Vintage Magazine Proves There's a Market for the 'Beautiful, Informative and Novel'
"Past forward, here we go ..." proclaims the Vintage Magazine website, and it's an apt rallying cry for this one-of-a-kind magazine, which seeks to package the best of what print magazines can offer—excellence in design and carefully chosen, high quality editorial—for the contemporary reader. The formula seems to be working, as Vintage is reportedly selling well to a targeted niche audience through subscriptions and atypical sales channels.
In a media age where those who shout first and loudest tend to be heard, albeit briefly (until swamped by the next wave of chatter), Vintage is a reminder that there is still a demand for a tangible product worth pausing over. And as Publisher Ivy Baer Sherman notes in this week's Publishing Executive Inbox interview, the success of digital devices like the iPad may actually strengthen, rather than disprove, this proposition.
INBOX: What in your background made you think, "I'm the one to do this."?
IVY BAER SHERMAN: There hasn't been an "I'm the one to do this" moment—but rather more of an "I'm inspired to do this" subliminal build up over the years. I majored in English at Barnard College (back in the day, as they say). For a senior course in 20th century literature I chose the avant garde magazines of the 1940s as the subject of my final paper, and presented the paper in the form of an avant garde magazine. I found those magazines to be graphically stunning and rich with brilliant writing—giving voice to writers such as Andre Breton, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens [and] artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. I remember being surprised and delighted to discover these eloquent magazines whose extraordinary design and sophisticated editing caught the eye and the mind and the senses. Though not realizing it at the time, that somewhat serendipitous "meeting" with avant garde magazines served as my early education in the possibilities of what a magazine can be and do—and informs/enspirits what I do today.
INBOX: You were inspired by Fleur Cowles' Flair, which saw a short but brilliant run in the early '50s. Do you think there is an unserved audience today looking for a design-focused magazine coupled with top-noch editorial? Does the movement toward "niche" markets open up opportunity even as mass market interest continues to shift elsewhere?
SHERMAN: Every generation has its share of audience that seeks a beautifully designed/distinguished content magazine and I believe that every generation has its share of such magazines. Today, however, we are more aware of the global reach of the audience; printing is faster; graphic options are more vast; the concept of reading is being redefined—the pace is quicker, there are multiple platforms and dimensions; information is omnipresent. In short, audiences are presented with abundant and often elegant choices, but confronted with a formidable weeding task as well. The movement toward "niche" markets opens up opportunity in that it helps with the weeding process.
INBOX: How do you handle production of Vintage Magazine? Do you work with multiple designers on an ad hoc basis or maintain a group of people you call on?
SHERMAN: I sit as founder and publisher and editor-in-chief of Vintage Magazine, but the editing and production work is the most thrilling and satisfying for me as I guide the magazine from disparate pieces to an organic whole. I come up with the design concepts for each piece and then sit down with Regis Scott, an intrepid graphic designer, who brings the concepts to life. I work closely with the printer ... from the beginning of the project to discuss paper as well as printing options—there is often an aspect of printing that can take the design to a new dimension, just as the design can push the printing. Every issue is a fantastic journey.
INBOX: Who handles the printing and distribution?
SHERMAN: I work with the fine team at Capital Offset Printing, a family run business in New Hampshire known for high quality art books, among other things. The hand-crafted/custom aspects of the magazine are masterfully worked—attention is given to every detail.
INBOX: What is your strategy for marketing and selling the magazine? Do you expect retail sales or subscriptions to be most important?
SHERMAN: Elin Wilder, part of the Vintage Magazine team, handles distribution. We're attuned to our audience and focus on marketing and selling the magazine accordingly-thus specialty bookshops (i.e. Rizzoli, Archivia, Hennessey & Ingalls) and shops (Paul Smith, Cuffs), museums and galleries throughout the United States and abroad have been the targets, with great success. The Museum of the City of New York,The Contemporary Museum of Art in Chicago and Tate Modern are some of the museums carrying the magazine. Facebook and Twitter have helped bring the magazine to the attention of people in all parts of the world-and our subscriber base reflects this, including readers in Mumbai, China, Australia, Israel. Vintage is now sold in shops in Amsterdam, Sweden and Canada as well. Libraries, including fashion college libraries, have subscribed for their collections. Retail and subscription sales are equally important.
We're taking an equally deliberate approach to advertising, hoping for a stimulating matching of ad and audience, and seeking ads that can work into the visual sensibility of the magazine.
INBOX: Do you hope to increase the frequency of issues, or does it feel just about right given the focus on quality and design?
SHERMAN: The two issues per year model is deliberate and steadfast. No need for a monthly Vintage. Rather, readers should sit down with each issue, explore it, feel it, read the articles leisurely, take notice, return to an article or image over the course of time-let the magazine ripen with age.
INBOX: Why, in your opinion, does print still matter—and why do you believe it will continue to matter going forward?
SHERMAN: Based upon the response to Vintage Magazine, it seems that people will respond to a magazine that is beautiful and informative and novel, despite the assertion by many that the (hey)day of print has come and gone. Rather the time is ripe to showcase the possibilities of the printed page. Printing techniques and graphic design programs allow for effects that, in the case of Vintage Magazine, bring history to the fore in new and exciting ways.
The world is indeed consumed with digital, but people are as concerned with the device providing the digital content. The winding lines wrapping around Apple stores to obtain the latest Apple phenomenon (no matter the economy) are testament to the fact that the look and touch and feel of an actual object—especially when it is beautiful and informative and novel in every way—still count.
The advancement of technology should not be deemed antithetical to the advancement of/existence of print. Au contraire. Here's to the future.