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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What goes around comes around.

At the fantastic The Modern Magazine conference here in London yesterday, I had a brief conversation with another publisher whose magazine no longer exists. She said that when she announced the release of the final issue earlier this year, suddenly a lot of support in the form of emails and tweets came flooding in from readers she didn’t know she had — people expressing their disappointment and sadness that one of their favourite magazines was closing its doors.

What surprised her most was the fact that more people were actually reading the magazine than buying it (assumingly getting it handed down from friends or finding it in cafés and other places). Apparently, there was also a large group of supporters that bought the occassional issue and followed the project online, but never really committed to being a regular reader. And they, too, were sad seeing a project disappear that they appreciated, even if they just followed it from the sideline most of the time.

The overwhelming response to her announcement of bringing the magazine to an end surely made the decision more difficult, but “nice words don’t really pay the bills”, she said frustratedly. It reminded me of something Cameron Moll mentioned in his interview in the latest issue of Offscreen. He said: “There’s an opportunity for a Buy Bootstrap movement along the lines of Buy Local or Buy Organic.”

The ‘passive supporter problem’ (if it can/should be called that!?) is, of course, not only prevalent in the magazine scene, I think it can be applied to all ‘indie’ makers out there. I can easily think of a handful of app developers and bloggers with tons of supporters that really want to see the project grow and succeed, but that rarely take practical action (in most cases by signing up for a paid account, paying a small membership fee, etc.) to actively enable the creators to continue the work they appreciate.

Of course, there is a lot of great ‘indie’ stuff out there and you can’t throw your money at them all. So what to do?

In the last few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to find out more about my favourite products and services, by following them online, by signing up to their newsletter, and by meeting and talking to them in person when I get a chance. If I’m convinced that their values and efforts align with my own, I try to be an active supporter and pay my fair share. This doesn’t just apply to the digital world, of course, I try to apply the same principles to, say, charities or my local shops down the road.

I guess it all comes down to being an informed consumer. Take a moment and think about the tools, products, and services that really make a difference in your life, and then show them your appreciation through proactive support, which in most cases (but not always) means adding them to your list of things worth paying for. You know… what goes around comes around.

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. :)

On the future of print

So many conversations I have about indie publishing inevitably end with the big question about the future of print. Here are some of my (ever-expanding and ever-changing) thoughts on this topic:

To me it seems that up until a few years ago there was still this perception out there that publishing a print magazine is this sacred art form reserved to intellectual masterminds. Then more and more people realised that you don’t need a floor of editors and marketeers to put words on paper. In fact, many creatives already have all the necessary tools installed on their computers, so it’s just a matter of learning how to put different skills and disciplines together to make a thing and call it a magazine. Once you accept that you are not bound by the whims of advertisers, the heritage of traditional mainstream publications, and the rules of the newsstand, your magazine can be anything you want it to be. That’s not to say that it’s easy (or highly profitable). Producing good content and creating a physical object always comes with a fair set of challenges, but then again, if you want to create a memorable online experience, building a great digital product is no less laborious.

Undoubtedly, the rise of (indie) print can also be attributed to the inherent physicality of the medium at a time when so much of our life is contained in a completely ephemeral environment. Some folks out there realise more and more that reading everything on screens often feels temporary and unsubstantial. Holding an object that you can open and close, start and finish, gives us a heightened sense of accomplishment and ownership. And as materialistic as it may sound, we do like to have objects in our lives that we can identify with. You can’t express your values and interests through an iOS Newsstand archive, but you certainly can with a bunch of books and magazines sitting on your coffee table at home or in your office.

Don’t get me wrong though, I think for certain types of content, print is indeed dead. I don’t need to read yesterday’s news on paper today. I do however enjoy a lengthy piece of commentary or analysis on said news in print form. There needs to be a clear incentive for me to open my wallet. Rather than spending $2 on transient content, meant to be discarded within 24 hours, many of us are more likely to invest $20 in a more timeless product with high production values. It’s hard to resist the multi-sensory experience of print if it makes good use of its innate strengths.

Maybe in ten years we look back at the current trend of indie magazines realising that it was just a fad, serving the in-between generation that was clinging to a dying medium. But then you look at the radio and TV — they all have undergone tremendous change since the internet came about. I think as long as you are nimble enough to adapt to a changing world (as most indie mags are), you’re gonna be ok, no matter what industry you find yourself in.

A bit of blatant promotion: I’m working (again) with Tom Froese on yet another illustration for the upcoming issue, and I simply love his creative approach. The work he produces is just beautiful and it’s an honour to have him in the magazine. :) Keep it up, Tom!

For a little piece in a yet-to-be-revealed magazine, my mate Tim Lucas and I have been out and about earlier this week taking some photos of me working from the various Melbourne cafés that I use as ‘satellite offices’. One of them was Industry Beans in Fitzroy, a bustling cafe/roastery with solid coffee, decent food and, of course, wifi to get some work done. :)

All photos by Tim Lucas

Done is beautiful — one in every issue No8.

The UpsStanding Desk is a wooden construct that turns any normal desk into a standing desk. It’s height-adjustable and packs flat for easy transport. Such a great idea! I wish they offered int’l shipping. Back their Kickstarter project and grab one for just $200.

My buddy Benedikt Lehnert has recently compiled a compact little typography guide shining light on some common mistakes and misunderstandings when it comes to working with type. The guide is now also available as a handy little printed booklet! Grab one here.

This guy is better at sandboxing than you.

Photo by Justin Kemp, via BP

This beautiful portrait and interview with Joachim Sauter, a successful German media artist, designer and Professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin, makes me miss Berlin really badly. Luckily, I’ll be visiting in the first 2 weeks of June! :)

Photos by FvF, one of my all-time favourite websites.

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