Edinburgh’s indie mag revolution

A flurry of independent launches, an annual magazine festival and ambitious plans for an international magazine centre. Discover why Edinburgh is the new northern powerhouse of indie mag publishing

Liverpool has the Beatles, Henley has rowing and Melton Mowbray is the spiritual home of the pork pie. When it comes to claims to fame, Edinburgh is spoilt for choice — festivals, the Castle, ‘salt & sauce’ — but now Scotland’s capital is also making fresh waves in the media world. There’s a strong argument for saying that Edinburgh is the new northern powerhouse of indie magazine publishing.

On 16 September, magazine professionals from across the world will converge on the city for Magfest (the Edinburgh International Magazine Festival), run by PPA Scotland. And alongside a MagCulture shop and headline speakers such as Vanessa Kingori (Publisher of GQ) and Ernst-Jan Pfauth (Co-founder of De Correspondent), there will be presentations from new Edinburgh-based indie magazines such as Nutmeg, She Is Fierce, Counterpoint, Four Letter Word and 404 Ink.

And these are not the only magazine launches emerging from a city that played a formative role in the birth of magazine publishing. The world’s oldest surviving magazine was originally a political gossip title launched in Edinburgh in 1739 by a pair of entrepreneurs called Alexander Murray and James Cochran. It’s called The Scots Magazine and is still going strong under its subsequent ownership by DC Thomson in Dundee.

Many innovative magazines have followed in recent times, such as evergreen entertainment title The List, indie pioneers The Skinny, and Editions Financial, a publishing/content business built from scratch by Caspian Woods and sold to Communisis plc in 2013 for £7.1m.

And I’d like to think that some of Edinburgh’s extraordinary community of new indie magazine publishers could yet follow in the footsteps of Murray, Cochran and Woods — even if many of them more readily identify themselves as creatives rather than entrepreneurs.

Take Hannah Taylor, the driving force behind She Is Fierce. A publishing graduate from Napier University, Hannah’s magazine has a clear USP built around her personal story, her understanding of her audience and a bucket load of attitude.

As a teenager, Hannah had huge enthusiasm for arts and crafts but there was never anything for her to read. So instead she buried her head in the same mainstream titles her friends bought; the mass-market world of cosmetic products and celebrity gossip.

Now Hannah has a daughter of her own and sees a reflection of herself. As a result, she’s on a mission to create the magazine she always wanted as a teenager but could never find. She Is Fierce is created by its audience and guest contributors drawn from the worlds of writing, art, music and photography. She successfully launched a Kickstarter-funded preview ‘zine’ this summer and is now working on an Autumn launch for the project proper. Expect a bold, positive magazine full of heart, thoughtfulness and smart ideas.

Ally Palmer, meanwhile, is pursuing a very different audience. He’s already made his way in the world as one of the UK’s most respected newspaper designers, but now he’s nailing his colours to the mast by launching his own magazine, again based in Edinburgh. I’m among many excitedly looking forward to the launch issue of Nutmeg — ‘a quarterly long-form publication filled with top-quality writers and fascinating stories all about Scottish football’.

With an emphasis on exceptional writing, I’m expecting a Scottish take on The Blizzard with lashings of culture, humour and nostalgia. Having launched a short lived (but obviously brilliant) football magazine way back in 1998 called Fitba, I’d love to see Ally succeed where I failed.

This Autumn also sees the launch of Boom Saloon, a showcase for arts and creativity that plans to use the magazine as a springboard to launch community arts events initiatives. It’s the brainchild of Rachel Arthur, who currently works with Creative Edinburgh, and aims to part-fund the venture by developing an agency service. Definitely one to watch.

And sharing her love of creative excellence are James Roberts and Hugo Ross, the brains behind Vanguards, launched in Edinburgh this August. Vanguards celebrates great Scottish design and manufacturing, taking a particular interest in those who have dedicated their lives to mastering artisan skills. Issue one encompasses architecture, knitwear and beer (among other things) and is a stunning accomplishment from two guys who have only just graduated.

And there’s more. I’m looking forward to hearing Sam Bradley from Counterpoint speak at Magfest. Starting as an online project in 2013, Counterpoint has since evolved into a quarterly journal of original writing, illustration and photography.

Sharing the same stage will be Keigh-Lee Paroz and Rhiannon Tate from Four Letter Word — a diverse celebration of ‘what makes us human in the 21st century’. It’s a great name for a magazine, and they already have two issues under their belt. Another top magazine title is 404 Ink, a soon-to-be mag about writing and cartoons being launched by Edinburgh-based Heather McDaid, also a speaker at Magfest.

And for those thirsty for more new Edinburgh indie mags, I’ve recently been made aware of The Grind Journal, Oh My Edinburgh and Frowning. I’m sure there are others too.

I have a strong personal interest in all this. In 2012, I took a risky decision to launch our own indie magazine Hot Rum Cow. Some thought we were mad but it seemed to me like a good way of standing out from the crowd and attracting more interesting client work. So it has proved — the multi-award-winning Hot Rum Cow is on sale across the world and has opened many lovely doors for us. The team here do a brilliant job of creating a magazine that is always fascinating to read and thrilling to look at. Indeed the success of Hot Rum Cow also led us to launch a second indie title, the occasional ‘brain food’ journal Poppy, which has had a similarly positive impact on our business, leading to our first overseas client.

I like to think that this bold move into the supposed ‘sunset industry’ of print has played a part in encouraging Edinburgh’s new wave of indie mag entrepreneurs. We’ve always taken an outwards-looking approach towards of offering work placements, speaking at colleges and lending support and advice to start-ups, and it’s so pleasing to see this fledgling eco-system of young publishers taking shape and helping each other.

Edinburgh Napier University deserves a lot of credit too. Tutors on their MSc Publishing course (which is accredited by the PPA) have been very proactive in terms working with the industry, and Napier students themselves publish their own magazine Buzz.

They in turn have been encouraged by Nikki Simpson, who runs PPA Scotland and Magfest, and was previously a member of the team here at White Light. And it is Nikki who has come up with an audacious plan to definitively place Edinburgh (and Scotland) at the heart of the global magazine publishing world.

Nikki had an idea: why not create an International Magazine Centre in Scotland’s capital, providing a hub for thought leadership and innovation; a creative space for global events; an incubator for fledgling publishers (not only from Scotland but from across the world); and a world-class magazine shop. The thing about Nikki is that she doesn’t just have great ideas, she then makes them happen. With encouragement and wise words from PPA CEO Barry McIlheney and funding for a feasibility study from several Scottish publishers, the International Magazine Centre is taking its first bold steps towards reality. Nikki will be updating delegates at Magfest.

I remember someone saying that print is dead. Not in Edinburgh.