In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk in the publishing world about the ‘death of print’ and the generally troubling times for booksellers and authors.
We’ve had to deal with the dominance of Amazon, the cuts to various arts grants and numerous other changes to the industry that have seen less and less emerging authors published. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.
One only needs to look at the thriving ‘indie’ scene for inspiration and confirmation that not all is lost in the publishing world… This article will briefly examine how independent or “indie” publications are thriving, despite the setbacks traditional publishers and their publications are currently facing.
If you take a look at any successful publisher or publication these days, you’ll notice one key thing – they acknowledge the importance of the digital landscape and make an effort to bridge the gap between what we love about the past and the opportunities of the present.
In the past, before the online technologies and platforms became such a massive part of our lives, the big publications ruled the world. They had the money, the history and the influence to dominate the publishing industry.
However, now – the little guys are catching up. We may not have the money or the history, but we certainly know how to make digital technologies work for us.
We’re all about bridging the gap between the traditional publishing model (print) and the new opportunities that the Internet and social media offer us. For example, Writer’s Edit does this through regularly engaging with its readers online by publishing content twice weekly, as well as sharing resources and industry news online, while also publishing its print anthology Kindling.
Through the developments in technology, we’ve been able to establish a much larger, wider spread readership than would ever have been possible traditionally. In some cases like Twitter, we have more followers that some of the older, bigger traditional publishers.
Being relatively small also has its advantages for indie publications in that we can take risks bigger publishers can’t.
In the case of magazine Creative Nonfiction and their press In Fact Books, they’ve been able to take risks with the content they publish:
Choosing subjects to focus on that most publishers have avoided and turning those subjects into nonfiction narrative (has been) a challenge which turns into triumph for us,” says Editor Lee Gutkind.
As for Writer’s Edit, being able to use technologies like Print on Demand (POD) has enabled us to publish books when we otherwise may not have been able to afford to do so.
POD has allowed us to avoid massive upfront costs and risks such as warehousing and purchasing more stock than we can sell. We’re also able to sell directly from our website, which means we keep more of the profits.
Another examples is The Renegade Collective – a relatively new print magazine that entered the market around the time where everyone was fearing the worst.
Due to their innovative thinking and risk taking when it comes to their publication, they’ve gone from strength to strength.
In July, they were the first magazine in Australia to use an Instagram image for their cover, and in their latest issue, they’ve done a print run with four covers. Each risk has paid off, and yet you don’t see Vogue or Esquire doing the same thing…
Rosa Park, Editor at Cereal magazine says the following:
Anyone who starts their own independent magazine is effectively taking a risk. You never know how things will evolve and it's a gamble from day 1. I think a combination of hard work, timing and luck have allowed us to grow these last 3 years, and I am appreciative of our growth every single day. We never take it for granted, we have the mentality of working harder than the day before, each day.
Perhaps it’s not only the risks independent publications are taking, but the way in which they appreciate their success. It’s arguably fair to say that success is more personal for these publications, and therefore they inevitably work harder for it, and appreciate it on a deeper level…
Another reason indie publications are thriving is due to the fact that they’ve recognised audiences are changing. Readers all around the world are consuming content in different ways.
Publications such as Creative Nonfiction, Cereal and the popular Kinfolk are all acknowledging various methods of content consumption by ensuring their products are available in different mediums.
Online subscriptions, digital magazine formats for iPads and tablets, in addition to the traditional print magazine delivered to the reader’s door have all contributed to their success stories.
The change has not only been in how readers consume content, but also in the way readers interact with and about our content.
Indie publications are able to tap into these communities much more easily than a larger, traditional publisher. Instagram and Twitter among other platforms have provided readers with the space to discuss their experiences with books and magazines.
Cereal magazine for example, has over 447,000 followers on Instagram, where they promote their print magazine and city guides by using styled photography of their products.
Similarly, The Renegade Collective encourage their readers to take photos with their products and tag the magazine, where they often repurpose the user-generated content to promote their brand two-fold.
Digitally-savvy marketing strategies like these are definitely the fortes of the independent publications.
Rosa Park of Cereal magazine believes being the new kid on the block also helps indie publications thrive:
I think a good group of independent magazines have found success in their own way, despite the decline in some mainstream glossies…
I think there is a sense that the independent magazine scene is thriving and that traditional isn't, but for me, that has a lot to do with the novelty factor.
What is new grabs more attention and is in the spotlight, therefore it is "taking off", while companies that have been around for a while may be experiencing slower sales and a decline in revenue, and are cutting budgets so there is a negative connotation associated with that.
But for me, I'm interested in who will still be around creating great content 10, 20 years from now. It's the long-term goals not the short term.
Whether independent presses are publishing books or magazines, there is one element that remains unchanged: prioritising the readers and the writers. “Our readers are most concerned with high quality literature and that is what we provide…” says Creative Nonfiction Editor Lee Gutkind.
Putting the readership first is something many publishers have lost sight of, Rosa Park outlined the importance of Cereal’s audience:
Our main goal with every issue of Cereal is to create a travel magazine that resonates with our peers - those who love to experience new cultures in new settings, and appreciate quality and good design and look for those two things when they travel.
Our magazine is also about the edit - presenting a very discerning selection of places we absolutely love.
Lee goes on to say the following:
We are supporting the writer—the reason the publishing industry exists and a fact that the publishing industry tends to ignore, so caught up in their own metrics.
We often work one on one with the writer to strengthen and improve their essays and books. We fact check for the writer.
The writer is our priority, which is the way it is supposed to be in publishing and once was.
We respect writers and their work with hopes that our example – enforcing what should be the standard – will somehow, someday reignite the original mission of the publishing world of the past.
At the beginning of this article, the term ‘bridging the gap’ referred to the space between the traditional print medium of the past and the opportunities the digital age offers us.
Perhaps we should revise this term to instead refer to the gap between the publisher and its readers and writers? Independent publications treasure their relationships with their readers and writers in a way that traditional publications have lost sight of. This is what indie publications do best, and it's why they’re thriving.