Coffee, magazines and Caffeine

Friday, 3 March, 2017 — Interviews

Caffeine is a London-based coffee magazine. Founder and editor, Scott Bentley, explains its cafe-focused distribution model and goes into depth about its four-year journey scaling to a 40,000 copy print run.

Subsail: Caffeine is already at an impressive 24th issue. What has your growth been like during the past four years?

Scott Bentley: Our growth has been steady and organic, we started off printing just 4000 copies and I still have a photo of my two kids sitting on the palette of mags that were delivered to my house that day. We now print close to 40,000 mags for our London Coffee Festival issue – that’s more than we used to sell on Arena when I worked on it. We supply to around 150 speciality cafes in London alone and we supply about the same again around the UK. Our growth has been word of mouth, we have a strict policy on who can distribute the magazine and we turn down as many cafes as we take on.

How does your distribution work in London? Do you hand-deliver to those 150 cafes? I bet it’s a great way to network within the coffee scene!

In the early days I did deliver to all the London cafes in my car, It was a great way to keep in touch and find new places. It was also a real lift when I used to get cheers from Baristas when I bought the magazine into the cafes. However the delivery was taking 3-4 days each issue and eating into my home life. We now work with another free distribution magazine and club together to minimise our courier costs.

Being a free magazine yet reaching a fifth year of production, it must be a profitable operation. Is the magazine a side project or does it generate enough from ad sales—or indeed any other income sources—to sustain people full time?

Caffeine is bi-monthly so it’s not a full-time operation to produce the magazine itself. We have a team of staff who work on a freelance basis alongside other work they do, but the business side needs constantly working on. By trade I’m an Art Director and I do have other regular clients I work with creating their magazines. I like to have a few regular projects as it keeps things fresh.

Producing a well distributed, bi-monthly side project, it must be a challenge to manage content, contributors and production. Can you explain any systems you’ve put in place to help with creating the mag? Are there any specific tools you use to make the making of the magazine easier or smoother for you?

I wouldn’t say Caffeine was a side project, more of a 50/50 split with my other commitments. I’ve got a pretty solid print and distribution team in Michael and Leah at CPUK. I think finding the right bits of software and automating a lot of the background tasks really helps too. I never found an out of the box solution that I was happy with, software was either too expensive and bloated or just didn’t have the right functionality. We now use a combination of tools such as Zapier, Dropbox and Google apps to keep things ticking over. Having a rock solid internet connection is key, our files and systems all operate in the cloud, it’s the only way we can work together as we dont have a centrally located office. We are at the stage where we will be looking for an Intern or junior member of staff soon though as we expand the business.

I think publishing is definitely underserved with specific tools to manage magazines but there are always good alternatives. Can you outline one such set up you have (eg Zapier) that makes making the magazine easier?

In the past we have made our flatplans in Indesign but everything was manual and when things moved I was the only one able to change things. Our adverts were sold and entered onto a google doc and our invoices were created manually once the magazine has finished. This was all very labour intensive and took me away from creating the magazine. We now use MagManager, it’s a pretty lightweight piece of cloud based software that does all of those things and many more. While it’s not free it’s well worth the relatively small subscription price. We also use typeform for when cafes want to become stockists, they have to go through a series of questions to qualify, this is then emailed to me and sent to a google doc spreadsheet via Zapier.

You offer year-long subscriptions to the Caffeine, which, because of the tiny cover price, are extremely affordable. How importantly do you view subscription sales?

It’s a very difficult position because we are essentially a ‘free’ magazine, so we would feel weird charging a big cover price for it. However we also understand we provide a service for those who either can’t get to a speciality cafe where its stocked or simply don’t want to miss out. That being said, due to the Brexit vote, paper prices have gone up and Royal Mail put their postage prices up every year, so we will need to push the price up very soon. Subscriptions for us is more about getting it into peoples hand and less about a big profit.

I’m sure a lot of people outside of London are happy you make the magazine available online! How do you see your position in the coffee industry. You cover a lot of different angles in the magazine, from equipment and cafés to competitions, meaning you have a wide-ranging voice. And where did the idea spring from? Are you a big coffee enthusiast?

I am a big coffee enthusiast now, but when I started the magazine I was learning on the job. I just wanted to find out more and share that with others. New ideas come from many of different sources, we have a lot of contributors who come to us with ideas, other times they come while talking between ourselves or about topical subjects within the coffee industry that effect the consumer, our remit is not to to cover just coffee but everything that touches and interacts with the world of coffee.

I’m not sure I can tell you how we are seen by others, but I hope we walk a line between speaking to the coffee enthusiasts that seek us out and people working in the industry and give them all something interesting to read.

Posted by Dan Rowden on Friday, 3 March, 2017