Much has been written about the role of digital media in the rise of independent publishing (spoiler alert, the internet doesn’t kill magazines). But thanks are also due to that great offline place of print worship: the magazine store. The joy of magazines is rooted in their physicality, so the people who love them are naturally drawn to physical spaces where they can be explored in the actual, real, touchable, smellable world. It’s where readerships cross-pollinate, where we discover new titles, get to hold and flick-through them before deciding which ones to take home.
Patronage from a key store can also make or break a new mag. And with more stores moving into events, their role in the print community is only set to grow. We caught up with Amanda Paixao from ARTBOOK @ MoMA PS1 and Ben Hillwood-Harris of London’s Artwords to find out more. After we first spoke, Paixao consulted with her colleagues Julie Ok and Anna Flinchbaugh and came back with some additional insights.
From a retailer’s perspective, how has the magazine world changed over the last few years?
Hillword-Harris: There’s been a complete explosion in magazine publishing and it’s incredible.
“There was a time when, if you talked about working as a bookseller, people would look at you sadly. The feeling was that’s a dying world and what was the point of publishing. Now everybody thinks it’s incredible and it’s so cool that you work in this field.”
The other change is that magazines are being published once or twice a year rather than 12 times. That’s meant a big change in people’s attitude to them. There’s much more care and attention. They’re beautifully crafted things. They are a collectable now, where in the past they were throwaway items.
Paixao: My colleague Julie has been with the Magazine Store since the beginning. She says it’s been a continuing trend of increasing amounts of niche publications since opening in 2012, and even since Print is Dead. Long Live Print came out in 2015. These magazines are people’s personal projects and voices. They have a great forward-thinking design sense, and expand existing topics into unfamiliar territory.
I also agree that there’s an increasingly archival sensibility when it comes to magazines. We definitely have our set of customers that reach out to us for each and every issue.
What role do you think stores like yours have played in the renaissance of print?
Paixao: The primary benefit is merchandizing and the ability to browse.
“The store is such a different experience from scrolling through a website. We don’t follow algorithms, so any visitor can find something new, something that they didn’t expect to find.”
It’s a more freeform place, drawing connections between publications. From a maker’s perspective, a brick-and-mortar magazine stores allows people to explore the tactility of the object, and that provides indie publishers with the opportunity to be more creative with the materials used.
Hillword-Harris: People who buy magazines now are serial collectors. Perhaps in the past they might have only wanted to buy one magazine. They might have come in, asked for Art Forum, said ‘Thank you very much’ and that’s it. Now people say, ‘Have you got Art Forum?’ and ‘Oh that magazine looks interesting, and that one looks interesting, and that one,’ and they buy more than one. So the shop operates to show them the variety. But they’re expecting the variety. They’re looking to have their interest fed.
What do you look for in a new title?
Paixao: I look for magazines that fill gaps and that can move across those gaps. There’s also the magazines that cross sections, that can go in the travel section or the food section.
“We’re moving away from the idea of the generic lifestyle magazine. There are so many niche focuses now.”
Hillword-Harris: Magazines need to speak directly to their readers. Our customers tend to be quite sophisticated. They’ve probably done a degree in art. Something being printed on paper is not enough. There needs to be a sophisticated story, a narrative about the world and other magazines as well. A magazine needs to say something about how it fits into the history of magazines. I’m always looking for that sophistication. It’s very evident in the ones that are supremely popular, like The Gentlewoman, Apartmento, and Kinfolk.
Paixao: I don’t think sophistication is required. We look for things that are playful and new. They don’t need to be refined to provide good content that speaks to their consumer. Sofa and Mushpit play along those lines. They’re on completely the other end of the spectrum to magazines like The Gentlewoman.
Hillword-Harris: I suppose what I mean by sophistication is the publisher having knowingness, rather than having a certain finish. They know their magazine sits alongside other magazines and comments on those as much as it does on magazine reading generally.
The anti-design thing is a bit of a trend right now. Are you seeing any other emerging trends at the moment?
Hillword-Harris: Animals seem to be very popular at the moment. I’ve seen four or five magazines on cats and urban living. There are probably hundreds more.
Paixao: We’re seeing a lot of publications that take everyday objects as a starting point to address larger thematic, cultural issues. For example, Dirty Furniture, MacGuffin, and Science of the Secondary. It’s not an emerging trend at this point, but something we are looking to expand upon is magazines around performance, film, and dance to compliment MoMA PS1’s exhibition programming. One new film title that we are all excited about is NANG Magazine, focusing on the moving image in Asia.
What advice do you have for aspiring magazine makers?
Hillword-Harris: Put your heart into it. Pay careful attention to what other people are doing, but be true to what you want to put down, if that doesn’t sound too trite. There are obviously trends that run through magazines and that’s fair enough. But ultimately the ones that stand out are the ones that say I’m just going to do it how I want to do it. I’m going to produce the magazine I want to find on the shelves. It’s like that Morrissey song, “Hang the DJ,” where the DJ isn’t playing music that means anything to them. In most cases magazines start from one person. They may evolve into bigger things, but it begins with a person filling a space that isn’t filled yet.
Paixao: It’s also very important to communicate that passion. The magazines I get most excited about are the ones where the publisher is excited and they’re able to pass that on. So my advice is be passionate, stay excited about what you’re doing, and share that.
Once a magazine is made, how should a magazine maker approach a store like yours?
Hillword-Harris: The large majority of my magazines come through distribution. That’s sometimes a small distribution company, but it’s a distributor nonetheless. They smooth the process. By the sounds of it Amanda does a lot more work than I do, working directly with individual publishers of magazines, which is a great thing to be doing.
Paixao: Just bring it by. That’s the best way. I really cherish the opportunity to be able to talk to someone about the object they just put in my hands. If you’re not able to bring it by, send a sample copy. I hate generic emails, ‘Here’s my magazine for submission.’ I really like to make a personal connection. I appreciate seeing the magazine and speaking with the publisher or representative about what actually makes it special and stand out.
Magazine stores feel like a vital part of the magazine community. How do you think the role of the store might change or grow in the future?
Hillword-Harris: I think ‘grow’ is the operative word here; I feel like I need more space. The market is growing, the readership is growing. The bigger, better job we can do of representing the range, the more successful and influence the magazine shop will be. Size is the important thing for the future.
Paixao: The community aspect has the potential to grow further. I would like a magazine shop to have the reading room space that bookstores often have. So you can make your stack and find someone else who has a similar stack and reach out that way. I just think of magazines as having this super strong potential to connect people. We also stock many titles from local publishers, which provides an outlet for cultural conversation. I think that magazine stores having a local or regional presence will continue to grow that sense of community within the small press industry.
What’s involved in the day-to-day of running a magazine store? I’m guessing there’s more to it that just reading lots of magazines?
Ben Hillword-Harris: We stock over 400 titles, so we get deliveries of books and magazines every day. We book new magazines in, check prices haven’t changed, take down old issues. We do some sort of social networking. The fundamental thing about selling magazines is ensuring we listen to our customers. Often they’re more informed than we are about what magazines they want and what new issues that are coming out. so we’re always taking down details from customers about what’s coming out.
Amanda Paixao: That’s very similar for us. The biggest difference between books and magazines is the time-sensitive nature of magazines. We work with a number of distributors where we can get a standing order to receive the latest issues of whatever titles. But we also work directly with a great deal of independent publishers. We’re always trying to stay on top of the timely nature of periodicals. That often means reaching out to people on an individual basis, and hoping that they reach out to us directly in return to let us know about new issues.
We also get very excited when we get to launch a magazine in our in the Magazine Store or at MoMA PS1 as part of their programming. For example, last year, we co-hosted an issue release party with Aint-Bad magazine. This was especially exciting as Aint-Bad was one of the very first independently published magazines we stocked. A few years back, we also co-hosted an event with Tom Tom Magazine titled the “Oral History of Female Drummers.” That included a performance piece, which then continued to travel to other museums throughout the U.S.
Hillword-Harris: Same here. We don’t necessarily have a program of events, but we quite often launch new magazines or new issues of magazines. We recently launched an issue of Is In Town and we launched issues of The Plant. Magazines have such a close connection with their readership. It’s very much a community.
Paixao: Definitely, and it’s also exciting to see all of the contributors coming together for these launches, and bringing all of their friends and family who then get involved in following the magazine, too.
What are you reading at the moment?
Paixao: I’m really excited about The Plant right now. Each issue just gets better and better. I also really like Fukt, on contemporary drawing. Again, each issue is developing so well. And I always like Grafik to refer back to. That’s one of my favorites of all time. In terms of new launches, Sofa, from the publisher of Flaneur, is especially exciting as the first issue was directed toward a younger generation. And Cabana Magazine, which while not a new launch, is new to our store. It’s a design object to be savored.
Hillword-Harris: Real Review is a very nice new architecture magazine in London, which I would recommend. I’m intrigued all the time by magazines, but one thing with being a magazine seller is that I don’t always get to spend as much time with them as I’d like to.