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There's something indescribably wonderful about a smart,
beautifully designed printed publication that has something to say
and says it well. No matter how exciting the iPad's potential for
storytelling might be, there is still value in the bound experience
of magazines when assembled by thoughtful editors and talented
designers. For them magazines are a labor of love, and for their
readers a pleasure to behold. Here to champion those efforts is
Andrew Losowsky, an editor and journalist whose passion for
publications can be summed up by the titles of his books We Love
Magazines (2007) and We Make Magazines (2009). With
America—a subscription-based service that delivers a care
package of creative, independent magazines and related ephemera six
times a year—Losowsky is using an old-fashioned model in a novel
way to bring unique print experiences to audiences. The former
editorial director of Le Cool,
in-the-know guides to cultural events in European cities; the
co-curator of Colophon, the independent
magazine biennale; and the author of the blog Magtastic Blogsplosion,
Losowsky is uniquely qualified for the job. He recently answered
some questions about what makes for a meaningful magazine
experience, whether magazines can be sustainable and how the
internet is good for print.
Spread from d[x]i, a
culture and design magazine from Spain included in a Stack America
How did the idea for Stack America come about?
Losowsky: Stack began in London in December 2008, as a
way to introduce independent magazines to new audiences. [Founder]
Steven Watson was originally inspired to start Stack by a T-shirt
subscription service run by momimomi. I got to know Steven at
the Colophon Biennale in 2009. We stayed in touch, and he mentioned
that he had come across many interesting American publications that
he couldn't feature, because the shipping costs were just too
high—also, the cost of sending Stack to American subscribers was
expensive. So we started to talk about setting up an American
edition. Stack America launched in December 2009, and so far we've
sent out eight different magazines in four bimonthly mailings.
And all those different magazines… do readers know what
they're going to receive or is it always a surprise?
Losowsky: Think of it like a curated magazine club: in
each mailing Stack America sends out at least one piece of
remarkable, independent publishing, along with other unusual
magazine-related ephemera. The hope is that, if you love one of the
magazines, you'll subscribe, spread the word and help keep great
independent magazines alive. Each envelope is a surprise,
containing fresh perspectives and new ways of storytelling.
We also include in each mailing an exclusive print from our
Designers Series. Prominent magazine designers, editors,
typographers and illustrators create an image available only for
our subscribers, reflecting on the medium of magazines.
Participants so far include Robert Newman (Fortune,
Real Simple, New York), Jeremy Leslie (Time
Out, John Brown Media, magculture.com) and Cyrus
Highsmith (typographer for Martha Stewart Living,
Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal).
What are some of the magazines you carry and what makes them
Losowsky: We look for magazines that are at least as good
as, if not better than, the mainstream in their design and
journalism. These are the bleeding edge of publishing, created by
passionate people who aren't afraid to experiment, to push the
boundaries of what's possible in print. The slogan for Stack is
"Magazines that matter"—and for anyone in the creative industries,
that's exactly what they are. No magazine pays to be sent out as
part of Stack—in fact, we pay for every copy, direct from the
publisher. Our reputation has been built upon our independence and
the quality of our selection.
Already sent out have been Pin-Up ("architectural
entertainment"), Meatpaper ("documenting the
fleischgeist"), Megawords ("a
non-commercial record of place and human experience"), d[x]i from Spain ("culture
and post-design"), a mini magazine from Little White
Lies in the U.K. ("getting under the skin of cinema"), an
infographic sheet from GOOD magazine, and, in our latest
mailing, Embrocation ("the
essence of cycling") and Put A Egg On It ("tasty
We also guarantee not to repeat a title for at least a year.
There are thousands of unusual magazines out there, and we're
dedicated to rooting out the best and sharing them with an audience
hungry for fresh inspiration.
(From left) Covers of Little White
Lies, Pin-Up and
selected by Stack America.
How do you deal with unpredictable publication schedules and
the growing death rate of magazines today?
Losowsky: We're only sending out a single issue of a
magazine each time, so it hasn't been a problem. So far, all the
publications Stack America has sent out are still in
business—perhaps we're a good-luck charm!
Are there any differences you've noticed in European
subscribers versus American ones?
Losowsky: One difference is the distances involved. In
much of Europe, the majority of people live within reach of a major
cosmopolitan city, whereas population centers in the United States
and Canada are far more spread out. However, there's definitely a
similar hunger for creativity and inspiration in print on both
sides of the Atlantic—which is why, coupled with the magic and
mystery of a curated service, our subscribers eagerly await every
Waiting is such a foreign concept today. Why should people
still be interested in magazines when we can get an almost-constant
stream of information and visual stimulation online?
Losowsky: Today we all consume a mix of media, both
digital and physical, and I don't see that changing, at least for a
while. The best magazines that choose to stay in print are those
that do so for a reason—to have a physical presence in our lives,
to make the most of being a curated object, to make something that
readers will keep and return to, to create something that will sit
boldly on the coffee table.
Digital magazines can add audio, animation and video, however
they lose in other areas: touch, smell, weight are all sensations
that digital magazines don't have control of. In the very best
magazines, these are carefully curated as part of the story.
(From left) Stack envelopes ready to be mailed; a recent issue
Do you have any theories on the iPad, whether it's a good or
bad thing for the creators and consumers of magazines?
Losowsky: We're still in the very early stages of
understanding what a magazine can and can't do on tablet computers.
It's only a good thing for readers—new media, new possibilities,
and available anywhere with an internet connection, rather than
having to rely on whatever the local newsstand has in stock.
Publishers, however, are having to rethink how they make money,
how digital fits into their workflow, and how to commission pieces
with two concurrent media in mind.
New technology isn't ever inherently bad or good—it's always
about how an affected industry reacts to it. At first, the web was
seen as a bad thing, until publishers realized that it was probably
the best subscription tool ever invented.
As for tablets, right now it's too early to say for sure what
the impact on conventional publishing will be. Interesting times,
What about from a sustainability perspective? There are costs
(environmental, financial) associated with printing and shipping,
and often there's a lot of waste in magazine production. Is
sustainability something you consider in both your business model
and in your choice of magazines (for instance, are you looking at
publishers using soy-based inks, recycled paper, etc.)?
Cover of Embrocation Cycling
Losowsky: There are indeed environmental and fiscal costs
associated with any product, including digital, where the
environmental costs associated with the generation of electricity
to power server hosting and the recharging of electric devices, as
well as biodegradability of computer parts, should also be taken
We firmly believe in alternative, less impactful materials
including soy-based inks and recycled paper; we used part-recycled,
sustainably sourced paper for all our materials. However, we
haven't as yet refused a publisher because of the materials it
Environmental impact in every aspect of our lives should always
be minimized. Ultimately, however, society in its current form is
predicated on making and selling things. Our belief is that, if
something is going to be made and sold, there is always an
environmental cost—and so, in order to be worth that cost, every
product should aim to be something different, something original,
with the potential to change the viewer's perspective, even to
improve their life in some way. That's what we look for in our
magazines, and that's the philosophy we try to project in what we
There is nothing more offensively wasteful, in a planet of
limited resources, than insipid, thoughtless, copycat creation.
To learn more, visit the Stack America
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