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My first review of this year is a somewhat unusual one in that it’s of two issues of a magazine that aren’t actually available to buy, as they had already sold out when I received them.
It’s also the first time that I’ve been sent a magazine in a home-made envelope, the reverse side of which contained the face of its creator on an old gig poster. So it was that Wayne Alan Brenner recently sent me the first two issues of his virtuoso creation, Minerva’s Wreck. And they’re tremendous.
And so to my three magazines of the year.
#3: Bloomberg Businessweek
For a long time, Businessweek had some strong content, but framed within a magazine that tried to be a populist version of The Economist one week, and a simplified Popular Science the next. And then, when you tried to read it, you realised that half of the articles were actually aimed at those people who knew the difference between a bear market and a bond rush.
Following its buyout and renaming by the Mayor of New York, it radically changed its look and feel, without sacrificing its knowledge or economic authority. The magazine’s numbers soon turned around, and it is now one of the most interesting mainstream titles out there, with a witty design and strong imagery to match its content.
Though The Economist still has the edge in its global and political resources and commentary, Bloomberg Businessweek is better at drawing out broader life lessons from engaging tales of competition and management, and, crucially, using photography and design to show as well as tell. This is a magazine not just about ideas and movements, but about the people behind them, and it uses all the weapons at its disposal (including a decent commissioning budget) to make a compelling package.
It’s not without its missteps – the one-line summaries of already-short news items are often too truncated to be meaningful, while some company-focused articles can come across as a little lacking in critical analysis. It has also been criticized for dropping in mentions of the $18,000pa Bloomberg terminals that are the source of the company’s wealth. It would certainly be interesting to see how the title would report on a Bloomberg run for the presidency. Some illustrations could be accused of being a little over-frivolous. And, as a non-business/economics type, I have to admit to flicking past as many articles as I read in each issue.
However, what really elevates the publication to Magtastic Top Three status is the work of its talented design team, led by Richard Turley. This is the only newsstand magazine that repeatedly takes risks in its commissions, using illustration, photography, witty flowcharts, infographics and typography to play with the elements of each story. Nothing, not even the logo, is safe from its intelligent playfulness. Not everything works, but for a weekly magazine, its success rate is remarkable. Pretty much every issue contains an image or feature whose design is among the best things I’ve seen that month, easily besting those with four times as much lead time for their articles.
In the past eight months, what was a flagging niche title has become relevant and engaging. Whether or not you follow business, if you are interested in the witty, intelligent, clear design of complex stories, you need to follow Bloomberg Businessweek.
Before I get into my top three of the year, I have a backlog of magazines to review, in a vague attempt to clear my desk by 2011. Today: Swallow
Swallow is a big, bold and heavy food magazine. Not quite Self Service in its solidity, I grant you, but it’s a hardback book that’s 306mm x 235mm (about a foot by nine inches). Inside are 136 pages (plus a 20pp comic insert) on a lovely matt stock. It feels like the kind of Christmas annual I used to get as a kid. It’s a biannual, and it retails at $25. As an object, it’s bold, weighty, and attractive. But how does it read?
It’s been a fascinating year for magazines.