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Random magazines enthrall you

NINE YEARS ago, when Steve Watson founded the Stack magazines service, "all the chat was about 'Print is dead.' And thank goodness, people have stopped talking about 'Print is dead' quite so much now." Stack sends subscribers an issue of a different indy magazine each month: it's a surprise which one you get. (Steve was speaking at the November LFB meeting alongside editors of independent women's magazines in print - see their presentations here.)

Steve Watson; photo: Hazel Dunlop

Steve Watson with an example of a big success story in indy women's magazines - The Gentlewoman

At the mainstream "big end" of print magazines, though, if they're not dead they're not in very good health. Says Steve, "Independents are flourishing when the mainstream is really struggling."

Why's that? Firstly, "technology." The creativity behind indy titles is "the same impulse" as YouTube videos or releasing music on Bandcamp. Most print magazines starts life as digital files, with collaborators - sometimes in different countries - working in the cloud. Printing technology innovations make "smaller runs to really high quality" feasible. (Short online videos to promote print magazines are important - Stack does "two-minute magazine" video clips.)

Even though you're an indy title, you're still allowed to be a success, to earn a living from it and pay others for their contributions. Indy women's title The Gentlewoman is a big success story, a "professional magazine with a ton of advertising". More of the indies are making the transition into something that's more like a business that pays contributors.

The other secret of the indy renaissance is print itself. At a Professional Publishers Association meeting, senior "big publishing" people told Steve that today "we don't really talk about print... we're a brand." Steve replied that the independent magazines and their readers "love print".

There were gasps of admiration from the audience as Steve described Double Dagger, a letterpress magazine done on 50-year-old Heidelberg printing press, "ancient technology" but "so crisp" in a way that only print can be. Its readers send pictures of their copy of it via social media. (See here for another example of this phenomenon.)

With the "content excess" of Sky, Vimeo, Amazon and others, people expect that if there's not something tailor-made for them, there should be. The internet means "these magazines are a global business... they sell around the world." Now shops all over the country (Artwords, Ideas on Paper, Magazine Brighton) are selling these titles, we're seeing more indy magazines than ever before.