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Field Notes

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Thoughts

Something worth paying for

Posted on Sep 10 2014 in Thoughts

At the fantastic The Modern Magazine conference here in London yesterday, I had a brief conversation with another publisher whose magazine no longer exists. She said that when she announced the release of the final issue earlier this year, suddenly a lot of support in the form of emails and tweets came flooding in from readers she didn’t know she had — people expressing their disappointment and sadness that one of their favourite magazines was closing its doors.

What surprised her most was the fact that more people were actually reading the magazine than buying it (assumingly getting it handed down from friends or finding it in cafés and other places). Apparently, there was also a large group of supporters that bought the occassional issue and followed the project online, but never really committed to being a regular reader. And they, too, were sad seeing a project disappear that they appreciated, even if they just followed it from the sidelines most of the time.

The overwhelming response to her announcement of bringing the magazine to an end surely made the decision more difficult, but “nice words don’t really pay the bills”, she said frustrated. It reminded me of something Cameron Moll mentioned in his interview with Offscreen. He said: “There’s an opportunity for a Buy Bootstrap movement along the lines of Buy Local or Buy Organic.”

The ‘passive supporter problem’ (if it can/should be called that!?) is, of course, not only prevalent in the magazine scene, I think it can be applied to all ‘indie’ makers out there. I can easily think of a handful of app developers and bloggers with tons of supporters that really want to see the project grow and succeed, but that rarely take practical action (in most cases by signing up for a paid account, paying a small membership fee, etc.) to actively enable the creators to continue the work they appreciate.

Of course, there is a lot of great ‘indie’ stuff out there and you can’t throw your money at them all. So what to do?

In the last few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to find out more about my favourite products and services, by following them online, by signing up to their newsletter, and by meeting and talking to them in person when I get a chance. If I’m convinced that their values and efforts align with my own, I try to be an active supporter and pay my fair share. This doesn’t just apply to the digital world, of course, I try to apply the same principles to, say, charities or my local shops down the road.

I guess it all comes down to being an informed consumer. Take a moment and think about the tools, products, and services that really make a difference in your life, and then show them your appreciation through proactive support, which in most cases (but not always) means adding them to your list of things worth paying for.

A day in the life of... me

Some people recently asked me if I could do a ‘Day in the Life’ piece about my own day. I had a bit of time in between editing the new issue and retouching photos today, so here you go:

7:15am — My iPhone gently wakes me. I’ve given up resisting the urge to check my emails in bed a long time ago. I quickly scan the 32 unanswered emails. Some good, some bad, one with the subject line 'Sorry dude’. I wait with opening that one till after I had my first coffee.

7:45am — Pants are on, teeth are brushed. Time to check the weather: looking good enough for the five-minute bike ride to Code Black, one of about five local cafés and unofficial Offscreen 'side offices'. I inhale a banana on the way to my bike.

8:00am — Armed with a Long Black I get started with emails: a couple of stockist enquiries, a few contributors asking for feedback, some submissions, some bills to be paid, and a reader from Slovenia asking about the whereabouts of his shipment. Oh yeah, and that apologetic email from an interviewee dropping out last minute.

9:30am — After getting most of the emailing done, I’m scouring the web and my database of potential contributors to find a worthy replacement for the newly opened interview slot. One of the more difficult parts of running a magazine: locating and then soliciting busy people to see whether they can help you out on short notice.

10:15am — I’m starting to slouch — a good sign to get up and move to a new spot. I’ll grab a bag of coffee beans, pay up and ride home.

10:30am — A reminder of Melbourne’s unpredictable weather: I arrive slightly soaked. Time to put the heater on (yes, we have winters in Australia too!) and get the kettle going for a brew in the Chemex. I love the ritual of making coffee.

10:45am — Back to work with coffee in hand. I love my standing desk. Perhaps the best work-related investment I ever made. Today I’m getting started with some photo retouching for the new issue, so I’ll get the Spyder Express out to calibrate my external monitor.

11:15am — Still getting used to working in Lightroom. Half of the time I’m not sure what I’m clicking at. Google is my friend.

12:45pm — Lunch time. I find some leftovers in the fridge. I turn on the news to be reminded of people’s inability to coexist in the world. I turn it off when Australia’s prime minister comes on to propose a business case for delisting Tasmanian World Heritage forest.

1:15pm — I open up the essays from three contributors in Google Drive to do some editing and provide a first round of feedback. This is good stuff!

2:30pm — More Gmail action: I email my proof-reader to sync our schedules. A look at my Content Plan for issue No9 suggests that six contributors are already running late. I follow up with them via email to set new deadlines. Let’s hope they get back to me!

3:15pm — Browsing behance, flickr and 500px to locate a photographer in Florida. My tiny budget filters down my options to about one.

4:30pm — I log into Offscreen’s order management system and quickly go through last week’s orders to make sure all the shipping address details seem correct. After exporting current orders, I’ll email my shipper in Berlin so they can get those orders out as soon as they start their day in Europe.

4:45pm — With another trip to Germany on the horizon, I’ll search for accommodation in Berlin on Airbnb.

5:15pm — I go for a quick run (usually around 8km) before the rain is coming back. It’s my favourite (and only?) way to clear the head and get some proper thinking done.

6:15pm — After a shower I’m checking in on Twitter, Facebook, and the like to see what everyone else has been up to. I jump on Tumblr and press the 'Publish’ button on a post I’ve been holding off on for a few days. I love sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff with my readers and getting feedback from it. It’s humbling to know people actually care about my ramblings from time to time.

6:30pm — My girlfriend is back from work. We have a quick 'catch up’ before heading out to get groceries for tonight’s dinner. That’s when I appreciate living in the city — our local fruit and veg shop is just 50 meters up the road.

7:30pm — While dinner is cooking, I jump on Skype to confirm the production schedule of issue No9 with my printer in Berlin. They always love getting a call with last minute changes from the other side of the world. ;)

8:15pm — Dinner time, often accompanied by an episode of a TV show. It’s Fargo at the moment, and it's good.

9:30pm — Time for cleaning up the kitchen, my part in the daily dinner ritual.

10:30pm — I have a quick Facetime chat with my mum in Germany, explaining for the 24th time how to add a new contact to her iPad’s contact list.

11:00pm — One last email check to see if my printer has confirmed the paper delivery for the next issue. He hasn’t, so I guess it’s time to log off for today and worry about it tomorrow.

11:15pm — I try to conquer at least three or four long-form articles in my Pocket reading list before getting some shut-eye.

How you can help promote Offscreen

Posted on May 09 2014 in Thoughts, News

Almost every day I receive emails that usually end with “If I can ever help in any way, let me know.” Due to the amount of emails, it’s difficult to take you up on your offers, which is unfortunate because I can really use all the help I can get – in particular with the promotional side of things. So here are 10 simple ways you can support Offscreen:

Buy all the issues

It’s as easy as that. Every sold copy counts and helps make the magazine a viable business and full-time job for me.

Share it with friends and colleagues

Tell your social media friends about Offscreen and be prepared for the default question: “Print-only, really?” Once you receive your copy, show or lend it to a friend or colleague.

Make your boss get an office subscription

It’s the perfect magazine for the office: put it in your cafeteria or in the reception area where clients are waiting. It’s also a great gift or additional perk for new employees.

Write a review

If you have a blog, consider writing a short review with a few photos about your experience with Offscreen.

Suggest it to your favourite companies/blogs

This could potentially have a huge impact: if you have a direct contact at a popular blog, publication, magazine or other media outlet, get in touch with them to tell them how much you like Offscreen and why it should get more exposure.

Suggest it to your favourite local book/design shop

If you frequent a well-stocked book or design shop in your city, take your copy with you and show it to them. I’m always interested in extending my stockist list.

Take it to local events

Events are great for meeting like-minded folks. You’ll be loved even more for introducing them to a beautiful magazine they have never heard of. ;) If you are organising an event, email me to get some free give-away copies.

Become a patron of an issue

Make an extra contribution by becoming a patron subscriber.

Request promotional copies

If you are in a unique position to promote the magazine (at a conference, during a business trip, a meeting with the editor of the New York Times, etc.) Please get in touch to request a few promotional copies.

Introduce the magazine to potential interviewees

Although the list of potential contributors is constantly growing, I’m still interested in finding inspiring candidates for our interviews (especially of underrepresented groups). If you are in contact with such a person, please introduce them to the magazine first and see whether they’d be interested in being published.

Fear of criticism

I’m still not sure whether publishing these thoughts is actually a good idea, but articulating them in the form of a blog post has become strangely therapeutic for me and (sort of) makes up for the lack of colleagues who help carry the emotional burden of running a business.

The launch of issue 7 on Tuesday last week was followed by a bit of an emotional meltdown the next day when my own box of magazines finally arrived in Melbourne. I always open that box with a fair amount of apprehension, aware that I will probably find something that is not ‘right’, that doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to. Proofing print products is difficult, especially when done under time pressure and from half way around the world.

Within seconds of opening the box I spotted (to me) a very obvious problem with the cover that sent a shock wave through my body. I won’t tell you what it is – I want you to enjoy the magazine without any preconceived ideas. You can either see it or you will never notice (great!). So far none of you have voiced any complaints. I’m not sure whether that’s the case because you guys view the magazine with unbiased eyes or you’re simply too kind to let me know.

Unless you are in publishing or produce physical products, you’ll probably find it difficult to empathise with how I felt at that moment. After spending hundreds of hours working on something so personal and close to my heart, discovering a very blatant problem in the final product can instantly shatter your self-confidence.

I went through the whole spectrum of emotions: anger, despair, disappointment. I could have easily burnt the whole box of magazines right then and there without even opening a single copy. The biggest source of anxiety and distress came from a fear of disappointing you, my readers. I imagined being judged, being criticised for selling a second-rate product, for not living up to the high expectations of the eagle-eyed designers that make up most of my readership.

The day before I was on cloud nine. The launch went really well and I was feeling great about myself from getting so much recognition for months of hard work. And it all went to sh*t when I opened that box.

Worse even, any accomplishments I’ve had in the past no longer mattered. For the rest of that day, I felt like an impostor, a feeling that, ironically, Christopher Murphy describes so honestly and bravely in the very magazine that caused all this pain. By Wednesday evening I was actually contemplating about alternative career options. I really haven’t felt this down in a long time. And all this pain came from a simple cover!

In retrospect, the ‘faulty cover’ was probably just a trigger. Weeks of deadline anxiety and a lot of anticipation from everyone, including myself, built up to that single moment of receiving the actual magazine back from the printer.

It took me a couple of days to pick myself up again, largely thanks to my girlfriend’s incredible sensitivity and unshakable positivity. I’m personally still struggling to appreciate the magazine for all the things that I got right. All I see are the few mistakes I made.

There are a few lessons I learned:

  • I need to triple-check and proof critical sections even if it delays the release date.

  • As my girlfriend pointed out: “it always takes you a while to come around.” Like many other creative people, I go through phases of liking, then disliking, then despising, then eventually feeling OK about my work again. It’s a love-hate relationship that keeps me on my toes and, hopefully, helps me hone and sharpen my skills with everything I put out.

  • I’m very lucky to have such an incredibly positive and encouraging audience. As more people follow and listen in, anticipation and expectations increase accordingly, putting a lot of pressure on me to deliver a great product. I love the fact that a large part of my readers are some of the most creative folks I know, but designing for designers can also be enormously intimidating.

  • Had I received the wrong kind of feedback on that forsaken Wednesday, I think it would have taken me on a serious downward spiral. It reminded me to be mindful and empathetic when judging other people’s work. Mistakes happen to the best of us. Often the author/artist has already lost enough sleep over it, so be kind in the way you deliver your (honest) feedback.

  • You may easily dismiss this little story with a notion of ‘first world problems’. Of course, there are certainly more serious issues, even though it’s hard see that when you are down. It always helps to remind ourselves that it all won’t matter in a few years. As time passes, nobody will judge you for a faulty print, a misplaced pixel or a buggy script.

The most important take-away for me personally is the realisation that my work is too closely tied to my level of happiness – with myself and life in general. It’s the typical dilemma of business owners and entrepreneurs: you made this thing and at some point this thing makes you. It defines you. Self-respect and self-worth go up and down with it.

I don’t yet know how to break out of that cycle, but I’ll have to try harder in order to make it sustainable – not financially but emotionally.

Phew, that was deep. :)

Magazines, dead trees and sustainability

With the mill making the paper used in Offscreen on fire in November last year, I faced the difficult decision to change paper stock once again. In the weeks after the news that my previous stock type, a paper called EnviroTop, was no longer available, I was working closely with my printer to get my hands on various alternative paper samples. More than 12 different uncoated paper types were fedexed to me from Berlin and I spent hours, if not days, going over all the different options.

In particular, I had my eye on a range of Munken paper – a high-quality, ultra-smooth uncoated stock that is used by some of my favourite publications, like The Travel Almanac or Underscore. Munken Paper is a joy to touch and flick through, and it would give the entire publication a premium tactility. Although I was a bit worried about the low opacity of the paper, I was ready to spend a few thousand euros more for a superior experience. If just there hadn’t been the questions about sustainability...

The reason I chose EnviroTop in the first place was the fact that it was made from 100% recycled materials. Munken, however, was not. Though certified with various ‘green’ labels (the famous FSC sign is one of them), producing Munken means trees are still being chopped down and lots of energy and water goes into turning them into paper.

I remember listening to a podcast about how making recycled paper sometimes actually requires a larger carbon footprint than producing paper from new trees. So I went on a research mission to find out what my best option for Offscreen was. The results aren’t very clear. It seems to depend on how the recycled paper is manufactured.

While I was researching Offscreen’s environmental impact, I got word from the printer that the fire at the paper mill wasn’t as bad as initially expected and that EnviroTop could indeed be delivered with just a few weeks delay. I checked out the paper mill’s website and was positively surprised to find that the entire company is dedicated to a sustainable, low-impact paper production. Their production process is explained in detail on their site. For instance, the steam generated when boiling down recycled materials produces enough electricity to power the entire production process, making it self-sufficient. The Austria-based company has also won numerous awards for innovation and new ideas in regards to sustainable paper products.

With all this background information I feel a lot more confident in using EnviroTop. In fact, it made me appreciate the paper and its unique qualities even more. I’m still very much in love with Munken – it’s an amazing paper – but knowing that my choice of stock leads to one of the most low-impact print magazines out there gives me peace of mind.

As a sign of how much I care about sustainability, I’ve also decided to buy a quarter of an acre of threatened wilderness habitat through the World Land Trust (a reputable conservation organisation endorsed by Sir David Attenborough) with every issue of Offscreen Magazine.

I wish other magazines would also be more transparent about their stock choice. If you feel the same way, ask the publishers of your favourite magazines about the paper they’re using, and point them to this blog post.