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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

STACK Magazine Subscription Service: an interview with founder Steve Watson

We put the spotlight on Stack Magazines, an innovative subscription service that delivers a different independent magazine each month. If only it had existed when Amelia's Magazine was in print!

Written by Jessica Cook

Stack Magazines by Jo Cheung
Stack Magazines by Jo Cheung

There is something about print magazines; the aroma of them, sometimes thick and woody, sometimes fresh and glossy. There is something undeniably comforting about holding a magazine in your hands, the texture: solid and reassuring beneath your fingers. A magazine is something real and tangible that your eyes and tips can really get to grips with. There’s no feeling in world like getting your mitts on a virgin mag, previously unopened, your eye-balls the first to drink in the words and pictures of that copy. Even the ink-dust that sticks to your fingers on some mags; that’s something that I love, to have words physically rub off on my fingers. What could be better than that?

Little White Lies

For all these reasons, subscribing to Stack, a magazine subscription service which sends out a different independent magazine to its customers each month, is one of my indulgences. Every 30 days or so, I get an envelope in the mail. I collect it from the welcome mat and I bring it upstairs to digest. I open it like a kid at Christmas, cheeks flushed with excitement. I love the smell of magazines in the morning.

Stack Magazines

In the last year they’ve sent out: Boat, a magazine which transports itself to a new city for each issue; The Ride Journal, a magazine which weaves together the anecdotes of cyclists the world over; your new friend Oh Comely, a mag that wants to keep your curiosity alive. Old favourites such as Anorak, the kid’s magazine with a difference, make an appearance too. These are the mags that cross the divide between zine and art and with cover prices as high as £10.50 you’re likely to get your money’s worth if you subscribe.

Stack Magazines

With June came sun, and also Port Magazine, food lover’s heaven. Stylish and chic, it has a hint of glossy men’s mag about it. Kicking off with an open letter to Old Fulton Fish Market and complete with a pinch of Nigella Lawson, this mag will whet your appetite for future issues.

The July delivery brought me the music edition of Wooden Toy Quarterly, which not only came inside album-like packaging but also had little sister typography mag Lyrics and Type tucked inside. Put together by Kaleidoscope Festival co-founder Timba Smits, WTQ is a visual delight.

WTQ Music Issue Cover

Wooden Toy Quarterly Music Issue

Lyrics and Type

September brought issue 4 of Juke. With some of the adverts made in collaboration between brand and mag, this music magazine (with a side of fashion) takes a walk on the wild side. The editorial informs me that “it’s time to get your weird on” and it’s hard not to follow Juke through to obscurity and beyond.

Stack Magazines by Karen Brotherton
Stack Magazines by Karen Brotherton

Very Nearly Almost, a Stack staple, came one chilly October. Issue 20 was so devoted to its main subject matter: graffiti, that I initially thought that the name of the mag was Retna, one of the graffiti artists it covered. This mag caught hold of my imagination, filled with street art, this is an urban art mag at its best and strong visuals made up a large bulk of this publication.

VNA

These are just a few of the mags that have been sent to me in the post since I subscribed. August presented an issue of Rouleur packed to the rafters with “the world’s finest cycle racing reportage”, and Delayed Gratification, “the slow journalism” magazine also made an appearance in my mailbox around Xmas.

Delayed Gratification

Stack really is revolutionary. Each magazine comes with a letter which explains why the mag was picked and what it has to offer. In one side of A4 it tells you a bit about the contents, whether it’s some info about the mag creators, or how Stack stumbled across the mag. This gives the service a personal element and really helps you connect with the issue in-hand as well as get to know the team over at Stack headquarters. Most letters also make you privy to the ‘message’ of the mag, meaning that you have a little insight before you crick its back.

The founder of Stack, Steven Watson is a guy with a real lust for magazines; “magazines are constellations of ideas,” he says. He had the brainwave to start Stack in September 2008; merging the t-shirt subscription model with a blog post he read about consuming different independent magazines as a way to stay interesting. Stack was launched pretty soon after and was up-and-running by December 2008.

Rouleur

Steve‘s love for mags stems from their ability to display the bigger picture, “with a print mag you can glance at a spread and focus in on a small detail. They’re read in a different way…they haven’t quite got this with iPad and tablet mags yet.” He’s a passionate printy himself “I love the fact some of these are mags being made by people not getting paid, sometimes not even breaking even; they are just hugely passionate about the subject matter.”

Stack Magazines

He identifies a Stack Magazine as, “a mag with something to say, with a distinctive point of view and a stylish way of saying it”. He goes on to elaborate further saying the mags they choose are “niche but welcoming”.

His passion for the print stuff started when he was off sick from school and his mum got him a copy of Smash Hits. During his teens this progressed to a love for FHM and Steve currently works for The Church of London, the Creative Agency which makes Little White Lies (which coincidentally began life in Amelia’s house when publisher Danny Miller lived there.)

He notes that over time a lot has changed and Stack now have around 1,200 subs and hope to break 2,000 by the end of 2013. He explains that they sometimes send out additional mags “but it mainly depends on the weight. When we started, we had 300 or so subscribers and it was ok, but now our circulation’s higher, it’s harder to convince mags to send us more than a thousand copies for free.”

DogEar
These additional mags are varied and include DOGEAR, which is both a magazine and a bookmark, and boasts illustration, poetry and fiction in its miniature pages. Each instalment comes on a different shade of pastel coloured card and the pieces in this nifty little bookmark are often short and pithy and many even take advantage of the mag’s small stature with their layout.

Your Days Are Numbered

I’ve also received a visually striking issue of Your Days Are Numbered which featured an interview in French which I think (although my French is a little rusty) is with Bastien Vives. This little mag is a real gem with a comic book slant and one of the pages gets up-close and personal with a member of the Judge Dredd team.

Shellsuit Zombie

Issue 3 of Shellsuit Zombie opens with a Trainspotting-style speech, and does not shy away from a well-placed profanity or two. A healthy shot of illustration and a young creative vibe give this mag its edge, making me draw comparisons to The Skinny because of both its colour newspaper format and street-savvy tone. These are just some of the mags which have been included with the main mag gratuit.

It’s been around a year since I subscribed to Stack. It’s been an emotional journey for me, whether it’s pulling apart a magazine and using the sheets to wrap my Christmas presents, as with the November 2012 delivery, issue 6 of Wrap magazine, or ohhing and ahhing over the vinyl like cover of Wooden Toy Quarterly, subscribing to Stack has been one of my highlights of the last 12 months.

Wrap

Each month with the service is a surprise and all you know before you get the tell-tale envelope in the post is that you’ll be getting one of the best independent English-language mags out there. I can’t recommend it enough, whether you’re a word lover, a design fanatic, an illustrator looking for inspiration, or you just want something interesting to get your teeth into each month; this is the best purchase I’ve made in years. If you want a fresh perspective or you just want to make sure that your coffee table is the most beautiful of them all, then Stack is for you. Sign up on their website here.

The Ride Journal

People have been throwing round the phase lately that ‘print is dead’. And while it might be declining, I like to think that it will rise up in pulp zombie form and take on digital in a fight to the death. Stack is part of the changing evolution of print distribution and evidence that the last rasping gasp the papers have been shouting about might in fact have just been a yawn, while it waited for something like Stack to come along and shake it up a little. (Amelia: If only STACK had existed before I decided to stop producing Amelia’s Magazine in print: distribution through the usual channels was an absolute nightmare and one of the reasons I decided to pull out of print back in 2008.)

Steven Watson by Rosemary Kirton
Steve Watson illustration by Rosemary Kirton

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