice. Buffalo is a thrilling magazine that happens to focus on fashion. Very contemporary and exciting fashion, but set within an editorial concept thats just as thrilling.
“Mushpit achieves this too, biting the hand that feeds them. Cause & Effect promises a new attitude, too. I’d love to see fashion mags being braver, maybe the success of these ones will encourage that in 2018. Maybe even Vogue might fly higher under its new editor. And pigs may fly!”
4. Special-edition covers will get even more specialized
While personalization has been around for a while, it’s struggled to fulfill its creative potential. So when Eye magazine released an issue with a mind-boggling 8,000 unique covers this year, it was a critical and commercial hit. Now that they’ve shown what’s possible, we can expect more magazine creatives playing in this space. Eye editor John Walters says, “Since the technology became available, we have occasionally discussed the idea of doing a variable data cover for Eye. I’d written a feature about MuirMcNeil’s approach to type design, saying that they ‘revel in the simplicity and beauty of type derived from maths.’
“It seemed like an ideal opportunity to use their designs with the Mosaic software that Pureprint (our regular printers) use for their HP Indigo presses. A lot of the peronsalization I’ve seen, especially in business-to-business mags, has been pretty dull at best, and at worst features your name misspelled on the cover. I hope that as art directors and designers start to understand the potential of programs like Mosaic, we’ll see more entertaining and beautiful covers. HP has released the D4D program, a kind of Mosaic-lite you can experiment with before going to press.”
For now though, Eye is taking a break from personalization. “We’re going to promote Eye 95, out early January, as featuring 8,000 identical covers!” says Walters.
5. We’ll all make some money at last
The commercial side of magazine making continues to be a challenge, but with new subscription service Subsail, membership service Patreon, and Issuu’s new digital sales functionality, could this be the year the money thing becomes less of a headache? Subsail’s Dan Rowden thinks so. “I think we’ll see more developed business ideas and strategies. The quality of output is already extremely high, now it’s time to make the business catch up. Subscriptions are very under-utilized by indie titles, but they’re a remarkable way to generate revenue. Not many industries have a recurring payment structure built in as standard! A lot of publishers struggle with subscriptions—either figuring out how best to sell them online, or handling all the data they produce. Subsail aims to make them more manageable, and therefore help publishers make more money. It’s working so far, we’re on track for over $20,000 in sales during December.”
Meanwhile Joe Hyrkin of Issuu points to a trend towards digital creation, distribution, monetization, and consumption for both mainstream and independent titles. “Between Patreon’s offerings and Issuu’s digital sales and a host of other ways to monetize and distribute digitally, indie publishers will see their day in the sun in 2018,” he says. “In fact, the larger subscription publishers will begin to follow their lead in terms of integrated monetization and digital sharing.”
Money-making comes with its own set of challenges though. Bethany Rose Lamont of mental health zine Doll Hospital is “stopping Doll Hospital after the next issue as [she is] concerned about the commodification of this culture. Self-advocacy and self-help is being twisted into sort of individualistic luxury lifestyle product. Certain mental health experiences are getting left behind in favor of more feel-good recovery stories.” It’s true that with money comes influence. The indie magazine industry must be careful to maintain the independent spirit that makes it so special.
6. Limited-run magazines
No longer is the success of a magazine measured in the number of issues it produces. In 2018 we’ll see more magazines that are here for a good time, not a long time, following in the footsteps of Weapons of Reason, Sabat (although it has already broken its three-issue promise with a fourth) and Works that Work. Watson says, “Limited-run magazines make a lot of sense. The last issue of Works That Work has just hit the shelves, and in that editor and publisher Peter Bil’ak explains that while we all get excited about new beginnings, it’s important to plan for the end of things. Works That Work is going out on a high, and now he’s free to explore other things. I think we’ll see more magazines considering their end from the beginning, partly because Kickstarter has become such a popular way for funding projects, and it encourages users to explain exactly what the whole product is, across different tiers of support.”
Jeremy Leslie agrees. “The limited run magazine is an extension of the basic premises of the print magazine,” he says. “Printed content is more selective and focused than the endless digital rabbit hole. It’s a concise edit of material: limited to 64 or 100 pages, and so many words per page. Why not also limit the issues? On the whole I think it frustrates readers—it’s a genuine shame to realize that the just-published tenth issue of design mag Works That Work will, as planned, be the last one. But it works well for the publisher. The endless cycle of making a magazine can drag you down, however thrilling the ups are. So a limited publishing series offers freedom from the endless schedule.”
Our parting plea: more support for mags by women of color
In 2017 indie publishing still remains overwhelming white, and that needs to change—especially when you consider the influence of independent publishing on the mainstream. If indie publishing becomes more diverse, then the wider publishing industry will, too. Magazines like gal-dem, Nii Journal, Burnt Roti, and Typical Girls are doing great things, but more needs to be done to support these magazines and titles like them.
When I spoke to gal-dem’s Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff earlier this year, she told me that “if there was a fund specifically for zines or magazines it would be incredibly helpful. It’s been hard to find people wanting to support us financially, which is particularly disappointing because we’ve had a lot of interest. That’s an ongoing story in the world of black and ethnic minority publishing, that it’s really hard to find advertisers because we don’t have the same security or the same contacts.”
Similarly, Bethany Rose Lamont says that the whiteness in indie publishing has become a vicious circle. “Even with open submissions, who are the people who will automatically be like ‘yes I will submit here’ with no feelings of doubt, or feeling unwelcome? More white, privileged zines leads to more people of the same background picking up the tools to make the next wave. Riot grrrl is a glaring example of this.”
I asked Sharan Dhaliwal of Burnt Roti what needs to change. “The rise of the quantity and quality of work [in magazines by women of color] is a reason to be optimistic, but there needs to be a systematic change,” she says. “The white men and women in power, making decisions such as who goes on the cover of a magazine need to be removed from power and replaced with young creatives who have the thirst, knowledge, and ability to do more.”
2018’s must reads
Steve Watson: Good Trouble. “I really enjoyed discovering them this year and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next.”
Jeremy Leslie: MacGuffin.“I’m anxiously awaiting a package due from Amsterdam containing their latest issue.”
Dan Rowden: Fare. “They started with a bang this year, and they’ve just announced their second issue focussing on Helsinki, my second home.”
Angharad Lewis: Matzine. “I’ve been involved in a small way in helping to bring about issue 14 and I can’t wait to read it.”
Isabel Seiffert: Reportagen. “This Swiss series is one of our favorite magazines. It always consists of six fascinating reports from around the globe looking at contemporary social and political issues. NICE magazine is a new indie title about to release its second issue in late January featuring the work of young talents from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. It’s part of a project called Klaym bringing young African visual artists to an international audience.”
Sharan Dhaliwal: Azeema Magazine. “It explores strength and femininity within Middle Eastern/North African women and women of color.”
Joe Hyrkin: Afar. “As someone who loves travel, I’m always excited about their new issue.”