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VNA #23 – Ten Questions

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Small-format street art, design and graphic culture mag Very Nearly Almost, or VNA for short, has been rocking our socks off for quite some time now. Created by editor George Macdonald and art director Greg Beer “all for the love” as an after-hours side project, the mag presents a quarterly serving of eyeball gratifying visuals from both sides of the law.

Issue 23 has just dropped, spotlighting prolific NYC duo Faile’s retro-pop compositions and a collection of other US based design and graffiti art from the likes of Michael Sieben and Morning Breath as well as coverage of the scene surrounding VNA’s British base including interviews with visual artist Tom French and paste-up duo Prefab77. Issue 23 of VNA also casts its international focus on our neck of the woods with an interview with Aussie aerosol-wizard Aeon.

We recently caught up with George and Greg for a quick chat about the origins of VNA, the publication process and what they envision for the mag’s future, see what they had to say below.



1.    What is your magazine called and why?

George (GM): The magazine is called Very Nearly Almost or VNA for short. Back in 2006 when I started the magazine, I was often starting new creative ventures but never taking them very far. Very Nearly Almost is a nod to the fact that I could never see things through, plus it was apt that all the artists featured in the magazine where very nearly almost successful artists… Well it made sense at the time.

2.    What is it about?

Greg (GB): We cover everything from street art and graffiti through to illustration, low brow and fine art. We are in the process of broadening our content at the moment, while always staying true to where we have come from and our core subject matter.

GM: Yeah its always been a about creativity based around the core subject of street art. Luckily street art has no rules so it can incorporate fine art, illustration, graphic design, photography, even sculpture. So the magazine is about creative people doing something special in the world.

3.    How often is it published?

GB: Quarterly and even at that its a challenge sometimes. Distribution and stockist deadlines help to keep us on our toes and on time

4.    What inspired VNA?

GB: Originally VNA was a zine created out of boredom in my everyday life. It was an avenue to showcase the thousands of photographs I was taking of graffiti and street art in London at the time. Now we produce a quarterly magazine with our favourite artists and we do this because both Greg and myself are very passionate about art, printed material and taking an idea and seeing how far we can take it.

5.    Can you tell us about your production values?

GM: VNA started life as a B&W photocopied photo zine back in 2006 and after six issues of development which saw partial colour and full colour printing, gloss stock and even the introduction of text/interviews, I came on board and switched everything over to uncoated stock and made it perfect bound! Its been that way ever since, but we have changed the page size and the number of pages a few times since, but eventually settled on the current the 164 pages and size spec. It seems to be big enough to open up and read, yet small enough to be different and most importantly, cost effective (we get amazing yield from our paper stock). We use an uncoated stock, which I think suits the subject matter. I think it just feels right for art to be on a textured paper… Well, at least the art we are talking about.

6.    Why have you chosen to have your publication printed in England, rather than following the trend of having your magazine printed offshore?

GB: There are a few reasons really. It all started here for VNA and for me personally, I think its important to support the local business and economy wherever you are. Plus, we are in the same time zone and physically in the grand scheme of things, close to our printer, so our communication is fast and effective (useful when running over the delivery deadline and there are issues) and the delivery of magazines to our distributors and agents is only a few days from artwork approval! Advent have a really amazing pre press team as well and they have be really helpful in progressing that side of the magazines production.

7.    What can someone opening a copy of VNA expect?

GB: Hopefully an introduction to at least one artist you have never heard of before! But other than that, an insight into artists that a lot of magazines don’t really manage to achieve. We have a solid group of writers who strive to get the most out of an interview with whoever they are talking to. Its really exciting to discover new things about your favourite artists with each issue.

GM: VNA is supposed to inspire and also educate people to what artists and designers are doing all around the world. Its a snapshot of what is happening right now in street art and in contemporary “urban art”

8.    Which other magazines/publications have influenced you the most?

GB: Do you remember RUGGED by Carhartt? That was what really got me excited about publishing. I loved the breadth of content they managed to cover with each issue. I think I managed to pick up almost all the issues. Wooden Toy Magazine by Timba Smits was pretty rad back in the day. Its a shame thats no longer kickin’ about. Kingbrown constantly kills it on the artist front at the moment and the crew that produce it are super rad.

I love a good art zine as well. Something that is self published and that you can feel the time and effort that was put into it – thats what really wins me over everytime! I also have a massive soft spot for Frankie and now Smith Journal - they are just really well produced and always entertaining. Juxtapoz is great as well, and sometimes I really wonder how little old VNA can compete when Juxtapoz is monthly and so well known… but we do what we do and hopefully they like it as much as we do!?

GM: I have always loved the German magazine Lodown, every page is inspiring and different. Successfully mixing graffiti, music, skateboarding, fashion and design all in one is very impressive and the layout work by Marok is still taking it to new levels. Juxtapoz is hard to ignore… Its such a massively successful title and another huge inspiration to me personally, without Juxtapoz there would be no VNA.

9. Are there any challenges associated with monetising a publication whose subject matter, for the most part, resides on the wrong side of the law?

GM: Not really, so far so good. We do not condone any illegal activity and we are acting purely as form of documentation. With regards to the money, its all about money these days, even the hardest of the hardcore graffiti writers is cashing in on the buzz surrounding graffiti and street art. Who wouldn’t want to make money from something they love? As a publication, we are just selling a glimpse into a lifestyle and a look into what people get up to late at night.

10.  What does the future hold for VNA?

GB: Make issue 24, then 25. We have some little side projects with artists on the go and we are looking to do a little event, organised by our junior designer, for actually making it to issue 25! Other than that, its about survival and enjoying the art.

GM: who knows… VNA will continue to grow and we will push to make it a creative and inspiring read every frickin’ time.


Issue #23 of VNA is available for purchase in stores and online.



Friday, August 9th, 2013

Late last week were lucky to receive a shipment of back issues from our friends at Underscore, an award-winning independent title produced in Singapore under the watchful eyes of editor-in-chief Justin Long and creative director Jerry Goh. Each issue of Underscore represents a brilliantly formed print-package based around a central theme designed to underline simple values that are often neglected in our everyday lives. Issues are divided into several thematic chapters and each article is accompanied by a recommended musical track from a playlist designed to enrich the reading experience (they’ve selected some killer tunes in there too!). Sadly issue one is long gone, but we have managed to get our hands on copies of the ultra-rare issue two as well as editions three and four. Each issue clocks in at around 150 pages of quality original content.


The epigraph at the beginning of “Issue Two: The Constant Issue” informs us that “it is with awareness that impermanence is an inevitable constant that one chooses how to live” and that lively possibilities emerge only once we accept that “nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished.” The issue features stunning illustrations of entomologically disturbed (radiation-affected) bugs and beetles by scientific artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger in addition to some far cheerier images from New York’s Coney Island and a look at the process of affinage (the aging of cheese).


“Issue Three: The Fight Issue” is dedicated to Japanese creatives and their responses to the 2011 Tohuku earthquake. Framed by the hope-instilling statement that “to fight is to struggle, endue, withstand, persevere against all odds,” this edition features photographic studies from Taisuke Koyama, whose macro images provide an intriguing representation of the effects of the 9.0M richter earthquake, and Darren Onyskiw, who presents a beautiful representation of the snow covered mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Issue Three also contains a fascinating look at how Japan’s homeless “box-men” fight poverty with impermanent structures.


“Issue Four: The Flight Issue” responds to the material presented in“The Fight Issue,” by encouraging us to “Take flight/Take respite/Take no prisoners” and seek a keener sense of self-awareness away from the static of our daily routines,stepping outside of our comfort zones and examining things with “unbiased/unafraid/unhurried” eyes. The issue includes a playful pop-out cardboard aeroplane kit designed by Jaime Hayon, a collection of etherial images of fireflies captured by TsuenakiHiramatsu and a stirring
reflective piece that likens surfing to jazz, where the pulse of the ocean provides the backdrop against which a surfer “solos.” All three issues of Underscore get mag nation’s massive rubber stamp of approval and likely won’t be around for too long with only a very limited number of copies available, so drop by one of our stores or head to our website to avoid missing out.


Habitus #17

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

One of our favourite home grown mags has just published its 17th issue. Habitus’ following has increased steadily with each passing publication . We now get requests for it from desperate-not-to miss-out punters well in advance of its on sale date. The mag is unique in its insightful take on the state of design and architecture within South East Asia and Australia, which no doubt, has played a large part in its continuing success.

Along with it’s mandatory dose of ‘I want it now’ objects and furniture, notable features include interviews with Argentinian designer, Alex Lotersztain on his Brisbane abode, Filipino designer-maker, Daniel Latorre on finding inspiration from his roots, as well as enlightening architectural dissections of homes as close as Fitzroy to ones as far as Singapore. The issue is nicely rounded off with an analysis of Cape Town in its capacity as the World Design Capital in 2014.

Available now at all mag nation stores or online here



New! Lucky Peach, The Plant Journal, It’s Nice That, etc.

Friday, July 29th, 2011

The Plant Journal, It's Nice That and Lucky Peach magazines

Two long anticipated titles turned up yesterday in the form of The Plant Journal and Lucky Peach, as well as new issues of Grafik and It’s Nice That (the latter featuring a wonderful interview with pioneering ad man George Lois.)

The Plant Journal is a new magazine from the makers of Apartamento (okay, they e-mailed us to clear this up: they are different people. But to be fair: both mags share a similar look, the same design studio and some of the same contributors) about, you guessed it, plants. Lucky Peach is a new collaboration between McSweeney’s and chef David Chang (the man behind the Momofuku empire and who notably managed to use variations on the word “fuck” 24 times when he was profiled by The New Yorker) featuring writing from Anthony Bourdain among others.

In case you missed out the first time around, we also managed to get some more copies of Lula and we’re still unpacking everything, so there’s bound to be other great titles hitting the shelves later today. Stay tuned!

Supply, demand and Lula

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Hunter S. Thompson once famously said, “The magazine business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.”

Okay, okay, he was actually talking about the music business but there are times when we’re convinced that this analogy could apply equally to the vagaries of the mag distribution game.

Now, don’t confuse the industry with the magazines: we love the mags, but we utterly loathe the endless hoops that we need to jump through to get to them.

There are times when we have encounters with our wholesale suppliers that leave us utterly speechless at their variable levels of competence. On some days we’ll receive a random delivery of 250 copies of a single magazine when we have explicitly asked for none (this happened yesterday) and others when we’ll ask for 100 copies and receive… twelve.

We were at the receiving end of some more logistical hijinx this morning when we discovered that instead of the many hundreds of copies of Lula that we’ve taken for previous issues (we tell them that we’ll take as many as they can get us) we’d only been allocated a tenth of our normal supply. Thankfully, dealing directly with the publisher in the UK overnight resulted in a further 100 copies being sent our way.

Funnily enough, dealing directly with publishers seems to be hassle free – dealing with distributors is anything but. We’re sure they’re trying their hardest, but given the well documented woes that the printing and publishing sector is currently undergoing, a supremely inefficient distribution model is about as helpful to all concerned as a kick in the crotch.

If you happened to have dropped by any of our stores in the days following a Lula delivery, you’ll understand what a massive deal this is for us. This mag is a genuine blockbuster. Usually, we get so many copies that we’ll be cramming them anywhere they will fit… stacking copies on top of shelving units, in stairwells, cleaning out storage cupboards so we can ram a few more in and for a few days, we’re bursting at the seams with Lula and then just as quickly… they’re all gone.

So, what does this mean for Lula fans?

If you already subscribe, don’t worry! We’ve ensured that we have copies beyond the store allocation to make sure that you’re covered.

If you’re not a subscriber, then the best way to ensure that you’ll get a copy is to subscribe or pre-order online and we’ll post you out a copy as soon as they come in. If you’re happy to wait until late-July or even early-August, we’re hoping to get some more copies then. Fingers crossed.

Why the New Yorker makes us look like rip-off merchants

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

About once every 12.6 days or so, we receive a nasty comment (usually on Twitter) from someone outraged at the cost of subscribing to some of our international magazines. Even before reading, we know with a scientific 99.54% level of accuracy which title(s) they’re referring to.

Most often it’s The New Yorker or maybe Sports Illustrated but sometimes also Hello! and the NME. What do these titles have in common? Apart from the fact that they’re some of they world’s most popular toilet reads, they are also all air-freighted weekly international titles.

This means that each issue is printed, plucked off the newstands of London or New York, shipped to us, processed, stuffed into an envelope and then posted out to you. Multiply all of the above by anywhere between 47 to 52 times (depending on the title) over the course of a year and the result is that these are not cheap subscriptions!

A 12-month subscription to The New Yorker from us costs $681.50, Sports Illustrated costs $563.55 and the NME costs $663.13. Shelling out five or six hundred clams for a magazine subscription isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time—particularly not when some of these titles are available directly from the publisher at a fraction of the price that we offer them for.

Why is the case?

Well, it’s a bit long winded but here goes:

In America in particular, the publishing business works in a slightly different way to how it does here in Australasia. Because of the vast size of their market, stateside publishers generally don’t seek to make money on the cover price (which in some cases is the sole source of revenue for a number of Aussie and Kiwi mags) so much as they do by selling advertising.

Each subscriber offers detailed demographic data (age, income, location, spending habits, etc.) in exchange for a hefty discount on the cover price. The publishers use this data to sell more highly targeted advertising which in turn means that advertising space can then be sold at a premium. In this way, subscribers form the backbone of their business model.

Since more subscribers results in higher circulation figures and a more rich and detailed demographic breakdown, the magazines then want to get as many subscribers as possible… even if they barely break even on the printing and postage costs from the subscription fees alone.

In fact, the amount that they charge is in fact only a token figure—it simply needs to be high enough to indicate to the advertiser that the reader cares enough about the contents of the magazine that they’re actually going to read it and not just throw it in the bin. In short, the cost of a subscription needs to be enough to differentiate the magazine from junk mail. Thus, a one year sub to US Vogue costs a mere $USD15.00 and Sports Illustrated is just $USD0.81 an issue! You can barely post a letter for that much.

By contrast, our prices are determined by a pretty simple—if far less competitive—formula:

Amount of issues x cover price + cost of postage – a small discount. That’s why they’re awkward figures like “$581.21″ rather than the infinitely more slick “$599.99″ with a free set of steak knives like we’d offer if we were actually making tons of money on them!

We’re not trying to rip anyone off; these prices are simply a reflection of our costs in order to sell you a subscription. We’d love to be able to sell a 12 month New Yorker subscription for $120 USD (the equivalent of around $2.40 an issue) but our wholesale costs as well as the price of postage mean that this simply isn’t possible.

So, why do we continue to offer these subscriptions up for sale when they’re priced so uncompetitively?

A big part of the reason is that the vast majority of the international magazines that we offer subscriptions to don’t care enough about the Australian and New Zealand market to bother with all the hassles of international postage. Which is to say, they just won’t sell you a subscription at all.

We also offer a slightly different and, we’d like to think, superior service. If you subscribe to the New Yorker through us you’ll get air-freighted copies—your magazine should arrive about fourteen days after it hits the shelf in the US—rather than the one or two month old sea freight copies you’ll get from the magazine directly.

If an issue is missing/late/damaged in transit, you can drop us an e-mail or call us on our 1800 number and we’ll happily send you out a replacement copy. (And if you think that service is overrated, then you’ve never woken up in the middle of the night to spend 30 minutes on hold waiting to speak to the nasal and disinterested employees of the mailing houses used by big US publishers. Trust us, we have.)

So, that’s why we keep selling subscriptions to magazines like The New Yorker… even if we do look a bit like rip-off merchants in the process.

Topless mags allowed

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

I had a call from a journalist at The Age this morning asking for comment on the issue of Andrej Pejic’s Dossier magazine cover—which, to be honest, was the first I’d heard of the issue. We normally sell anywhere between one and five copies of Dossier in each of our stores. It’s a great magazine with a lot of promise, but hardly a blockbuster title as far as we’re concerned.

If you haven’t been following the news, Pejic is a Bosnian-born, Melbourne-raised male model who looks not so much “androgynous” as much as he looks downright feminine. To put it into perspective, in January, Jean Paul Gaultier employed Pejic to walk down the catwalk at his Paris Fashion Week womenswear show… in a wedding dress.

To say that this bloke looks like a lady would be a massive understatement.

The photo on the cover of the latest edition of Dossier shows him topless, looking characteristically feminine—he has hips and a stomach that resemble those of a woman and rather than the bulging pectorals common to male models, he has what could be the breasts of any starved catwalk waif.

A fair bit of controversy has erupted as Barnes & Noble and whatever’s left of Borders in the US have forced the publisher to provide them with their copies wrapped in black plastic, despite being made aware that Pejic is male.

Many of today’s news reports have portrayed Dossier as a victim of bullying by these giants of US magazine retail, which is a perspective that we can only call hopelessly naive. Taking an overtly feminine model and shooting him in such a way that—to anyone who doesn’t follow the ebbs and flows of the fashion world—looks precisely like a topless, small breasted women was meant to gain them some attention and it has obviously been successful.

And for what it’s worth: of course, we won’t be following suit.

Unlike Barnes & Noble and Borders, we don’t have right wing lobby group loonies to contend with and we can freely sell magazines with bare breasts on their covers. Regular readers may recall that we were one of the few places in Australia where you could buy the issue of Monster Children with Hedi Slimane’s topless Kate Moss photo and certainly the only place to buy it without a sticker covering the offending nipple.

Nipples: we’ve got nothing against ‘em.

Some more thoughts on the woes of Red Group

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Much of the news coverage surrounding Borders/A&R/Whitcoulls going into voluntary administration has focused on the woes of booksellers facing the triple threat of e-readers, deep discounting from off-shore online retailers and a strong Australian dollar.  With this in mind, we were interested to see an article in The Age on Friday about Readings, the Melbourne-based independent bookstore that has been trading in Carlton since 1969.

When a Borders store opened up directly across the street from Readings in 2001 it struck alot of people that this was the beginning of the end for the independent book seller. (Many of my friends from Uni at the time even embarked upon an extended shoplifting spree at Borders “in protest”. Students, eh?)

Staff working there recall a thick sense of gloominess pervading their spirits. ”It was like our business was going to be halved and we were all going to lose our jobs,” said former sales clerk Adam Carey, now an Age reporter. ”But it never panned out that badly. I’d come to believe that there was room enough for both businesses.”

So… why has Readings continued to prosper as Borders struggles?

Like many other small stores across the world, Readings have realised that they can’t necessarily compete with the online giants on range or on price. In fact, most of their books are sold at RRP, which in extreme cases is as much as double the price of some of their online competitors and often a few dollars more than at the at the Borders store across the road.

Instead, Readings have positioned themselves not so much as a vast, aeroplane hangar sized repository of books so much as a dedicated band of fellow book lovers.

They don’t try to sell every book under the sun but they do stock the best, most interesting and beautiful tomes around and hire passionate staff to help you find exactly what you need. They offer a huge amount of knowledge and customer service and furthermore, they’ve focused on hosting in-store events and readings, producing a fantastic monthly newsletter and generally working to foster a sense of community around the store. All things Borders, A&R and Co. don’t do.

In a world where any one of millions of books are available at a few mouse clicks away, a bookstore which has just 30,000 books (apparently the inventory at a Borders store) actually doesn’t seem as exciting or appealing as it once did. In fact, customers are often looking for just the opposite: a tightly edited, highly curated range without any of the dreck to get in the way.

As traditional retailers continue to struggle to work out a way to compete with online I suspect we’re going to see ever more of these small-scale, niche ‘curatorial commerce’ stores continuing to spring up to occupy the void that the online experience just cannot fill.

What do you guys reckon? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

A bad day for print

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Sad news yesterday for book and magazine lovers in Australia and New Zealand, as the parent company of Borders, Angus and Robertson and Whitcoulls announced that it was going into voluntary administration.

It’s important to note here that this doesn’t necessarily mean that these stores are shutting down. More than anything it means that they’ve acknowledged that something is seriously wrong with their business and that they need to take some drastic measures to turn it around.

Thanks to everyone who tweeted, e-mailed and called… but contrary to popular belief, we’re not rejoicing. As far as we’re concerned any book store shutting down anywhere is pretty much always a bad thing. We love books and we love bookstores and their presence is absolutely good for the publishing industry as a whole.

Other than the fact that 2,500 jobs might be lost, which is a massive deal in itself, it is bad for the magazine industry. Borders (and to a lesser extent Whitcoulls) make up part of our competitive landscape. Competition is a good thing: it keeps us on our toes and forces us to innovate. But, even more importantly, it stimulates demand. We don’t (and can’t!) have the far-flung geographic presence that Angus & Robertson or Whitcoulls has. If those stores close, it means that lots of folks will no longer have access to all the awesome magazine titles that we love. While many of you will think that this is a great thing for mag nation, as it means that more sales will come our way, this is very much a short-term perspective.

Many of the customers who buy these niche mags will simply stop buying. This is a disaster for the niche publisher, who sells a lot of magazines through us, but who also sells a lot through our competitors. If these customers simply drop out of the market, the publishers lose, which puts pressure on their business model, which in turn impacts us. Not to mention the residents of Tuggerah in New South Wales or Chermside in Queensland, just some of the 26 locations serviced by Borders stores across Australia.

So, you can see that it is not as simple as smugly smiling at the woes of a competitor. Not that we would do that anyway, but life is a little more complicated. This doesn’t mean that we won’t think aggressively about how to woo their customers. Competition is competition and magazines make up only a small part of their overall business.

Yet, even if we have the boxing gloves on, winning on points in this instance is better than a knock out punch.

Why is the September issue a big deal?

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Vogue USA, September 2010

Eleven out of twelve months of the year, Vogue USA is not a popular magazine.

Which isn’t to say that it’s unpopular, necessarily, but that it probably sits somewhere in between “Practical Poultry” and “Computer Arts Projects” in the sales stakes, if that gives you any idea.

It’s a different story come late August, though, when everyone suddenly scrambles for a copy of the famous September issue. Which poses all kinds of logistical problems for us as magazine sellers!

Our suppliers insist that we only change our order levels once every three months… which means that in order to get the magazine loving public the one issue of Vogue that they so truly crave, we also have to order the hundreds of copies of the October, November and potentially December issues of the same magazine that they resolutely do not want.

(Good news: through some combination of pleading, gentle persuasion and invocation of the dark arts, we did manage to order lots of copies of the September issue only; if you haven’t got your hands one yet then get into one of our stores, pronto.)

But why is the September issue such a big deal?

Certainly, there’s a few reasons which spring to mind: the film that came out last year, the fact that it represents the changing of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere as designers unveil new styles for Autumn and Winter. But if that is the case, then why isn’t the March issue a similarly big deal?

And why does everyone want Vogue US (which they apparently do not read during the rest of the year) over our domestic edition or the arguably superior British and Italian editions? Call us ignorant, dear readers, but we have no idea and this one question that even Google cannot answer.

So, tell us, why is the September issue of Vogue such a big deal?