In 2010, it was announced that Newsweek – one of America’s biggest-selling magazines – would close. Just three years earlier, Ann Moore, CEO of Time Inc., had announced that the 20 April 2007 issue of Life Magazine would be its last.
The advent of digital publishing appeared to have spelt the end for the glossy world of magazines. It seemed readers would rather catch up on news and culture by scrolling their digital devices instead of flicking through paper magazines. The writing was on the wall.
Yet, 15 years on, while many magazines have since closed their doors, many more have sprung up in their place. Original and innovative titles from underground and independent publishers have found success in niches and communities that have traditionally been considered too marginal and ignored by mainstream publishers.
In this series of articles, we’ll be focusing on the magazines that have revitalised the magazine market, raising the bar and giving birth to new legends along the way.
We’ll be seeking out the most creative, colourful and crazy titles of the past two decades, as well as the best loved.
The financial sustainability problem
In 2006, The Devil Wears Prada came out at the cinema. It satirised the great American fashion magazines, particularly Vogue and its fiery, tyrannical editor, Anna Wintour.
Magazines of this type had enormous production costs – indeed, the fictional magazine in the film is headquartered in a swanky Manhattan skyscraper. They set trends, dictating what was and wasn’t fashionable, and shaped the tastes of the masses all over the world. We won’t be looking at such magazines in this series, but it’s important to understand how their business model stopped being sustainable. All over the world, magazines that aspired to be like Vogue ended up being buried by their own debts: they simply cost too much to run. Many news magazines went the same way, sunk by falling sales and high production costs (not just printing, but staffing and editorial costs too). To survive, the magazines that were still in business had to cut costs by reducing their page count, print quality, and sometimes even the quality of their journalism.
Far away from the carnage being wrought in the mainstream magazine market, curious people with a passion for creative pursuits like design, illustration, tailoring and literature were starting their own magazines that would never have graced the shelves of a news agent, but which, thanks to the internet, could now be sold directly to readers around the world. And that’s how tiny projects that were started 20 years ago are still going strong today, creating new styles and communities on every continent.
Ten incredible magazines that have survived and thrived
As a reminder of how the gloomiest predictions don’t always come to pass, here’s a list of 10 magazines that were born this century – out of passion, boredom or madness – and have managed to not just survive, but thrive. Let’s start with one of the oldest, which has been around for almost 20 years.
In 2005, artists Attaboy and Annie Owens decided to start a magazine exploring contemporary art – both high and low brow – by showcasing the work of emerging artists. Hi-Fructose’s approach was innovative at the time and showed how what started as no more than a blog could become a magazine with a print edition.
Its secret? Having a different appeal to the established contemporary art magazines: more popular, direct, eccentric and multidisciplinary (from design to illustration, from fine art to curios)
There is a similar story behind Juxtapoz, which was founded by a group of artists and collectors in 1994. The success of this quarterly, which in 2009 overtook established contemporary art magazines like Art News and Artforum in both circulation and prestige, lies in an approach that brings together street art, illustration and psychedelia with more traditional genres like pop art, conceptual art and minimalism.
It is thanks to these grassroots magazines that forms of artistic expression once considered niche and underground have become better known and appreciated by a wider public.
A more recent example in the same vein is Anglo-Italian magazine Sirene, whose motto is “the ocean outside, the ocean inside”.
Printed on recycled paper made from seaweed, it features elegant, nautically inspired design and highly evocative photojournalism focused on the seas and oceans.
The project’s international success was made possible by a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
From Norway comes FUKT, a magazine devoted to contemporary design that ranks among most stunning and original of recent years. Founded by artist Björn Hegardt in 1999, and thanks to the creative work of his life partner and art director Ariane Spanier, FUKT has built a community of obsessive fans.
The title is run by a tiny team and its independence and financial sustainability ensured by subscriptions and limited print runs (many issues are sold out), with no need for advertising.
Interestingly, the Norwegian government incentivises this type of project and covers part of the printing costs, which gives the editorial team the peace of mind to keep experimenting.
Despite its name, Toothache magazine isn’t published by dentists but by a group of chefs. Its motto is “For Chefs, By Chefs”. While not as innovative in its graphic design as the other magazines in this list, its high-quality content ensures visibility and sales.
A decade ago (2013), a new title came along that shook up the somewhat stale and repetitive world of food and beverage magazines with its decidedly punk attitude: Noble Rot.
What’s it about? Wine, music, food and life, with a London slant that has nonetheless built an international readership through its irreverent and chaotic style.
There’s no shortage of independent magazines and blogs devoted to cinema, but they’re all a bit samey. But one magazine that stands out is Shelf Heroes. Having started life as a sporadically printed fanzine produced by obsessive cinephiles, today it’s one of the most entertaining and authoritative magazines in the space, in large part due to its colourful illustrations and top-notch content.
Some publications are born out of an individual’s single-minded determination to create a magazine. In the case of Real Review, that individual was architect Jack Self. Through a partnership between his architectural firm and a graphic design agency, he created a magazine that captured the zeitgeist, in other words what it means to live in today’s world. In a period marked by urban regeneration and social innovation, Real Review’s readership extends beyond just architects.
Part of its success is down to its unique “folded” format.
Starting life as a radio show in 2005 in London, Little Atoms’ mission is to defend science and rationalism while encouraging debate. Ten years into the project, a website was created for the radio show’s content, with more coverage of politics, art and literature gradually added. This then eventually spawned a smart opinion magazine that is still going strong today.
Last but not least is Australian magazine Frankie. Founded by friends Louise Bannister and Lara Burke, it’s devoted to the things they love: art, illustration, creative fashion, reading and photography. The magazine has a colourful, creative and feminine feel, which is why it felt like a breath of fresh air when it first came out 15 years ago.
And as with many of the other magazines we’ve looked at in this article, it owes part of its success to attractive and intriguing covers.