In My Opinion: Neil Braidwood: Monocle magazine, reaching out

LAST month, I visited London to attend a day-long conference all about magazines. Not just any magazines, though – ‘modern’ magazines.

The event was put on by Jeremy Leslie, designer, author and creator of MagCulture, a popular blog about magazines around the world. He’s brought a new book out – The Modern Magazine – and in it he looks back over the last decade, and the innovations that are shaping publications today.

There were so many interesting speakers, but the one that got my full attention was Tyler Brûlé – founder of Monocle magazine. A truly global title in every sense, Monocle is published ten times a year, and in the summer and winter holiday months, takes the form of a more disposable (but still classy) newspaper (Mediterraneo and Alpino).

In 2005, Brûlé was looking for a new project. Many magazines were proclaiming the death of print, and looking to shift to digital. Always one to go against the grain, he chose to create a premium publication, with a worldwide outlook, covering current affairs, business, culture and design, available for one flat price wherever you lived in the world. Yes, you heard right, Australian subscribers pay the same as me in Edinburgh. Right from the outset, Monocle treated its readers as true globetrotters, deliberately not charging extra for where they chose to live.

Monocle launched in 2007 with a staff of 19, which is pretty impressive in itself. Many of the other magazine teams in the room were either one-man outfits, or could count their staff on one hand. The company has over 90 now, spread all around the world.

Clearly, Brûlé has found an audience for this unique magazine – and in this age of engagement – has found innovative ways to connect with his readers. Almost from the start, the magazine sourced beautiful bags, clothes, ornaments – and sold them through the pages of the magazine.

This retail arm, once considered a bit of a joke, now accounts for 26 per cent of the company’s turnover, with shops on high streets in New York, London, Toronto, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Bangkok. There are cafes too, deliberately devoid of WiFi, to encourage patrons to read printed publications, or heaven forbid, talk to each other.

And it’s talking that is the biggest surprise that Monocle has up its sleeve.

A couple of years ago, the team looked at how much it would cost to produce a decent interactive version of the magazine on tablet. They concluded that, for the same price, they could build a broadcast studio, and set up their own 24/7 radio station, broadcasting around the world to the community that so loved the printed publication.

Monocle 24 radio is one year old, and broadcasts on FM in Australia and Canada and on the internet elsewhere. An extension of the printed publication, it takes connection with your audience to a new level.

Neil Braidwood is head of CMYK magazine design and publishing company. He is also vice-chair of PPA Scotland.