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432059 CMP

International Journal of Cultural Studies 15(4)

383­–398 © The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1367877911432059

Independent magazines and the
rejuvenation of print

Megan Le Masurier
University of Sydney, Australia

In current discussions of the democratization of media production, of ‘we the media’, where
everyone is a journalist, everyone a publisher, the focus has been on digital culture. Yet
in the shadows of this explosion of digital-led creativity and media making, there has been a
resurgence in the production of one of the oldest forms of media, the small-scale independently
owned printed magazine. These magazines are being made by the young ‘digital natives’, informed
and aided by digital literacy, but the medium of choice remains print. This article aims to describe
and define these independent magazines (indies), distinguishing them from DIY zines, fanzines and
mainstream niche consumer magazines. In their choice to rejuvenate rather than reject print, the
indies allow us to explore the appeals of medium specificity and material culture, and how some
of the current themes of media democratization – digital and design literacy, Pro-Ams, the DIWO
ethos – are played out in this renewal of ‘heritage’ media.

design literacy, digital literacy, DIWO, editors, independent magazines, indies, material culture,
media convergence, Pro-Am

Independent magazines and the rejuvenation of print

In the current discussions of the democratization of media production, of ‘we the media’,
where everyone is a journalist (Bowman and Willis, 2003; Gillmor, 2006), everyone a
publisher (Hartley, 2009), the focus has been on digital culture – YouTube, blogging,
digital storytelling, citizen journalism websites such as Indymedia and OhmyNews,
social networking sites such as Facebook, myspace and Twitter. Yet in the shadows of

Corresponding author:
Megan La Masurier, Department of Media and Communication, Room 214, Level 2, Holme Building A09a,
Footbridge Theatre Terrace, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

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384 International Journal of Cultural Studies 15(4)

this explosion of digital-led creativity and media-making, there has been a proliferation
of low-circulation, independent magazines (indies) that choose print as their medium.
The editorial focus of the indies tends to be a celebration of the under-represented
manifestations of popular culture and creative work from independent producers of fash-
ion, design, the visual arts, photography, music and film. The focus might be, for exam-
ple, on skate and surf culture (Monster Children, Sydney); people and cars (Carl’s Cars,
Oslo); the printed visual arts (Beautiful Decay, New York; Rojo, Barcelona/São Paulo/
Milan; Eyemazing, Amsterdam); tattoo and body modification culture (Sang Bleu,
London Middle East creative culture meets West (Bidoun, New York); short fiction
(McSweeney’s, New York); a themed filtering of popular culture through the lens of
‘aggressive melancholy’ (Kasino A4, Helsinki, now defunct); or ordinary life in a small
town (Karen, Wiltshire). When it comes to fashion and style, there are hundreds of titles.
For example, Purple Fashion (Paris); Nico, (Luxembourg); commons&sense (Tokyo);
Sneaker Freaker (Melbourne). Less often, the editorial focus will be overt political cri-
tique, such as the gay positivity of They Shoot Homos Don’t They? (Melbourne), the
critical arts and culture journalism of Lumpen (Chicago) or the anti-commercial, pro-
ecology culture-jamming of Adbusters (Vancouver).
They have been appearing in the ‘creative cities’ of the democratized West, identified
by Richard Florida as places where the ‘creative class’ has ‘the opportunity to validate
their identities as creative people’ (2005: 36). The indies are producer-owned and made,
occupying a zone of small-scale creative commercial publishing between DIY zines and
mainstream niche consumer magazines. They are made for sale, they may occasionally
make money, and a few eventually develop into commercially successful enterprises, but
profit seems not to be the initial or primary aim. The genre as a whole appears to be a
growing field of magazine entrepreneurship by young publishers, designers and journal-
ists, often a DIWO (do-it-with-others) (Hartley, 2009: 106) group of amateurs and early
career professionals. Most indie magazines have low print runs and are often short-lived,
escaping the attention of national audit bureaus which track the circulation of main-
stream magazines. Their distribution methods vary across the globe, so quantifiable veri-
fication for this apparent increase in printed indie magazines is not possible. My claim of
proliferation is admittedly impressionistic and anecdotal, but one that has been acknowl-
edged by a number of industry commentators (Andersson and Steedman, 2002; Leslie,
2003; Long, 2007; Losowsky, 2007, 2009b; Renard, 2006a).
These magazines have been called ‘the independents’, or, with less currency, micro-
zines, hyzines, the stylepress. Whatever the term, they are not zines, nor do they look or
function like the niche magazines of mainstream publishing. As there has been little
scholarship about these independent magazines, it is important to define the object of
study. The first aim of this article then is descriptive, with an eye to definition, differen-
tiating the indies from zines, fanzines and mainstream niche consumer magazines. It is
intended as an introductory sketch of an academically unexplored field of media produc-
tion, a prelude to an ethnographic research project with a number of independent maga-
zine producers in Australia.
Independent magazines are hardly a new mode of media production of course. The
making of small-scale independent magazines takes us back to the beginnings of print
media and the rise of magazines in the 18th century (Conboy, 2004; Heller, 2003: 38).

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In the past two decades, however, there has been a renewal of the impulse to make
magazines independently and in print, facilitated by the expansion of digital technolo-
gies and cultures. The mainstreaming of desktop publishing in the 1990s, the increas-
ing ubiquity and lowered cost of the Apple Macintosh computer (which designers tend
to favour), the relative simplicity of design programs (such as Adobe InDesign), have
led to more widespread digital and design literacy. The availability of high-quality
low-cost digital printing houses (including the opening to foreigners of the Chinese
printing industry), have meant that magazines can now be made by more people than
ever before, without a prohibitive investment of economic capital. Increasing popular
usage of the internet during the later 1990s, and especially the interactive potential of
Web 2.0 in recent years, has also facilitated – paradoxically perhaps – the production,
marketing and distribution of printed independent magazines. This proliferation could
be regarded as another example of an increasingly democratized media environment,
where textual productivity is expressed through the ownership and control of the
means of magazine production. As Thorburn and Jenkins remind us, in periods of tech-
nological and cultural transition, ‘the actual relations between emerging technologies
and their ancestor systems proved to be more complex, often more congenial, and
always less suddenly disruptive than was dreamt of in the apocalyptic philosophies
that heralded their appearance’ (2003: 2). Indeed, when new technologies appear, older
media often ‘develop new functions and find new audiences’ (2003: 2). And, as this
study will show, new producers.
As I write, the magazine industry is experimenting with new delivery systems for
mobile media technologies. Magazines such as Esquire, GQ, Time, Sports Illustrated and
Wired have recently launched applications for iPhones and iPads that go beyond the
simple transferral of pdfs of print magazines to computer screens, and beyond the recent
experiments of multi-media digital magazines. Industry experts predict the eventual
decline of the mainstream printed magazine (Renard, 2006b: 18–19). And digital tech-
nology indeed promises to solve a number of problems experienced by the industry:
distribution, paper and printing costs, environmental waste, geographical isolation of
potential readers, lack of interactivity, and the desertion of print by advertisers as they
move online. The second aim of this article then, is to explore this apparent paradox: why
would the younger ‘digital natives’ not just persist with one of the oldest communication
technologies, paper, in one of the oldest media formats, the magazine, but actively choose
it? To pose the problem as an either/or – digital or print – is to misunderstand what is
going on here. The new indie producers use digitization to enable their making, distribu-
tion and marketing of printed magazines. But they also ask questions about medium
specificity: what might print magazines have to offer that digital delivery cannot?
In reading many of these magazines, the design publications that have accompanied
the indies’ proliferation, and the web archive of interviews with hundreds of producers
conducted by the Colophon collective (see below), it is clear that independent magazines
are not a singular entity. It is useful to imagine them as ranging across a spectrum, where
zines mark the border at one end and mainstream niche magazines mark the other. Within
that spectrum lie domains of activity characteristic of magazine production: motivation,
ownership, sources of funding, relationship to advertising and market research, the role
of the editor and art director, contributor policies, organizational structure, work ethos

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and distribution. Not all indie magazines operate in the same way, thus the utility of
thinking about a spectrum of operations in the various domains.

This state of independence shall be

The few recent magazine textbooks offer little help. In their surveys of the genres of
magazines – mass, specialist or niche, B2B, customer (contract) and zine – the small
independents are either ignored or disappear into the category of the consumer niche
magazine or zines (Johnson and Prijatel, 2006; McKay, 2006; Whittaker, 2008).1 This
invisibility has been redressed in the design press, where illustrated books about inde-
pendent magazines have been appearing over the past decade. All of these publications
identified a ‘new’ trend, and the attempt to name it has led to an array of terms. ‘Microzine’
had a brief popularity when Jeremy Leslie used it in his book magCulture: New Magazine
Design (2003). Other publications followed suit (Rivers, 2006; Zappaterra, 2007).
Patrick Andersson and Judith Steedman used the term ‘independent pop culture maga-
zines’ in their book of the same name (2002), although Andersson also coined the term
‘hyzine’ to describe this ‘publishing region located in-between the world of underground
zines and that of mass-marketed magazines’ (Andersson, 2002: 8). David Renard referred
to them as the ‘stylepress’, apocalyptically announcing these printed publications as ‘the
last magazines’ to survive in the wake of impending digitization (2006a: 15).
These terms did not enter popular usage and have given way to ‘independent maga-
zines’. This descriptor is used now by Leslie himself, who, along with Mike Koedinger
and Andrew Losowsky, is behind the bi-annual Colophon International Magazine
Symposium for independent publishing. The Colophon website identifies more than
2000 independent magazines, while acknowledging that many more exist and that an
exact global number will remain elusive.2 Koedinger defines the independents as ‘pub-
lished and produced by the owners themselves … their motivation is a passion for quality
and the expression of their own voice’ (quoted in Colophon, 2009: 6). Losowsky
describes them as made by ‘people who put their passion and talent into publishing out-
side their country’s mainstream’ (2009a: 7).
‘Mainstream’ is a vague and contentious term and, with the increasing tendency of
consumer magazine publishing towards niche titles, it becomes even less clear. The
usage here will follow that of Bailey et al., who define mainstream media as large-scale
and directed towards large audiences, owned by the state or commercial companies,
vertically structured and staffed by professionals, and ‘carriers of dominant discourses
or representations’ (2008: 18). ‘Independent’ is hardly a precise term either, but it does
capture a contemporary trend in the commercialized democracies of the West, identified
by Leadbeater and Oakley as a ‘thriving ecology’ (1999: 11). The independents are
characterized as micro-businesses in the ‘cultural industries’ of ‘design, music, fashion,
computer graphics and games, film and television’ (1999: 9). They escape easy catego-
rization, but ‘are often producers, designers, retailers and promoters all at the same
time’ (1999: 11). They use informal networks of friends and associates to organize their
work. They are defiantly independent, uninterested in state subsidies. Their aim is to
remain as small enterprises in order to retain creative control. They tend to be asset poor
and imagination rich.

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Across Britain there are thousands of young Independents working from bedrooms and garages,
workshops and run-down offices, hoping that they will come up with the next Hotmail or
Netscape, the next Lara Croft or Diddy Kong, the next Wallace and Gromit or Notting Hill.
(1999: 11)

Or, indeed, the next Face or Dazed & Confused.

The domains of magazine activity

Stephen Duncombe’s Notes from Underground (1997) is the touchstone for much of the
scholarly work on zines in the past 15 years. He defines zines as ‘non-commercial, non-
professional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and dis-
tribute themselves’ (1997: 6). While there have been many attempts to refine his
definition, it stands as a basic starting point for my purposes here. Zines are not made for
profit, they are sold at cost, bartered or given away (Atton, 2002: 59). They are made by
amateurs in low print runs (usually under 500), relish their unprofessional, cut-and-paste
approach to design, and are usually reproduced on photocopiers (Ware, 2003: 1).
Duncombe argues that zine culture is one of explicit or, more often, implicit political
critique, a mediated practice of resistance (1997: 3). Zinesters protest the loss of participa-
tory culture by making their own through zines (1997: 106–7). Like much DIY culture,
zines aim to blur the division between producer and consumer. Zine-makers have devel-
oped their own method of alternative distribution through social networks, mail, zine
distros and zine fairs (Poletti, 2008: 12–17). It is this sociality that Chris Atton stresses too
– the zine is a symbol of a social relationship between producers and consumers. Zines are
not produced for instrumental ends such as money or career building, but for interpersonal
connection and self-expression (2002: 60). Atton argues that the zine takes the self as the
subject. ‘At the heart of zine culture is not the study of the “other” (celebrity, cultural
object or activity) but the study of the self, of personal expression, sociality and the build-
ing of community’ (1997: 54–5). The perzine (personal zine) pushes this self-focus even
further, narrativizing subjectivity around consistent themes of ‘the bedroom, consump-
tion, depression and a relationship with the past’ (Poletti, 2008: 4).
Fanzines, by contrast, develop from the fascination with a primary cultural text,
developing another text in response (Atton, 2002: 54), ‘the quintessence of amateur, self-
published journalism’, usually made by a single ‘draconian’ editor, perhaps with a small
stable of writers (2002: 55). The editor is responsible for the design, layout, printing and
distribution. Henry Jenkins explains fan writing as building upon ‘the interpretive prac-
tices of the fan community, taking the collective meta-text as the base from which
to generate a wide range of media stories’ (1992: 156). Duncombe describes them as
‘little publications filled with rantings of high weirdness and exploding with chaotic
design’ (1997: 1) that are explicitly not ‘professional-looking publications’ (1997: 11).
Importantly, fanzines are non-profit and, in terms of production standards, retain an ama-
teur aesthetic to keep the fanzine accessible and open to contributions from others in the
fan community (Jenkins, 1992: 159).
The independent magazines under consideration here are different. Their editorial
focus is not one particular cultural text as in fanzine production. Nor do they take the

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self as their content, as in many zines. The indie editors focus on a defined cultural
terrain, eliciting journalistic report, commentary and ‘art’ (photographs, illustrations)
from contributors. Editing here refers not to copy-editing (subediting) but to the pro-
cess of curation and redaction, bringing matter into a certain form. John Hartley identi-
fies the redactional process as being one where ‘matter is reduced, revised, prepared,
published, edited, adapted, shortened, abridged to produce, in turn, the new(s)’ (2000:
44). The editorial focus of indie magazines is cultural journalism, reporting on the
‘new’ in their niche area, in words and images. It is not a practice of journalism driven
by standards of neutrality and objectivity. These editors and journalists see themselves
as participants in a cultural community. In a way, this approach could be considered
‘native reporting’, even ‘native editing’, where journalists work within their communi-
ties ‘to present news that is relevant to those communities’ interests, presented in a
manner that is meaningful to them and with their collaboration and support’ (Atton and
Hamilton, 2008: 127). The magazine becomes a part of the culture, a way to develop
the culture, not a neutral reporter.
Editorial decisions are determined not by news values but by what magazines refer to
as the ‘editorial philosophy’ that ‘explains what the magazine is intended to do, what
areas of interest it covers, how it will approach those interests, and the voice it will use
to express itself’ (Johnson and Prijatel, 2007: 135). The skill in magazine editing is the
curation of contributions, according to the core editorial philosophy, into a cohesive
whole. Jeff Rian, a past editor of Purple (Paris), describes the role of the indie editor as
fleshing out ‘the contours of little calculated worlds that are sold back to consumers.
Magazines are generally dictatorial, not democratic: one vision propels them, one edito-
rial policy informs them, one idea keeps them identifiable’ (Rian, 2002: 122). Even when
contributions are openly sourced rather than commissioned, as in BUTT (Amsterdam/
New York), for example, final selections have to be made. BUTT encourages reader sub-
missions. But there is no guarantee of publication: ‘Sometimes it fits BUTT, sometimes
it doesn’t. We’re very picky’.3
In the justified excitement about the expansion of interactive mediated democracy
where ‘every user is a publisher’ and where ‘“writing” is as widespread as “reading”’
(Hartley, 2009: 13–14), where all media participants can be users and producers of infor-
mation and knowledge, the process Axel Bruns has termed ‘produsage’ (2008), we risk
neglecting the popular (and possibly less democratic) desire to be an editor. We risk for-
getting too that there is still much to be gained from humbly and appreciatively (or arro-
gantly and critically) reading other’s work and editing practices. There remains a space
and desire for the gatekeeper, and the space and desire to ‘just’ be a reader. Jean Burgess
argues that the question about the democratization of media participation is not just ‘who
gets to speak?’ but ‘who is heard, and to what end?’ (2006: 203). The question is also,
‘who is listening?’ Alongside the proliferation of indie magazines has been the growth of
their micro-readerships, confirming the persistent pleasures of what was never ‘passive’
submission to the curatorial decisions of an editor and creative director/graphic designer.
Jop van Bennekom, editor of RE magazine (Amsterdam, now defunct), Butt and Fantastic
Man (Amsterdam), explains the appeal of the magazine editor for readers.

Most people … will want someone else to organise the elements.… It’s the vision thing. A good
editor and art director can present a cohesive view of a subject from all sorts of interesting

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viewpoints. You’re not going to achieve that effect with the DIY pick’n mix of the Internet. It’s
that editing process that’s critical. (Bennekom, 2007: 117)

Crucially, Bennekom stresses the role of the art director as much as the editor. And this
is another distinguishing feature of many of the indie magazines – graphic design is as
important as journalistic content, art direction as important as editing. The synergy
between the two is a creative collaboration, not just the ‘art’ illustrating the editorial
‘content’. These magazines tend to stress ‘high production values, a lavish use of photog-
raphy, an emphasis on design – in a word, slickness’ (Jacovides, 2003: 16). Zines, by
contrast, despise ‘going slick’ (Duncombe, 1997: 165). Indie magazines lift design from
its position as invisible handmaiden in most mainstream magazines to hyper-conscious-
ness. Graphic design in indie magazines is content.
There would be no point, of course, unless there was a readership to appreciate this
focus on graphic design. And such literacy is increasingly widespread. In The Economics
of Attention, Richard Lanham (2006) argues that we are now in an era of ‘stylistic self-
consciousness’, we look at the surface as much as through it to an underlying meaning.
This is a logical extension of the ubiquity of digital expression, and has allowed a democ-
ratization of design literacy.

Desktop publishing has made typographical layout and font selection matters of everyday
expressive concern. We no longer take them as givens; we can make the choices ourselves, and
thus we become ever more conscious that they are choices and that other choices might be
made. (Lanham, 2006: 143)

According to Paul Atkinson, the past 20 years have seen the democratization of design
through DIY amateur practices, self-publishing being a core example (2006: 1–3).
Although it has become much easier for ‘everyone’ to be a designer, graphic design
in print (and on the web) remains a language that needs to be learned. While few indie
makers have prior professional experience as editors, publishers or journalists, because
of the importance of high-quality design, there is usually a trained designer on the team.
The case of Tank (London) is illustrative. It was started by two young professionals in
1998, graphic designer Andreas Laeufer and fashion photographer Masoud Golsorkhi.
Inexperienced as publishers but disillusioned with mainstream magazines, the pair chose
the path of independence and produced their own, using unpaid contributions from their
creative networks. They sold 4000 copies out of the back of a car at £8 cover price (very
high for the time) and financed the second issue from there (Golsorkhi, 2007: 10).
There are also examples of sheer amateurism at work in the production of indie maga-
zines, where the makers publicly learn the language of design, visibly moving from
amateur to pro. Joseph Holtzman, the editor and designer of the eccentric ‘shelter’ maga-
zine Nest (New York, now defunct), talked of his status as amateur designer: ‘I didn’t
learn the rules, so you can’t say I set out to break them. When I started I didn’t know
about magazine design and really didn’t want to’ (quoted in Jacovides, 2003: 16).
Holtzman’s work as a magazine designer illustrates the increasingly ‘porous nature of
the boundaries between professional and amateur’ (Beegan and Atkinson, 2008: 305).
These are the blurred boundaries that Leadbeater and Miller identified as characteristic
of the ‘Pro-Am revolution’. ‘A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the

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love of it, but sets a professional standard’ (2004: 14). The authors specifically refer to
the explosion of specialist magazines over the past 20 years, and suggest that Pro-Ams
can parlay their amateur enthusiasms into professional media practice (2004: 45).
The case of Amelia’s magazine (London, print version now defunct) encapsulates the
Pro-Am ethos at work in some of the indie magazines. Amelia Gregory made an idiosyn-
cratic fashion and culture magazine that emphasized a hand-made aesthetic while using
high-quality production. She was editor, art director and publisher. With no prior profes-
sional experience she ‘pretty much muddled along and learnt on my own, especially in
terms of production, distribution and advertising’ (Gregory, 2007: 101). Gregory initially
worked with a trained graphic designer – who also had no prior experience in magazine
design – to work out the grid structure. ‘We just did what felt right’ (2007: 103).
Hartley has argued that ‘the closed expert system has produced a serious gulf between
the high level of talent among the best “practitioners” and the impoverished “media lit-
eracy” of the punters’ (2009: 132). But when ‘punters’ are enthused enough to begin a
magazine with like-minded others, some of whom may have professional expertise, the
DIWO ethic can allow the overcoming of an uneven mix of skills in the supportive space
of indie production. ‘The magazine is one of the few truly collaborative art forms where
unlikely collisions can take place, where the collaborators’ faults and talents balance
each other out and fit together to build the puzzle’ (Dikkers, 2006: 206). It is one way to
bypass the exclusionary effect of the expert paradigm operative in the professionalized
mainstream magazine industry.
Part of the glue that cements the DIWO magazine project is a shared vision. In main-
stream commercial magazines the editorial philosophy develops from market research
into gaps in the commercial magazine landscape motivated by the possibility of creating
a new niche for potential advertisers. For the indies, editorial philosophies are deter-
mined solely by their makers based on their own desires to make a magazine that reflects
their interests, with an assumption that a small community of readers will share those
interests. As Jacovides argues, ‘there are no large publishing houses watching the bottom
line or throwing results from research surveys or focus groups at them’ (2003: 17). Such
independence from market research allows the makers to take the creative risks neces-
sary to make more than ‘generic’ magazines. The indies share with zines and fanzines a
‘disillusionment with the prevalent commercial sector’ (Jacovides, 2003: 16). But there
is an important difference. This disillusionment does not lead to a desire to separate from
the commercial world. As Jacovides stresses, ‘Anti-commercial … they are not’ (2003:
16). Independent magazines may not be made purely or primarily for commercial gain,
but they are deliberately made for sale, not as part of the gift or barter economy of zines.
To participate in a commercial economy, print magazines need a method of distribu-
tion. This tends not to be via the major distributors, which are usually owned by large
publishing companies. With the vast number of magazine titles available, newsagents
have limited shelf space. The indie producers, with their small print runs, choose other
sites for distribution, places where their readers gather – inner-city bookstores and sym-
pathetic newsagents, gallery shops and specialist magazine stores that have begun to
appear in cities like London, Paris, Brussels, New York, Sydney and Melbourne. All
indie magazines have websites where readers can make online purchases. Distribution
then occurs via the postal system. Publicity is a task for the social network, through

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word-of-mouth, Facebook, myspace, Twitter, and via enthusiast/fan commentary from

readers on blogs.4 The indies also publicize each other in their own magazine pages and
on their websites. Unlike mainstream magazines, where any acknowledgement of the
existence of the competition is considered commercial suicide, the indies are publicly
enthusiastic about each other. Monster Children’s website, for example, has links to ‘bet-
ter magazines’.5 Online marketing, distribution and social networking have allowed the
indies to develop what could be called a ‘global niche’ of readers whose specialized
interests are not limited by location but connect horizontally across national borders.
This has been the experience of Tank. Golsorkhi explains:

Tank is an acquired taste but it is globally spread … the people who like Tank tend to be roughly
the same percentage of the population wherever you are in the world. There aren’t that many of
them in any single country but add all the countries together and you have a viable magazine.
(2007: 15)

Even with the potentially global reach of their niche readerships, viability remains a
problem for most of the indies. In mainstream consumer magazines, traditional business
models are based on revenue gained from a mix of cover price and advertising, with
advertising usually providing the larger proportion (Morrish, 2003: 6–10). Without
advertising, magazines require outside sponsorship or a high cover price, and often both.
With advertising, editorial content is often required to adapt to advertiser demands. The
revenue model for indie magazines is usually a high cover price and a selective use of
advertising or sponsorship via a sympathetic brand. There is generally a refusal, how-
ever, to compromise editorial and creative integrity by developing content to fit with
advertiser requests for editorial coverage. This is a grey area and practices vary across
the spectrum of independent magazines. Rojo (Barcelona), for example, is a predomi-
nantly visual magazine of artwork submitted by the ‘co-creative labour’ of reader/
contributors. It ‘loves’ its advertisers but insists they have no influence over editorial
(Losowsky, 2007: 99). Golsorkhi, of Tank, refuses advertising on aesthetic grounds. ‘If a
hideous beer ad was going to disturb the flow, then we didn’t really want to include it.
For a couple of grand we just didn’t think it was worth it’ (2007: 13). Monster Children
(Sydney) blatantly integrates the advertising of brands relevant to their skate and surf
culture readership into some of their editorial pages. Other indies refuse advertising alto-
gether and develop more innovative revenue-raising models, often relying on their social
networks of readers and contributors for support. Is/not Magazine (Melbourne, now
defunct) sold its large poster-size sheet ‘magazine’ through its website but also threw
launch parties with a door fee to help with production of the next ‘issue’. The thematic
and intellectual Cabinet (New York) survives from the sponsorship of charitable founda-
tions, reader donations, and high cover price.
A common cost-saving solution is to solicit editorial contributions (words, images)
for no payment, at least until some level of profitability is established. At Fantastic Man
‘everyone works for free.… I try to respect the work of our photographers and allow
them the freedom to do what they want’ (Bennekom, 2007: 116–17). The London-based
style and culture magazine Dazed & Confused was initially run on a ‘shoestring budget,
everyone working for the love of it’ (Rankin, 2006: 46). A number of questions arise

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392 International Journal of Cultural Studies 15(4)

here, ones that can only be answered with detailed ethnographic research. Can we con-
sider these contributions part of the new problematic of ‘co-creative labour’ (Banks and
Deuze, 2009) or simply a continuation of the precarious economics of freelance work in
independent publishing, which has a long tradition of unpaid contributors? Is this an
exploitative extraction of the surplus value from unpaid labour, or do the contributors
consciously choose to submit their work for no pay, accepting these conditions as a
means of self-representation and cultural connectivity? The incentive for unpaid con-
tributors may well be creative freedom, the cultural capital that comes with participation
in the magazine’s community, and the opportunity to build a portfolio, but how deep is
the ‘love’ Rankin refers to? There remains a clear power imbalance between the editors
and those who contribute, paid or unpaid. In rejecting submissions, the editors exercise a
power as old as journalism itself. The questions here become ones of quality – what
would happen to these magazines if ‘everyone’s’ contributions were accepted? If the
appeal to readers lies partly in appreciating the redactional skill of editors, would the
result be magazines that no one would want to read?
It could be argued that such editorial power is an essential ingredient in the creative
individuality and high quality of many of these magazines. The editors and often the art
directors are the originators of the concept and also the owners, a characteristic identified
as key to independent cultural production (Leadbeater and Oakley, 1999: 11; Martin and
Deuze, 2009: 290). It is this literal ownership that differentiates the indies from main-
stream niche magazines, where editors and art directors can be hired and fired by the
owner or the owner’s delegate, the publisher. If the magazine is sold, or the editorship is
handed over to others, the indie magazine moves along the spectrum to share more of its
characteristics with the mainstream. In retaining ownership of their magazines indie pro-
ducers are free to develop innovative ways of working. In the hierarchically organized
workplace of mainstream magazine production there is a chain of approval that can
inhibit originality and a sense of commitment to the whole magazine. Florida writes of
the ‘no-collar workplace’ where the creative class determines its own schedules in a
relaxed environment, replacing ‘traditional systems of control with new forms of self-
management, peer recognition and pressure and intrinsic forms of motivation’ (2002:
12–13). Jan-Willem Dikkers’ magazine Issue (New York), devoted to ‘the celebration of
creative thought’, is a case in point. He describes the work experience as one of immer-
sion in a ‘micro society’ of fellow makers, contributors and readers. ‘It is like partaking
in a naturalist community where conventions, structures, rules, and money don’t apply,
but where people, ideas and ideals can exist’ (2006: 206).
These ‘workplaces’ seem to be driven by a desire to share and develop skills in a
small-group environment where work is merged with play. In his work on zines, Atton
has noted the ‘ludic, even festive’ nature of their production (2002: 60), and this joy
seems to be shared by the makers of independent magazines. At Monster Children the
work as play ethic is announced on the page. ‘Everything at Monster Children is decided
with Paper, Scissor, Rock. From what’s going on the cover to who’s going up the road to
get more dunny paper’ (Milligan, 2003: 19). The comment indicates an attitude to work
that would be anathema in the mainstream magazine workplace. Kasino A4 (Helsinki,
now defunct) explained its magazine as ‘a calling for everyone involved […] a pause in
the white noise of the overly commercial, gentrified and unified media landscape’.6 And

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Dikkers insists that indie magazines ‘are not produced: they are lived’ (2006: 206). Not
rational bureaucratic decision-making, but ‘child’s play’. Not just work, a ‘calling’. Not
just made, ‘lived’. To merge work with passion, to play rather than obey, are defining
characteristics of indie magazine production. Angela McRobbie has identified a ‘utopian
thread’ in this attempt by young indie creatives to turn work into enjoyment (2002: 521).
But, as she also notes, there is more than idealism operative here. Making these maga-
zines can be used instrumentally to break into paid work in mainstream publishing, or
ideally to make the title itself a profitable enterprise. In zine culture such ‘upwardly
mobile’ motivation would be regarded as ‘an unforgivable betrayal of the pure trade
ethic’ (Duncombe, 1997: 164).
There are many indie magazines that have grown beyond their small-scale beginnings
to become successful and diversified commercial enterprises, for example, Tank
(London), Purple (Paris), Vice (Montreal), Adbusters (Vancouver). The case of Dazed &
Confused (London) illustrates the potential movement of an indie across the spectrum
from micro-scale non-profit to commercially successful independent enterprise. The first
issue of Dazed & Confused was initially produced in 1992 as a black-and-white folded
poster fanzine by three early career creatives: photographer Rankin, writer/editor
Jefferson Hack and graphic designer Ian Taylor. ‘We were a gang of outsiders,’ Hack
reflected recently, ‘the first generation of digital kids’ (Kansara, 2010). The D&C com-
pany now produces AnOther Magazine and AnOther Man, along with the brand’s multi-
media website, Dazed Digital. From July 2010, alongside the print version, the magazine
offers itself via a specially designed application for the iPad and is opening the brand to
user-generated content via official Dazed ‘satellite blogs’, giving young creatives in cit-
ies like Reykjavik, Moscow and Mumbai the unpaid ‘opportunity’ to broadcast their own
content to an international audience. Independent, yes, but D&C is also a corporate
brand. One element identified here as being important to the definition of the indies –
close control over all aspects of the magazine by its owner/producers – has, in D&C,
long been opened out to others on the payroll. D&C is at the outer limits of the spectrum
of independent publishing, at a categorical tipping point. This is the borderland between
the indie magazine and the niche magazine of the mainstream.

Coming to our senses?

Having described and defined the domains of activity across the spectrum of indepen-
dent magazines, the question remains: why print? Why would young people with high
levels of digital literacy choose this expensive, environmentally wasteful medium, one
that is both less easy and more costly to distribute than online publications, one that will
necessarily reach far fewer readers and at a much slower speed? One answer could lie in
the indies’ response to ‘convergence culture’, another in the appeal of material culture
and the construction of a community of desire.
‘Convergence’ is a multi-layered term. One of the meanings Jenkins identifies is ‘the
flow of content across multiple media platforms’ (2006: 2). Indeed, the mainstream mag-
azine industry has tended to think about convergence in this way. ‘Content is king’
became the mantra. As John Battelle, co-founding editor of Wired magazine, put it,
‘magazines don’t need to be equated with print. It’s a content-driven model now’ (quoted

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394 International Journal of Cultural Studies 15(4)

in Renard, 2006b: 18). With the user interactivity of Web 2.0 and the development of
mobile media, what that content could be has expanded beyond the contained issue of a
magazine, be it print or pdf, to constant online updates, videos, sound, hyperlinks, blogs
and user interactivity. For the indies, however, content is not dematerialized, to be deliv-
ered via any technology. Indies stress their non-convergent materiality. The more the
magazine industry’s digital and mobile media experimentation challenges the very con-
cept of what a ‘magazine’ might be, the more the indies seem to focus on the medium
specificity of print.
As we have seen, the making, distributing, publicizing and proliferation of indie
magazines have been enabled by digital technologies and cultures. Paradoxically, this
interaction of old media with the new – another meaning of ‘convergence’ (Jenkins,
2006: 6) – has allowed the primary focus to return to the printed magazine for both
producers and readers. This is not some kind of retro-abreaction, but an informed
response: what can the magazine as a printed object offer that digital screens cannot?
The indie producers have identified core elements of the printed magazine and pushed
them to the foreground: the quality and tactility of the paper, format (size, shape,
binding), the integration of words, images and space as an expression of graphic
design specific to print, and the life and function of the magazine as a material object.
All are untransferable elements in the experience of both making and reading a
A screen cannot duplicate the material object of the magazine. Even the best hand-
held digital devices impose a set boundary around the content, so that the calculated
choices about magazine format disappear. As do the texture of paper and the careful
decisions about weight and coating. The art historian Joseph Monteyne argues that the
printed magazine ‘has a sensuous aspect … there is a tactility to the paper as it rolls
across the thumb, you can smell the ink, the design has a weight, a body, it appeals to the
senses as well as the intellect’ (2002: 7). And the scholars of print culture, Moylan and
Stiles, write of the literacy that involves not only textual competence but ‘material com-
petence, an ability to read the semiotics of the concrete forms that embody, shape, and
condition the meanings of texts. Bindings, illustrations, paper, typeface, layout …’
(1996: 2). These competencies are privileged in the production and consumption of indie
The problem of environmental waste is countered, if not solved, by small print runs
and the fact that back issues are available until the complete edition is finally sold, avoid-
ing the high pulp rate of unsold mainstream magazines. Indies are made with a long
collectible life in mind. Because of their small circulation, the indies are not unlike zines,
where ‘embodied community’ develops around these material media objects imprinted
with care and creativity. ‘[They] reconnect us to our bodies and to other human beings’
(Piepmeier, 2008: 214). The indie magazine has become a desirable object for producers
and users, one that has an expressive capacity for social and subjective identity
(Woodward, 2007: 135).
This desire is enhanced as the indies slow media time down. Many publish to an
irregular schedule. This not only suits the producers, who often juggle day jobs and
other interests with their magazine making, it is an implicit critique: why do magazines
come out every month? The typical magazine deadline is patently artificial, more a

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Masurier 395

concern of accountancy and competition than creativity or new(s) values. Irregular pub-
lication means that an issue will be made when the makers have gathered enough mate-
rial to construct a considered magazine experience, not when industrial efficiency
demands. In production, distribution, and consumption, indies operate as ‘mid-fre-
quency’ media, at times even as ‘low-frequency’ (Hartley, 2003: 252). The reader’s
relationship with these magazines becomes an act of courtship, an involvement towards
impending commitment that is not the quick pick-up and discard of mainstream maga-
zine consumption or the instantaneity of digital magazines. There is an implicit erotics
in waiting for the gratification of holding a new issue in your hands. Media consump-
tion becomes a matter of desire, again. And reading is a slow consummation, a consid-
ered pleasure that can bear repetition.

This article has aimed to describe and define the independently produced printed maga-
zine as it proliferates in a digital era, differentiating it from the zine and the mainstream
niche magazine via a focus on core domains of publishing activity. It has explored the
paradox that digital technology and cultures have enabled both the democratization and
rejuvenation of one of the oldest media forms. It has briefly speculated upon some of the
reasons for the appeal of the printed independent magazine to producers and consumers.
I am not a futurist, and speculations about ‘what next?’ leave me uneasy. Renard, how-
ever, boldly estimates that as the mainstream magazine industry abandons paper for the
screen, the independents will be the last magazines in print, occupying perhaps 10 per-
cent of the market over the next 25 years (2006a: 15). Perhaps the last word should come
from a young ‘digital native’. In a recent issue of Monster Children, Vaughan Blakey
ranted against the rhetoric about the death of print:

Sure, having shit rammed into my brain via electronics has been entertaining at times but I find
the experience spiritually flawed. When I have a photo, I want a print. When I read a book, I
want the pages to get swollen and dog-eared. When I buy a magazine I want the thing to age
with me. I want tactile proof that my time existed … (2010: 10)

Funding statement
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or
not-for-profit sectors.

1 Frances Bonner has briefly identified the ‘microzines’ as a noteworthy current trend in her
chapter on magazines in the new edition of Cunningham and Turner (2010: 184–5).
2 See:
3 See:
4 For example:,, http://www.
5 See:
6 See:

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Megan Le Masurier is a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications at the

University of Sydney. She is currently avoiding turning her PhD on Cleo magazine and
popular feminism into a book and is working on other research projects: indie magazines
and the political pleasures of production; and a book on the genres of journalism (with
Fiona Giles).

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