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14.01.2020 / Knud Wassermann

Digitalization is also creating space for new ideas – for example, indie mags

Digital-savvy young people are also manifesting their creative potential in printed magazines. Completely independent of traditional publishing companies, an agile community has emerged with impressive content and design concepts.

The past few years have been particularly tough for companies with a publishing background – the internet has shaken up the business model between advertising and sales revenues that has been in place for decades. Online activities have allowed publishers to only partially compensate for their declining revenues. The internet giants, above all Google, are siphoning off most of the online advertising spending for themselves. It is estimated that Google picks up 60 percent of all advertising revenues on the internet.
Digitalization is radically changing the status quo and, at times, even questioning it entirely. At the same time, however, it is creating space for new ideas. This is becoming visible in the magazine sector, for example, in the form of “indie mags”. These are magazines that are published completely independently of established publishers. 

Living out creative ideas
The creators, who are mostly young and digitally savvy, view printed magazines as a check on digital overkill. However, this is not about making big money, but much more about living out creative ideas and implementing them in the haptic world of hard copy. Digitalization of individual production steps in the printing industry has fueled development, now making it possible to bring magazines onto the market at a manageable cost. 

In combination with the internet, contemporary publishing tools are creating new forms of collaboration and removing geographical boundaries. Digital printing supports this development thanks to the economical production of short runs – and even personalization is becoming feasible. Print runs range from a few hundred to several runs of 10,000 copies. Some magazines such as “the gentlewoman” or “Fantastic Man” are even breaking the hundreds of thousands barrier.

Indie mags are circulated via their own platforms.

Social media is boosting sales
Indie mags are circulated via their own platforms – a good overview of the German scene can be found on the indiemags website, for instance. In the Anglo-Saxon region, "Stack", with its online platform stackmagazines, is very active. “Stack” offers a monthly subscription to allow readers to try out a different magazine every month.

Social media channels, above all Instagram, are used to promote the magazines in order to underline their design quality and boost international sales. The “Kinfolk” lifestyle magazine currently has 1.4 million followers on Instagram alone. “Cereal”, a British travel and design magazine, is followed by 1 million people. 

Agile communities, full of drive, have developed in the creative hotspots of this world, such as Barcelona, London, New York and Berlin. Unfortunately, there are no figures available to provide a clear overview of what is on offer and the market is constantly changing This may also be due to the fact that the indie mag community has not yet organized itself as an association.

Stories behind the images
However, the scene does not lack public attention. For example, the Indiecon Festival in Hamburg is the central point of contact for independent magazine fans in Germany. Ninety-five exhibitors from 22 countries provided the 4,000 visitors with an overview of what they have to offer. “Publishers often don't want their magazine to become their main source of income, so they can maintain their independence,” says Malte Brenneisen, himself a publisher and a co-founder of the “Indiecon” Independent Publishing Festival in Hamburg. 

Clever, chic, shrill and, above all, unconventional works were presented at the Indiecon over a period of three days. Independent here means that the publishers are also the bosses of the magazines and are therefore fully responsible for the content and finances. Among the exhibitors this year was a Viennese collective, which publishes the “Auslöser” magazine – a bilingual magazine (German and English) for photographers and photography fans that focuses primarily on the stories behind the images. The first issue was published in last March and is available for around 20 euros. 


The independent creators, who are mostly young and digitally savvy, view printed magazines as a check on digital overkill.

Copy price is the most important source of revenue
The high copy price is nothing unusual for independent magazines. Due to often complex printing processes at times combined with different types of paper, these high sales prices are imperative to cover manufacturing costs. Circulation revenues are by far the most important and often the only source of income for magazine makers. 

According to an analysis conducted by the Bardohn office in 2019, the average sales price is 16.28 euros. By way of comparison, the average figure for general interest magazines in Germany is 4.32 euros. Meanwhile, the Frankfurt Book Fair has also recognized the trend and set up Indiecon Island for independent magazines, which proved to be a real magnet for visitors.

The English magazine “Monocle” is a high flyer
London is also a good place for the independent scene where a community has formed that nurtures the topic with events, conferences and its own platforms. One of the high flyers is the “Monocle” magazine. Established in 2007, it has long outgrown the independent scene. The magazine, which currently has a circulation of 84,000 copies, 20,000 of which are subscriptions, has expanded into an international media brand that offers far more than just a magazine – a daily e-mail newsletter, podcasts, videos, travel guides and even a conference round off the range. 

This is a typical example that the indie mags scene can also function as an incubator for the magazine market.

Knud Wassermann, Chief Editor of Graphische Revue