Stack and the Irresistible Element of Print Surprise

When Steve Watson created Stack, an indie title subscription service, it was with this goal: to make quality indie magazines available to a global audience, offering them the exposure they could never afford to garner on their own.

“Each month subscribers to Stack receive a magazine from an unknown, yet discerning selection, delivered straight to their letter box,” writes Adrina Hutter writing in FvF. Subscribers are exposed to brilliant new indie titles, and indie publisher can connect with new readers without the huge distribution costs, a true win-win.

“Most magazines are sold on sale or return, which means that publishers only get paid for the copies that sell,” Watson explains to Hutter. “That works fine for corporate publishers because they make a big chunk of their money from advertising—so the main aim is to get as many magazines in front of as many eyeballs as possible, and it doesn’t matter if you only sell 40% of what you print.

“But if you’re a small independent with little to no advertising and a cover price around the £10 mark,” Watson continues, “you really need to sell as many of those copies as you can. This is where Stack comes in—we pay for all the magazines we take, and aim to introduce people to new magazines they wouldn’t otherwise have come across.”

Clearly, an idea like this can only work if people love print magazines enough to take the risk and sign up. And they do. From the success of Stack (they’ve been at this since 2008), it seems clear that the delicious surprise of an unknown title showing up in the mail is irresistible. (And the idea just wouldn’t translate to digital.)

People are paying for something completely unknown because they love the idea of indie print titles and they trust Watson to curate the best of the best for them.

“There is something similar happening with print. Print is no longer the fastest and cheapest way to communicate, but that leaves this other space for the things that it is really good at doing,” Watson explains.

“It is good at creating this very slow, intimate connection with readers. My favorite thing about print is that it cannot do much. It is dumb. It just sits there. It does not ask anything of you. It does not need you to update it at any point. It is just there. Within those limiting restrictions you can actually build a really close relationship with it,” he continues.

Given the rise of niche titles that we’ve witnessed over the last few years, I’d say he’s right. There is something so compelling about the tactile experience of print, especially to those of us who spend our days immersed in an on-screen environment. And the idea of being exposed to something brilliant you may never have found on your own just adds to the sweetness of the experience.

Indie titles can indeed be considered the heart and soul of print, and print is the heart and soul of the magazine experience. Stack has found a way to get to the heart of connecting the audience with the media, and it’s a lesson in innovative thinking.