Indie Publishing: How they define the balance between print and digital.

Magazine publishing has been witnessing a renaissance since the start of Kinfolk in 2011, championing a new ethos in how we read and how we like to experience magazines. With the emergence of independent magazines, readers have been charmed by a slower lifestyle and cleaner product, where the focus lies on being able to savour a printed publication again and again, a counter-culture to the increasingly disposable mainstream media.

Since Kinfolk the industry has been reshaped by a collection of magazines, such as Cereal and Hole & Corner magazine, both of which share the direction of an experience-based publication that can be treasured. Readers are treated to a quarterly publication of lifestyle and travel inspirations where the visual aesthetic values white-space and awe-inspiring minimalist photography.

In this neo-indie magazine movement where print seems to reign as supreme, I will be looking at how the brand of Cereal and Kinfolk take their lifestyle inspirations and engage with their online community, and how connecting digital and print content is the future for a successful publication.

A Rebirth of Print Publication

It seemed that independent magazines appeared into our consciousness overnight to delight readers and offer up a choice of lifestyle that defies the disappointing mainstream publications. The Guardian writer Mark Hooper argues ‘Who says print is dead?’ and speaks to Jeremy Leslie of magculture.com where Leslie looks at the birth of independent publishing. “Ironically, I attribute it to the internet. A lot of people have discovered their opinions and voices writing blogs and sharing in social networks. A natural next step is to create something permanent…I think mainstream publishers have let down the industry and individuals are trying to create better publications”.

These individuals create a collaborative artistic product, where their final publication has a smaller circulation than long standing publications, but with a growth of circulation which amazes. To use Kinfolk as an example, their second issue distributed 4,000 copies which now seems tiny in comparison to the reported 55,000 copies sold for their Summer 14’ issue. The reception to this new form was confirmed by the internet in the early stages with up to six million page views on the magazines website, within three three weeks of its conception. This simpler aesthetic has a growing audience as word spreads to slow down and work less, enjoy life and relish in friends, family, food and travel.

Independent magazines are mindful of their mainstream distribution, with Kinfolk choosing to be stocked in independent boutiques and selected shops like Toast and Anthropologie which helps reach like-minded hands within retail. The reach of their printed delights does not stop at the quarterly treat, Kinfolk have branched out into the book publishing world providing their audience with a shining example of a coffee table bible. The Kinfolk Table – Recipes for Small Gatherings was in its fourth printing in 2014 with over 70,000 copies sold so far. With the book styled in a beautifully Kinfolk manner, focusing on sharp photography and global inspiration for the readers to curate their own culinary gatherings from.

Cereal took a travel guide approach to book publishing by releasing Guided: London in 2014 to provide a discerning edit to a most visited capital in England. The publication provides the reader with personal essays and photography acquired from a select community of friends and artists giving the guide an exclusive, friendly appeal. With independent magazines releasing controlled material with books along with quarterly magazines, the lifestyle they present feels genuine and consistently in control of a ‘purer living’ lifestyle. Their image doesn’t feel rushed or seasonal, there are no motivations to do anything other than share experiences.

We now see that online brands are making the move into the print world, wanting to capture the minds of readers and document experiences thoughtfully. Airbnb is an online booking service for travellers looking for inspirational spaces across the world to stay in and where individuals can host in their own unique home. The service certainly has a community feel, and Airbnb want to present that in a more permanent way in their new quarterly Pineapple. Chief marketing officer at Airbnb says “Airbnb is one of the world’s largest story-doing platforms…long form content is an essential part of our future strategy”. This sharing of life experience in a printed format is a sign of how print is experiencing a rebirth, connecting people within niche audiences. Independent publications are able to share and promote a lifestyle that encourages community and longevity.

How Digital works for Cereal and Kinfolk

Kinfolk manage to connect with their online community in the same understated way they manage to capture our imaginations in print, keeping their values aligned through both platforms. Nathan Williams the editor in chief and brand director of Kinfolk started his creative journey as a popular blogger, his experience with Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram all collate towards the online presence of the brand today. On Instagram, the magazine is currently ranked in media accounts at 255 with a following of 500,000 and growing. The hashtag #kinfolk is shared globally at such a rate its general monthly rise averages out at 16.4%. This photo sharing growth is consistent with the rise in circulation of the magazine, showing that both forms of media are growing for the brand, and showing equal engagement. Georgia Frances King is the editor of Kinfolk and says in an interview with Hemlock Printers that “We don’t try to recreate the printed publication for tablets, or online…the content is available to read on our website, and along with our popular Instagram feed, the digital community we create really works to encourage people to order the printed piece”. Kinfolk’s platforms work together to support their overall brand and movement making it seem that print and digital are equally valued.

The presence of short films on Kinfolk’s website offer up a vital sharing capability to followers of the magazine, titled ‘Saturday’ Kinfolk offer a series of delicate short films promoting a season, gathering or an activity. The films are mesmerising and present the lifestyle Kinfolk embody perfectly, ‘An Ode to Summer’ provides a wonderful example of what Kinfolk accomplish in print, promote online and encourage in life.

Kinfolk Magazine: Issue 4 (An Ode to Summer) from Kinfolk (kinfolk.com) on Vimeo.

Cereal place equal importance on their digital presence as they do on their well thought out, delicate print content. In an interview with VSCO, the editor Rosa Park says the aim is to “stop engaging in whatever other distractions you have, to just hit pause, stand still, and take in what’s in front of you and be in awe of it”. Photography holds a huge part of this inspiring aesthetic and Cereal has a strong Instagram presence to show for the visual endeavours. Their hashtag experienced a 20.6% rise in January 2014, proving a wide interest is on Instagram to share the visual delights found in Cereal.

Another way Cereal engages with their following is through their Twitter community, they currently have 18.3K followers of @cerealmag tracking their community engagement and sharing activity. Along with their main magazine account Cereal has @GuidedbyCereal for their travelling interests and guides attracting a smaller sect of their readers and fans, this appreciation for the topics within the Cereal mould contribute to an online engagement. Providing soundtracks for the season through a Soundcloud account also, Cereal have collaborated with artists such as Flume to create sounds that reflect the brand and lifestyle. Adding another digital presence such as music allows a further connection with digital users and increases their online sharing potential. When I asked Park how she approached branding on a digital platform when Cereal is such a joy as a physical aesthetic she highlighted the difference of the two platforms.

“As for a digital strategy, we didn’t necessarily have one when we launched Cereal as we were very focused on print but we definitely have one now. Our rule of thumb is to cater our content to digital and how people engage with digital. So keep it short, snappy and highly visual as these are the things that go viral and get shared. You must treat digital and print as completely different animals.”

Digital and Print can work together

Looking closely at how independent publishers balance their print and online content has provided us with an example of how the two platforms do not have to battle each other, there can be a co-operative relationship between the two to represent the brand with fluidity. It’s as Sarah Cremer from Redwood suggests in Mark Hooper’s interview in The Guardian. “Print does certain things very well. There’s a sense of reward – almost luxury – of devoting time to the printed page that you can’t put a price on. But at the same time, there’s an immediacy and ‘shareability’ to the online world that’s just as valuable in it’s own unique way.”
Kinfolk have a motivation towards developing an artistic community where people share a similar sensibility and nature, thriving on developing a certain way of life, and lifestyle. Using digital enables the experiences of one to be shared with the whole, which can only benefit their unique following, and can only support their much valued print editions.

When talking to Charlotte Heal, the Editor of Kinfolk’s winter edition, Charlotte emphasised how the Kinfolk’s aesthetic will continue to “evolve and develop to remain original” so there looks to be an exciting future for the publication ahead for its blossoming community both in online and print.

Cereal has developed a strong independent magazine, and Park certainly has plans for print and digital to move forward into developing their vision at Cereal. The magazine thrives as a visual treat and invites it’s followers to join them on adventures far and wide. After just two years Cereal has acquired a loyal digital and print following and a committed style to food, lifestyle and travel that will continue to delight. Independent magazines with very specific artistic vision know how to make digital and print work for their niche audience, we can only thank them for making reading and experiencing their brand such a pleasure.

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