Q: What do you get if you cross the internet and magazines?
A: Ivan Pope.
Pope is a former zinester who created the world’s first internet magazine, The World Wide Web Newsletter (later 3W Magazine), in 1993. He later went on to help launch the first consumer magazine about the web, .net, and also invented the cybercafé as part of an installation at the ICA in London.
He’s now turned his entrepreneurial zeal to creating Magazero, an online magazine store dedicated to “gathering the best, freshest, strangest, most inaccessible, juciest, loveliest independent magazines from around the world and bringing them into your life.”
Magtastic talked to him about the future of magazine selling, setting up a competitor to Stack, and the glory of the magazine ecosystem.
What made you want to set up an online magazine shop?
I’ve wanted to open a magazine shop for about fifteen years now. In the nineties, I had an internet business with an office in New York (domain names; I sort of invented that industry). I used to spend a lot of time there and one thing I loved were the magazine shops with floor to ceiling racks of every magazine you could imagine. I always thought it would be a great thing to open something similar in the UK.
I have a background in fine art and publishing, so I was always more interested in the independent and creative end of mag publishing. I never did anything about opening such a shop, but last year I realised that since Borders had closed, there was nowhere for me to go and browse the independent sector. So it just sort of happened.
The name just came from thinking about the subject. I’m always keen on memorable names that have some relation to the business – and the domain name has to be available!
Why don’t mainstream shops stock independent magazines?
It is a two-way street. The traditional newsagent distribution network is a dreadful, historic monopoly and most newsagents only stock the top sellers. There’s never going to be space for more than a few independents and I think the mags themselves have to think laterally a bit. Even Borders only stocked a smallish subset of the available mags.
Of course, some mags are brilliant at ferretting out retailers, and there are some outstanding stockists out there. But on the whole I just don’t think enough effort has been made historically to get the right mags to the right stores.
Is there still a future for a vibrant bricks-and-mortar magazine shop?
I love the idea of bricks-and-mortar magazine shops and I’ve always wanted to open one (or a few), probably with a coffee shop integrated.
In the meantime, I intend to take the shop in physical form to various markets and festivals, both to sell stock and to publicise the brand. It’s a sort of halfway house to having a real store – and along the way I’ll learn about how to sell this stuff.
What makes your selection unique?
My aim is to create an online browsable shop that stocks as many independent magazines as I can lay my hands on.
I don’t really have any strict criteria. Although I throw the term ‘independent’ around a lot, I would not hesitate to carry magazines that are not strictly independent – and I believe that all magazines have a duty to be hugely ambitious, though this often kills them.
I believe that it is the richness and variety of the magazines that I stock that will bring success. My aim is to find magazines that are not really known or widely available, and to stock them. Then I have to bring them to the attention of potential buyers – that’s marketing. I take the view that there is a huge untapped market for magazines, and that work I undertake to bring mags to the attention of new buyers will be repaid.
I have an initial target of stocking 300 mags, which I think I’ll hit by the end of next year. It’s a slow business, but at the moment I am in the very early stages of building a system, a brand, customers, the lot. It can’t be done overnight – largely as each magazine has to be sourced separately.
That of course is a difficulty and a benefit. Each magazine that is unique to me brings me in new customers. I hope that when the shop is filled, when I hit a certain volume, I’ll be able to identify how and why people buy certain magazines, and to encourage them to buy more.
I see this as a two-way street. I’m here to bring magazines to consumers, but I’m also here to help publishers find new markets. If we can work together, much is possible. It’s hardly a secret that many wonderful independent magazines are run by people who are not that interested in marketing them – if I can help with that, it will make me happy.
How many of each title do you keep in stock?
It’s early days, so I only keep a small amount of each magazine in stock. But I hope to increase this rapidly as I reach out to my markets. There is an interesting issue here that relates to the historic method of distribution (I started my internet entrepreneurial life as the publisher of a magazine in 1993, so I’ve seen this from both sides). I can take every magazine that, for example, Central distributes, on sale or return. And I can take more than I can sell without risk. So, of course, I will stock everything that Central distributes.
But I would rather buy direct from the publishers and pay them cash without an option for return. To do this, I need to understand what I can sell. Also, I need to be prepared to carry stock, back issues, until they find a buyer. Maybe I need to discount stock, things like that. Over time, I hope that I can build relationships with the publishers that are valuable on both sides, that allow a more logical method of distribution. That is, of course, an ambitious hope, but the internet holds out certain possibilities in this regard.
Do you hope to make this your main profession?
It is a serious business proposition and I believe it has a lot of potential. I am already seeing orders from around the world, which encourages me.
I don’t expect it to make money for a while, but things are encouraging so far. I think the marketplace for magazines is certainly big enough to support the business, and the numbers are large enough so long as I can be efficient in my practices.
What title would you love to stock that you currently don’t?
As I mentioned, I have a lot of titles that I intend to stock over the coming year. I have a fast growing database of titles, though of course some are more interesting to me than others. I’m very excited by too many magazines to mention, but among others I hope to have Teller, Post Modern Ink, Eat Me, Tickl, Incongrous Quarterly, Letter to Jane and roomservice available in doublequick time.
You mention on your site that you’re about to start Magazine Club subscriptions, similar to Stack. Is serendipity rather than loyalty the future of magazine buying?
I love Stack and it was one of the inspirations to actually get this thing up and running. I think I sort of thought, I wish I’d done that. Then I thought, hey, just get on with it.
I think there are many ways that need to be tried to get people consuming more mags, to get things in front of them. To me, Magazine Club will be a way of creating connections between the publishers and the consumers with a range of ideas and offers to put in front of members. I am keen to try random subscriptions of various kinds.
I think one problem magazines have with loyalty is that they often have long gaps between issues and the buyers either have to chance on them in a store or buy a subscription. So I’d like to fill in the gaps by creating regular mixed subscriptions, things like that. Serendipity is certainly a huge part of the mix – who would ever go out looking for It’s Nice That or Fire & Knives, for example? But once you’ve found one, often you yearn for more things like it.
I also think we could do some work on defining what a magazine actually is. We think we know, but of course most people don’t have a good idea of where a quality indie mag fits in their lives. So I’d like Magazine Club to talk about how magazines fit, how they are not books and not newspapers and not websites, but somehow transcend all of those things, to create a more specific need in the buyer.
I also think it is incumbent on us to talk up the whole idea of quality magazine publishing to the press, to create stories that get the word out. The music business does this constantly, but the magazine business is sort of hidden from view to a degree. So I would like to be part of a movement that creates a new generation of buyers, and hopefully a new generation of publishers (if that is necessary, possibly not!).
Describe your perfect magazine.
I often buy magazines and don’t read any of them at all. My perfect magazine is a package that attracts me, something lush and arty but not too lush and not too designed. The content offers up the potential for finding out something new about the world, maybe gives me an opening, an opportunity to participate or create something of my own.
My perfect magazine is maybe a bit like a book only it’s not a book, it’s disposable but I won’t dispose of it. It would maybe contain a crosssection of the books on my bookshelf, some art, some architecture, some history, something about literature, great images. Maybe it’s unsettling or freaky, but not unpleasant.
Anything you’d like to add?
It’s a great ride, I’m loving every minute of it so far! My view is this: to the publisher, editor, funders and staff of every indidvidual magazine, the survival of that mag is paramount and they pour their souls into it, which is just as it should be.
But to me, I can’t get too invested in any single magazine. To me the glory is the magazine ecosystem in total, the glorious life cycle, births and deaths of all the magazines. In total, they seem like a representation of all that is good in the world. Some will always fade away just as others will always be created. That’s what I love, the entirety of it.
Magazero currently offers a coupon worth 25% off all magazines here. UPDATE: coupon has now expired.