The Digital Companion

The online journal to Offscreen — for all the things that don’t fit into the magazine. We regularly publish behind-the-scenes posts about the making of an indie magazine. Why not grab the RSS feed and follow along?

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What goes around comes around.

At the fantastic The Modern Magazine conference here in London yesterday, I had a brief conversation with another publisher whose magazine no longer exists. She said that when she announced the release of the final issue earlier this year, suddenly a lot of support in the form of emails and tweets came flooding in from readers she didn’t know she had — people expressing their disappointment and sadness that one of their favourite magazines was closing its doors.

What surprised her most was the fact that more people were actually reading the magazine than buying it (assumingly getting it handed down from friends or finding it in cafés and other places). Apparently, there was also a large group of supporters that bought the occassional issue and followed the project online, but never really committed to being a regular reader. And they, too, were sad seeing a project disappear that they appreciated, even if they just followed it from the sideline most of the time.

The overwhelming response to her announcement of bringing the magazine to an end surely made the decision more difficult, but “nice words don’t really pay the bills”, she said frustratedly. It reminded me of something Cameron Moll mentioned in his interview in the latest issue of Offscreen. He said: “There’s an opportunity for a Buy Bootstrap movement along the lines of Buy Local or Buy Organic.”

The ‘passive supporter problem’ (if it can/should be called that!?) is, of course, not only prevalent in the magazine scene, I think it can be applied to all ‘indie’ makers out there. I can easily think of a handful of app developers and bloggers with tons of supporters that really want to see the project grow and succeed, but that rarely take practical action (in most cases by signing up for a paid account, paying a small membership fee, etc.) to actively enable the creators to continue the work they appreciate.

Of course, there is a lot of great ‘indie’ stuff out there and you can’t throw your money at them all. So what to do?

In the last few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to find out more about my favourite products and services, by following them online, by signing up to their newsletter, and by meeting and talking to them in person when I get a chance. If I’m convinced that their values and efforts align with my own, I try to be an active supporter and pay my fair share. This doesn’t just apply to the digital world, of course, I try to apply the same principles to, say, charities or my local shops down the road.

I guess it all comes down to being an informed consumer. Take a moment and think about the tools, products, and services that really make a difference in your life, and then show them your appreciation through proactive support, which in most cases (but not always) means adding them to your list of things worth paying for. You know… what goes around comes around.

Last last-minute reminder that I’m in London and speaking at tomorrow’s The Modern Magazine event, along with an amazing bunch of other, much more talented magazine makers. Tickets are still available. Be quick! If you are there, please grab me for a chat. :)

Hey friends! I just launched Offscreen Issue No9. Shipping will stretch over two days beginning next week Wednesday, September 17th. Order now to be part of the first shipment and receive your magazine even before many of our stockists!

Once again a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone involved in making this issue happen, in particular to our sponsors:

Reminder: I’ll be speaking about Offscreen at the upcoming The Modern Magazine conference in London! Hope to see you there!

Feeling super privileged that envato invited me to do this little mini-documentary about how I make Offscreen. All credits go to the amazing Josh Janssen and Natasha Postolovski for producing a visually stunning video, and cutting out about a million of my ‘ums’.

Disclosure: envato is a regular sponsor of Offscreen Magazine

Issue No9 in the making at our printer in Berlin. Launches online this coming Thursday!

I’m really glad that I was able to be part of IndieCon 2014 here in Hamburg, as far as I know the first conference in Germany dedicated to independent magazines (with a focus on German-speaking publishers, of course). The conference emerged out of a master thesis by Malte Brenneisen and Urs Spindler, analysing the extensive German magazine scene in an attempt to define what ‘indie’ really means.

And that question was very much the underlying theme of the event, too. IndieCon was set in a spectacular location here in Hamburg, ironically the posh HQ of one of Germany’s biggest publishing houses, Hoffmann & Campe. But the irony wasn’t lost on the event organisers, as indie publishers quite literally took over the building in a well-executed ‘pirate’ theme.

The event opened with a keynote by Oliver Gehrs, publisher of German magazine Dummy, that was meant to provoke and criticise, basically reminding indies to focus more on producing publications with soul and attitude and unique quality content, rather than making a bunch of pages look pretty and then selling them for big bucks. In my opinion, it was a fitting way to open a conference that was as much a celebration of indie publishing as it was a reality check in an industry where many “do it for the love of it”. But in all honesty, at times it was also loaded with a typically German seriousness — the ol’ Weltschmerz — that doesn’t leave a lot of room for making things ‘just for fun’, with no intention of changing the world.

Overall, I felt that everyone really enjoyed being amongst people struggling with the same issues such as monetisation, finding/building an audience, moral questions around generating content on a small budget (i.e. not paying contributors), etc. But some of the workshops also went into more practical details, such as how to price a magazine or how to minimise cost in the production process. I met a lot of new faces, but also finally got a chance to shake hands with people whose work I admired for so long.

My talk went well (I think), even though Offscreen was a bit of an exception amongst all the other magazines on display which, of course, focused mainly on the German-speaking market. Nevertheless, it was a successful event by all means, and I believe everyone left with new lessons learned and new ideas sparked.

Again, thanks to the organisers for having me, to the sponsors like AZ Druck (my printer) and Adobe Typekit who helped financially in getting me over there to attend/speak and make the event happen.

I’m off to Berlin now for the production of the new issue! Can’t wait to get my hands covered in ink! Photos to come soon.

The apps I use here at Offscreen

I’m always interested in finding out what tools/apps other people use to get stuff done. In the spirit of sharing, here’s a list of current apps I use to work on Offscreen (by no means complete and in no particular order):

Simplenote
This clever, lightweight note-taking tool helps me capture thoughts and put ideas in order. Its power mainly lies in its ability to sync smoothly across all devices. I’m writing this very post in it and proof-read/edit it on my phone when I have a few spare minutes.

Zoho Invoice
My invoicing software, largely a remnant of my freelancer years. I still use it to invoice stockists, sponsors, etc. The last few updates have really improved the user experience. I particularly like this tool over others because it handles multiple currencies well. However, it’s all still very manual — it doesn’t connect with my (Australian) bank account or reconcile transactions. But I don’t really need that anyway.

Google Docs/Drive
I never thought I’d be so reliant on a word processing app, but Google Docs has been indespensable for me since starting Offscreen. I create around 40-50 seperate documents (one for each contributor) with every issue. Its collaboration and editing features make working with others on content a breeze.

Gmail
I don’t use a native Mac app for my emails. I made the switch to using Gmail in my browser (Chrome) many years ago and still love it! (I have a business account with Google, so no ads, more storage, custom domain name, etc.)

Receipt Bank*
I only signed up for this one a few months ago. It’s my book-keeping app. I can either forward email receipts or upload photos of paper receipts (through my iPhone) and it does all the categorising, finding total amounts, tax, etc automatically. All I need to do is to export a spreadsheet at the end of the quarter and send it to my accountant. It works surprisingly well so far, even though the design/UX badly needs an overhaul (which is in the works, I was told).

Droplr
This is one of the tools I use pretty much every day. It lives in my menu bar and I can drag’n drop anything onto its icon to either create a short-URL, upload a file or take a screenshot, and make it available online. It’s been a super handy companion. Happy to pay for a pro-membership.

1Password
Oh, I have no idea how I’d survive the login mayhem without my trusty 1Password app. It stores all my secret words, and therefore it’s probably the most important piece of software on this machine.

Pocket
Oh yes, online content overwhelms me too. There is just too much I want to read, watch, listen to… I don’t get to read all the things I add to my Pocket app, but especially on long flights, I really enjoy catching up on interesting reads I’ve stored here.

Google Analytics
I occasionally check in with my analytics tool, but what can I say? I find it hard to get excited about statistics and numbers about my own website. It’s all a lot more boring to me than it should be. I know, but I much rather measure success in the amount of nice feedback I get from you guys. ;)

Campaign Monitor
Yep, you guessed it — Campaign Monitor is not just a sponsor of the magazine, I’m also a big fan of their product and use it for Offscreen’s infrequent newsletter.

Adobe Suite
With Typekit, Indesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom and even occasionally Bridge I do use a lot of Adobe products for the visual part of the magazine. It’s easy to criticise them for making software that crashes often, but when I’m in the depth of a project, I realise again and again that these tools are immensely powerful and have matured a lot over the last decade or so.

Dropbox
It’s not perfect, but close to. I wish they’d be stronger advocates for data and privacy protection, but like with so many other things, it’s a trade-off and I’m willing to make it.

Arq
I double-back-up critical data to AWS with this little helper tool.

Espresso + CodeKit + Transmit
Espresso is my text editor of choice. It’s getting a bit dusty and I’ve been meaning to move to Sublime (or maybe Atom), but moving to another editor is like breaking a bad habit. It’s hard, yo!

Tweetbot (with Tweetmarker)
Still the most powerful Twitter app (happy to support indie software too!). It’s going to be interesting to see how Tapbots fares in the face of all the changes Twitter is implementing, and given how hostile they’ve been towards 3rd party app developer in recent years.

Jumpcut
Simple copy and paste tool allows me to have a clipboard history.

Fantastical
A little calendar menu app for quick access of my calendar. I use it for lack of decent alternatives. There are a few design issues that still confuse me after years of using it.

Alfred
Quick access to… everything. It’s a search bar to help you open files, search Google, launch programs, do math calculations, insert often-used snippets of text, etc. I recently found this little plug-in that allows me to convert currencies on the fly. Nice!

Clocks
Another mini app that lives in my menu bar and allows me to check and calculate global times/timezones. Handy when working with contributors from all sorts of places.

Instacast
I try to listen to a handful of podcasts regularly. This app (on Mac and iPhone) helps me keep them in sync. It’s probably the most powerful podcast app for the Mac.

Screeny
I don’t record a lot of screencasts, but when I do, Drew Wilson’s little app never lets me down!

LinkBuilder
A little tool for generating PayPal payment links on the fly. I use these links to request payments for postages fees, resending fees, etc.

* This is a partner link, meaning that I get a small increase in volume or a discount if you sign up through this link. Hope you don’t mind…

A super quick time-lapse video tour around the (shared) Offscreen office here in Melbourne. Love the sunlight we’re getting, but ask me again in three months when we’re in the middle of this city’s brutal summers. :)

We have a date! Issue No9 launches September 11, starts shipping September 17. Can’t wait!

Almost time to pack my bag again. You’ll find me at these events in the next few weeks:

IndieCon in Hamburg (speaking)
upfront in Berlin (attending)
CSSConf in Berlin (attending closing party)
The Modern Magazine in London (speaking)

I’ll be in Berlin during the time in between Hamburg and London. Hit me up if you want to have a coffee and talk magazines/tech. :)

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