A temple to the printed world

A temple to the printed world

Giovanni Blandino Published on 12/5/2022

Edicola 518: A temple to the printed world

Nicknamed the ‘temple of beautiful paper’, Edicola 518 is an old news stand in the centre of Perugia in central Italy. It was reopened in 2016 after a long period of closure by a close-knit collective, with the aim of forging a new connection with the city and allowing its hidden culture to re-emerge.

Today Edicola 518 sells a unique range of indie magazines, artist’s books, fanzines, books and much more. It has cemented its position as a successful and renowned business in the print media sector, and has built up a small community of loyal fans.

We interviewed one of Edicola 518’s founders, Alberto Brizioli, and asked him to recount their story and the choices they made and share a few of their ideas for the future.

Hi Alberto. We know that Edicola 518 all began with a print magazine. Can you describe how it happened?

Yes, it all began with a magazine, Emergenze, which we started working on in 2015. A group of people with decidedly different professional backgrounds had developed around the publication: some of us were journalists, there was the Maltese artist Kristina Borg, and I worked mostly with video and photography. What we had in common was that we had all experienced living far from the local area: some of us are from Umbria, others are from Milan. But with the magazine we wanted to go back to doing something practical, to investigate the city and rebuild our relationship with it. Emergenze therefore talked about Perugia and aimed to help its hidden cultural attributes emerge – hence the name.

How did this lead to you opening Edicola 518?

Other projects immediately sprang up around the magazine. One example was Kristina Borg’s installation Riprendere il filo: a red thread that zigzagged from one end of Perugia’s historic centre to the other. There was Walter Meregalli’s photography exhibition, depicting Perugian residents and passers-by. We organised various workshops. Then finally – in June 2016 – we started looking for a physical space to use as a base and sell our products. This news stand in Perugia came to mind: it had been closed for some time, but it had a great position in the city centre. We thought it would be great to take this kiosk and completely overhaul both its look and its contents.

Opening – or rather reopening – a news stand in the 2010s must have seemed like a risky move. What encouraged you to go down this particular path?

To be honest, it was all very spontaneous: it is difficult to trace the reasons behind our decisions. The initial idea was to make the kiosk a meeting place. But once we had it in our possession, we found we had to fill it: our magazine and artworks were clearly not going to be enough. So we started stocking it with the things we liked.

We started with art and political, social and libertarian discourse. Then we moved on to magazines. We initially contacted the standard news stand distributor, but we immediately realised that they only saw our space as a number. We were kiosk number 518: that’s where the shop’s name comes from.

We wanted to fight back against this logic; we didn’t like this impersonal way of managing things. So we approached a smaller distributor and then, once we had seen what our customers liked, we focused on ‘niche’ products. The print sector may appear to be struggling, but equally this means it is worth investing in rare and high-quality products.

I also think that to a certain extent we managed to create an audience that didn’t previously exist, or at least not in such large numbers. By providing something new we somehow created demand.

What is your business model? Are you entirely focused on selling books and magazines, or do you also put on events and offer other services?

Books and magazines are at the heart of Edicola 518, both in the shop and – particularly since the pandemic – online.

But we have other small ventures too. We are publishers ourselves, and we have a small, informal distribution network that relies heavily on direct relationships. Some businesses turn to us to choose niche printed products for them, instead of going through the traditional distributors. And finally we have art projects and an extremely varied packed summer programme of presentations and events connected to both books and magazines.

Magazines seem to be one of the key parts of your product range. Have you always liked them?

Let’s say we liked them for academic reasons, but we didn’t know much about them. When we founded Edicola 518 we had just graduated, and so it was a time when our passions were really starting to blossom.

Over the years we have been guided by the knowledge we have acquired, as well as by our passions and curiosity. At the end of the day, if you know which channels to keep an eye on, the world of print magazines is relatively small.

How do you think the world of print magazines is evolving today?

It has changed significantly. We think this is due to people being a bit sick of low-quality paper-based content – like that provided by the daily newspapers, for example – which often feels like a summary of the things you can read on the internet.

Abroad, and particularly in the UK and USA, there was already a range of high-quality print magazines. Magazines are very beautiful items, made with extreme care and with interesting contents. Over the last two years, an audience has appeared for these paper objects in Italy too. Indeed, even the large bookshops now often have a corner dedicated to magazines.

Could you recommend three magazines that Pixartprinting blog readers may like?

Definitely TYPEONE, a relatively popular magazine dedicated to graphic design and typography with a different theme each time. The latest issue is about graffiti and urban-inspired type.

BranD is a magazine we love dedicated to branding, packaging and graphic design in advertising.

Finally, there’s Pressing Matters. This fun magazine explores the world of printing and focuses a great deal of attention on artisan objects and typography. It features reports from printers on moveable type and fonts. Basically, it offers insight not only into the work of the artists, but also the craftsmanship behind the printing.

Edicola 518 is not just a news stand, it’s a cultural project with its own small online and offline community. Do you have any stories to tell us about this community?

There was an event that was both positive and negative at the same time. A few months ago, we arrived at Edicola to find the window smashed. It was the second time it had happened. Episodes like this – whether accidental or intentional – almost instantly make you wonder why you bother. Managing this kind of business is difficult, and requires a lot of motivation, in part because, even though it is going well, it pays less than other types of work.

However, our discouragement was counteracted by the response of the community. The following day, the manager of the wine shop on our street brought us a bottle of wine as a gift. Our customers bought books and magazines – online and in store – as a way of supporting us. Some people even offered to pay to repair the damage, though we graciously refused.

Everyone’s willingness to get involved, both from afar and within the city, proved that we are doing something that people care about. Despite the difficulties, events like these make us realise that we are valued.

Finally: can you reveal any of Edicola 518’s future plans?

As always, we have a lot of irons in the fire, meaning it is always difficult to keep up with all our ideas.

We recently bought a larger space next to the news stand, and we have moved most of our products there. We therefore decided to diversify: the kiosk is now dedicated entirely to poetry books. Poetry is a sector that has interested us for some time, but until the last few years we never had time to investigate it.

Our research has led us to publish a series of books, and we have three releases coming up soon.

On 4 September, meanwhile, we’ve organised a festival at Porto dell’Olio in Otricoli. It is an extremely evocative place: an ancient Roman-era river port on the river Tiber. The performances at the festival will all be on the theme of water: the event forms part of some research we are conducting connected to the river, which will feature in an upcoming publication.

photo: Alberto Brizioli / Edicola 518