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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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!

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):

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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

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. :)

I usually don’t reveal any parts of the line-up of a new issue before its release, but with No9 I’m gonna make an exception. The amazing Patrick Collison, co-founder of Stripe, is one of our six interviewees in this upcoming issue.

I thought it would be fun to show you guys a bit of the process of laying out a new interview in InDesign, so I made this time-lapse video, condensing roughly 70 minutes into 10. Note that further iterations of the design are likely. For the final (and legible) version, you’ll have to buy a copy when the issue is finally out. By the way, you can already subscribe for this and future issues to automatically be part of the first shipment when No9 goes out in early/mid September.

For a larger version, watch this video on YouTube.

A Day in the Life of… me

A couple of people recently asked me if I could do a ‘Day in the Life’ piece about my own day. I had a bit of time in between editing the new issue and retouching photos today, so here you go:

7:15am — The custom alarm tune on my iPhone gently wakes me. I’ve given up resisting the urge to check my emails in bed a long time ago. I quickly scan the 32 unanswered emails. Some good, some bad, one with the subject line ‘Sorry dude’. I wait with opening that one till after I had my first coffee.

7:45am — Pants are on, teeth are brushed. Time to check the weather: looking good enough for the five-minute bike ride to Code Black, one of about five local cafés and unofficial Offscreen ‘subsidiaries’. I inhale a banana on the way to my bike.

8:00am — Armed with a Long Black I get started with emails: a couple of stockist enquiries, a few contributors asking for feedback, some submissions, some bills to be paid, and a reader from Slovenia asking about the whereabouts of his shipment. Oh yeah, and that apologetic email from an interviewee dropping out last minute. Thanks!

9:30am — After getting most of the emailing done, I’m scouring the web and my database of ‘Persons of Interest’ to find a worthy replacement for the newly opened interview slot. One of the more difficult parts of running a magazine: locating and then soliciting busy people to see whether they can help you out on short notice.

10:15am — I’m starting to slouch — a good sign to get up and move to a new spot. I’ll grab a bag of coffee beans, pay up and ride home.

10:30am — A reminder of Melbourne’s unpredictable weather: I arrive slightly soaked. Time to put the heater on (yes, we have winters in Australia too!) and get the kettle going for a brew in the Chemex. I love the ritual of making coffee as much as I like drinking it…

10:45am — Back to work with coffee in hand. I love my standing desk, perhaps the best investment I ever made. Today I’m getting started with some photo retouching for the new issue, so I’ll get the Spyder Express out to calibrate my external monitor.

11:15am — Still getting used to working in Lightroom. Half of the time I’m not sure what I’m clicking at. Google is my friend.

12:45pm — Lunch time. Glad to find some leftovers in the fridge. I turn on the news to be reminded of people’s inability to coexist in the world. I turn it off when Australia’s prime minister comes on to propose a business case for delisting Tasmanian World Heritage forest.

1:15pm — I open up the essays from three contributors in Google Drive to do some editing and provide a first round of feedback. This is good stuff!

2:30pm — More Gmail action: I email my proof-reader to synchronise our schedules. A look at my Content Plan for issue No9 suggests that six contributors are already running late. I follow up with them via email to set new deadlines. Let’s hope they get back to me at all!

3:15pm — Browsing behance, flickr and 500px to locate a photographer in Florida. My tiny budget filters down my options to about one.

4:30pm — I log into Offscreen’s order management system and quickly go through last week’s orders to make sure all the shipping address details seem correct. After exporting current orders, I’ll email my shipper in Berlin so they can get those orders out as soon as they start their day in Europe.

4:45pm — With another trip to Germany on the horizon, I’ll search for accommodation in Berlin on Airbnb. This place comes with a Chemex. Should I?

5:15pm — I go for a quick run, usually around 8km, before the rain is coming back. It’s my favourite (and only?) way to clear the head and get some proper thinking done.

6:15pm — After a shower I’m checking in on Twitter, Facebook and the like to see what everyone else has been up to. I jump on Tumblr and press the ‘Publish’ button on a post I’ve been holding off on for a few days. I love sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff with my readers and getting feedback from it. It’s humbling to know people actually care about my ramblings from time to time.

6:30pm — My girlfriend is back from work. We have a quick ‘catch up’ before heading out to get groceries for tonight’s dinner. That’s when I appreciate living in the city — our local fruit and veg shop is just 50 meters up the road.

7:30pm — While dinner is cooking, I jump on Skype to confirm the production schedule of issue No9 with my printer in Berlin. They always love getting a call with last minute changes from the other side of the world. ;)

8:15pm — Dinner time, often accompanied by an episode of a TV show. It’s Fargo at the moment.

9:30pm — Time for cleaning up the kitchen, my part in the daily dinner ritual.

10:30pm — I have a quick Facetime chat with my mum in Germany, explaining for the 24th time how to add a new contact to her iPad’s contact list. I think she’s got it, for today.

11:00pm — One last email check to see if my printer has confirmed the paper delivery for the next issue. He hasn’t, so I guess it’s time to log off for today and worry about it tomorrow.

11:15pm — I try to conquer at least three or four long-form articles in my Pocket reading list before getting some shut-eye.

What I learned about public speaking so far

As I’m going through a pile of receipts to prepare my taxes (the Australian financial year ends in June — we’re weird like that), I’ve just realised that I’ve been doing quite a bit of public speaking these last 12 months. Considering that I always thought of myself as an introvert — and still do — I’m just wondering how that happened.

Had you asked me two years ago to do a talk in front of 250 people, you probably would have seen me faint before you finished your question. So what changed? Not entirely sure, but here’s what I’ve learned about public speaking so far:

  • Speaking in front of crowds is a million times easier if you talk about something that you created and only you know most about. While I wouldn’t feel confident enough to do a one hour talk on publishing or editing or design by itself, I can very easily talk about how I did all of these things as part of creating Offscreen. There is no right or wrong, because Offscreen is what it is. You might have a different, more efficient process, but I have proven that what I do works for me. That simple truth gives me enough credibility to go on stage and talk about it. Seems obvious? It wasn’t to me, until I tried.
  • I have never met a speaker that wasn’t nervous before going on stage, no matter if it’s their first or their hundredth gig. Sweaty palms belong to public speaking like bacon to egg.
  • On a similar note, while walking on stage it’s totally normal to have thoughts like “Holy balls, what the heck was I thinking when I said ‘yes’ to this?!” In most cases this feeling turns into a “Hell yeah, that was awesome!” when you walk off. Talks are emotionally draining.
  • A few seconds of silence in between slides feel totally natural to the audience, yet extremely awkward to the speaker. It’s hard but important to remember that when on stage.
  • Strangely, I find speaking in front of larger groups (100+ people) easier than smaller ones. In an intimate classroom setting you have direct eye contact with pretty much everyone, which is hugely distracting. There is always that one person that is bored to death waiting to throw you for a loop.
  • Getting good feedback after a talk makes public speaking highly addictive. Getting no feedback at all, however, leaves you wondering if you put everyone to sleep and makes you want to never do it again. I therefore always tell people that I appreciated their talk if that’s the case and I get a chance. I now know that it feels amazing getting the thumbs up.
  • To conference organisers: before your event starts, get all the speakers on stage and let them introduce themselves in 10 seconds each. This way everyone in the room knows the face of each speaker and can ask questions before and after their talk. It just helps break the ice a bit.
  • So far, I have never been paid a fee to speak (unless it was a guest lecture at a college), and I don’t mind at all. I’m aware that my talk is kind of a promotion for the magazine anyway. Of course, this is different for a lot of other speakers out there. I found that not being paid a fee also lowers the pressure to provide ‘a great show’.
  • Last but absolutely not least: I love meeting readers face-to-face. There’s nothing better than attaching a real face to these Twitter avatars. And it’s a great reminder of why I started Offscreen in the first place!

Speaking of speaking: I’ll be doing another talk at this year’s The Modern Magazine conference in London in September. Come!

Thanks for your feedback!

Last week I sent out a bunch of emails to people who (according to my database) haven’t bought issue No8. I asked for feedback on their experience with the magazine overall, the content, the production values, and the website itself. Within 48 hours I had more than 120 replies sitting in my inbox.

All of the comments were constructive (YAY!) and most were positive. Some of you voiced some very valid criticism or offered ideas for improvements which I gladly took note of. Some of these points came up more than once, and so I want to answer them here in public.

Why don’t you do XYZ?

I really loved some of the proposed changes. While I will keep these in mind, of course, please remember that Offscreen is still a one-man band. There is just me doing everything. If I had a team of writers or the budget for a travelling photographer, I could do all kinds of amazing stories. The reality is that I already work really long hours to get an issue done within 3-4 months, and within my budget.

I look in envy at some of my magazine-making friends who have several colleagues reinventing their product with every issue. Being a team of one means that all the steps, from content planing to content creation to editing to designing the entire publication, has to happen fairly chronologically allowing only a few weeks for each step in order to get at least three issues out per year.

So yeah, new ideas are always welcome, but their feasibility depends on my production schedule and my budget.

Why don’t your subscription auto-renew?

This is a feature I’ve been wanting myself for a long time. Currently, you can only order three-issue subscriptions that you then have to renew manually. Auto-renewing subscription would almost certainly help sell more copies. The answer why this feature doesn’t exist yet is a bit more complex than you may expect.

When I first set up the Offscreen website, I decided PayPal was the quickest and easiest way to collect money (being based in Australia, there was no such thing as Stripe or Pin at the time). Based on the PayPal API, a developer friend of mine and I created an order management system that powers the back-end of Offscreen and helps me manage all orders and subscriptions. It’s a custom piece of inventory software that runs entirely on PayPal’s Instant Payment Notification (IPN) system.

Unfortunately, PayPal doesn’t allow me to charge people infrequently. You can charge for ongoing subscriptions, yes, but only if they occur on the exact day every week/month/year. Offscreen issues occur infrequently, so I need a system that allows me to press a ‘charge now’ button whenever a new issue is published.

I would have to move away from PayPal (which I’d be very happy to do!) and use a service like Stripe or Pin. However, this means that I will have to almost entirely redesign my order management system. Since I’m not a developer, the programming work will easily run into $5000+, money I don’t really have right now.

There are other issues with switching from PayPal: although most people complain about PayPal, many of us still have ‘free money’ sitting in our accounts and my stats tell me that most people still prefer to use PayPal rather than their credit card. I’m wondering if a switch to credit card only would affect sales. (Anyone got any stats on that?)

One more reason why I haven’t moved on from PayPal: Offscreen charges in US dollars. Since I live in Australia, I will eventually have to convert my income to Australian dollars. PayPal allows me to keep two different currency accounts until the conversion rate is in my favour. If I use other services, incoming payments are converted to my local currency instantly. In early 2013 I would have lost 15-20% on every payment simply due to a very strong Aussie dollar.

It’s almost always just white, successful men? What about diversity?

Believe me, I’m asking myself the same question all the time. I’m well aware that diversity is a huge issue in our industry, I’ve talked about this before. As you may know, I’m not the only one struggling with this problem.

There really is no proper answer that doesn’t sound like a cheap excuse.

I’ve been trying really hard (to the best of my ability, see ‘one-man band’ above) to improve upon this, but the reality is that our industry is dominated by white men. From all the projects/stories I come across or I’m digging up, 90% — it seems — have a white, male (often American) entrepreneur behind it.

When I ask my readers for suggestions, the quality of responses I get is unfortunately not very high. Many of the emails I get are about a startup doing amazing UX work, beautiful designs, or cutting-edge code. That’s all really great to hear, but Offscreen is a magazine about people. I want to feature unique, inspiring human stories behind tech-driven projects — ideally not just happening in the US, but around the world, in less popular places, and then hopefully not initiated by another white guy. As a result I put a lot of contacts/stories that are suggested to me on the back burner.

Issue No8 was a step into the right direction, with small contributions from places like Syria, India, Mexico and Rwanda. The gender ratio is still way out of whack though.

Would you believe me that I contacted six female entrepreneurs for an interview in that issue and got one reply in total from a PR agency asking me to come by their office in SFO to conduct the interview?

I send out a lot of email requests and often follow up on Twitter, but with a team of one and a clear deadline approaching, if all you have is male contributors replying to your questions, what do you do? Should I rather stop making Offscreen than letting one gender dominate? Should we cancel conferences where the gender/diversity balance is insufficient? These are not rhetorical questions, I really wonder how far we should go in order to see the change we want.

I’m writing this knowing that it might stir up a strong debate (again!) because it’s a very difficult issue. I have spoken and will speak to any person who has experience in this area and can provide practical advice to improve this situation.

But a simple complaint about diversity isn’t helping. We all know it’s a sad state of affairs. If you want to contribute constructively to solving the problem, help me find these uniquely inspiring individuals from around the globe that haven’t been interviewed a million times before, speak good enough English and are approachable via email. As I said, I’m after more than just a talented designer or a great coder. There needs to be a great story.

Your stories are often too ‘polished’. It’s all about successful people. I can’t identify with them.

I know what you mean. I agree that our industry (society?) often idolises success too much. For many making a ton of money is the ultimate endgame. I have my own problems with that, too.

Firstly, I think starting with issue No7 I’ve managed to bring more balance into the magazine, profiling people that not necessarily hit the ‘exit headlines’ on TechCrunch, but rather use tech/the web to be creative or work hard towards a goal because they are passionate about a particular idea. I’m also very actively trying to aim for a good mix of more and lesser known faces.

The interviews I do are very long (often 4500 words). If I interview someone just starting out, I doubt it would make for an interesting read. People that have successfully built a company or product over a longer period of time usually have gone through a huge learning period and made a lot of mistakes along the way. That’s the inspiring part that I’m interested in.

I’m not sure how much value you’d get out of a magazine that interviews people with ‘average’ ideas that haven’t really taken off. Note that not the monetary success is important here, but the fact that a unique idea sparked a huge change or demand, because it’s new or different. In our industry that often means that you’re either already making money or have received money from investors. Whether the latter could be considered a success story often remains to be seen. But as with everything else in the magazine, if you know interesting exceptions to the above, please tell me about them!

As said, every typical ‘success story’ usually comes with a lot of failures and challenges along the way. Success is never a straight line. The interviews are about the ups and the downs. After all, it’s a magazine that aims to highlight the potential, the creativity and the passion of people behind technology and the web. While I’m a huge fan of critical thinking and showing both sides of the fence, stories of ambition with a successful end are usually what inspire us most.

Again, any great ideas for stories or contributors are welcome. Remember that I need to be able to reach/contact them somehow — usually via email.

How you can help promote Offscreen

My latest blog post triggered a lot of heartwarming offers for help in getting the word out about Offscreen. Thanks so much!

While I still haven’t found the ‘ideal candidate’ (?) for the role described, so many of you are willing to promote the magazine within your circle of friends and colleagues and your local web scene, which is fantastic.

Almost every day I receive emails that usually end with “If I can ever help in any way, let me know.” Due to the amount of emails, it’s difficult to take you guys up on your offer, which is sad, because I can really use all the help I can get — in particular with the promotional side of things.

So here are 10 simple ways you can support Offscreen:

Buy all the issues

It’s as easy as that. Every single copy counts and helps make the magazine a viable business and full-time job for me.

Share it with friends and colleagues

Tell your social media friends about Offscreen and be prepared for the default answer, “Print-only, really?” Once you receive your copy, show or lend it to your friends and colleagues, and see their fascination for the printed word come alive (again).

Make your boss get an office subscription

It’s the perfect magazine for the office: put it in your cafeteria or in the reception area where clients are waiting. It’s also a great gift or additional perk for new employees.

Write a review

If you have a blog, consider writing a short review with a few photos about your experience with Offscreen.

Suggest it to your favourite companies/blogs

This could potentially have a huge impact: if you have a direct contact at a popular blog, publication, magazine or other media outlet, get in touch with them to tell them how much you like Offscreen and why it should get more exposure.

Suggest it to your favourite local book/design shop

If you frequent a well-stocked book or design shop in your city, take your copy with you and show it to them. I’m always interested in extending my stockist list.

Take it to local events

Events are great for meeting like-minded folks. You’ll be loved even more for introducing them to a beautiful magazine they have never heard of. ;) If you are organising an event, email me to get a few free give-away copies.

Become a patron of an issue

Starting with issue No8 up to 25 people can become a patron, support the magazine financially, and get their name printed in the back.

Request promotional copies

If you are in a unique position to promote the magazine (at a conference, during a business trip, a meeting with the editor of the New York Times, etc.) Please get in touch to request a few promotional copies.

Introduce the magazine to potential interviewees

Although the list of potential contributors is constantly growing, I’m still interested in finding inspiring candidates for our interviews (especially of underrepresented groups). If you are in contact with such a person, please introduce them to the magazine first and see whether they’d be interested in being published. Then get in touch.

Needed: Help with Promoting Offscreen

In a conversation with Matt from Bugherd (our newest blog partner), he asked me how extending the Offscreen ‘team’ could help grow the magazine. It’s a great question that I should ask myself more often.

Growing the magazine into something bigger than a one-person operation brings to light the typical entrepreneur’s dilemma: in order to grow your business you need to hire staff and start delegating tasks, but without sufficient funds how can you hire someone to push sales that allow for this growth to occur?

I admit, I’ve always considered myself a really bad salesperson. (In fact, I feel kinda dirty just spelling out the words ‘sales’ and ‘growth’ in one sentence.) This is partly because I really dislike dealing with sales and PR people. When it comes to my own work I usually prefer to let other people judge for themselves whether it is worthy of their money. I realise though that this is probably not how you grow a successful business.

Long story short, I think it’s time for me to reach out for some help in promoting Offscreen. I’m hesitant in calling this a marketing, PR or sales role, purely because all of these titles come with hugely negative connotations. (I think the last time I replied to an email from a PR person was simply to remind them of good email etiquette.)

So, if you…

  • love the web/technology,
  • appreciate independent publishing,
  • like ink on paper,
  • have experience/a background in marketing,
  • know how to speak to people about Offscreen in a convincing, but down-to-earth friendly way,
  • adhere to good email etiquette,
  • dislike cookie-cutter PR messages as much as I do,
  • are great at expressing yourself concisely and elegantly,
  • use social media in moderation and without making it a hashtag soup,
  • have contacts at some of the more or less important blogs, magazines, news outlets, etc. (would be ideal)

we may be a good fit. You would be helping me with…

  • promoting Offscreen on- and offline,
  • finding events and locations with potential new readers,
  • locating and contacting retail shops in major cities around the globe,
  • finding influential individuals and organisations that could help us grow the readership,
  • contacting event organisers to help promote Offscreen through give-aways and sponsorships,
  • sending out free review copies to influential publications, blogs and other websites.

In short: I’m looking for someone to promote Offscreen and help grow our readership in a professional, but friendly and approachable way.

I’m currently not looking at hiring someone full time, but rather on a freelance basis or as an internship. The workload would vary from month to month with most of the work to be done in the lead-up to the launch of a new issue. Of course, you can work from anywhere in the world, but keep in mind that your English needs to be top-notch. From experience, being located in a major city, such as NYC, SFO, London or Berlin, usually helps with establishing media contacts.

If you or someone you know roughly fits the above profile, please get in touch and let me know. Thanks! :)

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