The precarious state of the magazine has been an ongoing theme of late made all the more newsworthy by some unexpected turns in the story. In Tokyo, for example, we have seen magazines that would seem primed to make it (Studio Voice) falter, along with models of new media (PingMag). Meanwhile, the humble zine, whose emphasis on craft and individual voice make it the most magazine-y of magazines, has risen to the occasion and the spotlight.
Given all of this, it seemed to me a lucky opportunity to hear several industry A-listers speak of their own independent printed publications. The International Magazine Conference, part of the Graphic Passport event hosted by bilingual culture magazine +81, featured Christophe Brunnquell (former art director for Purple), Joerg Koch (creative director for 032c), Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers (directors of Fantastic Man), Studio Newwork (creative directors for Newwork), Yorgo Tloupas (art director for Intersection), Hideki Nakajima (graphic designer), and Theseus Chan (creative director for Werk). Among those speakers were representatives from the thriving (032c, which offers is largest issue to date this month), the surviving (Purple, still going, in some form, after 15 years), and those who dare to start a publication in this era of uncertainty (Newwork).
During the all-day event on October 12, each guest had the stage for roughly forty-five minutes, including a (comparatively very) brief Q&A session. Presentations, for the most part, consisted of breaking down the aesthetic components of each featured magazine, as well as a nod to the genre itself (by means of allusions to both its inherent sense of nostalgia and potential for experimentation). Creative differences aside, recurring talking points included the magazine as an objet d’art, a space for mapping out identity and individual style, and a crucial filter for the age of over-information. These mini-lectures were punctuated by two lively and totally surreal young MCs who conducted the event in an incongruous MTV Video Music Awards fashion. This, along with the generally positive tone of the presentations, conspired to give the event the feeling of a pep rally for the beleaguered magazine.
The core message was solid enough: create something true and original, in both content and aesthetic — something unabashedly good — and your work will have validity, and a place. These were not empty words: each speaker offered proof of the continued vitality and relevance of print in the form of his or her (though notably “his,” as the line-up indicates) magazine. Yet considering the audience, self-selecting magazine fans who had a design-student look about them, this I think constitutes preaching to the converted. That magazines will continue to exist I am fairly confident; however, I am equally confident that magazine culture as we know it will recede. In this regard, I felt like the focus on individual publications missed the point. Left off the table were key issues that are currently undermining the validity of the magazine as a medium: creative directors moonlighting for luxury mega-brands, declining circulation numbers, and the increasingly common trend of contributors going uncompensated.
Still more frustrating was that the very format of the conference highlighted what I believe is failing magazines at large: static, uni-directional, top-down transfer of information from “authority” to audience. Why did the organizers not choose a panel format to create a platform for the invited speakers to interact, pitch ideas, and discuss? Or choose MCs that could offer direction instead of just cheerleading? The information gleaned from the presentations I could have read in an interview — in a magazine, no less — and later I did, in the special edition of +81 that I received along with my entry to the event. While it was a privilege to listen to creative industry influencers, a more rarified experience would have encouraged the spontaneous communication and sense of trajectory and creative frisson that a live event makes possible. The point of working in any medium is, after all, to make the most of its particular potential.