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?
“There are so many moving parts in a magazine and keeping everything in check has proven pretty tough in the past. How do you go about planning? Do you do things on the fly or do you follow a series of strict deadlines?”
Occasionally I get emails from other publishers (or those aspiring to be) asking about my process for handling contributors. Sharing how I do things has always been important to me as I struggled to get started myself. So here’s a bit of insight into my workflow with contributors:
As with most things in life, it becomes
easier more manageable the often you do it. The first issue seemed like an impossible challenge to master, but it felt a little less overwhelming the second time around.
Planning is important, but don’t overthink it. Doing is more important than getting it perfectly right. I tried many project management tools, but always end up back in Gmail and Google Docs because that’s where I interact with people. You’ll refine your planning process over time as you’ll notice what does and doesn’t work for you.
One document that I rely on and have pinned in my browser for months until the files are handed over to the printer is my Content Plan. It’s a birds eye view of the entire issue in form of a Google Docs spreadsheet. Each page gets a row and I keep track of contributors, content submissions, open tasks, etc. in separate columns.
Being an independent magazine with no editorial board or pressure from advertisers, my deadlines are more loose than those of other publications. Besides my (vague) publishing cycle of 3-4 months, the main deadline to keep in mind is the one I agree upon with my printer. Once I have an idea of how far away the issue is from completion, I arrange a date for the printer to start with their pre-press job and from then onwards, I have a clear deadline when all of my work has to be done.
When it comes to giving deadlines to contributors, the rule of thumb is always “the sooner, the better”. Dealing with so many different folks is still the biggest and most frustrating challenge of them all. Everyone is busy and everyone has different priorities. Even after five issues, I still find it hard to accept that there are extremely unreliable people out there. No matter how stoked they tell you they are to be in your magazine, sometimes you’ll never hear from them ever again. Even after several reminders or follow up emails. Whether it’s courteous of them or not, every publisher has to deal with “dropouts”. The sooner you don’t take it personally, the happier you’ll be.
What to do if a contributor drops out? It’s a case-to-case situation for me. If it’s an important contributor, try to have a few alternatives up your sleeve. It’s usually OK to be upfront about your situation and tell the new person that someone dropped out and you need an emergency replacement. Bigger publications often produce content for a whole second issue in advance (or at least partially) so that they have a buffer to fall back on.
When I approach potential contributors, I try to be as concise as possible with my emails. I tell them who I am, what I’m trying to do and (most importantly) what they would have to do to participate (deliverables). I also give them a rough timeframe (deadline) so that they can start scheduling things accordingly. For regular, bigger features — like our interviews — I’ve prepared a set of guidelines that I refer them to, so they know what tone and length I’m after, and understand the photographic style that we’re aiming for.
Once agreed upon, all my contributors receive a shared Google Doc with clear instructions at the top and space to actually submit their contribution below. This has worked great for me in the past, as I can comment on their content as it’s being added. It’s definitely challenging to keep tabs on 50+ active documents, but so far I haven’t seen any other tool that makes this part much easier. Maybe soon?
As I get closer to my editorial deadline, I check on all submissions on a weekly basis, reminding folks, following up content, checking facts, etc. This is one of the most stressful periods as I realise again and again how dependent of other people the success of each issue is.
Once most of the content is in, I lock the individual Google Docs and start collecting all content in one master document. This is where I start the final editing stage and collaborate with my proof-reader to iron out typos, inconsistencies, etc. I keep adding text as late submissions are coming in. It’s a very manual process.
With the final copy ready to be transferred to Indesign, the more visually creative part begins. This is the most fun part for me as I (finally) see the mag come together as a real thing.
With all of the above said, please keep in mind that Offscreen is unlike many other publications. It’s still very much a one-man-show. Working within a larger team requires a different approach that accommodates the various workflows of your teammates. Offscreen’s content consists mostly of first-person stories or interviews — they are not commissioned pieces by hired writers. This has many pros and cons. It’s usually “free content”, but the submissions vary greatly in quality and reliability.
Offscreen is by definition a “slow medium”. If your publication is purely digital, different rules and challenges apply. So you should take my advice with a grain of salt. Much has been said and debated about how to get publishing right in the digital space. Besides the content (and its contributors) you’ll have to think a lot more about your delivery method and how that, in turn, defines your content.
I should mention again that I’m still “learning by doing”. My process has lots of room for improvement and I’m eager to hear how other folks collaborate with contributors.
I’ve long been thinking about working with distributors to get Offscreen in more brick and mortar stores. With issue No5, I’ve finally made a decision; here are my combined thoughts on the topic of distribution for indie mags.
In the publishing world, distributors work as middlemen between publishers and retail shops by purchasing publications in large numbers and then supplying them to the shops in their network. The benefits for the shops are that they can choose from a large catalogue of publications and have them all shipped to them by one point of contact. For the publisher the advantages are that distributors usually order a bulk quantity, promote the magazines to shops and organise the shipping to those shops. Distributors take a cut of the cover price (usually 15-30%) that comes out of the publisher’s end. So if a magazine sells for $20, the shop will usually keep $8 (40%), the distributor gets $4 (20%) and the remaining $8 go to the publisher.
Frankly, I have a very “vigilant” attitude towards distributors. Most of the large distribution houses have a complicated, overly bureaucratic process that involves a lot of paperwork and gives little or no oversight to publishers where and how their products are sold.
I understand that managing a lot of products and stores can get complicated, but most of them seem to still live in a different century. One distributor’s contract (an attached 7 MB Word document) made clear that it may take 365 days for final payments to come through — mailed in form of a cheque. How are publishers supposed to budget with this? Reading through these conditions, you wouldn’t think distributors actually depend on us publishers to make money.
Wastage is another huge issue for me. Distributors usually hope to stock as many shops as they possibly can, because, well, they get kickbacks from every copy sold. The problem is that they may supply many different shops with, say, 500 copies in total, but due to poor research or market conditions only end up selling 300 of them. The remaining 200 copies will be destroyed since it’s almost always too expensive to return them to the publisher. This model is not just unsustainable, I simply hate the idea of copies of Offscreen being shredded in stores while it sells out online.
Like so many other aspects of the publishing world, coming from the web industry a lot of their processes seem strangely outdated. I don’t like pointing fingers, but do I need to say more than refer you to this distributor’s website?
With all of this in mind I was very hesitant to partner up with a distributor. After much discussion with other publishers, I was referred to two new-ish distributors that stood out: Antenne in the UK and New Distribution House in the US/Canada. Whether they really understand the indie publishing world and try to break with antiquated traditions that treat publishers as if they were at the bottom of the food chain remains to be seen, but so far I’ve had really constructive conversations with both of them.
And so, with the launch of issue No5, for the first time in Offscreen’s short history, I will be working with two distributors in order to get the mag into more local book shops across the UK, Europe, the US and Canada. As much as this move is about selling more copies and expanding our readership, my highest priorities will continue to be being in control and making it sustainable.
With around 90% of Offscreen’s readers buying their copy online, there’s also the question of whether brick and mortar stores remain relevant for the success of a print magazine. The answer — at least in Offscreen’s case — is probably “no”. However, there are few things I find more inspiring and enjoyable than browsing through a high-quality, well-stocked book store, and of course, it’s exciting and humbling to see Offscreen on shelves around the world. For me that’s incentive enough to partner up with distributors and support these local shop owners.
As someone that frets big decisions, being in the publishing business can be a real pain sometimes. I was reminded of that in the last few weeks and days as I needed to make a final call on ordering several tons of paper for the next three issues.
After running into a few minor consistency and quality problems with the last issue, I felt a bit let down by our paper supplier. IGEPA’s Circleoffset, the stock we had used up to that point, was my all-time favourite choice of paper. For being based on 100% recycling material and therefore as environmentally friendly as a paper can get, it boasted a superior quality with an unusually smooth finish. Unfortunately, it lost that high-quality haptic when the manufacturer changed paper mills.
Since launching issue No4 I’ve been discussing alternatives with our printer. Again, the environmental impact was the first and biggest filter. I only considered 100% recycling papers with no whitening bleach used. After a few test prints on two different stock options, I decided to go with EnviroTop from Papier Union.
The next step turned out to be more nerve-wracking. When selecting a paper type, you need to consider not just what it looks like and how ink behaves on it, its grammage will determine how heavy your magazine turns out to be — and in turn, how much you’ll end up spending on shipping. This is measured in grams per square meter (or short “gsm”). A standard office paper usually has something between 70gsm and 90gsm.
However, the weight itself doesn’t determine its perceived thickness. That’s where the paper volume comes in. A paper with a volume of 1.3 contains 30% more air and is therefore less compressed. Higher volume means thicker paper, but not necessarily heavier paper.
Both variables define how thick and heavy a paper feels. The challenge is to find the best fit for your specific publication. Thicker, high-volume papers often convey quality, but depending on your product, this paper — when perfectly bound — may make it difficult to keep the magazine open (my German printer calls this Klammerwirkung, the “peg effect”).
It eventually came down to making a decision between EnviroTop 100gsm and the next heavier option, 120gsm — both with a volume of 1.3. After much thinking, I opted for the heavier version which will make Offscreen about 2.5mm thicker and around 50gm heavier. I’m aware that it will add to the Klammerwirkung, something I’m a little concerned about, to be honest, but the 100gsm version just didn’t have the same superior feel to it.
And that is what’s so nerve-wracking about choosing good stock. There are many variables that need consideration. Due to our small magazine format, we print on larger sheets to be most efficient with paper and ink and avoid wastage. These larger sheets are custom-made by the paper mill and therefore need to be ordered several weeks in advance and in large amounts covering the next three issues of Offscreen.
At moments like this, I really miss the transient nature of making things for web.
Today, I’m introducing a small change in the pricing structure of Offscreen. In an effort to simplify the order process and make the pricing of the magazine — both ordered online and purchased through our retailers — more consistent, there’s now only one simple price:
A single issue costs $22, a three-issue subscription $59 — both includes shipping to anywhere in the world.
If you order through our website, this won’t affect you much. Single issues are now 10 cents more expensive, but the price for subscriptions has dropped by 90 cents.
As usual, I’d like to keep things as transparent as possible, so here’s a breakdown of some of the actual costs involved in fulfilling an order for a reader based in the US:
|Single issue price||$22.00|
|— includes postage||$4.60|
|— includes packaging/labelling||$1.50|
|— includes PayPal fees||$1.00|
As you can see, simply getting the issue to your doorstep consumes about one third of the price we charge.
Over the next few weeks (at the very latest starting with issue no5) most of our stockists will adapt to this simplified price as well, so that it makes no difference ordering it online or buying it through one of our shops. In some cases this means you may have to pay a little more at your local bookshop, but since they get a cut of our cover price (usually 40-50%) this benefits not just us, but the shop owners too.
With the upcoming issue No5 I’m also trying to partner with a small distributor to get copies of Offscreen in more local shops around Europe and (hopefully) North America. The change in the pricing structure is necessary to allow for this to happen since the distributor usually takes an additional 20% (on top of the retailer’s margin) of the cover price.
As always, hit me up with feedback, comments or questions. And thanks for your ongoing support!
Last Thursday I was giving a presentation about the making of Offscreen at the Reading Room, a smaller satellite shop of the ever so awesome do you read me?!.
As a self-confessed introvert, speaking in front of crowds has always been nerve-wracking to me, but I’ve made a conscious decision to push myself out of my comfort zone and do more of it (this book has also been helpful). I’m discovering more and more how useful this type of face-to-face sharing can be. Last Thursday’s talk resulted in some excellent questions and interesting feedback that I’m still thinking about today.
Before launching Offscreen, I was desperately looking for resources on how to get started as an indie publisher, just to find that there isn’t all that much help out there. It was a somewhat unusual experience coming from the web which is built entirely on the idea of sharing and exploring its inner mechanics. I realised early on that it’d be immensely helpful to others if I shared my own mistakes and discoveries, as well as keeping some sort of diary. I’ve been doing so ever since launching this blog.
In June this year, I’ll be speaking at ValioCon in San Diego. It’s going to be another step towards a more open discussion about indie publishing and certainly a significant personal milestone for myself. Come join us!
Photos by Mark Kiessling (do you read me?!)
As some of you may know, I’ve been in the fortunate position to be able to live and work in Berlin for the last ten or so months. Before moving to Melbourne in 2004, I always considered Berlin a worthy alternative as a liveable and enjoyable city. In fact, Melbourne and Berlin have a lot in common (apart from the price tag). Both are centres for entertainment, multiculturalism and creativity in their respective countries. Sure, they are filled with hipsters and yuppies, but both have their fair share of struggling artists, too. What Berlin has — more than any other place I’ve visited in the last few years — is a healthily naive optimism for the future. There is a collective understanding that Berlin is undergoing a tremendous change. As more international folks are moving in (and driving up rent), old-Berliners are unsure whether to embrace the changes forced upon them or despise them. However, everyone seems to agree that this place has huge potential for growing into something even more unique. And I feel lucky to be a part of it. With Offscreen’s printing and fulfilment located right here, I’ll surely be dropping by on a regular basis.
Having spent most of my working time in various places over these last few months, it keeps amazing me how location-independent technology has made us. Instead of “Published in Australia”, a more accurate description for the magazine’s masthead would be “Published in Transit”. It’s been put together sitting at a shared office space in Berlin, on a sunny balcony in the south of Turkey, on a crowded train heading to Prague and during a sleepy siesta somewhere in Barcelona. The importance of the “where” in the creation process boils down to what inspires most. Sure, remote collaboration has its challenges and it’s not for everyone, but I wonder how different Offscreen would be today, had it been created in a grey little cubicle with the anonymity and uniformity of a traditional office.
Thanks for having me, Berlin. Next stop: somewhere in Italy.
If you happen to be in Berlin on the eve of Thursday, February 21st, join us at the fabulous do you read me?! Reading Room and hear me talk about the “whys” and “hows” of Offscreen Magazine. You’ll get an in-depth look at the making of the magazine and we’ll hopefully have a bit of time for Q&A and discussion around indie publishing. As beautiful as the Reading Room is, space is very limited, so please RSVP on Facebook and be there on time.
Photo by Achim Hatzius
As of today not just issue No1 has sold out, but we’ve also run out of copies of issue No2. Thanks so much to everyone who’s ordered their copy and, of course, apologies to those who we now have to disappoint.
Since we ran out of the first issue, many of you contacted me to ask about whether there are really no copies left or whether a future reprint is scheduled. As much as I appreciate that some of you put in the extra effort to double-check with me, unfortunately once an issue is sold out, it’s sold out.
Occasionally a few more copies surface when retailers send back old issues or a customer returns a copy. If this happens, I usually send a tweet out and the copy is sold on a “first-come, first-served” basis.
A reprint seems like a logical step once a product is sold out. However, please understand that we use an offset printer to produce Offscreen. In order to make a reprint financially viable, we’d have to print (and then sell) at least 1,000 or even substantially more copies. This is usually not a realistic option.
I don’t want to say never, but so far I’m not planning on reprinting any of the sold out issues. This decision has less to do with making something exclusive for just a few than with the fact that I want to reward and recognise those who’ve been supportive from the beginning and bought a copy knowing that stock is limited. In case you ask, no, a digital version will not be available either. Please see here.
Naturally, I’m keeping an eye on sales stats and will increase the print-run accordingly. I increased the amount of issue No3 and No4 by 20% compared to the first two issues. I might add another 20% to the upcoming issue No5.
Thanks again for your support and/or understanding. :)
I’ve been hesitant to post this, largely because there is a good chance most of you won’t even notice. However, I’ve been quite consistent with openly communicating what’s happening behind the scenes, so I decided to share this with you, too.
Some of you may notice that issue No4 feels slightly different. Even though the same paper stock was used (apart from the sponsor pages), your haptic experience of issue No4 may be a bit different. I’ve first noticed this when the unbound sample copy came back from the printer. We immediatly started researching the cause for this. It turns out that the paper manufacturer had changed locations. The paper mill producing Circleoffset — the stock we use — is now located in a different country using different recycled materials. As a result the quality of the stock has become more inconsistent — not substantially but noticably. The difference is most obvious on “darker pages” where the now more textured surface causes the ink to behave unpredictably.
Once we realised it wasn’t just a “bad batch” of paper, we started looking at possible solutions. A few test prints with minor adjustments on the printing machine itself (pressure, humidity, amount of ink, mix of colours etc) didn’t yield any results. We looked at alternative stock, contacted suppliers and various manufacturers. I was ready to reprint the entire magazine on different paper to achieve a more stable result. However, the only stock that we’d been able to order in without delaying the production more than a week or two would have been paper not made from recycled materials.
I’ve always been proud of the fact that Offscreen was made of 100% recycled materials, printed with natural colours and even shipped in environmentally friendly packaging. And so, the perfectionist in me decided to let the environmentalist win this one.
My printer and I are already examining and testing alternative stock options for the next issue. I’m pretty confident most of you won’t even notice any difference. If you do, please know that the paper type will change again with the next issue. Now, please don’t let this little story lessen your expectations — it’s still a bloody awesome issue and I’m eager to hear what you think! :)
As a newbie, there is still so much I want to learn from people publishing and editing magazines. I said it many times before, I’m in awe of some of the publishers, editors and art directors working in this industry. Coming from digital, making mistakes is a lot more unforgiving in the world of ink and paper. It’s a huge challenge and I’m
willing eager to learn.
Having said that, there is just as much that magazine publishers
can should learn about web design, good user experience and accessibility. I can’t recall the number of websites of magazines I recently came across that are clearly designed by folks that have little or no experience in creating online content and layouts.
Even though we may experience a second Golden Age in print, more and more people will find out about your magazine through a digital channel. Your website is your storefront. It’s where a lot of potential readers either come in first contact with your publication or where existing readers try to find out about new issues and updates. So here are a few tips from a web designer on how to make your website better and your readers happier:
Design and User Experience
Your magazine may be an innovative showcase of playful editorial design where page numbers are reversed, headlines mirrored and articles split across several spreads. Your website doesn’t have to completely break with the visual language of your print publication, but in order for your visitors to be able to use your website, you better stick to some common design and user experience rules. Keep in mind that people access your website with different browsers, different operating systems or even different devices. Your stockist list is of little use to me if I’m on the road in London and your website doesn’t load on my iPhone. Try to be creative, but don’t go over board with ambiguity or playfulness. First and foremost, your visitors want to find what they are looking for. Provide them with an information architecture and navigational structure that can be understood without the need to hover over every inch/pixel of your site.
Offscreen might not be your typical example here, but 90% of all sales come through our website and not a brick ‘n mortar retailer. Don’t make your shop a “nice to have add-on”, make it the core feature. Simplicity and user-friendliness are key! Avoid unnecessary steps in the checkout-process and make sure your cart and payment system work flawlessly. It should integrate well into the rest of your website and give your visitors a feeling of security and professionalism. Nothing puts potential buyers off more than a suspicion that their privacy or payment details are handled carelessly. Don’t be fooled though, there aren’t any perfect e-commerce tools out there that make selling magazines (and subscriptions) online very easy. Whatever system you use for yourself, it will take a bit of manual work and technical knowledge to get it right.
When I shop for new magazines online, I want to know what I’m buying. A simple cover photo won’t tell me anything about what I get for my hard earned money. If your cover price is $10 or more, chances are that you’re addressing a niche of people that appreciates more than just the content. Therefore information on stock, dimensions, page count — these are all details that help turn visitors into buyers. Invest a bit of time in producing high quality images of some sample spreads. Make a press section and let folks download them in high-res to use on their blogs or in another magazine…
News & Updates
Publishing regular news and updates on your blog is a great way to stay in touch with your readers in between issues. Even though I’m not a big fan of this practice, a lot of publications tend to recycle content from their previous print issue and put it online as soon as the newest issue has been published. If you do this, please indicate clearly where the content is coming from. There is nothing more annoying than reading a few articles online just to find out that you’ve just purchased a back issue with the very same content a minute earlier.
We all hate bad service, so be better and lead by example. Try to set aside time every day to answer emails coming in through your website. Try to reply within 48 hours, better even 24 hours, better even within a few hours. Good customer service also means that you’re sympathetic towards customers that made a mistake, such as providing the wrong shipping address. Most of the time they won’t express their appreciation directly, but they will indirectly by leaving with a great experience and talking about it to others. If you identify a pattern of repeat-questions, create a FAQ page and point people to it before they get a chance to email you. Make sure you clearly state the most important facts about ordering, paying and shipping.
Do you have to be on Facebook and Twitter? No. But if you are, don’t let it be a wasteland for fans and readers. The great thing about these social tools is that you can engage in an active dialogue with readers, mag lovers and other publishers. Be responsive. Check in regularly and keep people informed about the process you’re making on that next issue. Be personal, be yourself. Forget what you know about professional PR and marketing. Tell your followers who is behind the account and how they can reach you.
Analytics & Data
Install a simple analytics tool and observe where visitors are coming from, what they click on and where they get stuck. I’m certainly not someone who enjoys analysing statistics and most marketeers will be able to tell you a lot more about how to read these numbers, but it’s worth checking the most basic figures regularly and incorporate your findings in the changes you make to your site.
Let me be clear: I don’t claim to know all the ingredients for the perfect website. I’m simply speaking from my experience with Offscreen and as a former web designer. There are still many ways to improve the “Offscreen online experience” to make it as good as it can be. My point here is that you can really make a difference amongst all the crappy magazine websites out there and get web-savvy folks curious about your publication. At the very least, you’ll make your existing readers come back to your site more often, and in return, become more loyal supporters.
There are millions of free or cheap tools and resources out there to learn about how to make a great website. In many cases you don’t even have to start all over. The great thing about digital is that you can make continuous small steps to improve your site over time. If you can afford it, hire someone (an agency or a freelancer) to help design and develop your website, but keep in mind: you can’t outsource being knowledgable about the basics of good online user experience.