Earlier this week in London, the great and the good of independent magazine publishing gathered to celebrate the inaugural Stack Awards. We were there to look back over a remarkable year in this rapidly maturing industry, but more than anything the night felt like the start of something, a new era in indie magazines.
The awards, organized by indie magazine subscription service Stack, aim to celebrate the most creative and exciting contributions to this growing field. Steve Watson, creator of Stack and the Stack Awards, has spoken about how the big awards schemes fail to keep up with the rising tide of indie titles, while smaller, ad-hoc awards programs lack professional rigor. “I set myself the challenge of stealing the best bits from the big awards schemes (expert judges, paid submissions, and a wide variety of magazines) and the best bits from the small awards (accessibility, passion, and an emphasis on excitement and innovation),” he wrote recently on Medium.
So who won? New York-based literary magazine American Chordata scooped Best Original Fiction, slow news mag Delayed Gratification took best Non-Fiction, and U.S. sports journey Victory topped Best Photography.
Dublin’s Guts was awarded Best Cover for its image of a jay cloth heart clasped in a washing-gloved hand. Weapons of Reason won both Best Use of Illustration and Launch of the Year. Judges for these categories included award-winning novelist Evie Wyld, Man Booker Prize judge Alex Clark, co-founder and curator of Singapore magazine retailer Magpie, Ben Hillwood Harris of London bookstore and magazine specialist Artwords, and lauded journalist Lynn Barber (yes, that Lynn Barber from An Education).
The evening climaxed with the coveted Magazine of the Year Award, a category I judged along with magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie. The competition was extremely stiff; so many of the 15 shortlisted magazines were on-point for art direction, design, writing, ideas, and execution. To choose a winner we had to think beyond the titles that are doing everything right, to which ones are re-defining the genre altogether. We asked ourselves which magazines felt most relevant today, which were breaking new ground in the form, which were most essential, which had us hankering for the next issue, and, ultimately, which made us most excited about the future of magazine publishing.
The first of our two Commended titles (a.k.a. the runners up) was Flaneur, a nomadic magazine that takes its name from the complicated French word for stroller. For Flaneur, the process is the product. Each issue focuses on a single street in a different city, and starts with the editorial team giving it a thorough walk to find the right street to focus on. It grows organically from there in a freeform method that would terrify most magazine makers. It ends with a beautifully executed artifact that’s quite unlike any other magazine. It’s a highly original and perfectly executed concept that reinvents how magazines get made.
The Outpost, the second of our Commended titles and winner of the Subscriber’s Choice Award, describes itself as a magazine of possibilities. It’s not only a great looking, great reading, and great feeling magazine, it also challenges our ideas about what a magazine can achieve by asking: can a magazine make the world a better place? Published in Beirut, its focus is the Arab world, but the themes it deals with are universal. It’s thoughtful, intelligent, experimental, and above all ambitious—it had to be in our top three.
But in the end there could only be one winner. The more we discussed it the more it became clear that it had to be The Gourmand. Officially a food magazine, The Gourmand transcends its category by excelling in every area, including art direction, design, writing, image making, commissioning, and production. Every time you turn the page there’s a surprise. You’re left excited for the next issue and wondering what creative twists and turns they can possibly take next. This is a magazine to read from cover to cover and keep forever; a desert island title. It raises the bar not only for indies, but for magazines as a whole, leading the charge for a new tier of super independents.
The Stack Awards set out to honor creativity in indie publishing, but I think it’s achieved more than that. This is a landmark in the growth of a rapidly maturing industry and a shot in the arm for anyone with any doubts about the future of creativity in print.