The Abstract Club (a media freelancers Association founded by Jo Scholz and Karen Dyke and funded by Ads24) meets once a month to listen to an expert speaker and exchange views. Most recently we met to hear Ferial Haffajee, editor in chief of the City Press. After a thought provoking assessment of the state of the nation, she talked about the state of print. On this subject, she confessed to feeling some optimism. Britta Reid writes on being inspired by print in general, and gorgeous magazines in particular.
She gave the example of the New York Times, where hiring levels have recovered, albeit that staff with different skills are being hired. A commitment to providing investigative reporting and intelligent culture across platforms seems to be paying off for this publication. Another feature of the US press scene is the importance of the ‘hyperlocal’, and she mentioned Philly.com, an online venture of the Inquirer and Daily News that provides city and suburban news in Philadelphia.
To my delight, she then cited the “most beautiful magazine in the world”, Monocle, as an example of success. It is most reassuring to have one’s reading choice endorsed by so eminent an editor. Since it was founded roughly eight years ago, Monocle has jostled with Vanity Fair for the position of my favourite magazine. The eye-watering prices of imported airmail magazines have made me try to curb my tendency to purchase as many as I once did. But Ferial’s comments were the trigger that sent me straight from the Abstract Club to Exclusive Books to buy the latest issue. From there, it was home to several cups of Rooibos Chai and the unadulterated pleasure of reading a magnificent magazine.
Monocle is published 10 times a year, and the issue I took home was the July/August double issue, which features the annual Top Cities in their Quality of Life survey. If ever one needed reassurance about the resilience of print, it is to be found in holding a glossily bound 314-page extravaganza of intelligent writing, exquisite photography, elegant typography and stylish graphics. The magazine covers global affairs, business, culture, and design in relatively short and digestible format. The design is, as Ferial pointed out, beautiful. So too is the tactile experience of paging through it, as the publication uses a variety of different stocks.
The publication states, “we believed there was a globally minded audience of readers who were hungry for opportunities and experiences beyond their national borders”. To deliver on this, the publication has a network of bureaux from Toronto to Singapore and correspondents in predictable locations such as Milan and unlikely ones such as Bogotá. It proudly looks for fresh stories and still sends commissions photographers to go out on assignments to produce awesome visuals.
It sells over 81 000 copies each issue and has 18 000 subscribers at $150 a year. Last year when the Japanese media company, Nikkei, made a small investment in the publication it was valued at $115 million. Monocle was founded by Tyler Brûlé in 2007. He had already launched Wallpaper*, the unchallenged bible of exquisite metrosexual taste and design. This feat brought him the recognition of becoming the youngest ever recipient of the British Society of Magazine Editors Lifetime Achievement Award. Brûlé sold this title to Time Warner and, once his non- compete clause expired, he launched Monocle, demonstrating that he was certainly not a one trick pony.
Ruaridh Nicoll of the Guardian, once called Brûlé that “punctilious tastemaker”, while Gawker, rather less flatteringly referred to Monocle as “that bedrock of lifestyle sensuality and gaywad uptightness”. If Brûlé has built a media empire on exquisite taste, he has also shown an acute sense of commercialism.
He has eschewed areas that did not bring in the profit. He, memorably, once said that he did not see the point of producing a tablet version of a magazine, unless one as in the porn business. The cost of producing a publication in all the different formats required for a tablet version just isn’t worth it. He has also stated that he wants to be remembered for “not tweeting”. He produces a magazine and writes a column for the Financial Times, so he points out that his readers know where to find him.
While being no fan of social media, Brûlé has successfully taken Monocle into other areas. Extending his belief in quality print has lead to two new seasonal publications: The Forecast, giving insights into the year ahead, and The Escapist, a summer travel magazine. Books include The Monocle Guide to Better Living, The Monocle Guide to Good Business and the The Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes. There is a series of travel guides on London, New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Of course there is a website with high quality films and slide-shows extending the print stories. In keeping with Brûlé’s well-developed sense of commercialism, you have to be a subscriber to access all the stories ever run in the magazine. It is on this site that one is able to listen to Monocle 24, a round the clock radio station covering foreign affairs, urbanism, business, culture, design, food and drink and print media.
There are Monocle shops in New York, London, Toronto, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore that sell products that cater to their readers’ tastes. Or, more accurately, give their customers the assurance of having “good taste”. (I have bought some of my most successful gifts in these stores!) There are cafés in Tokyo and London and more to come. The publication has just run its first Quality of Life Conference, building on its regular survey. The publication is clear in its intention to “make sure that our readers feel part of something more like a club, offering them regular invitations to subscriber events”.
In taking his brand into these areas, Brûlé has been most astute in building relationships with advertisers. He sees them as being “patrons” of Monocle’s approach and philosophy. He integrates these patrons cleverly into his offerings. He produces the most splendid booklets for his patrons that are visually enticing and useful, and add bulk and interest to the magazine. Clearly the brands that appear in the retail shops are carefully curated from the select group of patrons.
He also expounds a theory of “adjacency” in relation to his advertisers – sorry, patrons. This means that they not only enjoy the value of being integrated into “like minded” editorial, but benefit from being in each other’s company. He believes that adjacency can be most successfully built in print.
Print is the foundation of Brûlé’s empire, and he has successfully built a unique club, or perhaps more accurately, clique of readers and patrons.
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