“Have a point of view”: words of wisdom from the Modern Magazine Conference 2016
- Rebecca Fulleylove
- 31 October 2016
magCulture’s Modern Magazine Conference took place in London last week. It was the fourth incarnation of the annual one-day editorial design event that celebrates the magazine industry and the people who work within it.
Featuring a range of speakers from established titles to new and emerging magazines, the roster of speakers was diverse and all were united in the belief that print is still a powerful beast. With so many great ideas and opinions shared throughout the day, here are just a few insights from some of the speakers.
“Magazines should be seen as big and small, not mainstream and independent.”
Jeremy Leslie (founder of magCulture) kicked off the conference by speaking briefly about how we categorise magazines and more specifically the idea of independent mags battling against more mainstream publications. Jeremy believes the terms are too binary and raise more questions than answers when talking about what an “independent magazine” actually means. He feels magazines should be seen as “big and small”, as things like advertisers, readership, teams sizes and distribution come into play for everyone.
“If you haven’t got a budget, have a point of view.”
Editor-in-chief of MacGuffin magazine, Kristen Algera talked at length about the power of choosing one specific, mundane object to focus a whole magazine around. Kristen described the mag as a “design and crafts magazine” and in each issue a different object is the focus. The magazine continues with little to no budget and Kristen detailed the importance of staying true to who you are as a publication, especially when there’s no money in the pot. Having said no to advertisers that don’t align with their values and going the extra mile with stories, Kristen hopes their point of view will help them to stand out in the sea of other magazines.
“What do you do when you’ve been doing the same thing for years? Experiment.”
Christoph Amend is editor-in-chief at ZEITmagazin the German weekly supplement that’s part of Die Zeit newspaper. Despite being written in German, the magazine has admirers from around the world for its beautiful design and interesting shoots. The magazine has become known for its “double covers”, and after years of the same idea, Christoph and his team decided to “experiment with the format”. This led to 40 covers for Zeit’s 40th birthday, which tied in well with Claudia Schiffer’s 40th birthday, who was the mag’s cover star.
Christoph also spoke fondly of how mags like Flaneur, mono.kultur and The Happy Reader have acted as inspiration for ZEITmagazin this year. Christoph explained: “The question for us has been, as a newspaper supplement, can we be a part of this?” One move has seen the magazine create an international biannual edition, which takes the best stories from the weekly and publishes them in English.
”Print is at the heart of what we do – but it’s not enough.”
Terri White, editor of Empire magazine, spoke about how despite being “the world’s biggest film magazine”, it’s still necessary for the magazine to innovate and make sure that as an established title it was still pushing things further. Empire in print is still a key part of the brand, but Terri went into detail about all the different ways it’s been trying to grow and nurture its audiences through live events, podcasts, imaginative PR campaigns and increasing social media presence.
“Respect your audience.”
In what was Rebecca Nicholson’s last week as editor of Vice UK online (Jamie Clifton has taken over the role), the editor-in-chief spoke about the ways in which Vice has continually tried to stand out in an increasingly “homogenised environment”. Sticking to simple mantras like, “Respect your audience”, “Don’t set false limits”, and “Look for the alternative point of view”, the online portion of the mag has dedicated itself to creating a mix of diverse content that ignores the notion that audiences have short attention spans.
Through this approach, Rebecca pointed out that when the team gets it right she felt you could “strip away the font, the logo and all the styling from a story, and you could still tell it came from Vice.”
“Conversation is more important to us than product.”
The Gentlewoman has been around for six years and rather than describing “what we did and what we did next”, editor-in-chief Penny Martin discussed what went into creating The Gentlewoman aesthetic, what the team “hated” about women’s magazines when they first started and how they use advertising to support the conversations within the magazine, as opposed to letting its pages be “ruled by product”. A key insight from Penny was that making a magazine you’re proud of “can be done” but only if you “dig your heels in and ignore the prevailing wisdom of what ostensibly works”.
“There’s power in VR to make great storytelling”
For design director, Gail Bichler she has the envious, yet pressure-filled, job of creating The New York Times Magazine each week. With ample resources and a talented team behind her it’s allowed the magazine to flourish. Gail went into detail about the numerous covers she’s designed over the years, offering tidbits like, “type can be a really powerful way to illustrate very hard to illustrate concepts”.
Gail also spoke about how the team have started to use VR and Google Cardboard headsets for some of its storytelling, creating a more intimate and immediate way of bringing a story to life for its audience. When they’ve used VR for stories about refugees, war and other immersive stories, Gail explained how it’s suddenly more emotional and personal going on those journeys and getting that deeper insight when you can actually semi-experience it.
About the Author
Rebecca Fulleylove is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and culture. She is also senior writer at Creative Review, having previously worked at Elephant, Google Arts & Culture, and It’s Nice That.