Indie Publisher Thrives with an Eye on Quality

John Walters has learned a thing or two in the 20 years he’s edited Eye magazine, a quarterly review of international graphic design of which he’s now a co-owner.

“The former musician, who was one of the founders of the 70s band Landscape and then a record producer, was a late starter in journalism,” writes Mary Hogarth in InPublishing. Walters tells Hogarth that being a magazine editor is not so very different.

“You are in charge but are also collaborating with a lot of people with different skills from you,” Walters explains. “Whether it is in a studio or an office, you are working with interesting people from different backgrounds and generations. So, in that respect, making a record and creating a magazine have a lot in common.”

Walters turned to magazine work around the same time the design industry was beginning to thrive in the digital environment. And he feels all the technological advancements of the past 20 years have only improved the landscape for print magazines.

“We have more control over the design of magazines,” he tells Hogarth. “Even looking at beautiful magazines from a generation ago, we can now do much more inspiring things in terms of type, image and the accuracy of colours.

“More importantly, there isn’t that massive entry barrier into the magazine world; so many young editors and art directors are developing indie mags,” he continues. “These days, this can be achieved without spending a lot of money and having to hire a large team of experienced people. A small team can create a decent-looking magazine.”

His magazine is designed to “present some of the most inspiring, exciting and informative articles about design and visual culture for a professional readership of graphic designers,” and often relies on new writers working in the design world to bring a fresh perspective on their craft.

To say Walters and business partner Simon Esterson faced some challenges when they purchased the title from Haymarket in 2008 is a bit of an understatement. Their approach? Go heads down and all in on quality, to create a true indie feel for the title in a way that wasn’t feasible as part of the Haymarket line.

Risky? Sure, but John saw the investment in quality as “an investment in retention,” Hogarth notes.

Their readers and advertisers responded favorably, with strong subscriber growth, healthy retention rates and record ad sales for the recent issue. The key to their success? Hogarth points out three specific reasons:

“First, it is their reader-centric and pro-active approach, along with a continual desire to evolve in terms of editorial and production quality,” she writes.

“Secondly, they understand how to use online and social media content to widen audience participation. And lastly, by creating collectible issues, Eye provides a relevant and ongoing service for its audience and advertisers by enabling the latter to reach readers directly,” Hogarth continues.

For publishers in the modern print landscape, these are good lessons to learn.