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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As with the previous issue I’ve just completed my donation to the World Land Trust to help preserve threatened habitats. Sustainability is important to me. If you feel the same, go ‘buy’ some land…

Trial: Offscreen Patrons

After some hesitation about whether it would work or not and how to price it, I’ve launched the Offscreen Patron program yesterday. You can now support Offscreen with a one-off payment of $100 and have your name (or that of your company) printed in the back of an issue. These patrons slots are limited to a maximum of 25 and a third of them already sold yesterday.

If you enjoy Offscreen and would like to make a contribution that goes beyond buying your own copy, becoming a patron is a simple and subtle way to help ensure Offscreen’s financial sustainability.

This is still very much a trial and I’ll be reporting back on the results after the launch of issue No8. Stay tuned.

On Offscreen’s new Typography

Issue No7 saw a refresh of the magazine’s typography. While the overwhelming majority of the feedback was positive, a few of you have enquired about the reasons behind the change, clearly stating that they’re missing Calluna as the primary typeface. There was certainly nothing ‘wrong’ with my original choice of Calluna as a text family and Cyclone (later Tungsten) for headlines. Hopefully my contemplations below will explain some of the decisions that went into making the change.

In October last year I announced some updates to the editorial direction of the magazine which provided me with an opportunity to introduce visual changes as well. I’ve learned that it’s quite difficult to stick to (and still be happy with) the creative direction I decided on when I set out on this journey. The first issue of Offscreen was indeed an experiment, and although I have made smaller improvements with each issue since, I was starting to feel hampered by a visual style that didn’t really seem to evolve with my experience in publishing. In short, I wanted to try something new.

Since launching my inaugural issue, I’ve been inspired by so many great new indie mags, like Outpost, Magazine B, Hello Mr, to name a few. The typography in those magazines really struck a chord with me over the last year or so and when I compared it to Offscreen, my work started to feel a little clunky.

The decision to start from scratch felt liberating. All options were on the table. After going through many of my favourite magazines for inspiration, I came to the conclusion that introducing a sans-serif, secondary typeface would break up the repetitive feel throughout the features and add a more ‘contemporary’ touch.

I would use this secondary typeface for smaller features, sidebars, colophon, pull-quotes — basically anything but more extensive narrative parts. When digging through publications with a particularly contemporary design approach, I realised that the use of Helvetica or Futura has become a quasi-standard in modern publishing — one I got quickly tired of. Both of those typefaces offer unique ‘unbiased’ features that make them compatible with pretty much any serif type. It’s great to have such a muli-talent at your disposal, but I was after something more distinctive — something with a bit more character. Another criteria to keep in mind was how wide the font was running in the magazine. With Offscreen’s small format, space is a rare commodity, so the wider text runs in narrow columns, the more it is hyphenated which negatively affects its legibility.

For longer stories and interviews I was trying to find a more versatile serif type that could also be used for headlines and subtitles. I still love Calluna for its huge character set, beautiful ligatures and the variety of weights, but unfortunately it lacks a headline family. It’s just not made for blowing up to 60pts where its playful, tilted serifs cause a weird lack of stability. In addition, my hope was to improve legibility of the body text by either increasing the font-size slightly or by using a typeface with a bigger x-height.

With the above in mind I went on a hunt for new typefaces. Over the past months and years I’ve collected quite a few links and screenshots of foundries and typefaces that stood out to me. After a couple of weeks of exploring and comparing, I narrowed my choice down to the following options:

Sans-Serif:

Graphik by Commercial Type
FF Kievit by FontFont
FF Mark by FontFont
National by Klim
Adelle Sans by TypeTogether

Serif:

Lyon by Commercial Type
Publico by Commercial Type
Domaine by Klim
Tiempos by Klim

As with my original choice of typefaces, one selection criteria was the availability of webfonts (or a hosted solution like Typekit) to bring a similar brand experience to the screen. I’m happy to say that most of the typefaces I had my eyes on provided web-ready versions — most of them by means of self-hosting.

Final choice

Adelle Sans by TypeTogether — There is something very friendly and approachable about this sans-serif typeface. It conveys modernity in an unpretentious way and without the stigma of hipsterdom we’ve managed to attach to Helvetica. It also runs quite narrowly if needed and works well in small sizes which makes it perfect for compact publications such as Offscreen. Not to mention that it comes in all the weights you could wish for and has one of the most elegant italic styles I’ve seen in a sans-serif typeface. Lastly, I should mention that Veronika from TypeTogether was extremely helpful and responsive with providing trial licenses and answers to my silly questions.

Tiempos Text & Tiempos Headline by Klim — It only takes one quick look at Kris Sowersby’s website to be in awe of his skills. I’ve always loved Kris’ work. Ever since I first laid eyes on his typefaces, I was looking for an excuse to make use of them. Tiempos satisfies pretty much all of my requirements: versatile, bigger x-height, a separate headline family… and gosh it’s beautiful! Kris was helpful and accommodating in my requests, though I would have appreciated the availability of a trial license (see below). Another little gripe was the lack of tiers in the pricing structure for his webfonts. It would be fairer to price webfonts according to (estimated) visitor numbers rather than request a lump sum from all clients — small or big. Alternatively, he could use a service like Fontdeck to provide a usage-based pricing model that makes his work more accessible to sites with a smaller audience. (The cost played into my decision not to combine Tiempos with Kris’ National — another great sans-serif typeface and a natural combo for Tiempos.)

In my opinion, Adelle Sans and the Tiempos families compliment each other very nicely. The ‘edgy’, more serious newspaper feel of Tiempos is offset by the rounder, more playful Adelle Sans. Headlines set in Tiempos Headline Black strike just the right balance between decorative and practical relevance. When setting the type in Indesign, a lot of thought went into matching sizes and weights to achieve a clear hierarchy (hence Adelle Sans is set in Light for text and Semibold for emphasis and subtitles.)

As with anything, I’ll continue to tweak, improve and adjust the typography in the magazine. So far I’ve been really happy with my decision, and if sales and feedback are anything to go by, most of you are too. Now let’s see how long my own appreciation for the choices I’ve made will last. ;)

A few words on trial licenses: As you can imagine, type foundries are very reluctant to simply give out the source files of years of hard work for anyone to play with. Most of the foundries I approached were happy to issue a trial license after confirming my details. However, some (including Klim) do not offer trials, which makes testing a typeface (even just one weight/style) a very costly experiment. I can understand the hesitation here, of course, but not being able to test-drive a new car is a big turn-off. One foundry (which for the life of me I can’t recall right now) offered a direct download of one weight of its typeface with a few characters inside the font file replaced by happy smiley faces. This was a ‘good enough’ solution for me to get an initial feel for the typeface. More foundries should try this approach, IMHO.

Fear of Criticism

I’m still not sure whether publishing these thoughts is actually a good idea, but articulating them in the form of a blog post has become strangely therapeutic for me and (kinda) makes up for the lack of teammates who help carry the emotional burden of running a business.

The launch of issue 7 on Tuesday last week was followed by a bit of an emotional meltdown the next day when my own box of magazines finally arrived in Melbourne. (As you may know, Offscreen is printed in Berlin.) I always open that box with a fair amount of apprehension, aware that I will probably find something that is not ‘right’, that doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to. Proofing print products is difficult, especially when done under time pressure and from half-way around the world.

Within seconds of opening the box I spotted (to me) a very obvious problem with the cover that sent a shock wave through my body. I won’t tell you what it is — I want you to enjoy the magazine without any preconceived ideas. You can either see it or you will never notice (great!). So far none of you have voiced any complaints. I’m not sure whether that’s the case because you guys view the magazine with unbiased eyes or you’re simply too kind to let me know.

Unless you are in publishing or produce physical products, you’ll probably find it difficult to empathise with how I felt at that moment. After spending hundreds of hours working tediously on something so personal and close to my heart, discovering a very blatant problem in the final product can instantly shatter your self-confidence.

I went through the whole spectrum of emotions: anger, despair, disappointment. I could have easily burnt the whole box of magazines right then and there without even opening a single copy. The biggest source of anxiety and distress came from a fear of disappointing you, my readers. I imagined being judged, being criticised for selling a second-rate product, for not living up to the high expectations of the eagle-eyed designers that make up most of my readership.

The day before I was on cloud nine. The launch went really well and I was feeling great about myself from getting so much recognition for months of hard work. And it all went to sh*t when I opened that box.

Worse even, any accomplishments I’ve had in the past no longer mattered. For the rest of that day, I felt like an impostor, a feeling that — ironically — Christopher Murphy describes so honestly and bravely in the very magazine that caused all this pain. By Wednesday evening I was actually contemplating about alternative career options. I really haven’t felt this down in a long time — and all this pain came from a simple cover!

In retrospect, the ‘faulty cover’ was probably just a trigger. Weeks of deadline anxiety and a lot of anticipation from everyone, including myself, built up to that single moment of receiving the actual magazine back from the printer.

It took me a couple of days to pick myself up again, largely thanks to my girlfriend’s incredible sensitivity and unshakable positivity. I’m personally still struggling to appreciate the magazine for all the things that I got right. All I see are the few mistakes I made.

There are a few lessons I learned.

  • I need to triple-check and proof critical sections even if it delays the release date.
  • As my girlfriend pointed out: “it always takes you a while to come around.” Like many other creative people, I go through phases of liking, then disliking, then despising, then eventually sorta, kinda feeling OK about my work again. It’s a love-hate relationship that keeps me on my toes and, hopefully, helps me hone and sharpen my skills with everything I put out.
  • I’m very lucky to have such an incredibly positive and encouraging audience. As more people follow and listen in, anticipation and expectations increase accordingly, putting a lot of pressure on me to deliver a great product. I love the fact that a large part of my readers are some of the most creative folks I know, but designing for designers can also be enormously intimidating.
  • Had I received the wrong kind of feedback on that forsaken Wednesday, I think it would have taken me on a serious downward spiral. It reminded me to be mindful and empathetic when judging other people’s work. Mistakes happen to the best of us. Often the author/artist has already lost enough sleep over it, so be kind in the way you deliver your (honest) feedback.
  • You may easily dismiss this little story with a notion of ‘first world problems much?’. Of course, there are certainly more serious issues, even though it’s hard see that when you are down. It always helps to remind ourselves that it all won’t matter in a few years. As time passes, nobody will judge you for a faulty print, a misplaced pixel or a buggy script.

The most important take-away for me personally is the realisation that my work is too closely tied to my level of contentment — with myself and life in general. It’s the typical dilemma of business owners and entrepreneurs: you made this thing and at some point this thing starts making you. It defines you. Self-respect and self-worth go up and down with it.

I don’t yet know how to break out of that cycle, but I’ll have to try harder in order to make it sustainable — not financially but emotionally.

Phew, that was deep. :)

The Unbalanced Line-Up

Much has been said about the gender imbalance in the web/tech industry. It is real and it’s still very much a problem. I don’t intend to add to that debate and by no means suggest that I have a solution. However, several (male and female) Offscreen readers have politely hinted at a more balanced contributor base, so I feel the need to publicly reply to their request.

Each Offscreen issue contains six lengthy interviews. In every issue, there were five male and just one female interviewees. (Smaller features usually have a more balanced gender mix.) Since the release of the inaugural issue, I’ve been actively trying to add more female contributors to the line-up, but failed every single time.

For this upcoming issue No7, I had two female entrepreneurs and one prolific designer lined up, ready to start the interview. ALL of them cancelled on me due to various reasons (most of the time ‘too busy’). Only one of them I managed to replace with another female interviewee (which turned out great, by the way).

Some recent conversations with conference organisers showed that they are often struggling with the same problem. All agreed that locating talented ladies in our industry is not the biggest problem. Getting them to participate is. Of course, speaking in front of a large conference crowd is no cakewalk, especially not if the majority of your audience is of the other sex. How/whether this applies to an interview for a print publication, I do not know.

I’m starting to think that maybe because of this huge imbalance, the more prolific women in our industry are more likely to be bombarded with speaking, interview and general requests about their career. And that leaves us in a catch 22 situation.

I’m not sure what more I can do than intentionally including more women on my ‘potential contributors’ list. It doesn’t seem to convert into a more balanced line-up though.

Many of you have written to me with a list of names, but I’m afraid that nine out of ten suggestions fit the above description: most of them have been interviewed a dozen times on various blogs, in podcasts and other magazines. They’ve become the idealised prototypes of ‘women in tech’. Without taking anything away from their success (they often earned it more than others), I just don’t want to reprint the same interview over and over again for the sake of a better ratio.

And that’s where I am today. After (soon) seven issues, I’m not one bit closer to making Offscreen a more gender-balanced publication, and I don’t know what else I can do.

With the launch of issue No7 next Tuesday, the Offscreen website will be getting a fresh coat of paint and a couple of new features. We’re already making the most important one of those features available today: you can now update your shipping address of previous orders and subscriptions yourself with a few simple clicks.

Just go to www.offscreenmag.com/status/ and enter the email address you used for your purchase and your order ID (see your email receipt). Once logged in, you can view your entire order history and update your shipping address if necessary.

We made this process secure (of course) and as easy as possible. In order to avoid having to sign up for yet another account that requires a password, we simply send you a unique URL to your email address on request. Through this link you can then unlock your address details for 30 minutes and are able to change your shipping details. Once the time is up, the editing interface locks itself automatically. Of course, this process is optimised for mobile, too.

If you do encounter any problems, please let me know. I hope this makes managing your Offscreen subscription and keeping your details up-to-date easier in the future.

PS: this is also a sneak preview of some of the design changes I’m introducing with the upcoming issue.

A Quick Update on Stockists and Distributors

While the Offscreen website is still by far the most important sales channel, our stockist list is always evolving and slowly but surely growing. I’ve been able to add several new locations to this list in 2013. But last year was also marked by a few disappointing experiences with some stockists paying their bills 9 months late.

In April last year I announced that I was working with two distributors to get Offscreen into more shops across Europe and the US. Although my experience collaborating with them was not an unpleasant one, it also didn’t really add many outlets to my stockist list. And so, after a few months, I decided to go back to self-distribution. Today, I’m managing the roughly 45 global stockists myself. It’s a bit extra work, but this way I have more flexibility and control over stock levels and prices.

In terms of sales numbers, Offscreen sells extremely well in some locations and less so in others. Berlin, in particular my favourite shop ‘do you read me!?’, has always been a stronghold for indie mags, and so has McNally Jackson in New York, and Magnation in Melbourne/Sydney.

Other locations are surprisingly slow and hard to find stockists at. You’d think that San Francisco would be the biggest market for a magazine like Offscreen, but I’m still struggling to find decent stockists there, and the ones I’m already supplying aren’t selling huge numbers. Maybe San Franciscans just prefer doing everything online nowadays — including ordering a print mag. Then there are unexpected and surprisingly well-selling locations, like Singapore and even Taipei in Taiwan.

Even though working with retail shops doesn’t add a lot to my bottom line, I’m still a fan of great bookstores and I’ll continue my efforts to expand our stockist list.

If you have an idea for a stockist in your city, please get in touch, or even better, contact them with a link to our website and our email address and ask whether they are willing to stock us.

Photo by Super Salon, our Warsaw-based stockist.

Magazines, dead trees and sustainability

With the mill making the paper used in Offscreen on fire in November last year, I faced the difficult decision to change stock once again. In the weeks after the news that my previous stock type, a paper called EnviroTop, was no longer available, I was working closely with my printer to get my hands on various alternative paper samples. More than 12 different uncoated paper types were ‘Fed-Exed’ to me from Berlin and I spent hours, if not days, going over all the different options.

In particular, I had my eye on a range of Munken paper — a high-quality, ultra-smooth uncoated art-print stock that is used by some of my favourite publications, like The Travel Almanac or Underscore. Munken Paper is a joy to touch and flick through, and it would give the entire publication a premium tactility. Although I was a bit worried about the low opacity of the paper (meaning that you can see the print on the flip side of the page), I was ready to spend a few thousand euros more for a superior experience. If just there hadn’t been a nagging doubt about sustainability…

The reason I chose EnviroTop in the first place was the fact that it was made from 100% recycled materials. Munken, however, was not. Though certified with various ‘green’ labels (the famous FSC sign is one of them), producing Munken means trees are still being chopped down and lots of energy and water goes into turning them into paper.

I remember listening to a podcast about how making recycled paper sometimes actually requires a larger carbon footprint than producing paper from new trees. So I went on a research mission to find out what my best option for Offscreen was. The results aren’t very clear. It seems to depend on how the recycled paper is manufactured.

While I was researching Offscreen’s environmental impact, I got word from the printer that the fire at the paper mill wasn’t as bad as initially expected and that EnviroTop could indeed be delivered with just a few weeks delay. I checked out the paper mill’s website and was positively surprised to find that the entire company is dedicated to a sustainable, low-impact paper production. Their production process is explained in detail on their site. For instance, the steam generated when boiling down recycled materials produces enough electricity to power the entire production process, making it self-sufficient. The Austria-based company has also won numerous awards for innovation and new ideas in regards to sustainable paper products.

With all this background information I feel a lot more confident in using EnviroTop. In fact, it made me appreciate the paper and its unique qualities even more. I’m still very much in love with Munken — it’s an amazing paper — but knowing that my choice of stock leads to one of the most low-impact print magazines out there gives me a piece of mind that I’m proud of.

As a sign of how much sustainability is a real concern of mine, I’ve also decided to buy a quarter of an acre of threatened wilderness habitat through the World Land Trust (a reputable conservation organisation endorsed by Sir David Attenborough) with every issue of Offscreen Magazine.

I wish other magazines would be more transparent about their stock choice. If you feel the same way, ask the publishers of your favourite magazines about the sustainability of the paper they’re using, and point them to this blog post.

Launching Issue No7: January 14th, 2014

Yes, it’s been a bit quiet around here lately. That’s because I’ve been in lock-down mode for the past 10 weeks, feverishly working on the next issue.

As you may know I’ll introduce some changes to Offscreen with this upcoming issue. This process has been pretty challenging and more labour-intensive than I anticipated, but this week I’ve finally OK’ed the proofs and the printers are running. To make my life that much harder, I’ve decided to redesign the website too which is coming along nicely. So all in all, I’m on the home stretch of a long period of deadline-anxiety and difficult decision-making.

The new issue will finally launch on January 14th, 2014.

In between January 1st and launch day, I’ll try to publish a few more blog posts on some of the changes and some thoughts about my process, but I’d also like to include a few stories from you, the readers.

So, if you have any personal, fun stories about how Offscreen has affected you in any way in the past, please share them with me. Have you taken Offscreen on a road trip to remote places? Send me a photo of you with the magazine and tell me where you are. Is there an Offscreen posters on your wall in the office? Again, snap a photo, send it my way and include a little note about your own background. I can’t guarantee that I’ll publish everything, but I’ll try my best.

I really can’t wait to share the new Offscreen with you all! Until then, have a pleasant holiday season and a great new start to 2014!

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in producing a print product. I’ve had my fair share of challenges. Today I can add another one to that list. My printer told me this morning that the paper manufacturer based in Austria had a massive fire on Tuesday and won’t take any new orders for at least 4 weeks.

I’m now back to the drawing board in terms of finding suitable stock. Real products are really hard, y’all!

Photo by salzi.at

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