In recent years I have developed a bit of a weakness for independent magazines. It started when I stumbled across a copy of Lost in London in one of favourite haberdasheries. Flicking through the pages, I instantly fell in love with it. It featured quaint corners and characters of London, attractive illustrations and best of all, no adverts!
This single copy and the intertwined nature of the digital world led me to other titles and I soon discovered a plethora of indie publishers, producing quirky and classy magazines with original content and few or no adverts. Despite the limited resources of these ‘micro publishers’, independent magazines are no student rags! They are professionally produced by creative, curious minds and feature engaging articles rather than the recycled material and stock photos of many syndicated titles. What is more, they fill a gap by focussing on slow, inquisitive living that is based on experience rather than stuff.
Lost in London*
This publication makes me want to jump on my bicycle and explore the dusty and hidden corners of my adopted city!
- In many ways Lost in London‘s contributors are following in the footsteps of Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside, documenting unexpected wildlife and ecosystems in the capital, from the Tate peregrines to urban meadows. The magazine also devotes many pages to urban growing, guerilla gardening, foraging…
- It is not all about wildlife and the outdoors though. The publication also highlights some of the more quirky crafts and trades that are still being practised in this sprawling metropolis, including blacksmithing, spinning and coppicing.
On the face of it this square bi-monthly looks like a celebration of all things floral and vintage but look deeper and you will find inspiration for “creative and sustainable living inspired by the past”.
- Pretty Nostalgic’s motto is “Spend Wisely, Waste Less and Appreciate More”. By celebrating spirited individuals (like the lady who runs a shop through her living room window), it highlights how joyous and interesting a more considered approach to life can be.
- The magazine is also a curator of useful domestic knowhow, with each issue containing snippets I might have found in my great-grandmother’s battered copy of Enquire Within About Everything, like how to make a cleansing face mask or whip up ice cream without a freezer.
This magazine truly offers an escape: just opening a copy makes me breathe more slowly as it is a sensory volume, printed in slightly muted colours on matte paper with a calming balance of words, photos and space.
- Another Escape also embraces sustainability by focussing on extraordinary people who quietly ply almost forgotten trades or reinvent them for the 21st century, like urban beekeepers, paper makers and charcoal burners.
- With a strong outdoors feel, this beauty makes me want to head off the beaten track to see what inspiring artisans I might stumble across in the more secluded parts of Britain.
Pure Green Magazine
This gorgeous quarterly hails from Canada and is the only foreign title in my list due to the cost of overseas postage.
- Focussing on a different theme per issue, Pure Green Magazine features people who are carving out a slower, greener, gentler way of life, both in the city and the countryside, from a woodworker in Brooklyn to a cheese maker in rural Ontario.
- The range of determined individuals interviewed, from a leather worker to a bitters herbalist, not only highlights that business and slow skills can go hand in hand but also piques my curiosity about materials and knowledge that were common currency only a few generations ago.
Ernest is the newest magazine in my selection but this pocket-sized volume can more than holds its own.
- Whilst Pure Green Magazine and Another Escape have a modern, sleek feel, Ernest can best be described as a printed curiosity cabinet, with its mixture of articles on remote places (like the last fishermen on Scalpay and the wonders of Iceland) and quaint snippets (like the timeless design of storm kettles).
- Aside from curiosity (in both its meanings), there is a strong emphasis on quality, as evidenced by features on the enduring nature of classic rucksacks or traditional tweed garments!
Cost, value and a hint of subversion
If money were no object, I would add Boneshaker (with its random tales of bicycle wanderings) and Boat Magazine (a quirky travel journal focusing on a city per issue). Cost however is a consideration when indulging my weakness for independent magazines. With limited or no advertising revenue and without the economies of scale that syndicated articles and mass print-runs offer, micro publishers have to charge more for their magazines, typically £8 to £12 compared to approximately £5 (although with fewer issues per year the overall cost of subscriptions would work out pretty similar).
So why do I allow myself this expense? Mainly because the curiosity of the editors and original content deliver much better value for money: a good read with timeless articles rather than pages of adverts and bland repetitive snippets. But there is another, slightly subversive reason. As with buying food and other products from small or local producers, supporting these magazines is a way of investing in an alternative economy. Although many independent publications still struggle to cover costs or turn a profit, I like that even a seemingly unimportant purchase is increasingly providing new opportunities, not only for creatives but also for small businesses like printers.
I have not been paid to review or endorse any of these publications.
* Since writing this post, Lost in London has unfortunately ceased to be published. The independent magazine market is a tough, competitive arena, made even tougher if the publisher does not sell advertising space. If you find an advert-free indie magazine you like, support it all the way as its existence will oftentimes be very precarious.