Interviewer: Peter Houston
How did you become such a massive magazine geek?
I got a job at White Light Media, which is a content marketing company based in Edinburgh, in Leith, where I worked for my favorite boss ever, apologies to all my other bosses! But Fraser Allen, who runs White Light Media, is an all-round awesome guy. So, there I fell in love with prints and with design it was the first time I was really aware of the time and love and effort and passion that goes into magazine publishing. I think I can probably blame that on one of my colleagues there, Adam Wilson and on another colleague Eric Campbell, both of whom are shit hot designers and just really showed me what the difference between crap design and great design, and what it can do for a publication, and how it can lead the eye, and not necessarily how great design is always all singing all dancing, ‘make it pop’ kind of design. But it just can be design that actually just takes you through a magazine in the way that you want it to.
So, that’s where I fell in love with magazines. And then while I was working there, I had a frank conversation with Fraser about…because he was my friend by that point, of course…about my salary expectations for the future. And we decided that unless the company was to expand into a second office or whatever, that there wasn’t really anywhere for me to go, because I was the business manager there and there was only one role there. And then the job came up at PPA, which is the trade association for magazine publishers in the UK, in case anybody is listening to this abroad.
Loads of people listen to this abroad!
Oh well, OK. So, for everyone listening to this abroad, then. As the job came up at the PPA for the business manager in Scotland, and Fraser actually talked to me about it. He’s like: ‘Nikki I don’t want you to leave, but I really think this would be a great opportunity for you. So, why don’t you go for it’. And he was actually on the executive committee at that point. So, that was quite amusing having my boss interview me for the position for the next role, which was quite weird. No room for embellishment or anything. They’re asking me questions and I was going, ‘I don’t know, Fraser what do you think?’.
I got the job and worked there for about five years. And again, that just made me love the industry even more, and just put me in touch with so many incredible, passionate, talented people working in the industry who just love magazines as much as I do, and have become my friends, I guess. Now all I want to do is to support them.
So, then I left PPA when I had a baby. His name’s Horace, if you want to see a cute pic, I will send Peter one and he can put it on the Media Voice website. So, then came back to PPA and I wanted to just work two days a week, but we decided that actually it wasn’t gonna be appropriate, it wasn’t going to be fair on the members really, because it’s a one man band in Scotland. So, while working at PPA I had this idea to set up an International Magazine Centre. And at the end of the day when I was coming back to PPA, I was just thinking, you know what, ‘that’s what I really want to focus on.’ So, it was a kind of blessing in that respect and the girl that’s taken over from me at PPA is just totally phenomenal at her job.
Before you move on to talk about the International Magazine Centre, you missed a very important part of the puzzle. You didn’t talk about MagFest, which you started.
Well no I didn’t actually start it. It was actually my predecessor Cathy Crawford Hay. She actually did it for a year when… it was like my third week or something on the job at the first MagFest. So, she started it, brought over some incredible speakers from America and stuff. Brilliant event. And then in my first year we just did a small event, so I could get my feet under the table so I knew what I was doing. There was only 60 people there. And then the following year we built it and built it again and built again. And yeah, it did become my baby after a while. So, that was the one thing that was really difficult to let go of when I left PPA. Because I just love organizing events, just to be that kind of contact point for so many people and to be creating something that can actually have so much influence on people without you even knowing it.
There are so many conversations I have now where people are like, ‘Oh yeah I met them at MagFest, that’s how I’ve got that job now’. Or somebody even left some feedback I remember, after we had Wyatt Mitchell over from the New Yorker. They said that they were so moved by his talk that they completely reconsidered their careers as a creative director. And I just thought, ‘Wow this is actually having a real impact on people’. It’s not just people going, ‘Oh I’m going to a conference and we’re gonna sit in a box for a whole day, feel a bit sleepy and have some crap sausage rolls’. Somebody always complained about the sausage rolls.
For anyone who’s never been lucky enough to be MagFest, what’s the elevator pitch?
So to me, from my elevator pitch, because to me it’s a project I’m still so passionate about, even though I haven’t actually curated one in a couple of years. To me it’s just like inviting all my magazine heroes to come and speak to all my magazine friends. I mean what more fun can you have than that. Yeah it’s just so much fun. I don’t know about other communities across the world, but I know what the London vibe is like sometimes. Sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s lovely. It depends where you go I think, but sometimes it can be so focused on business and making money, that people forget about the passion in the industry. And I think in London…fair enough I mean, with the with the house prices there alone, you’re not going to focus on anything else but making money. But I just feel like in Scotland, it’s all about the passion, and it’s all about connecting people, and it’s all about just really celebrating the joy of magazine publishing. And I think, yeah everything that MagFest is, reflects that. We’ve just got such a great buzz about the place.
So that brings us perfectly to your plans for the International Magazine Centre in Edinburgh. What’s all that about?
So, the second year I think that I was running Mag Fest, we sold out on tickets. So, we had a great year, it was only 200 people, but at the time that felt massive. And it was also at the same time as the Scottish Independence Referendum. So, I was down in London actually on the day of the Scottish Independence Referendum, which was really weird. There was thunder, lightning, and stuff down there. So, we were all like, ‘Oh my God, maybe its going to happen’.
Everybody was interested in what was happening around Scotland, and everybody was interested in what was happening around MagFest, and what was happening in magazines. And they’d heard about this great event, and so on and so. I just really wanted to perpetuate that feeling of things happening and that connectivity really. And I think because of the Independence Referendum, there’s this constant thought about how you potentially going to get cut off from the rest of UK and what that could mean for our relationship with Europe, and then subsequently with Brexit coming in and so on.
There’s just this constant thought of, we’re cutting off to so many people, this is something that a couple of people said to me, ‘Well is this a good time to do this round Brexit?’ I’m like well yes, it’s the best time to do it because this is all about connecting with people, it’s about showing people that we’re not interested in cutting off. We just really want to just say, we’re welcoming, we’re friendly, we really want to actually reach out to the rest of the world, not just sit in our own little silos.
And I guess that’s why it’s called the International Magazine Centre not the Scottish Magazine Centre.
Yeah definitely. I mean I think there’s some brilliant things going on in Scotland and across the UK. But to me it’s about…I mean, what’s the point in the Internet if we can’t actually connect internationally, and learn from other countries? It’s just we’ve got this fantastic gift that people are often complaining about because of the supposed death of print and all this shite. And you just think, well do you know what, actually this is just this amazing opportunity for thousands of publishers. Not only to connect with each other, but to distribute internationally to do, you name it you’ve got it. It’s on a plate.
So how’s that going to work? What’s it going to look like? What do you hope to do?
The dream basically, I suppose the dream is the wrong word. The plan, is to create a physical building that would be the…basically come and worship at the altar of magazine publishing.
Woha, that’s a bit deep.
I know I know…get excited!
So, an office space for publishers and affiliated industries. So, anybody connected with the magazine publishing industry; advertisers, journalists, designers, photographers, illustrators, people working in data, developers, marketing, events. So, anybody that could loosely be affiliated with magazine publishing.
So, what we’d love is like a core basis, of say maybe four to five anchor tenants, but then alongside that have loads of freelancers, have an incubator space for new publishers and graduates coming in from the industry, have hot desking space, have meeting rooms dedicated to, again to these people. And a dedicated space as well for international publishers who are thinking about coming to the UK, to either set up their business here or they’re just passing through the UK and want somewhere where we can actually feel there’s a home for them. So that’s the office space.
Then the world’s best magazine shop, I think is the only way I really want to describe it. I really feel that’s quite ambitious, and I’m sorry if there’s the proprietors of magazine shops across the world going ‘Oh you’re not gonna get better than me.’ But my hope is that I really will get better than yours. And what that’s gonna look like is, every kind of magazine imaginable that you can think of. So, not just consumer magazines, not just business to business magazines but membership magazines, niche magazines, magazines you never heard of, international magazines, multilingual magazines, internal magazines, magazines from just…zines as well. Like every kind of magazine you could possibly imagine.
And this is not just for publishers, obviously. Half of the point of the International Magazine Centre, is to really connect with consumers because PPA and other trade associations are fantastic at connecting with publishers and learning from each other and getting all that information out there. But we’re not doing as much as we could to be able to connect with consumers.
And at the end of the day, one of the main reasons that the, I think that the magazine sales are falling in general, is because people are obviously moving online. They’re kind of moving away from things. And I speak to people, I speak to consumers, friends obviously, and say what kind of magazines do you read. And they go I don’t really read magazines anymore. And the reason for that is because they’re not going into a shop and going, wow look at these 50,000 magazines. They’re going into a newsagent and seeing the same 10 magazines on sale in every single shop. And there’s nothing against those 10 magazines and the reasons was 10 magazines are there is because they’re selling well. So, I get that. But to me you really need to be actually going out to people and saying, look at these magazines that are made for you personally. Because once you’ve found that magazine that’s made for you, you feel like the editor is actually writing to you. You feel like when you read that magazine that it’s being created for you personally. And that’s the most wonderful feeling and you can’t pull yourself away from that magazine, and that’s when you start subscribing to something because you just think, this isn’t just something I should read or something that my pals are reading, or whatever. This is something that actually really speaks to me as a human being.
So where are you at in your planning?
Hold on a minute. You are jumping way ahead. I have loads more. So we’ve got offices. We’ve got an event space as well. And then on top of that, as well we’re talking to Napier University, National Library of Scotland about research projects we could do. So, how the magazine has reflected and affected the body image throughout the decades, for example. These are, really to me, really fascinating subjects that I think the society could really learn from and magazine publishers could learn from.
So where are you at with planning?!
So, where am I at with the planning. So, we have just launched the website, I guess that’s why we’re talking to each other right now. So, that’s super exciting. Feels like we’ve been sitting on that for a long time, so to actually get out there is really exciting. So, one of the things we want to do, is we want to set up a monthly event in conjunction with Edinburgh Napier University, where we’ll invite international publishers to speak over Skype to an audience in Scotland, and then we’ll record those talks and we’ll curate the best content from those talks to create a training course for publishers.
As well as that, we have set up a licensing hub as part of the the International Magazine Centre website. So, giving magazine publishers the opportunity to get their content out there on a platform which international publishers can come and look at and see what’s available. And that’s obviously not just for the UK, that’s for any international publishers.
One of the things I’m really really conscious of is that of course, coming to the International Magazine Centre if you’re in Scotland, is gonna be top of your list of things to do. But, for anybody living in Japan, America, whatever, this isn’t going to be hugely beneficial to them in a physical space.
So, what we’re trying to do is translate everything that we could do from physical space onto a digital space. So, the talks for example will be available online afterwards. The research that we do will be available online. The exhibitions that we do, we’ll have to have them online as well. The kind of support that we’re offering in our incubator space will be…we’ll have resources online for that as well.
I keep thinking about what could actually be super beneficial to people, and visas keeps on coming to the forefront of my mind, which is possibly the most dull and depressing kind of route to go down. But I suspect at some point we might try to start offering advice on that.
And then of course we need to find a venue. So, yeah, one of the things that we’re doing in the meantime before we find a venue, is we’re trying to plan pop-up International Magazine Centres at places of cultural interest across the world. So, the equivalent of the V&A for example in Amsterdam and Paris, you name it. Sorry, that’s just Europe. I mean obviously I would be keen to go elsewhere as well. But just trying to make connections with people, so that if we were to run a pop up International Magazine Centre, say over the course of a week or two weeks in their country, that we could run workshops, we could do publisher events, we could do talks, we could have a little shop, we could have an exhibition and so on. So again, the embodiment of what will be the the all singing all dancing building eventually, brought into somebody else’s country, which I think even if it doesn’t actually gain that much traction, I kind of feel like that’s something that we should do just to actually just connect with people, just to go, this isn’t just about what’s happening in Scotland. This is about what you could be a part of on a bigger basis.
And of course we’re applying for funding. This is a not for profit venture. So, we need to find some money.
Who in the industry’s supporting you?
So, we’ve got support from lots of Scottish publishers, from Edinburgh Napier University, that’s one of our key partners, from various other magaziney people, from PPA, from FIPP who are the International Trade Association for magazine publishers and media – sorry James, I’m sure you wouldn’t like me to call it magazine media…! From the Global Editors Network, from people like MagCulture and Stack Magazines. And from lots of different trade associations as well, who are again in affiliated industries. So, we’ve got support from the Institute of Practitioners and Advertising, the Marketing Society, people like this. So, it’s all coming together, and I suppose this is this first step really, just chatting to you and talking about what kind of way we want to take it forward.
People that are listening, how can they get involved?
So, you can have a look at our website. There’s a support page. You can become a patron of the International Magazine Centre. You can donate anything between a dollar and as much as you like, enough to pay my rent if you wish, those aren’t the only two options obviously. But yeah you can become a patron and that would be an amazing way to support us. But there’s so many other ways as well. So, you can help us spread the word. You can follow us on Twitter, you can retweet us. Any kind of connections you’ve got, so if you want to introduce us to somebody, we’d love to meet anybody you’d like to introduce us to on an international basis. Any way we can spread the word is awesome.
You can sign up for a newsletter, you can offer us a space, you can recommend content for the website. So, we set up an inspiration page for…not only for amazing things that are happening in publishing, but also amazing articles from publishers. So again, this has a consumer facing side to it. And we really want to get this out to consumers to go, look at all these fantastic articles that are out there. Look at what you’re missing out on just by not reading.
What else can you do. Jeepers. There’s a list as long as my arm. You can help us with pop up shops. You can recommend somebody to come and speak or you can volunteer to speak yourself. That’s probably enough to be getting on with, have a look at the website.
Is the website really the focus for what you’ve got going on at the moment?
It is, yeah I think. As I say we just launched it the other day so that’s been our main focus up until now.
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