Long Live Print: Edinburgh's indie magazine resurgence
We speak to Edinburgh’s magazine makers about the rise of print culture and the radical act of switching off
If you’re reading this offline then you’ll know that we still have faith in paper, but there have been many over the years who have predicted print’s demise. How could magazines compete with the instant gratification of the internet, they said? Physical pages are passe and swiping is the future, they said. More fool them. About one in ten of you are now using magazines as your main source of news, and last year Ofcom reported that magazines are people’s most trusted type of media, charging ahead of newspapers, TV and radio. Print culture, we never doubted you.
“A few years back, there was a number of people who left the industry, and it felt like maybe magazines had had their big moment,” says Laura Dunlop, who heads up the publishers’ association PPA Scotland. “The really interesting thing that's happening now is that many of those people are coming back.”
Dunlop is one of the brains behind the Edinburgh International Magazine Festival, which happens for the first time in the capital this month. It builds on the already existing party for all things paper, MagFest, extending from one day to a week-long series of talks, workshops and gigs in venues across the city. “It is an incredibly vibrant event,” Dunlop says of MagFest, now in its eighth year and due to make up part of the new festival. “Everyone leaves it buzzing with excitement and love of magazines, but the thing is it's always been primarily people from within the industry. I really wanted to make sure that we spread that love for a much wider range of people.”
Independent magazines in Edinburgh
London may be traditionally viewed as the UK’s media centre, but Scotland has a strong claim to be the nexus for magazine makers in the North. The world’s oldest publication still in print is The Scots Magazine – which resides in Dundee with creators of The Beano, DC Thomson – and there’s a strong creative buzz across the industry that means new magazines are being born all the time. “After London, Edinburgh's probably the best place in the country to try and set up an indie magazine,” says Sam Bradley, who edits the narrative journalism publication Counterpoint and indie music mag Dive. “There's a community of publishers, designers, editors and journalists ready to work with you, a small but growing indie bookshop scene with a modern sensibility in the form of Typewronger, Golden Hare and Lighthouse. The fact that plenty of Edinburghers can afford to shell out a tenner on a fancy magazine probably helps, too.”
Bradley was drawn to making magazines for the very reason they were supposed to die out – time. Compared to the internet, with its short-form nuggets of content you can breeze through in between work or studying, magazines take longer to consume. You sit, you read, and you digest. You mull over the stories (or pictures) that draw you in the most. “I just think it's one of the best ways of getting through to people,” says Bradley. “Readers take more time with print, make it part of their day, and they take what they read with them after they've closed the back page. Obviously, good writing works anywhere, but there's something about print – the alchemy of design and writing and editing – that transforms it into a whole new thing.”
It turns out that the old cliché is true – what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. Rather than fade out under the internet’s dominion, magazines are filling in the gaps that online content misses, namely through its ability to add context to a fast news cycle. “The news magazines are having an absolute moment right now, and that’s because of their ability to really deal with complex issues that are going on in the world,” says Dunlop. “They're perfectly placed, because of the long-form writing, because of their slightly longer-term view, to take on topics like the rise of the right, or climate change, or changes in global politics.”
There’s also the reassurance that with editorial control comes some accountability. While trust in social media platforms like Facebook has eroded, it appears to be growing in magazines that offer a safeguard against fake or poorly reported news. “There's something to be said for using print as a form of protection against the fakery and falsehood of discourse online,” says Bradley. “Magazines made properly – with fact-checking and good editing and thoughtful writing – can rise above all that.”
"The digital era has reinforced my love for print"
But more than an adjunct to online content, magazines can offer a respite from the digital world altogether. Where once the dream was that everything would be digitised and we could live in a Back to the Future-esque utopia, now our tech lives are supersaturated and it feels more radical to try and unplug. “People are connected all the time and are now looking for an escape from the screen and to get a little lost in long-form articles as opposed to the clickbait scrolls we’ve all been exposed to for so long,” says Hannah Taylor, editor of the young women’s magazine The Delicate Rébellion. “I think the digital era has reinforced my love for print. Laying out articles on paper adds a dimension that you just can’t achieve with digital. It’s an art form in itself,” she concludes.
“In a world turned increasingly digital, reading and creating print magazines can feel a little like staging your own personal rebellion,” says Imogen Stirling, who managed this summer’s relaunch of 404 Ink’s literary magazine. “They exist to unite readers and to be shared. You finish your copy and you pass it on or leave it in a public place. You go to a café, or a library, or the dentist, or a train, and you expect to find a magazine to leaf through.”
It’s their tangibility that still gives magazines their charm. The pictures, the typography, even the smell of the paper – it’s not uncommon to see a couple of editors by the stacks at MagFest opening a new magazine and taking a satisfied sniff. 404 Ink – and lit mag newbie Extra Teeth – have taken that love of paper, and what you can present on it, to re-imagine what a literary magazine might look like. No longer made up of black and white text encased in a beautiful cover, both publications are shot through with colour, brought to life with illustrations by Letty Wilson and Maria Stoian respectively. “I for one have never seen a literary magazine like the one we’re set to publish,” says Stirling. “I hope the revamped style will heighten the magazine’s accessibility and widen the 404 Ink community.”
“The niche magazines, especially some magazines that are very much for one audience group, really make a big play on the beauty and the design of them and the sense of the tactile pleasure of a magazine,” says Dunlop. “It's very much analogous to the rise of vinyl and that sense of something that is precious in a way that a series of ones and zeros doesn't get to be.”
MagFest, 20 Sep, Central Hall, Edinburgh, magfest.co.uk
Edinburgh International Magazine Festival presents Your New Favourite Band (Maranta, Edwin Organ, D R I F T), Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, 17 Sep - tickets here