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

Similar Posts:

Amelia’s Magazine | Wrap Magazine: An Interview with Co-Founder Polly Glass

Polly & Chris by Gemma Cotterell
Christopher Harrison and Polly Glass by Gemma Cotterell

When I open Issue Seven of Wrap, I’m thinking of Princess Clara, Wooldoor Jebediah Sockbat, Foxxy Love, Toot Braunstein and the whole gang. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this wondrous cast of visual mockery, these are characters from animation parody Drawn Together, a TV show which pokes fun at our favourite 2D cartoonies, and also, the name of Wrap’s most recent issue. Wrap‘s Drawn Together puts a beady eye onto collectives, and the highlights of this issue include: Anthony Burrill, Peepshow Collective, Nous Vous, Pictoplasm, Studio Tipi, Print Club London, Hvass&Hannibal and Edition Biografiktion.

Wrap Magazine

‘Are four hands better than two?’ is the question at the nib of the latest installation of this illustration celebration. This “people power” issue not only explores the relationships between happily ever after collectives, but also plays matchmaker to a few of its own new ink-birds. There are some familiar faces here, making me think that the illustration world is pretty incestuous, but the overall effect is inspiring. This isn’t the first time I’ve had my mitts on a copy of the mag, and around Santa-time the Nordic Lights issue was like a security blanket for me; I carried it everywhere. There’s something very tactile and natural about yanking out the pages of a mag and the concept of this little magazine has me completely infatuated.

Wrap Magazine

Ripping a magazine is usually a painful, accidental and clumsy affair, caused by careless turning, or perusing in the tub. Wrap is meant to be ripped. With 5 pull out, reversible pages of double-sided illustration goodness, you can artwork-coat your gifts with this lovely ‘zine. Wrap seems to be everywhere I look these days, having stumbled across it via STACK, I’ve also found it hidden in a nook of the Ohh Deer online webshop. What could be better than dressing up your gifts in beautiful outfits before handing them over to your loved one? Undressing presents is half the fun of getting them after all. That and the ‘gift shake’; the little dance move you do when you first grab hold of a present to assess its potential insides.

Wrap is more than just an illustration magazine, it celebrates design and creative culture as a whole. Created by Christopher Harrison and Polly Glass it’s on the way to proving that print hasn’t passed its use-by date. I spoke to co-creator Polly Glass about how the pair got the mag off the ground and what they’re looking for in new contributors.

Wrap Magazine

What did you get up to before Wrap?
Before, and also during the early stages of Wrap, Chris and I both worked as jewellery designers in London for a fashion jewellery company – that’s how we met actually. We worked with a whole host of British brands including Mathew Williamson, Agent Provocateur, Ted Baker and Cath Kidston which was a great experience, and really helped us to see how bigger designs brands like that function.

Wrap Magazine

Wrapping paper is something many people overlook, has it always been a passion of yours?
I wouldn’t say it quite like that, no – although I do take pleasure in a beautiful wrapped present! For us, the wrapping paper element to Wrap is about it being the best way to show off the fantastic and hugely impressive work of our contributing illustrators, because the sheets are so nice and big. Also, as one of the main purposes of Wrap is to share illustrators work with other people, if our readers can pull out a sheet that has one of their favourite designs on, and use it to wrap up a present for their best friend, then they are carrying on that sharing process.

Wrap Magazine

How did you get the funds to publish the first issue of Wrap?
We funded issue one ourselves through savings – our print run was quite small, and we created a much simpler version of what Wrap is today, which made it relatively affordable to test out as an idea, and see how people would react. Luckily, people seemed to really like the concept of the magazine, and so from there, sales of the magazine have funded all future issues.

How does the financial model of the mag work now? Do you both work on it full-time?
Yes, we both work full time on the magazine, and we also have a team of brilliant freelancers who we couldn’t do without! Wrap is now 80 pages (compared to 24 in issue one!), so it takes a great deal of energy from all involved to make it what it is. Financially, magazine publishing is a hard industry to crack, but essentially the model is to make and sell lots of magazines! At the moment we have very minimal advertising in Wrap, so revenue comes mainly from sales, and we run nearly all the distribution ourselves in order to maximize profit and insure that Wrap is sold to the best shops possible, and ones that really understand what we’re all about. We also work firm sale (meaning they buy the magazines out-right) with our stockists, as this means every magazine that goes out the door has been paid for, which helps to reduce wastage and over-printing.

Chris from Wrap, by Karina Jarv
Christopher Harrison by Karina Jarv

Wrap uses vegetable based inks and 100% recycled paper, was making the mag environmentally friendly always a priority for you, despite cost?
Whether it’s the magazine, or our range of wrapping papers and prints, we always try to produce things in a considerate and environmentally friendly way – there’s no reason not to really. Printing can be a hugely wasteful industry, so we are very careful to only make things that we really believe in, and we only work with UK printers – a manufacturing industry we’re keen to support and promote.

Wrap Magazine

Issue Six focussed on Nordic lights, and Issue Seven on collaborations, how do you go about picking a theme?
There’s no particular method to our theme selection – really, it’s about delving into a subject or area that we think is interesting and relevant to the field of illustration at the time. We do also of course consider the time of year, so with the Nordic Lights Issue (our Winter 2012 edition) – we thought the idea of ten illustrators from across Scandinavia sharing with our readers their impression of a snowy, Nordic winter would be wonderful! And our new, seventh issue celebrates creative ‘collectives’ and collaborations – a way of working that seems to be growing in popularity and that we wanted to find out more about.

Polly by Alys Jones
Polly by Alys Jones

You mentioned that you visited Berlin for research, what’s been your best research trip so far?
Ooooh – we’ve been very lucky to go on a few research trips now. I loved Berlin, and our trip to Helsinki for the last issue was brilliant, if not a bit chilly, but for me, going to spend the day with graphic designer Anthony Burrill in sunny Rye was the best! He gave Harry (our editor) and I a super tour of the coastal town, including visiting ‘Simon the Pieman’ – his favourite cafe, and Adams of Rye – the traditional letterpress printers who he collaborates with to produce his famous posters, including the special one he’s made just for Wrap 7!

Wrap Magazine

I found a beautiful illustrated postcard inside my copy, is this something you’ll be doing in future?
Oh yes, we always try to include something a little special with each issue, like the postcards. Our subscribers all received a set of exclusive patterned stickers by illustrator Ed J Brown (who drew our title typeface in issue 7), with their delivery of issue 7 – we hope they liked them!

Who do you imagine as your typical reader?
From what we’ve seen, our readers can be pretty wide ranging, but typically, they are practicing creative people, and around 70% are women.

Wrap Magazine

Anthony Burrill produced a poster based on the latest issue, is it important for you to make Wrap more than just a magazine?
Wrap is about celebrating some of the best and most vibrant artists of the moment, and the more we grow, the more we find exciting ways to do that through the magazine and the Wrap brand! Last year we worked with four of our favourite illustrators to develop our first range of commercial wrapping papers, and so far this year we’ve worked with Anthony to produce his fantastic poster for Wrap, and the six illustrators in our ‘Make a Good Thing Happen’ project to produce a range of 3 limited-edition notebooks. We’ve had lots of fun, and have lots more ideas to work on!

Wrap Magazine

Your latest issue featured a whole host of illustrators, including Nous Vous and Peepshow Collective, how do you go about finding illustrators to work with?
We’re always on the lookout for new illustrators and designers to work with, whether it be through exhibitions, events or twitter and social media channels, but we’re also very lucky to get a lot of people contact us through our submissions email which is great. I suppose the more and more you’re immersed in an industry like illustration, the more you hear about, and know what’s going on. However we also love to go to the summer student shows by universities like Brighton and Kingston – they’re a great place to spot potential new stars.

Wrap Magazine
Do you think that “print is dead”?
This is a question we are often asked! No, I don’t think print is dead – but the industry is obviously changing and evolving, like lots of areas at the moment. I like that it’s actually making people more considerate and careful about what they print, which can only be a good thing.

Wrap Magazine

Photographs were provided by Wrap Magazine

Categories ,art, ,artists, ,collaboration, ,Collaborations, ,creative culture, ,design, ,drawing, ,Drawn Together, ,features, ,Gift, ,illustration, ,jessicasrcook, ,journalism, ,mag, ,magazine, ,Nous Vous, ,Ohh Deer, ,paper, ,Polly & Chris, ,Shellsuit Zombie, ,STACK, ,Stack Magazines, ,Subscription, ,Wrap, ,Wrapping paper, ,writing, ,zine

Similar Posts: