Went to an excellent conference on Friday; Magazines Are Dead! Long live the Magazine! (can you guess what it was about?). I learned loads most of which I'm sure is obvious to anyone who thinks about this stuff so I won't repeat it all.
But here are some the things that stuck out for me:
Paul Rennie rejoices in the title of Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martin’s, but many may know him as the man who used to have a splendid shop on Lamb Conduit Street selling all sorts of brilliant posters and Festival of Britain stuff. Said shop is now in Folkestone and is well worth a visit.
He mentioned loads things that really struck me.
One was that between 1939 and 1950 the economic foundation of magazines was undermined by the war effort / recovery and there was very little advertising. And he mentioned that Orwell suggested that this meant a lot of innovative things could be done because of the lack of interference from advertisers. I think that's what he said, though I may have got it wrong. I've had a dig around and all I can find is one of his Tribune / As I Please pieces suggesting that you can't read a decent and independent book review because the newspapers are all in the thrall to the big money spent by publishers. (June 1944) And this, from April 1947:
"Recently I was talking to the editor of a newspaper with a very large circulation, who told me that it was now quite easy for his paper to live on its sales alone. This would probably continue to be true, he said, until the paper situation improved, which would mean reverting to pre-war bulk, at enormously greater expense. Until then, advertisements would be of only secondary importance as a source of revenue. If that is so—and I believe many papers could now exist without advertisements—is not this just the moment for an all-out drive against patent medicines?
Before the war it was never possible to attack patent medicines in a big way, because the Press, which would have had to make the exposure, lived partly off advertisements for them...."
So, that seems more about trying to be rid of snake-oil nonsense while no-one was dependent on the revenue, which isn't quite the same thing, but still has contemporary echoes. I'm going to have a dig round for more on this because I'd love to know how things like Picture Post survived with reduced advertising revenue. Was there state subsidy or was it all cover price? Because there are probably lessons to be learned for the magazine market now.
He also talked about how interesting Picture Post was in the war years, a startling mix of knitting patterns, bathing beauties and instructions on how to build molotov cocktails. This was due to the efforts of Tom Wintringham, veteran of the International Brigades, the only significant Marxist military expert of his time and inspiration for the Home Guard. He contributed many articles on irregular warfare to Picture Post and the Daily Mirror. Gives you a different image of the Home Guard doesn't it?
Mr Rennie also talked quite a lot about Architectural Review - about how the post-war paper shortages forced it to use different paper stocks in a single issue, which turned into a feature, characteristic of the magazine. And about the relationship between the leading edge architecture of the day and the photographers and architectural magazines. He suggested that there was an interesting research project in investigating whether the architecture was influenced and led by the way it looked in the pages of a magazine rather than in the real world. I bet you can say the same for contemporary technology designers.
Simon Esterson was up next and he was brilliant too. He also struck a really nice balance between discussing the economic/structural context and aesthetics. And showed a lot of magazines that you just wanted to rush out and buy. Like Twen from the 60s/70s. I'd never seen it before, but even with my blurry photo you can see how nice this spread is.
He also talked about Roland Schenk who designed many of Haymarket's trade titles and, starting with Campaign created a look that you see again and again in that sector. As per this issue of Account:
He also drew a link between George Lois who did all those famous covers for Esquire and Pearce Marchbank who did the same for Time Out. Both seemed to be creating the sort of arresting image that would act as an ad for the rest of the magazine, rather than just shouting at you about the contents. (I can't seem to find many examples online of Mr Marchbank's covers. Shame.)
And, he reminded us of the way that Q magazine reinvented the 'back of the book' when they launched. I haven't read Q for a thousand years, but I still remember the excitement of discovering that it didn't just tail off at the end, the reviews and listings and little features at the back had been paid attention to and were actually worth reading.
I'm going to leave the next two speakers for another post, because they too were excellent and I want to do them justice. And I'm not made of typing you know.