Client Magazines

Client Magazines LESLIE.jpgBy Jeremy Leslie

Content marketing is the buzz word of our age, a generic term covering many types of publishing project, from small to large across print and digital, that promotes a brand or organisation. I spent the noughties as creative director of the UK's then leading specialist in the form, and saw the industry--then known as custom publishing--grow exponentially. I also saw it slow down and become normalised, the rough edges knocked off and the creative decisions based more on appeasing clients than reaching out to readers.

So it's been cheering to see a new group of publishers recently move into collaborating with clients on magazine projects. Most have proved their credentials by producing their own publications, so adding a client project is a relatively simple extension. And although only one issue old, The Happy Reader is my favourite current example of the form.

I hope most readers will already be aware of Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman, the pair of biannual magazines published in English by Dutch editorial heroes Jop van Bennekom (art direction) and Gert Jonkers (edit). Both magazines have cut through the conservative worlds of men's and women's fashion coverage to create a new editorial language that is a highly contemporary mix of irony and seriousness. They are highly sophisticated editorial vehicles that owe much to the pair's earlier abstract experiments in publishing.

The high fashion components of the two magazines have led van Bennekom and Jonkers to projects for fashion brands such as COS, but when approached by paperback publisher Penguin Books they required a more editorially-driven concept.

The design aesthetic of The Happy Reader is familiar from the team's other publications: a simple monochrome pairing of a serif font with a sans for details, presented on a complex grid that makes good use of empty space to provide visual emphasis where needed. No attempt is made to "protect" the reader from long columns of writing; this is seen as a positive rather than negative. It's not a retro look, but does hark back to the early page layouts of Penguin paperback books.

So The Happy Reader looks good. But the clever part, the thing that makes this magazine special, is the editorial concept underlying it, the link between the client and the reader.

Happy_Reader_hairline_01.jpgAs its name suggests, the magazine is about reading; the launch issue opens with a lengthy interview with keen reader, actor Dan Stevens, before taking on a single "book of the season." Each issue will be based on a single novel, in this case Victorian thriller The Woman in White. Most of the content spins from this one subject, a clever way to open up themes and illustrate how reading can influence all sorts of spheres of interest.

Happy_Reader_hairline_02.jpgThere's a portrait by Donald Urquhart (left) of the lead character Walter Hartright, and a look back at 1859, the year when The Woman in White was first appeared (it was originally published week by week in a magazine), providing the context of gossip and news of that time.

HappyReader01_03.jpgFashion writer Tim Blanks highlights the impact of dressing in all-white, introducing a fashion story featuring women in white.

Happy_Reader_hairline_04.jpgA key scene in the book sees Walter walk through Hampstead, north London. Grabs from Google street view and a map allows the reader to retrace his steps. For the launch of the magazine the publishers arranged a guided tour for journalists following the route.
Happy_Reader_hairline_05.jpgCrime-writing duo Nicci French read the book and note their individual responses.

Happy_Reader_hairline_06.jpgThe footnote and appendix are common devices in von Bennekom and Jonkers' magazines, and here we find a section dedicated to Woman in White ephemera; the poster to the first stage adaptation, writer Wilkie Collins' notepaper monogram, even some stills from a recent video game that used the Woman in White narrative.
And at the end of the issue editor Seb Emina announces the book of the season for the next edition of the magazine, the idea being readers can get ahead and read the title before they get the next magazine.

The Happy Reader is a book that celebrates reading, a focal point for a loose collective book club that encourages people to enjoy books. The link to Penguin is specific but gentle, a subtle but effective marketing piece for the brand. It's also arrived with perfect timing to coincide with Mark Zuckerberg's "discovery" of books and announcement of his own public book club.

Indie mags3.jpgOther examples of small editorial outfits creating content for clients include Document Studio's Timberland magazine for the shoe/fashion brand of the same name and Pulp, a magazine about design for paper manufacturer Fedrigoni from the team behind Eye magazine.

The Happy Reader
Pulp magazine
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