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A look back at 2012: 10 things I’ve learned from becoming an indie publisher

A bit more than a year ago, I’ve told my web design clients that I wouldn’t take on any new projects. I took an online course in typography. I learned about grammage, colour separation and screen calibration. Today, I’m putting the finishing touches on the fourth issue of Offscreen. Time to reflect on some of the things I’ve experienced over the last 12 or so months going from digital to print.

Print is dead is dead
While newspapers are shutting up shop one after another, new independent magazines are popping up like daisies all around the world. Print may be having a hard time in areas that rely on traditional advertising models, but there’s never been a better time to produce high quality print products for niche audiences. Offscreen was born in the midst of this change and (in my opinion) more than any other magazine understands this technological shift by embracing the constraints of the printed format in a very unique way.

Finding my own voice
As a big fan of editorial design, I looked in awe at the work of editorial designers. As someone with basically no experience in designing for print whatsoever, the idea of making my own magazine not only seemed impossible a year ago, what I feared most was creative failure: producing something not worth the paper it’s printed on. There is a fine line between feeling inspired and feeling devalued by the work of others. As I was producing the first three issues of Offscreen, I found my own creative voice, I gained confidence and learned to value my personal development as a web-designer-turned-publisher.

The infinite struggle
Before getting started on issue #1, while I was gathering info from experienced publishers, I was told many times that “it’s not easy.” The publishers I met had one thing in common: they were all pretty miserable. Putting together a magazine involves a huge amount of people that all have their own ways of collaborating. The biggest challenge as a publisher/editor is getting everyone on board to get you what you want when you want it. I think I never had more deadline anxiety than in the last 12 months. Producing an issue is not unlike giving birth — there is a lot of sweat and pain until it’s out. And before you get a chance to celebrate, the next one is on its way!

A new satisfaction
One of the reasons why I started Offscreen was my discontent with the ephemerality of digital. Projects I worked on for many weeks of my life usually disappeared with the next update or clients butchered my work once it fell into the hands of their in-house dev team. Unwrapping a new issue of Offscreen still has this magical moment of knowing that this item I created will exist forever in exactly this format. Taking something from idea to screen to the real world is a satisfying experience no app or website can exceed. This became particularly clear when I saw someone on the train reading my magazine. It’s a sense of ownership and craftsmanship that was previously unknown to me. Or how Chris Coyier put it in issue #3: “It’s a bigger stake in the ground than a series of blog posts. There is this ‘I did this’ feeling, and conversely, people have a ‘he did this’ feeling about you for writing it.”

Communication is everything
I have never before spent that many hours in Gmail. If the title “Publisher” on my fictitious business card needed a tagline, it’d be “I send emails for a living.” It’s not unlikely that I send out about 50-100 emails per day. With it comes the usually frustration of unresponsive contributors, repetitive customer enquiries, and “good” old PR and marketing garbage to be disposed of. If I had to pick one thing that I’ve become good at in 2012, I’d have to say “making people do me a favour through email persuasion.” If you depend on the help of other (really busy) people that mostly dislike their inbox, you better be prepared to be let down. I’ve become an email realist.

The many hats of
I’m a publisher in the morning, an editor, writer and designer after lunch, and before dinner I may be a customer service rep, a logistics planner and sales person. I do my bookkeeping before bed. Making a magazine blurs the lines of job titles. While Photoshop was my main weapon of choice as a web designer, I now have Google Docs, Indesign, Illustrator, Bridge, Pages, Gmail and Photoshop on “launch after login”. It sounds messy and it is, but I love the diversity.

Dysfunctional postal services…
I understand that shipping items around the globe isn’t easy. The logistics involved are difficult to grasp. This, however, doesn’t excuse the shocking customer service and overall reliability of some postal services. I’m looking in particular at the United States Postal Service and their friends (?) the US Customs and Border Protection service. Loosing 2 out of 10 parcels is a record you wouldn’t expect from the country that’s at the forefront of technology. When an issue is done and printed, postal services give me most of my headaches and I wish there was a more accountable and approachable alternative to ship real things from A to B.

…and good customer service
Since I started dealing directly with customers that part with their hard earned money to read my magazine, I learned a thing or two about customer service. One of those things is that providing good customer service isn’t all that difficult. Answering emails quickly and politely goes a long way. Customers want to feel heard and understood, my own ego has no place in answering support questions. Being stubborn helps nobody. Yet, customers appreciate honesty and being yourself. As a result of this, my tolerance for bad customer service when I’m the one dealing with businesses has dropped to an all new low.

Your best friend: the printer
As technologists we easily dismiss print for being old-fashioned and outdated. I learned that printing has evolved along with the digital revolution. The technology powering the machines that produce high quality magazines are nothing short of mind-boggling. Finding a printer with the experience and know-how to tame those beasts so that they spit out the result you hope for has saved me many hours of worrying. The relationship with my printer here in Berlin is one of mutual trust and respect. I can rely on their honest opinions and fast replies. It helps me sleep at night.

When people appreciate something you poured so much love and hard work into, it’s the best feeling in the world. I learned to savour it. Every time a tweet pops up or a reader emails me about how much they liked spending time with Offscreen, I become a little bit emotional. I gave up finding the perfect way to express my gratitude, but if you are reading this and have supported Offscreen in one way or another in the past, please know it really is you who made all of this possible. Whenever I have a difficult day, I browse through the many positive tweets you send me and I’m instantly reminded that what I do impacts nice folks all over the world. I love you for it!

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    A lot of hints in this paragraph that someone else wrote about my next project.
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    While some of it isn’t relevant exactly to what we do, it’s worthwhile having a read of this little piece if you’re...
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