The online journal to Offscreen Magazine — for all the things that don't fit into the magazine. We also regularly publish behind the scenes info about the making of Offscreen. Why not follow along and grab the RSS feed?
I love discussing common challenges of producing a magazine with other publishers. One topic that always comes up is advertising, or rather, the need for third parties to help fund the production of the magazine. For most small publishers dealing with advertisers is considered a necessary evil — a small sacrifice in editorial freedom to make the larger vision possible.
Unless you are an established newsstand magazine like Monocle, Frankie or Vogue getting high-profile companies to advertise in your publication is really hard. It’s much more likely that you end up working with smaller companies that, on one hand, are often much more accessible and passionate about your product, but on the other hand don’t have the creative manpower to come up with high-quality artwork for their ads. Art directors spend hundreds of hours creating a beautiful experience for their readers, so it really hurts when cheap ads disrupt that experience by shouting about some product or service the reader ought to purchase.
When I started Offscreen I was trying to come up with a system that is less intrusive. I replaced annoying quarter-, half- and full-page ad slots half-way through an editorial piece in the magazine by presenting eight companies (sponsors) in a very subtle, unobtrusive and unified way in the center of the magazine:
I don’t make a secret of relying on those companies. They help make Offscreen possible. In fact, they now cover pretty much all of the production cost of an issue.
This idea worked out surprisingly well for everyone involved. It really does create a win-win-win situation.
After the first issue went out and people started sending me feedback, I received lots of comments about how nicely designed and beautifully integrated the sponsor pages are. In fact, many readers told me that, for the first time ever, they read every single word of a magazine from cover to cover — including the ‘ads’. I get a sense that most readers don’t just not mind them, they actually find them valuable. If they haven’t heard of one of the sponsors before, they are very much inclined to check them out because they trust Offscreen and know that I won’t feature companies that provide no value. At best, my readers consider the sponsor pages a catalogue of suggestions. At worst, they flick through them acknowledging the fact that these companies made the magazine possible.
What more can you hope for as a sponsor than an audience that actually sees (and I mean ‘look at and read through’) your promotion. Instead of being part of a desperate, in-your-face shouting contest, the tone of the ads is subtle and thoughtful — an approach that creative people clearly appreciate. It takes a certain type of company to ‘get’ that and I believe our readers give our sponsors a lot of credit for that alone.
Besides the obvious financial support, having those sponsors in the magazine serves another purpose. I’m very much proud of the quality of companies that support Offscreen. These are products and services I recommend to my family, friends and colleagues all the time and not just because they give me moneys. I made a conscious effort to create a brand that is associated with companies that people in our industry trust and have high regard for. It adds value to the magazine in non-financial terms that is difficult to measure, but is as (if not more) important than the pay check.
One thing I learned and what I find quite fascinating is the realisation that you can make something less intrusive and less ostentatious, and people actually pay more attention because of it.
Our “Desktop” series features 5 inspiring workspaces every week (or so).
Thanks again to everyone who made it to my talk in New York on Tuesday night. I get so much out of these talks thanks to your generous and kind feedback before and after the talk! Hopefully I will catch some of you during Brooklyn Beta this week.
Also, again a huge ‘thank you’ to the great team at Harvest for providing a well equipped, beautiful space and free drinks. Their office is fantastic and I was told that they welcome similar events, especially if they are not directly related to the tech industry. In fact, Harvest is turning part of the space into a co-working space for creatives called Harvest Hive. What a great idea to open up a dialogue with folks in other fields to mix it up and keep things fresh. I love this community.
Photo by Katie Chen.
Great looking display by our Tokyo stockist Uguisu. Make sure you stop by when you are in town.
Photo by Brian Henriquez
So, do what you need to do to stay fresh. Don’t go through the routines and begin to resent this thing you’re doing. It [requires] a massive amount of focus, I realise, and YOU need to take care of you.
This is a short quote of a lengthy email I received in response to my post about potentially changing a few things about the magazine going forward. (It’s one of over 50 emails that hit my inbox in the last few days.)
The above made me realise more than any other email that the changes I’m thinking about are first and foremost about/for me. If I can’t get excited about a new issue, why continue doing it?
I still haven’t made up my mind about the scope of the changes, but after the positive, loyal response from all of you, I think if I do whatever keeps me excited, it’ll be the best for the product, and thus my readers. :) With heartfelt appreciation for your encouragement,
This visualisation of Ira Glass’ approach of getting better at what you do continues to inspire. I can certainly find myself and my journey with Offscreen in there a lot.
Offscreen has been an experiment for me from the beginning. For most of my readers the incremental changes aren’t very obvious but the mag has evolved quite a bit over the last six issues, visually and editorially. Although we’re only up to issue number six, this experiment has been occupying my mind for at least two years now. It’s the longest I’ve ever focussed on just one thing. If I learned one lesson, it’s that focus is hard, really hard.
The more I speak to my readers, and the more feedback and suggestions I receive, the more I try to imagine how the magazine should or could evolve in the future. Albeit the impact our work has across all aspects of modern life, comparatively, our industry is still quite a small, geeky bunch of tech people that — to be absolutely blunt — easily finds itself caught in an echo chamber of retweets and shared opinions. As a publisher I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to escape this circle and examine what we do from a different angle.
Attending XOXO was refreshingly different in that way. I think one of the reasons why people really enjoy XOXO is that it offers the right mix of people who create technology and those who use it in creative, unexpected ways. The former wants to build the fastest, most usable video platform possible, the latter utilises it in a uniquely creative way to realise his/her idea. I think as an industry, we can learn from both. We’re often too consumed by the technical aspects of our work. We pride ourselves in creating the most beautiful iPhone app, but rarely do we go beyond the creation process. Because we believe our work stops there.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about introducing some changes to Offscreen.
The current premise of the magazine is to show the human side of websites and apps, to explore the personal stories of the creators of digital products. My proposed change would open this up a bit to include not just their creators, but also those who use these products to do innovative, successful or simply fun things:
“Offscreen is a magazine about people who use the internet and technology to be creative and solve problems. It explores the human stories of our digital culture.”
This does not mean that I would stop interviewing/featuring designers, developers or founders. Rather, I would mix it up with people doing innovative work in other (digitally driven) areas such as gaming, online journalism, research, art, pop culture, etc. Simply put, I’d like to a) provide more food for thought and inspiration that exists outside of the developer/designer niche and b) make our geeky industry more accessible and approachable to a larger audience. More than once I’ve heard people describe Offscreen as a “mag for web designers”. To me (and to you, I hope) it’s much more than that, and I think expanding the magazine’s reach would help give it more substance.
As part of this change, the designer in me also wants to refresh the visuals of Offscreen (i.e. typography and layout). I know, I can totally understand that most of you dislike the idea of breaking the collection on your bookshelf once again. And this is definitely a decision I wouldn’t make lightly. Yet, we’re all preaching constant iteration and change as a positive thing, so why not do this with a magazine if I think I can make it better?
So, having said all of the above, this is very much just ‘thinking out loud’. I have procrastinated about making this thought process public, because (of course) the initial reaction to change is usually negative. Please, if you’ve read this far, take another two minutes and send me your feedback, concerns and ideas. You’re part of this thing as much as me and I welcome any thoughtful comments.
I guess what I’m trying to get at boils down to one simple question: do you trust me to make Offscreen different/better?
I’m so grateful that Offscreen has a small, yet very passionate following and people always ask me how they can best support the magazine and secure future issues. This is how.
This probably applies to pretty much any indie publication out there, so please share.
I always appreciated people speaking unambiguously about their income, like Maciej Ceglowski who on stage at XOXO honestly and unapologetically told the audience that he made $181,000 last year. It’s out there and the taboo is broken. It must be freeing to him and to some extent I’m sure to the people around him too.
Talking about money is something individuals in our industry often awkwardly avoid. We all know there is a lot of it going around, but everyone’s just in it for the love of solving problems and making the world a better place, right? ;)
I’ve been thinking of opening my books too, considering that I’ve been very transparent with everything else happening behind the scene. Having spoken to a lot of folks in the tech world, there is a bit of a misconception in that some people think Offscreen is very successful in dollar terms. Those who are vaguely familiar with how traditional publishing works understand though that ‘success’ in this field is closer to ‘making it sustainable’ than ‘getting rich’.
So, here it goes. Here’s how ‘successful’ Offscreen is in numbers. (Don’t forget to read my notes below.)
|Income through magazine sales (online and retailers)||$138,963.08|
|Income through sponsorships and other channels||$42,880.53|
|Total revenue (financial year 2012/2013)||$181,843.61|
|Total expenses (financial year 2012/2013)||$117,002.38|
My profit/income for the last financial year was $64,841.24 before tax.
Some important notes to keep in mind: