Frab’s: an online and offline store promoting magazine culture
In 2019, Anna Frabotta and Dario Gaspari conceived and founded Frab’s Magazine & More: an online store that fosters independent magazine culture in Italy. Today, this business now has two bricks-and-mortar outlets too, in Forlì and Rome, and their catalogue boasts 500 Italian and international titles.
We talked to Anna Frabotta about their company’s backstory, how they combine culture and business, and what’s behind their motto of “magazines for those who have lost their senses”!
Hello Anna. To kick things off, we’d love to know a bit more about you, the founders: what were your backgrounds when you decided to start Frab’s?
Dario and I have very different backgrounds. I really think that this has been our strength: in a way, we’re complementary and together we complete one another.
Dario has a background in business and economics; I’m a journalist who has worked for many years in the world of communication and publishing.
What led you to make a business out of selling print magazines?
What led us to embark on a project like Frab’s was our academic and work backgrounds and our personal passion for printed paper, for the culture that it fosters and for the senses that it stimulates other than our sight: the senses of smell and touch!
It’s no coincidence that our slogan is “magazines for those who have lost their senses”.
Tell us more about your business. When did you start Frab’s Magazine & More?
Frab’s was born in 2019 with the mission of spreading independent magazine culture in Italy. We began life as an e-commerce business with a highly curated selection of a few dozen titles. From the outset, we included a selection of foreign magazines, many of which you could not get hold of in Italy at the time. This careful selection paid off because we quickly became a leader in Europe for niche and collector’s magazines.
We now have a catalogue of about 500 titles and our e-commerce operation is complemented by two physical stores: the main store is in Forlì, where we have our head office; the other is at Rome’s Palazzo Brancaccio in collaboration with the Contemporary Cluster art gallery.
Your business is still fairly young: has anything changed compared to your initial idea?
Compared to the initial idea that we had for Frab’s, I’d say that, other than having grown a lot, the spirit and values that we started this project with haven’t changed. For us, the priority is still to spread culture.
What is your business model?
Sales are just part of our project, even though they are the main plank of our business model. As I said, the main goal that we’ve set ourselves is to promote magazine culture and to show people that they can have the same value and heft as a book, for example.
From the outset, we combined sales with participation in publishing festivals, as well as organising talks and events where we invited publishers to tell us about their magazines. Last January, in Milan (and in Bologna from October), we launched pop-up mags: it’s a format in which magazines can go beyond the two-dimensional page to become three dimensional at events mixing magazine sales with talks, DJ sets, readings and performances. We also offer consultancy for people launching their own magazines and training courses on how to publish a magazine.
Do you just sell internationally, or just in Italy?
The name Frab’s is now known almost everywhere: we sell all over the world, be it Europe, the United States or Australia; I think that the fact that we have aimed for a really exclusive selection of magazines has been recognised abroad too.
You said that Frab’s was born online and now also has two physical stores. How do you marry these two approaches?
Exactly: we were born online and we believe strongly in the potential of digital to spread and grow a community of fans around something that is quintessentially niche.
Let’s just say that we’re not among those who label everything that is promoted through social media as pure entertainment and low culture. Thanks to social media – particularly Instagram – we’ve managed to reach lots of people, many of whom were unaware of the vast world of independent magazines. Every day we show and tell our followers about the new magazines that arrive here and we’re always delighted to give advice, just as a local bookseller would. Our website has never just been an online store, but has had a section dedicated to reviews, interviews and deep dives from the very beginning.
Obviously, seeing the magazines in person in our physical stores, being able to touch and leaf through them, makes a difference, but I try to make up for this by describing all the sensations that a magazine can offer.
We don’t see our online and offline businesses as separate; they are both part of the same project and combining them comes naturally to us.
Where do you think print magazines are heading?
It’s undeniable that publishing finds itself at a moment of crisis which, due to inflation and the rising cost of paper, is probably going to get worse. We’ve seen many magazines, including historic and important ones, die over the past two years, but we’ve also seen many launched. We’re heading in a direction where there will have to be fewer titles – not just of magazines, but books too – but of better quality.
It’s also interesting to see how niche magazines, as well as some mainstream titles, are increasingly covering “political” issues such as the environment or civil rights, even though their main focus is other topics, such as fashion or design. I think that this greater awareness of what’s around us is something that really enriches magazines, which can’t be accused of being pure entertainment and frivolity.
Let’s wrap things up with some news: can you tell us anything about what’s next for Frab’s?
We like doing long-term, wide-ranging projects. First of all, we want to continue to be the go-to place for independent magazines that’s renowned for one thing: careful selection. Promoting, advising, selecting only what’s really beautiful, useful and necessary. Magazine publishing, including at times independent publishing, produces so much, and knowing what to pick will continue to be something we invest in.
Our presence will continue to be both online and offline, and we’re working on the first edition of Mag to Mag, which we hope will become Italy’s premier independent magazine festival, a focal point for the whole industry. This is really something new… and a nice challenge!