Offscreen's Kai Brach on his magazine making journey and the ways digital publishing can help print magazines
This interview was originally published in the Coverage newsletter on April 12, 2018.
I always love reading Kai's thoughts and processes behind making Offscreen (go check out the Offscreen blog for hours of essential reading!). The way he has used the internet and social media for his "off-screen" magazine over the past six years is super interesting and, more importantly, very successful.
I shot over some questions to Kai about his digital/print balance, how social media factors in the indie mag sphere and how he uses his newsletter in between issues. Grap a cuppa and enjoy...
Dan R: You've made a name for yourself in the indie mag world for documenting the behind the scenes of Offscreen and the making of a print magazine. Do you feel that was an essential part of the process of making Offscreen, or was it more for the aim of helping others?
Kai B: I think both. Writing about it also helps me understand my process a lot better and document my own learning curve. A few weeks after I published the inaugural issue, I wrote a lengthy blog post about how I got started. To my surprise a lot of my online friends shared and liked, and that showed to me that in the tech community there is a fascination with making tangible (in my case printed) products. It drove a lot of traffic to my site which was a clear sign that I was on to something. I tried to keep at it ever since, although I've been a bit slack in recent months.It's amazing to see how many people now write to me thanking me for putting together so much information for fledgling publishers. I don't earn a cent for putting this stuff out there, but the goodwill and recognition I receive in return is totally worth it!
DR: About a year ago you merged your newsletter and the print magazine into a single brand under Offscreen. How do you now use the newsletter as a channel alongside your less frequent but more substantial print output?
KB: I think email/newsletters as a format is coming back big time. More and more people realise that social media followers tend to be fickle and hard to engage with. Email, on the other hand, is personal; it's right in your inbox to be read when it suits you. Used well, it remains the most powerful digital tool to stay connected with an audience.
My weekly newsletter, the Dispatch, does a few things for me: it gives me the feeling of having 'shipped' something every week; it reminds my readers of Offscreen in between print issue (4 months!); and it allows me to give my audience updates on the making of the next issue and build up a bit of buzz before the next release.
As the newsletter readership has grown to around 14,000 subscribers, it's also become secondary promotional tool for my sponsors. I can now sell a sponsor slot for the magazine and say, "Your print slot also includes a digital component through the newsletter." Sponsors always like to hear that they get some exposure they can measure.
DR: What do you think are the important parts of social media for a magazine’s success in 2018?
KB: I use Twitter and Instagram quite a bit and I would say it's important to be present on a few social media channels, but wouldn't go as far as to say that it's essential or crucial to Offscreen's success. Having said that, I've heard from friends who run other brands and they said that Instagram really helped lift them up, especially at the beginning.
As with most things online, we fatigue pretty quickly. When I follow a new brand the first few posts might be interesting, but unless they offer me anything useful beyond sales promos, there is hardly any reason to really pay attention what they have to say. And that goes back to what I mentioned earlier: an email will always get you more clicks and engagement than a social media post, although similar rules apply to both: drop the sales BS, don't be a brand, instead make it personal and useful.
In my opinion, the way brands are taking over platforms such as Instagram is quite disheartening. It used to be a place for personal creative expression. Now that tranquility is all too often interrupted by some useless Kickstarter gimmick that shouts "YOU NEED THIS" at you. You definitely don't want to be that arsebag.
DR: I find it really interesting your balance between using digital to promote Offscreen and build a brand (and also the newsletter) but being quite against publishing the magazine’s content online. Is there place for print magazines to use digital without feeling like they have to put content online to get better reach and exposure?
KB: I'm not against sharing some (or all) content online, but for a magazine called Offscreen it certainly makes less sense. 😉
I think generally, it's worth trying. If you think you can generate more traffic through a digital or online version of the magazine and you can do it well, why not?! As long as it doesn't cannibalise sales of the magazine, it's probably a good idea to explore. For Offscreen, I decided to use a newsletter as my way of engaging digitally. Rather than republishing most of the magazine's content online, the newsletter is a complementary format that reaches new readers that may not have heard of the magazine or aren't ready to buy a copy just yet. It also gives me direct access to my audience in a way that a blog or an eBook can not.