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How to Make a Cult Magazine

July 29, 2013

Nothing beats the buzz of creating something out of nothing. Like the thrill of road-tripping your way around the US without seeing the inside of a hotel. Or publishing a genre-defying indie magazine without a decent editorial budget, advertising revenue or cigar-toting publishing mogul in sight.

Chris Ying and Mauro Bedoni are familiar with this sensation. The editor of left-field food quarterly Lucky Peach and photo editor of Colors, a magazine with a knack for turning features on the economics of human shit as a vehicle for a distinct brand of humanism, both believe that nothing fuels creativity quite like limitation.

At a recent Vivid Ideas panel High-End Content, Low-End Budgets, Ying and Bedoni showed us that starting an indie publishing empire from your bedroom isn’t as difficult as you think. Here’s how to beat them at their own game.

Enlist your famous friends 

Lucky Peach might not have an inflated bank balance but what it does have is David Chang, a dude who is less chef than he is cultural force thanks to his famous pork buns and an equally zeitgeist-happy bad-boy schtick. Ying says that Chang’s co-founder status has helped pull in high-profile contributors from the food, music and art worlds – a key ingredient in its success. “Lucky Peach doesn’t have money, resources or an office but it does have Dave Chang’s cache and the advantage of his friends contributing to the magazine,” says Ying. “Anthony Bourdain writes a column about film, you have [American chef] Mario Batali spewing things that you wouldn’t normally hear from him. We give them the opportunity to publish things that you couldn’t really publish anywhere else.” It’s difficult logic to argue with.

Ten ideas are better than one 

Conde Nast can afford to send their writers to the arctic circle to survey the mating rituals of polar bears but if you’re a fledgling indie publisher, you’ll have to be a little more strategic. For instance, Chris Ying turned a visit to Sweden with the tourism board into five videos and three articles and asked a friend on an official tour in North Korea to spin his experiences into a four-page feature – proof of the way resourcefulness adds up to indie publishing gold.

Call in favours 

Every magazine may aspire to being a global phenomenon, but Colors – published in six languages and distributed everywhere from Seoul to San Francisco – actually is. Bedoni says that Colors owes its international reach to social distribution, a model that’s more cost-effective than setting up a platinum account with Air Express. “We basically just ask friends in various countries to help us distribute the magazines to news agencies and bookshops. They might not make much money out of it but they’re passionate about what we do and willing to help out.”

Fire your advertisers 

How do you run a story on what the cocaine traces on hundred dollar bills tell you about the commerce of drug trafficking without scaring off your advertisers? The trick is not to need them in the first place. Colors magazine is bankrolled by Benneton, a brand that’s become shorthand for boundary-pushing advertising campaigns, and produced at Fabrica, the company’s Italian-based communications and research sector – a kind of utopia for editorial freedom. “I can’t vouch for other magazines but at Colors we don’t have any advertising pages. This means we have fewer factors influencing our course. The editorial process is simpler and it give us greater leverage,” says Bedoni.

Do it for love

Of course, the whole indie publishing caper hinges on the fact that print isn’t dead. And if it is, you might as well just embrace it. “Our magazine has been an outlandish success given its size,” says Ying. “But who knows how long it will last. “We’re somehow still sailing this dumb little ship and there’s every possibility that it will sink. But that’s sort of the exciting part about it.”

Chris Ying and Mauro Bedoni appeared at a Vivid Ideas session Indie Magazines: High-End Content, Low-End Budget



Posted on July 29, 2013

Tags: feature, humour