Indie Publishing
Field Notes

We love sharing our process of making a print magazine and building a sustainable indie publishing brand. New here? Start with our list of popular posts.

And then COVID throws another spanner in the works

Posted on Dec 28 2021 in News

Unfortunately, we come bearing bad news this late in the year. We’ve recently been informed of changes to printing and shipping costs for 2022 that make it pretty much impossible to keep publishing Offscreen – at least for now. With a heavy heart, we’ve therefore decided to put issue 25 on hold indefinitely.

When Patrick and I started working on this issue, we were hopeful that the worst effects of COVID on global logistics were behind us, but prices for printing, packaging and shipping have continued to surge, while delivery time frames have remained erratic. We could potentially recover some of these new costs by increasing our cover price, but that would make the magazine even less accessible and it also wouldn’t save us from further unexpected price hikes in the near future.

The transition to Patrick as the lead editor and publisher of Offscreen hinged on the idea of him running Offscreen together with Sentiers as his main jobs, providing a somewhat predictable income based on previous years. That’s currently just not feasible and so we put the transition on hold for now, too.

It’s a disappointing end to a challenging year, but we decided to make this difficult call now, before we invest a substantial amount of money in the production of issue 25, only to realise later that getting the magazine to readers and retailers would leave us with a financial hit.

As initially planned, Offscreen will go back into stand-by mode and I will reconsider our options when/if the impacts of COVID have subsided and prices have somewhat stabilised.

Subscribers, please note: If you’ve already prepaid for issue 25 as part of your subscription, we can either refund this issue now or leave it in our system as a pre-order. For a refund, simply contact us with a short ‘Refund for #25 please’ and we will initiate the refund to your credit card ASAP and cancel your subscription.

Despite the devastating news, we are both immensely grateful for the many kind, encouraging words from you all in the last few months. We wish all of you a restful break and a great start to the new year!

To stay in touch with Patrick and me, you can subscribe to our respective newsletters: Sentiers and Dense Discovery.

Kai (and Patrick)

Offscreen has a new editor!

Posted on Oct 26 2021 in News

[KB] My previous post about a possible farewell led to some wonderful conversations with readers, many of whom offered to work with me to keep Offscreen going. (Thanks so much!) One of those conversations turned into a lengthy discussion about if and how Offscreen could transition to a new editor. After many hours on Zoom, I’m happy to announce that Offscreen will continue under new editorial guidance by Patrick Tanguay.

I first came across Patrick’s work when he co-published The Alpine Review, an acclaimed, book-sized magazine that unpacked important issues through slow, reflective journalism. Patrick has since become better known as the synthesist and curator behind the excellent Sentiers, a weekly newsletter with insightful links and commentary on futurism and technology.

I can’t think of a person that’s better suited to take over Offscreen’s reins than Patrick. Over time, he will inject fresh perspectives and new ideas while caring as much as I do about its loyal community of readers and its independent voice.

Patrick and I will work closely together on this upcoming issue 25, after which I slowly transition into more of an advisory role, ensuring Patrick settles in comfortably over the next two to three issues. I will share some more thoughts on this transition in a later post. For now, let me hand over the mic to Patrick...

[PT] Back in 2012, when we started putting together The Alpine Review, Kai was just an issue ahead of us with Offscreen and yet the publication – and Kai’s willingness to share his process ever so transparently – was already an inspiration. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it is a true honour to now get the chance to lead Offscreen’s editorial direction.

In our long conversations, Kai showed once again how unwavering he is in his respect for the time and intelligence of his audience. Every decision is scrutinised around what’s best for the reader.

It was also great to hear more about how Kai’s evolving views led to a shift in the magazine’s overarching theme from ‘the people behind the pixels’ to a broader, more critical perspective that highlights ‘the human side of technology’. As a long-time reader myself, I really enjoyed this repositioning of Offscreen as a critical, fiercely independent counterweight to the typical tech stories that occupy much of the conversation online. Giving a diverse range of people who work on important issues and opportunities in the tech sphere a voice and an audience will remain the publication’s main objective.

As such, don’t expect any major changes, at least not for now. It will still be the magazine you know and love. As for the future, I don’t have a detailed map drawn up yet. It’s more of a compass that – along with your feedback, I hope – will help me chart Offscreen’s future direction. The only goal I’ve already set for myself is to return to publishing three issues per year and rekindling a monthly newsletter to keep in touch with you in between issues.

But first and foremost, let’s start a conversation! Kai and I are looking forward to your comments and questions. Simply email us (both of us will see your responses) or contact me directly on Twitter.

We will be in touch again in the coming months with an update on the release of issue #25. (We’re currently aiming for a January release!) If you aren’t a subscriber yet or have a lapsed subscription, now is a great time to start or renew your subscription. Subscribers remain the crucial backbone of a small indie magazine like Offscreen!

I feel equally humbled and excited about what lies ahead and can’t wait to get started.

– Patrick (and Kai)

A farewell?

Posted on Aug 09 2021 in News

Ten years ago, I hung up my web design career to figure out how to publish a magazine. A failed Kickstarter campaign and 24 issues later, and here we are today. Over the decade I paused Offscreen multiple times – for personal reasons, for a major rebrand or, most recently, a pandemic. These breaks offer me opportunities to experiment with side projects and recharge my creative batteries. The truth is, though, that I find it harder and harder to come back to and stay motivated about Offscreen.

The ‘tech world’ is the world I grew up in. It’s where I made lasting friendships and a rewarding career. It’s given me so much since I first ‘logged on’ in the late ’90s. But today it’s a world I struggle to relate to. I stopped getting excited about new startups, apps or gadgets. Even genuinely interesting projects leave me feeling blasé as they often come wrapped in a language and a business model I find off-putting.

If you’ve been reading Offscreen since its early days, you would have noticed a change in attitude. As I recently wrote in the introduction of my newsletter: “The naïve optimism for tech – the notion of ‘technology equals progress’ – has been replaced by a deep-felt scepticism about fixing social problems with technological solutions.” Seeing tech-billionaire space cowboys having a blast while the world burns and inequality explodes makes it difficult for me to not let that sense of scepticism turn into full-blown anti-tech cynicism. It’s certainly not the kind of energy that leads to hopeful tech stories.

That said, the magazine’s contrarian viewpoints – as told through the many voices speaking up against the Silicon Valley narrative – at the very least offer a way to make sense of it all. Still, it increasingly feels futile. I often ask myself: what’s the point of putting so much effort into a publication that preaches to the converted?

That’s not to say that I don’t value the amazing community that has grown around Offscreen. Hardly a week goes by without a heartfelt, constructive note from a reader arriving in my inbox. Offscreen managed to bring together some of the most considerate, smart, kind and generous people in the tech world – as contributors, interviewees, sponsors and, of course, readers. An utterly humbling experience and a rare source of hope for which I’ll be forever grateful. What it lacks in size, it makes up in enthusiasm and goodwill – the Offscreen community is strong enough to support another 24 issues. I know that. I just don’t know if I have it in me to make it happen.

Is this a farewell post? Honestly, I don’t know. As you can tell, my head isn’t in a space for more tech-focused magazine-making right now. It hasn’t been for a while. Though, it doesn’t really feel like the end of Offscreen yet. For now I will – once again – put Offscreen in a holding pattern.

When I think about Offscreen’s future, I feel a strong sense of responsibility. There is no future scenario in which I would consider selling ‘the brand’ to some media company. I wonder whether there is a like-minded editor out there interested in taking over my role as editor, while I stay on board to help with all the other tasks involved in keeping Offscreen afloat. If this is you or someone you know (most likely an Offscreen reader?), please get in touch.

There’s still a good chance that in a few months I’m back, hungry for more Offscreen. Right now, I’m in the lucky position to just about cover my living expenses by publishing Dense Discovery which has been a surprising source of motivation and, frankly, a welcome outlet for some of my world-weariness of late.

For now, dear readers, sponsors and supporters: thank you! I’ll be keeping subscribers abreast of any updates via email, as usual. (For those who have recently subscribed and thereby pre-purchased the next issue: rest assured that your purchase will be refunded if indeed Offscreen issue 25 does not see the light of day.)

With much love and appreciation,

Kai Brach

Just launched: Issue 24

Posted on May 09 2021 in News

After a lengthy, involuntary COVID pause, we’re excited to release Offscreen Issue 24 today! As usual, first some house-keeping: subscriber copies are being sent out starting Wednesday morning CET and we’ll do another big round of shipments next Monday! If you’re not a subscriber, go ahead and order your copy now to be part of one of our first shipments.

International shipping in COVID times is still very much a mixed bag. There will be some delays, especially with shipments going outside the EU. We appreciate your patience!

In issue 24 we touch on a lot of timely, meaty topics:

  • Ali Alkhatib
    The expert on human-computer interaction explains why Big Tech’s algorithms are inherently unjust and offers some refreshingly simple perspectives on how to improve tech.
  • Jutta Treviranus
    It was an absolute delight to hear Jutta speak about her immense body of work in the field of Inclusive Design and how our default notion of ‘designing for the majority’ makes all of us more vulnerable.
  • Xiaowei Wang
    A fascinating deep-dive into Chinese (internet) culture and the surprising connections between rural China and Western tech hubs like Silicon Valley.
  • Jillian C. York
    The activist and writer highlights the many free speech challenges we face as a society deeply entangled in a system of surveillance capitalism.

As usual, we relied on the generous support by our sponsors to make this issue happen: DNSimple, Bakken & Bæck, MAD, MetaLab, SiteGround, and Dovetail. And of course, a big ‘thank you’ to all Patrons of this issue.

Shipping & price changes

The disruptions of COVID have not just made shipping times harder to predict, it also led to a range of changes in shipping rates by postal services around the world. Sadly, we were informed by our shipper last year that the cost of sending magazines to the US has (in some cases) more than doubled! Prices for shipments going to other countries outside the EU have also increased.

Since shipping is included in the price of the magazine, it means our profit margin decreased substantially for the majority of our sales since our last issue. Offscreen is already a fairly pricy publication – too pricy to reach readers from certain parts of the world – and so we’re very cognisant of the fact that increasing the price will make the publication less accessible.

While the subscription price remains the same for now, we did increase the non-subscriber price by $2 to now $22 in order to at least compensate for some of the additional costs. We’ll keep a close eye on our shipping costs with this issue, but we might not be able to avoid a small price increase for all readers in the future.

Needless to say, your ongoing support means a lot!

View the details of issue 24 here →

Enjoy these shots of issue 24 being produced at our printer in Berlin:

Stranger Things

Posted on Jan 11 2021 in Essays

This essay by Molly Flatt first appeared in Offscreen Issue 20. You can buy a copy here.

Of the 185 books Bill Gates has recommended on his blog over the past eight years, only 12 are novels. During Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘year of books’ in 2015, when he crunched through twenty-three worthy tomes, works of fiction cropped up only three times.

I’ve made it something of a personal project to ask the tech people I meet in my day job to name-check authors they love. Peddlers of neuroscience, behavioural economics, and organisational theory feature highly. Peddlers of make-believe do not. When I ask them why they read so little fiction, their answer boils down to the same question: why would anyone waste time on made-up stuff when there’s so much real stuff to learn about the world?

Life is indeed stranger than fiction, as recent global events have proven all too well. It can feel indulgent, if not irresponsible, to spend my evenings romping through a novel about glass-blowers in fifteenth-century Venice when there are so many urgent present-day technological developments and political dilemmas to understand and have opinions on.

I think we can all agree that what the people creating new technology need more of right now is the ability to step into the shoes of others who don’t think, look, or live like them. I wonder what would happen if tech folk spent less time skimming trend reports and explainer journalism and more time truly trying to understand the perspectives of others. Might we finally see more diverse and nuanced products and platforms emerge?

Science tells us that this is one area in which make-believe can actually help. Several studies have proven the link between fiction and empathy. Probably the best known, conducted by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano in 2013, found that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people's emotions. ‘What great writers do is to turn you into the writer,’ Kidd explained. ‘In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.’ Perhaps what we need to fill the empathy gap is imagination, not information.

In my own experience, fiction is also incredibly effective in helping people pay attention to the world. This may sound contradictory – after all, you’re not out there smelling roses if you’ve got your nose stuck in a book. But the best writers have a way of making you consider the mundane details of everyday existence with fresh eyes. And when you consider that many of our smartest startups have offered a new approach to prosaic things we used to take for granted (taxis, dinners, periods), you start to see how this sort of defamiliarisation might be the ultimate disruptor’s gift.

Of course, some of the techies I talk to do love novels. But their reading seems heavily, if not exclusively, skewed towards science fiction – just like every one of Gates’ and Zuck’s fiction picks. I’m also a massive fan of that genre. In fact, I’ve just published a novel set in London’s startup scene that has been described as ‘stealth sci-fi’, and a short story best explained as ‘near-future sleep-science meets Macbeth’. Many of our current technologies and ideologies were vividly predicted by writers such as George Orwell and William Gibson, and their works can indeed act as a potent gateway drug for lapsed fiction readers working in tech.

However, we all know that true creativity springs from unexpected connections. So if innovators really want to create something world-changing, they might want to aim for a more varied fictional diet. That fifteenth-century glass-blowing novel I mentioned? It’s teaching me deep lessons about the perennial preoccupations of Silicon Valley: hierarchy, belief, ethics, power. The best crime novels can offer a rigorous neural workout, exercising our brains’ pattern-recognition abilities. Even romantic beach reads can provide an insightful window onto a particular generation’s aspirations and anxieties.

Perhaps there’s a gender issue at play here too. Fiction is read by more women than men, and as we all know, in the tech industry, men predominate. But to dismiss novels, poems, and short stories as ‘sentimental’ or ‘irrational’ is surely to miss the point. Sentiment is the source code of humanity. Irrational instinct has more influence over our behaviour than cold hard logic. And fiction unscrews the circuit board of being, so if you want to hack the system, I reckon there’s no better place to start.

Enjoyed this essay? Support indie publishing and buy available issues of Offscreen for more thought-provoking reading material in beautiful print.