Turning a book into a blog into a shop with Jeremy Leslie of magCulture
“The French word for shop is magasin. The two things have a shared history.”
Jeremy Leslie and magCulture are both well-known in the independent magazine industry, with the brand having a long history all they way back to 2003. Already well established when I got really into magazines over a decade ago, it's rare to read about what goes on behind the scenes at magCulture.
I sent Jeremy an email to find out more about magCulture's history and to hear how a simple blog turned into a physical—and well-revered—shop.
Dan R: Most of us know of the magCulture brand from the blog, but there is a lot of other work that runs alongside it. Can you give a brief history of magCulture?
Jeremy L: The name first appeared as the title of a book I wrote in 2003; that led to the website, at first just an experimental use of a free WordPress theme. Launched in 2006, it quickly established a global audience of magazine creatives. The first magCulture.com post was about the launch of Grazia (lost in a subsequent hack of the site) [Found it -DR]
When I set up my own studio in 2009 it seemed natural to use the magCulture name and reputation for that too. I ran it from home at first but moved to a shared Clerkenwell studio in 2014. Meanwhile, I’d published my book The Modern Magazine (2013), and launched it with a conference day named after the book. That became ModMag, held annually in London and New York.
Alongside the website – now known as the magCulture Journal –and ModMag, we experimented with online magazine sales and the occasional pop-up. Towards the end of 2014 I began to think about a dedicated magazine shop in London. A curated, specialist space to show off the best titles. It took seven months to find the right space, and another four to get the legals sorted. On 11 December 2015, the magCulture shop opened.
The Shop and Studio share the same space in Clerkenwell, and we can also adapt the Shop to accommodate monthly talks and regular student group visits.
There are many aspects to magCulture they are essentially all the same: a curatorial exercise in content. Finessing the lineups and relative lengths of the contributions for ModMag is just like editing a magazine, involving variety and pace across the day. And selecting and presenting the magazines in the shop is an extension of the same process. And remember, the French word for shop is magasin. The two things have a shared history.
DR: Who makes up the magCulture team, seeing as you work across multiple disciplines and business types?
JL: It’s a tight team: Stephanie Hartman has been events producer since the first ModMag, and Jamie Atherton manages the shop day-to-day. After running the shop on Saturdays, Thea Smith now writes for the Journal. And Liv Siddall co-hosts our podcast and hosts ModMag. We have extra help in the shop and for events, but those four are the key people.
DR: What was the process like, from having a blog to adding the online shop and then opening a physical space? Was the shop your ultimate aim from the beginning?
JL: It’s been an unplanned, organic process. I’ve always believed in trying things out, and downloading that early copy of WordPress was a typical jump into the unknown; the shop was another experiment and most recently we’ve launched a podcast to find out how that works. All these parts feed each other, with our tag, ‘We love magazines’ tying them together. There was never an ultimate aim of opening a shop but I love that the development of magCulture has taken me there. Having a public space for magCulture has been a revelation.
DR: How much does the blog influence the selection of magazines in the shop, and vice versa?
JL: There is crossover of course; the latest Journal posts are projected on the shop wall, and the ‘We Love...’ shelf mainly comprises of the mags we’ve featured online.
We use the same selection criteria for the Journal and Shop, but there are examples in each that do not appear in the other. The shop carries over 500 titles, and we can’t possibly cover that many mags on the Journal.
There are also excellent magazines we don’t sell – The New York Times Magazine, for instance, isn’t available for sale in the UK. We recently interviewed the creative director of Esquire for the Journal, about that magazine’s adoption of a more indie-style strategy and aesthetic. But we don’t have plans to stock Esquire at present.
We do sell from the Journal pages, directing people to the online shop at the end of reviews where we stock the magazine concerned, but that option part never influences what we cover in our posts.
DR: I hate asking people about trends in publishing, but how do you see the next year or two play out with regards to indie magazines? Or is it too hard to predict, with the breadth of new titles popping up?
JL: It’s not easy to predict specific things, but on a general level, opening the shop has given us insight into who the customers are and what they’re reacting to.
It’s been fascinating seeing how all types of people are interested in magazines, especially the very twenty somethings who are supposed to be beyond print. The Shop appeals to all ages but most customers are younger. They’re bored by digital; dependent on it (as magCulture is and all the magazines are) but bored. The same is true of the people launching new magazines.
This is reflected in the type of launches we see: a whole range of women’s magazines addressing womanhood in the post #metoo era, magazines about mental health, and most recently, men’s magazines responding to #metoo with questions about contemporary manhood. These are young people’s concerns, reflected in magazine form. This is a major source of my positive feelings about the future of print.