Here is what happens when you give a blogger free wine. After confessing that I had wheedled and whined until I was the proud recipient of the last display copy of a new publication at a recent trade show (believe me, the wheedling wasn’t pretty; it was effective), I ventured another confession. “I really want to knit the kimono.”
“Me, too,” said the employee of the publisher. She’d expressed no horror at my underhanded tactics, assuring me that had she been there, she would have given me the magazine, too. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “But did you see the size of the needles? They’re tiny! It would take forever.”
“Yeah.” What else could I say? Knitting a kimono would be a challenge, but, well, it would also be a challenge that would take the better part of a year. My current project is already moving into forever territory. I shrugged. “I’m knitting laptop covers for Christmas.”*
And off the conversation went. It turns out that nothing excites a vendor at a trade show like the prospect of knitting laptop covers and using cool, shiny, big buttons to close the snugly cover. The husband wandered over to another table, his attention focused on the Holy Grail of magazines. “It’s the pinball issue!”
In this day and age, the thought of launching what is euphemistically known as a “service” magazine is fraught with market research and competitive analyses and white knuckles. Creating a print publication seems risky in this era of online content. What, potential publishers wonder, can we offer our subscribers that the Internet cannot?
All the dangers of creating a new magazine must be especially considered by if you, oh, launch a crafts magazine. Or a magazine that covers the magical world of bottle rockets — the sort of territory owned by Popular Mechanics back in the day. Yet, those are the precise topics covered by O’Reilly Media’s Craft and Make magazines — said magazines being the new darlings of the hipster set.
With good reason.
Make came first. The brainchild of Dale Dougherty, the magazine looks and feels like a throwback to the 1950s. Part gee-whiz space-age wonder and part do-it-yourself bible, the magazine touches the inner workshop geek in all of us. As the husband often says (and, yes, this is worrisome), “I’m looking for an opportunity to buy a soldering iron.”
Craft was born out of a phenomenon the publisher noticed at the first “Maker Faire” — a gathering of Make fans, which should tip you off on where this story is going — when the so-called “craft corner” attracted more than passing interest. Do not be tempted to think that Craft is the girly equivalent to Make. Both publications have content of interest for male, female, old, young, casual, and obsessive readers.
By the way, if anything is going to revive the consumer sewing machine industry, it’s these magazines.
Both print publications are chock full of color, instructions, personal and professional stories. They are a trim size that is reminiscent of publications of yesterday — a little larger than a trade paperback. They have a hipster aura tempered by a “we’re just like you” attitude. They are published to be collected. And are they collectible. What? You’re going to toss the finger puppet patterns? Do so at your own peril.
Oh, and they come complete with robust online and offline communities. In addition to brilliant blogs, they offer full access to digital editions of the magazine for subscribers. There is content that supplements the print edition as well, including podcasts. And, of course, the Maker Fair mentioned above. By holding the Faire in various cities, the Make/Craft teams can introduce that all-important face-to-face element that builds serious community.
What these publications are doing is bringing together several elements: print, online, and real-life. Rather than treating one form of content as superior to another, the various elements complement each other. This approach also ensures that other members of the community — call them adjunct participants — work together.
These publications, in all aspects, are counterintuitve. These are specialized magazines, make no doubt about it. They appeal to a very specific audience. But they’re packaged in a way that, if you encountered them in a retail establishment, you’d pick up a copy. There’s a little bit of the DIY ethos in all of them.
The price point of the magazines is also higher than you’d expect. Advertising is limited and doesn’t mingle so much with the editorial content. This creates lovely continuity when you’re feverishly pursuing the right mix of Portland cement to water. There’s a time when you want to refresh yourself with a nice beverage…and there’s a time when you just want to get to the next step in a complex process. With your subscriptions comes full access to the community, helpful when you’re trying to come up with a Top Ten list of reason why a soldering iron is a good household investment.
If the major entertainment media companies were searching for examples of how they, too, can build online and offline brands, Make and Craft should be case studies. Just look at their blogs: lots of linking to third party content, not so much linking to their own fine efforts. There is a casual, we’re part of the community too ethos that makes even the busiest soul cruise through the archives until she’s dragged away from the computer.
Best of all, these magazines are events. I’m sorry, but I’ve grown beyond bored with women’s magazines. It’s far too easy to guess which actress has a movie out in a particular month by the covers. There’s a lack of service in these so-called service publications. It’s really hard to get excited about $1,000 purses when I have a closet filled with shoes and purses that I barely touch. I can’t be bothered to subscribe to these publications anymore because I feel emptier when I get the back page than when I started.
But I look forward to reading Craft. I linger over the articles. I check out websites. I feel engaged with what I’m reading. I’m not going to make 99.99% of what I see in these issues. But I have ideas and dreams.
And when I’m looking to start my next project — something that will remind me that there’s more to life than constant connectivity while allowing me to check in when I need help — I’ll be thumbing through my back issues of Craft.
I’ll also be discouraging the soldering iron. I’m sure our homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover it.
* – To those on my list, this may change. I am thinking the coffee cup snugglies I saw may be your true gift.