Back in the 1980s I was a teenager. I got pocket money. This was in the days before I discovered booze and girls (it was later still when they discovered me, but that’s another story). Simpler pleasures held my attention.
Saturday mornings meant one of two things: a trip to the record shop to buy a new album or a trip to the newsagent to buy a magazine.
I didn’t live in London, or Manchester. I lived in a tiny seaside town in the North West of England. Cool bars, secret gigs and experimental theatre were things I read about, not things I could actually do. My window into that world came through magazines: Chris Roberts writing in Melody Maker, the short-lived-but-brilliant LM Magazine, articles by Paul Morely in Esquire, sometimes a copy of Vanity Fair. I would devour every word — tales of evenings at mythical venues like The Town & Country Club, interviews with my heroes, thoughts on fashion, food and life — a window into a world I was just discovering.
What made these articles (and the magazines they appeared in) so special was the light and shade they added to a scene. I wasn’t just at a gig in London, I was at a gig with the writer.Events filtered through great writing take on a new level of meaning that elevate them from a date in the calendar and transform them into a forzen moment of perfection. A bit like that shark in formaldehyde, but less expensive.
When you stare at a photograph by David Bailey, you aren’t just looking at a picture of Mick Jagger. You are seeing into the relatonship Bailey and Jagger have developed (over that afternoon in the studio, and over a lifetime of working together). Great magazines lend you the lives and lenses of their writers and photographers to give you something you couldn’t otherwise experience.
Fast forward thirty years and here I am, writing on Medium and running my own magazine, The Simple Things. Just over a year ago I left my job at a major publsihing company and jumped into the world of independent magazines. To me they represent all the possibilbity of the magazines of my youth. Titles like Ernest Journal, Delayed Gratification, Hot Rum Cow and Printed Pages continue to push the medium forward. They challenge, excite and offer a genuine alternative to the advertising led mainstream media.
There is a catch though. These titles aren’t available outside of the major cities. Sure, teenagers living in small towns have other diversions these days: Facebook, Periscope, torrent streaming and Snapchat. But the pleasure of discovering a magazie that might change their lives? No.
I, and a small band of others, want to change that. We are launching a digital newsstand to deliver beautiful independent magazines into the hands of an audience who don’t even know they exist. Yet.
We will be challenging a whole industry, and that won’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is though. Pics & Ink will exist to help small publishers sell more copies and connect with a wider audience. Magazines shouldn’t retreat into small enclaves like Shoreditch, Bath, Edinburgh or Leeds.
No, they are too important for that. Magazines change things.