Amelia’s Magazine | STACK Magazine Subscription Service: an interview with founder Steve Watson

Stack Magazines by Jo Cheung
Stack Magazines by Jo Cheung

There is something about print magazines; the aroma of them, sometimes thick and woody, sometimes fresh and glossy. There is something undeniably comforting about holding a magazine in your hands, the texture: solid and reassuring beneath your fingers. A magazine is something real and tangible that your eyes and tips can really get to grips with. There’s no feeling in world like getting your mitts on a virgin mag, previously unopened, your eye-balls the first to drink in the words and pictures of that copy. Even the ink-dust that sticks to your fingers on some mags; that’s something that I love, to have words physically rub off on my fingers. What could be better than that?

Little White Lies

For all these reasons, subscribing to Stack, a magazine subscription service which sends out a different independent magazine to its customers each month, is one of my indulgences. Every 30 days or so, I get an envelope in the mail. I collect it from the welcome mat and I bring it upstairs to digest. I open it like a kid at Christmas, cheeks flushed with excitement. I love the smell of magazines in the morning.

Stack Magazines

In the last year they’ve sent out: Boat, a magazine which transports itself to a new city for each issue; The Ride Journal, a magazine which weaves together the anecdotes of cyclists the world over; your new friend Oh Comely, a mag that wants to keep your curiosity alive. Old favourites such as Anorak, the kid’s magazine with a difference, make an appearance too. These are the mags that cross the divide between zine and art and with cover prices as high as £10.50 you’re likely to get your money’s worth if you subscribe.

Stack Magazines

With June came sun, and also Port Magazine, food lover’s heaven. Stylish and chic, it has a hint of glossy men’s mag about it. Kicking off with an open letter to Old Fulton Fish Market and complete with a pinch of Nigella Lawson, this mag will whet your appetite for future issues.

The July delivery brought me the music edition of Wooden Toy Quarterly, which not only came inside album-like packaging but also had little sister typography mag Lyrics and Type tucked inside. Put together by Kaleidoscope Festival co-founder Timba Smits, WTQ is a visual delight.

WTQ Music Issue Cover

Wooden Toy Quarterly Music Issue

Lyrics and Type

September brought issue 4 of Juke. With some of the adverts made in collaboration between brand and mag, this music magazine (with a side of fashion) takes a walk on the wild side. The editorial informs me that “it’s time to get your weird on” and it’s hard not to follow Juke through to obscurity and beyond.

Stack Magazines by Karen Brotherton
Stack Magazines by Karen Brotherton

Very Nearly Almost, a Stack staple, came one chilly October. Issue 20 was so devoted to its main subject matter: graffiti, that I initially thought that the name of the mag was Retna, one of the graffiti artists it covered. This mag caught hold of my imagination, filled with street art, this is an urban art mag at its best and strong visuals made up a large bulk of this publication.


These are just a few of the mags that have been sent to me in the post since I subscribed. August presented an issue of Rouleur packed to the rafters with “the world’s finest cycle racing reportage”, and Delayed Gratification, “the slow journalism” magazine also made an appearance in my mailbox around Xmas.

Delayed Gratification

Stack really is revolutionary. Each magazine comes with a letter which explains why the mag was picked and what it has to offer. In one side of A4 it tells you a bit about the contents, whether it’s some info about the mag creators, or how Stack stumbled across the mag. This gives the service a personal element and really helps you connect with the issue in-hand as well as get to know the team over at Stack headquarters. Most letters also make you privy to the ‘message’ of the mag, meaning that you have a little insight before you crick its back.

The founder of Stack, Steven Watson is a guy with a real lust for magazines; “magazines are constellations of ideas,” he says. He had the brainwave to start Stack in September 2008; merging the t-shirt subscription model with a blog post he read about consuming different independent magazines as a way to stay interesting. Stack was launched pretty soon after and was up-and-running by December 2008.


Steve‘s love for mags stems from their ability to display the bigger picture, “with a print mag you can glance at a spread and focus in on a small detail. They’re read in a different way…they haven’t quite got this with iPad and tablet mags yet.” He’s a passionate printy himself “I love the fact some of these are mags being made by people not getting paid, sometimes not even breaking even; they are just hugely passionate about the subject matter.”

Stack Magazines

He identifies a Stack Magazine as, “a mag with something to say, with a distinctive point of view and a stylish way of saying it”. He goes on to elaborate further saying the mags they choose are “niche but welcoming”.

His passion for the print stuff started when he was off sick from school and his mum got him a copy of Smash Hits. During his teens this progressed to a love for FHM and Steve currently works for The Church of London, the Creative Agency which makes Little White Lies (which coincidentally began life in Amelia’s house when publisher Danny Miller lived there.)

He notes that over time a lot has changed and Stack now have around 1,200 subs and hope to break 2,000 by the end of 2013. He explains that they sometimes send out additional mags “but it mainly depends on the weight. When we started, we had 300 or so subscribers and it was ok, but now our circulation’s higher, it’s harder to convince mags to send us more than a thousand copies for free.”

These additional mags are varied and include DOGEAR, which is both a magazine and a bookmark, and boasts illustration, poetry and fiction in its miniature pages. Each instalment comes on a different shade of pastel coloured card and the pieces in this nifty little bookmark are often short and pithy and many even take advantage of the mag’s small stature with their layout.

Your Days Are Numbered

I’ve also received a visually striking issue of Your Days Are Numbered which featured an interview in French which I think (although my French is a little rusty) is with Bastien Vives. This little mag is a real gem with a comic book slant and one of the pages gets up-close and personal with a member of the Judge Dredd team.

Shellsuit Zombie

Issue 3 of Shellsuit Zombie opens with a Trainspotting-style speech, and does not shy away from a well-placed profanity or two. A healthy shot of illustration and a young creative vibe give this mag its edge, making me draw comparisons to The Skinny because of both its colour newspaper format and street-savvy tone. These are just some of the mags which have been included with the main mag gratuit.

It’s been around a year since I subscribed to Stack. It’s been an emotional journey for me, whether it’s pulling apart a magazine and using the sheets to wrap my Christmas presents, as with the November 2012 delivery, issue 6 of Wrap magazine, or ohhing and ahhing over the vinyl like cover of Wooden Toy Quarterly, subscribing to Stack has been one of my highlights of the last 12 months.


Each month with the service is a surprise and all you know before you get the tell-tale envelope in the post is that you’ll be getting one of the best independent English-language mags out there. I can’t recommend it enough, whether you’re a word lover, a design fanatic, an illustrator looking for inspiration, or you just want something interesting to get your teeth into each month; this is the best purchase I’ve made in years. If you want a fresh perspective or you just want to make sure that your coffee table is the most beautiful of them all, then Stack is for you. Sign up on their website here.

The Ride Journal

People have been throwing round the phase lately that ‘print is dead’. And while it might be declining, I like to think that it will rise up in pulp zombie form and take on digital in a fight to the death. Stack is part of the changing evolution of print distribution and evidence that the last rasping gasp the papers have been shouting about might in fact have just been a yawn, while it waited for something like Stack to come along and shake it up a little. (Amelia: If only STACK had existed before I decided to stop producing Amelia’s Magazine in print: distribution through the usual channels was an absolute nightmare and one of the reasons I decided to pull out of print back in 2008.)

Steven Watson by Rosemary Kirton
Steve Watson illustration by Rosemary Kirton

Categories ,Amelia’s Magazine, ,Church of London, ,circulation, ,Danny Miller, ,design, ,DOGEAR, ,illustration, ,Jessica Cook, ,Jo Cheung, ,journalism, ,Juke, ,Karen Brotherton, ,Little White Lies, ,Love Letter to Print Magazines, ,Magazines, ,Oh Comely, ,Port, ,print, ,Rosemary Kirton, ,Shellsuit Zombie, ,Stack Magazines, ,Steve Watson, ,Subscription, ,Very Nearly Almost, ,Wrap

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Amelia’s Magazine | Best of D&AD New Blood Illustration & Graphic Design Graduates 2012: part three

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Alex Young
Following on from my second review of New Blood comes my final write up. Lots of students illustrated the cover for Grimm’s Fairy Tales – at University of Central Lancashire the rough energy of this woodcut by Alex Young stood out.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Nicola Jones
At Norwich University College of the Arts Nicola Jones screenprinted the open market.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Nicola Jones
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Stacey Knights
Stacey Knights worked in simple colourways to create illustrations of the market and for a brief to design for the cover of Little White Lies (another popular project which featured throughout the exhibition).

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Gina Pape
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Gina Pape
Gina Pape‘s Sympathetic Magic was inspired by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Sophie Perryman
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Sophie Perryman
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Sophie Perryman
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Sophie Perryman
Sophie Perryman created a collaged monster that was the antithesis of the Kawaii (cute) phenomenon.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Jack Cullis
At the University of West England Jack Cullis created a series of stunning illustrations for classic Penguin book covers.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Sami Al-Adawy
Sami Al-Adawy‘s grid town appealed to my love of repetition in design.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Jamie Jones
This harbour by Jamie Jones would look great in a kid’s book.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Rebecca Clemson
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Rebecca Clemson
The Great Barrier Reef in paper quilling by Rebecca Clemson at Staffordshire University was a huge hit with visitors – she’s also a potter who has secured funding to set up her own business in the potteries. I wish she had a website.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Melanie Milne
Melanie Milne had also dabbled in ceramics and had created this wonderful typographic textile design as an ode to the humble sprout.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Elora Taylor
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Elora Taylor
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Elora Taylor
At Plymouth University I loved beautiful character illustration of jazz monkeys by Elora Taylor.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Jenny Cox
At University of Cumbria Jenny Cox illustrated The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Shorty Lee
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Shorty Lee
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Shorty Lee
Cute illustrations for a touchy feely children’s book called The Magic Sheep by Shorty Lee at Edinburgh College of Art.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Nikki Wei Guo
New Blood graduate show 2012 -Nikki Wei Guo
Mother Worms by Nikki Wei Guo; illustrations to accompany self penned folk stories about desire for life and fear of death.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Cara Holsgrove
Creepy but beautifully realised imagery by Cara Holsgrove is part of a handmade book of poems about distorted reality.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Sophie Hargrave
Sophie Hargrave‘s recycle week and gender equality posters at Loughborough University.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Camilla Perkins
I missed this year’s University of Westminster illustration exhibition at the Ambika P3 Gallery so Alia Gargum covered it. Here’s what I liked at New Blood: Above, super colourful portraits of David Bellamy and Jaques Costeau framed in wreaths for plate designs by Camilla Perkins.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Angelina Ioannides-Beer
Like Alia I picked up on the geometric work of Angelina Ioannides-Beer. And what a marvellous name!

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Emma Black
Intrigued by overlaid monoprint work by Emma Black.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Holly Monger
Narrative scenes by Holly Monger.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Olivia Henry
Cute character work by Olivia Henry.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Nina Jorgensen
Beautiful abstract patterns from Nina Jorgensen

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Josie Shenoy
Intricate patterned work by Josie Shenoy.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Rikki Hewitt
Collaged work by Rikki Hewitt.

New Blood graduate show 2012 -Paul Hickey
Paul Hickey‘s work combining photographic imagery and a painterly blocks of colour.

It’s hard to pick out the finest graduates from such a busy exhibition which is why I always prefer to see individual college’s shows. I will always be most attracted to narrative illustration and typography over digital or advertising led work, and in those areas these three blogs should give a taster of the huge amount of creative talent heading out into the marketplace this summer. If you like what you see why not give them a job? I wish them all the best: whilst design becomes ever more important in our consumer led world it’s undeniably tough out there and only the very talented, motivated and lucky will end up doing exactly what they want to do.

Read my first and second reviews of New Blood 2012 here and here.

Categories ,2012, ,Alex Young, ,AMBIKA P3 gallery, ,Angela Carter, ,Angelina Ioannides-Beer, ,Camilla Perkins, ,Cara Holsgrove, ,D&AD, ,David Bellamy, ,Edinburgh College of Art, ,Elora Taylor, ,Emma Black, ,Georgina Pape, ,Gina Pape, ,graduate, ,Graphic Design, ,Great Barrier Reef, ,Grimm’s Fairy Tales, ,illustration, ,Jack Cullis, ,Jamie Jones, ,Jaques Costeau, ,Jenny Cox, ,Josie Shenoy, ,Kawaii, ,Little White Lies, ,Loughborough University, ,Melanie Milne, ,Mother Worms, ,New Blood, ,Nicola Jones, ,Nikki Wei Guo, ,Nina Jorgensen, ,Norwich University College of the Arts, ,Olivia Henry, ,Paul Hickey, ,Penguin, ,Pitt Rivers Museum, ,Plymouth University, ,Rebecca Clemson, ,review, ,Rikki Hewitt, ,Sami Al-Adawy, ,Shorty Lee, ,Sophie Hargrave, ,Sophie Perryman, ,Stacey Knights, ,Staffordshire University, ,Sympathetic Magic, ,The Bloody Chamber, ,The Magic Sheep, ,University of Central Lancashire, ,University of Cumbria, ,University of West England, ,University of Westminster

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