Interview 31st July 2019
Steve Watson: Writer, director and founder of Stack Magazines
"Independent magazine distribution on the whole is broken – Stack is built to change that."
Steve Watson; writer, director and founder of Stack Magazines on independent publishing, environmentally-conscious magazines and reading outside of your comfort zone.
The ASOOO team visited Steve at the Stack offices on a warm Wednesday morning, excited to meet the Stack founder at Somerset Houses community-lead studio space. Steve is warm, welcoming and infectiously passionate about print. We sat down for our Pass It On interview at a small cafe within the building, surrounded by other creatives from all different fields of work…
A Studio of Our Own (ASOOO): For those who don’t know, can you give us a bit of background on Stack Magazines?
Steve Watson: Stack searches out great, exciting, independent magazines and delivers thousands of them every month to people all around the world. The real heart of that is the subscription service. We also have an awards ceremony, which has become the biggest focal point of the year, video reviews, a podcast and editors guides.
ASOOO: Your love for print is infectious – can you remember the first magazine that really sparked this passion?
Steve Watson: I imagine going way back it will have been Smash Hits. I can remember my mum buying it me in an attempt to keep me entertained when I was home from school ill, and after that I was hooked. In terms of independent magazines, the first one that really opened my eyes was Zembla, a literary magazine with a fashion approach. It had crazy, sometimes unreadable headlines, and weird interviews with dead authors. It was so much fun, and really sporadic. At the back of each issue it would say “Next issue coming whenever.” That was sort of part of the pleasure – anticipating it.
Then there’s Little White Lies magazine. I’d weirdly just came across the magazine when my girlfriend at the time started working with the girlfriend of one of the founders. Through that we all ended up meeting at the pub, and then I started writing for them. We’re still really good friends now. Little White Lies was also really instrumental in starting Stack. The publisher, Danny Miller, knows everything about independent magazines, and when I first had the idea, I went straight to him for advice by asking what problems there were with independent publishing. Independent magazine distribution on a whole is broken – Stack is built to change that.
ASOOO: Which magazines do you wish you’d been a part of creating?
Steve Watson: I really do love Little White Lies. They hit on this simple but very powerful idea with the strapline ‘Truth and Movies’, and that really spoke to me in my mid-to-early twenties.
Another really clever magazine is Delayed Gratification. Delayed Gratification looks back at news and revisits things once the dust has settled. They speak to the people who were reporting on or involved in stories months later, and by doing so they get a more original and considered view. It’s such a clever idea - making use of the slowness of print to create something really special.
ASOOO: You’ve previously said that ‘Stack says forget interests. Think about the type of person you are,’ when it comes down to enjoying the varied magazines that you distribute. Why do you think it’s important for people to be open minded and to read outside their interests?
Steve Watson: It’s something that’s really ballooned in recent years, but my favourite magazines to read have always been on subjects that aren’t meant for me. When a magazine can take an area, open it up and bring new people in – that’s magic. Stack basically began because there was a blog post written by Russell Davies that I loved. The post stated that a good way to stay interesting was to read a different magazine every week – that’s so true.
"When a magazine can take an area, open it up and bring new people in – that’s magic."
ASOOO: You also have a podcast and a blog– why is it important for Stack to expand over these platforms?
Steve Watson: Throughout my career I’ve always been involved in content marketing; it’s something I’m really comfortable doing and it’s something we’ve always done at Stack. We have 11 years’ worth of content, which is a really great engine for keeping the business going. Very often we get people contacting us to say that they’ve only just come across us, even though they love magazines and we’ve been around for 11 years. You have to remember how big the world is and how tiny we really are. It’s time consuming to do it well, and there’s no way round that, but it’s also really important as it helps with audience reach. My personal rule is to spend one day a week making content – one video, one podcast.
ASOOO: In an interview with AIGA Eye on Design, you said you thought that we’d see magazines “getting weirder” in 2017. How do you feel about this predication now, two years on?
Steve Watson: Back when I started my career in magazines everything was a lot harder. The fact that Adobe now make Creative Cloud – you have all the same kit as the guys at Conde Nast. It’s so accessible. Kickstarter launching made it possible, virtually overnight, for people to turn ideas into reality. All of these things lead to weirdness, because if you put all of your time and energy into making something, you’re not going to make something that already exists…because then what’s the point? All of this means that you end up going down this road to weird. For example; you may really love food but don’t like the way mainstream magazines talk about it, so you do… Food And, Food and Aliens, Food and Love, Food and Bathrooms. They have a very particular take on things which is really weird, original and interesting.
ASOOO: Which magazines are a must-read for today’s socially / environmentally-conscious creatives?
Steve Watson: We had an event a couple of months’ ago about environmental issues and magazines, where we invited It's Freezing In LA, a magazine about climate change, and Fashion Revolution, a bigger organization looking at fashion and sustainability, amongst others. There’s also Real Review, who are really great.
Climate change is one of those subjects that’s obviously important to a lot of people. We see that filtering through to independent magazines, but again it filters through but with a distinct, specific tone. Independent publishing is great because it allows us to see people come at things from a very specific angle.
ASOOO: When we work with our clients, our three aims are to get them to communicate in a way that's nice, brave and honest: they’re the tenets of our agency. How do you think being nice, honest and brave has helped you get to where you are today?
Steve Watson: I think you can’t make a business if you have people that aren’t nice. When you do something like this it’s really scary and you’re putting yourself out there, so you have to be brave, too. Fundamentally, no one needs an independent magazine subscription. You have to make sure that people are not just getting a magazine, they’re getting a lovely surprise and a nice personal service. They have to have their eyes opened. Being nice, brave and honest is important as it’s the personality of Stack, and it’s what keeps people interested and engaged.
Visit Steve at Stack and say Hey! From the ASOOO team:
Stack Instagram: @stackmagazines
Stack Facebook: /stackmagazines