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AMA: Kai Brach, Publisher of Offscreen Magazine

over 4 years ago from , Publisher at Offscreen Magazine

The short version:

Kai Brach here, publisher of Offscreen Magazine (www.offscreenmag.com), a small, print-only indie publication about the people behind the internet and technology, now coming up to issue #12! Ask me anything (except for an e-book version) starting on Tuesday, June 30th from 3pm in US West Coast time!

The longer version:

Howdy! Still Kai Brach here. I'm a German-born (and speaking), Australia-based web-designer-turned-print-publisher of Offscreen Magazine (www.offscreenmag.com), a print-only indie magazine about people who use the internet and technology to be creative, solve problems, and build successful businesses.

Offscreen is a one-man publication, edited, designed and published by just me, mostly from my spare bedroom in Melbourne, Australia and various cafés around the place. However, the magazine is printed in and shipped from Berlin in Germany. I've tried to Kickstart the inaugural issue in late 2011, which failed, so I published the first issue with my own funding in Feb 2012. Now working on issue no12. You can see and purchase previous issues here: www.offscreenmag.com/issues

I've learned a lot from being a magazine noob, all of which I share regularly on my blog in extensive behind-the-scenes posts: blog.offscreenmag.com

I also regularly share my experience through talks at conferences. Next stop is HybridConf in Dublin in August this year: blog.offscreenmag.com/post/121171182191/as-usual-im-making-my-travel-plans-public-so-i

Here is a little video about me that the awesome guys from envato recorded late last year: www.offscreenmag.com/about/

A few months ago I also started a newsletter side-project called The Modern Desk, which is a brief weekly list of notable office accessories and apps: www.themoderndesk.com

I'm answering questions starting on Tuesday, June 30th from 3pm in US West Coast time (which is Wednesday morning, 8am in Melbourne. Yes, I'll be writing from the future.)

24 comments

  • Chris JahnChris Jahn, over 4 years ago

    Do you have some kind of daily routine to get on track? I'm starting to work remotely later this year and i'd like to know some best practices and experiences. Any secrets to share?

    And btw, i have all offscreen issues. Bought the ones i was missing directly from you on last BeyondTellerand in Germany. I love your magazine! <3

    2 points
    • , over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Thanks very much for being such a loyal reader!

      I've talked about my daily routines in this blog post.

      I find that breaking up my day in 2-3 chunks and my week in 2-3 different types of days helps. At the moment I tend to get up at around 6.30-7am and after a quick breakfast I'm going straight to a café for a coffee and 3-4 hours of work. Then back home for lunch, more work, then a run, and some more light work afterwards.

      Two days a week I usually spend at a shared office with friends and colleagues. That way I get some socialising in and I don't feel like a complete loner. It's also a good way to be (positively) distracted so that I can get some fresh perspectives.

      Having said that, I go through phases too. In winter I tend to stay more at home, and in summer I love going for a bike ride to the office early in the morning. :)

      2 points
  • Rasmus LandgreenRasmus Landgreen, over 4 years ago

    Apart from iterating and improving on Offscreen, what other magazines have you thought of creating? It must have come to mind several times.

    Best regards, Your biggest fan. Not a lie.

    2 points
    • Khaled Islam BouyaKhaled Islam Bouya, over 4 years ago

      No, I'm the biggest fan. (:P)

      0 points
    • , over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Yeah. There are always plenty of ideas, right!?

      I'd love to do a magazine that's more broadly about business and entrepreneurship (not just tech or online), but in a very human, everyday kinda sense. I'd love to walk into shops, bars, cafes, studios, etc. and just interview owners about their businesses, where they come from, what drives them to keep going on a daily basis. Especially the older generations I find super interesting. There is a barber on our street that's been there for at least 40 odd years. I'd love to hear some of his business advice and his opinion on the 'fail fast, fail often' approach. ;)

      (Let me add: there is no way on earth I can do two magazines without neglecting one of them, so this idea has been put on ice for the time being.)

      2 points
  • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

    Kai,

    Have you had a California burrito since Valio Con? If so, why? If not, why not?

    You know the whole "print is dead" thing... have you ever seen an article that takes that stance? I have never even seen an article that takes that stance. I have only seen articles that say "Every one says print is dead, but NO, print is NOT dead". I feel like Mugatu in Zoolander, "Doesn't anyone else notice! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!" Have you noticed this too?? I feel like there are soooo many arguments like this in our industry. "People always say X, but X is not true." When in hardly anyone says X.

    Anyway, as you know print isn't dead and our industry has YOU to thank for that :) Thanks Kai.

    In the spirit of AMA, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Seeing as how you are currently 38, what is 43 year old Kai working on?

    Are you going to get an Apple Music subscription?

    Your student and mentor, Drew

    2 points
    • , over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Drew! I hope you've found your pants.

      That burrito was amazing, but as I haven't been back to San Diego since, I haven't had the chance to enjoy fries in my burrito. (Do they make them in SFO too?) It surely was a highlight of my Valio Con weekend. That, and nearly passing out with an oxygen mask on my way over.

      Haha, it's an interesting point you make. I guess the 'print is dead' argument is something that wasn't articulated as often or as well as I and the rest of the print industry make you believe.

      I can't point you to an article with that title, but there are tons of journalists that proclaimed the end of newspapers and magazines. You have to go back a little to just after the launch of the iPad to find the biggest naysayers. Remember Wired's 600MB digital magazine edition? At first everyone was like "Holy dead tree, that's the future!" but after a few months people realised that it's completely impractical and, more importantly, it just doesn't give us the same experience as flicking through a mag.

      In the years after the iPad came out you saw a LOT of newspapers dying and a lot of mainstream magazines going out of business. You also saw ebooks and the Kindle take over Amazon and traditional book sales declined. At the same time digital ad revenue grew (and still is growing) rapidly. That's why the media world assumed that the time of print is over.

      I do think certain parts of the print world will die (like daily newspapers) but that has almost the opposite effect on other parts, like indie publishing. Some more thoughts on that here.

      As for what's happening in 5 years... not sure. I could be publishing magazines, or I could be doing something completely different. One of the nice things about our self-taught roles is that we can (have to?!) continue to shape them as much as we like. So who knows what I'll be doing. Pretty sure I'll be a bit old to live out of an RV without pants on, though.

      2 points
      • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

        hahaha Purrrfect :)

        i hope to high heavens you got that when i said that, it was reference to the Lego Movie, and not my real actual life.

        Ya i agree part of print will get destroyed. Like imagine Snapchat where you hand write notes to people, and then burn them with a lighter when you're done. That's just not practical. You'd have to re-fill that lighter at 7-eleven like everyday. So i think digital will win where print isn't the ideal medium. But surely think (like you do) there are situations when print will always be the ideal medium.

        Also, remember that time you had a pen pal.

        Drew

        1 point
  • Max LindMax Lind, over 4 years ago

    Being a one-man show (edits, designs, and publishes Offscreen)... what are your thoughts on this idea of the "design generalist" role? -- someone who does a little of this and a little of that, not exactly an expert at one thing, but rather someone who's design oriented, quick, and curious.

    How do you feel about working solo as compared to part of a team (big or small)?

    Working solo, do you have a pair of headphones attached to your head most of the days? (if so, what's playing?)

    1 point
    • Kai Brach, over 4 years ago

      Hey Max! Good question!

      I think being a 'jack of all trades' can be a good thing if you work for yourself (perhaps it's even a prerequisite). Being able to do all these different things throughout the day is something I really enjoy. I also find that people in that situation are often more empathetic to various other roles because they can put themselves in other people's shoes more easily.

      Sometimes I think about life after Offscreen and I realise that I don't fit into any specific role if I ever want to be employed. At first that's a bit scary. I realised that I'll probably never be a UX design expert or a front-end engineer, but that's ok, because the older I get the less interested I am in doing the hands-on stuff, and I much prefer to take on a managerial role anyway. That's not to say that I no longer want to code or design. It just means that I've happily removed that pressure of constantly keeping up with the latest and greatest.

      Working for yourself is tough at times. I'm quite introverted and I happily avoid big groups, so I could easily work from home and not go out for days (other than going for runs). I'm aware of that though and so late last year I joined my friends at a shared office space. I try to get there at least twice a week, which counteracts that loner feeling. ;) But yeah, I miss having a team, for sure!

      Surprisingly, since I started publishing and editing a magazine, music has almost completely disappeared from my work day. It's sad I know! But I simply can't concentrate on editing other people's words if there is music playing. It makes me miss the days when I just designed and music was playing pretty much 24-7. :-/

      2 points
  • Marz 1Marz 1, over 4 years ago

    I'm in the process of working out the math on starting a magazine as well. Trying to account for all the factors in play, it's easy for me to get overwhelmed and paralyzed. Any tips on creating a solid plan of attack? I'm no stranger to hard work, especially behind something you believe in—but given current 'life' stuff, I'd like to minimize the amount of risk (especially financial) wherever possible. From my perspective, the aesthetic seems like the easy/fun part. It's the business side (ads/sponsors, production, distribution, etc.) that I'm trying to wrap my brain around.

    Also... one thing a friend mentioned to me when he was publishing, his biggest hurdle was distribution. How did you approach it?

    FYI: Bicycling to one of your NYC stockists as soon as I submit comment :)

    1 point
    • , over 4 years ago

      I hear you. I think the most important part is that you have something to say. Nowadays a lot of designers launch magazines to make a nice product, but that product often doesn't have anything valuable to say. Have a clear intent and define your niche early. That's how you ensure to not just make one issue, but actually build up an audience.

      It's hard to summarise all the things that go into a magazine. Obviously content is key, so that's what I would focus on first. Locate good content sources (which doesn't necessarily mean that you create it yourself) and then build your publishing ideas around that. What types of features would you like? How much of it is text, photography, illustrations, etc? Create a content plan.

      Making the project viable is definitely a challenge. You can try to finance the first issue on Kickstarter (many do), but you'll have to work hard on making future issues sustainable through, for example, a high cover price, ads, sponsors, memberships, events, or a mix of all of those.

      And yes, obviously, distribution is always the hardest part (which is not unique to print, but more difficult in the real world). I was lucky enough to have a niche (web/tech) that finds buying their copy online quite natural, so I don't really depend on shops and distributors. Try to build that (online) community early. Build a good website. Share a lot. Connect with people and be authentic.

      Have a look at magculture.com. It's an important website for all mag makers.

      1 point
  • Carlos MCarlos M, over 4 years ago

    “A magazine in the web age? Are you crazy?” — Have you ever been asked that before, and how did you answer?

    P.S. I'd need to grab a coffee with you sometime in Melbourne. Love your work.

    1 point
    • , over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Thanks! You should come by my shared office space in Fitzroy some time!

      Interestingly, I don't get that question very much. To be honest, it would have been a much more relevant question maybe 5 or so years ago when the iPad first appeared on stage and everyone was like "OMG, print is so dead!".

      Ironically, the unsolved digital magazine challenge (let's be honest, magazines on tablets stink!) has actually contributed to a revival of print. Not sure if digital designers or people on Designer News are aware, but the indie (print) publishing scene is currently seeing somewhat of a boom. There are new, really inspiring and creative indie mags coming out every day, it seems.

      The web and technology has brought us so many awesome things, but there are some things screens just can't replace. Reading long-form on paper still trumps the digital experience, especially when we're talking about magazines. It's a medium where photography, typography, white space, different paper stocks, and its overall tangibility all come together to form a core part of a multi-sensory experience.

      I could go on about this, but instead let me quote my proofreader Kieran O'Hare (who is an indie publisher himself):

      We have chosen to do this through print, a medium which some have already declared to be moribund. But we have been inspired by a new wave of independent magazine publishers around the world who work hard to prove that the breath of print can do more than fog a mirror. Print can be the vehicle by which we retake for ourselves the quiet contemplation and pure enjoyment of learning about the world around us.

      We are bombarded and overwhelmed with electronic ‘content’. It is fleeting, fast-moving, and ultimately transient. How calming and pleasant it is to handle a beautiful magazine: media that we choose to welcome into our lives. We can handle it, touch it, feel it, smell it. When the latest website has receded into the digital din, a magazine is always right there where you last put it down…

      2 points
  • Sam MularczykSam Mularczyk, over 4 years ago

    Where's the best place in Melbourne to pick up Offscreen? Haven't read it before but I'm definitely interested!

    Looks great from your site, keep it up - always awesome to see other Australians in this little community.

    1 point
  • Calvin WilsonCalvin Wilson, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Hi Kai! First, I gotta say, your awesome!! Offscreen is by far, one of my favorite publications in print and the quality of the writing and content is so f#@&ing on point! How do you consider who to feature on the cover of each issue?

    1 point
    • , over 4 years ago

      Thanks so much! (Sneaking in a few early answers.)

      That's a good question and one that most people expect a very different answer to.

      The thing is, Offscreen doesn't have a huge budget for photos, so I can't commission a shoot purely for the cover. This means that, once I have received all of the photos, I will select my favourite 2-3 that I think could work on the cover. The challenge is to find something that a) works with the logo and the other (white) type elements and b) makes for a good cover. (Part a has become slightly easier since I introduced a tinted cover with [issue 11](www.offscreenmag.com/issue11/))

      The whole process always a bit tricky and I'm not always 100% happy with the final choice, but beggars can't be choosers considering that everyone involved is working with really tight budgets, plus the folks I interview I super busy and doing a second shoot is often not an option anyway.

      Having said the above, I'm actively trying to get a bit more variety and diversity on the cover. Diversity is already a huge challenge for me (as I've written about on my blog), so I do try hard to feature more women or minority groups on the cover, but it doesn't always work out. At the end of the day, it still has to be a decent photo.

      So yeah, there is not necessarily any more complicated explanation as to who makes it on the cover. It comes down to the quality/suitability of the photo and if I get a chance to break the white-guy-cycle, I do.

      I'm pretty envious of other magazines that have more resources available for photography and cover design. But like with so many other aspects of Offscreen, it's a one-man show and I simply can't get everything perfect all the time. ;)

      2 points
  • Sam GarsonSam Garson, over 4 years ago

    Hey Kai! Absolutely love the magazine, thanks for that.

    I know the visual style of the magazine has developed through the issues, particularly in the most recent one, but a question about your general aesthetic drivers:

    Could you shine some light on how you arrived at your visual language from the concept you started with? And do you find it hard to keep that language consistent—any tips on how you've managed that?

    Cheers!

    1 point
    • Kai Brach, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Thanks Sam! :)

      I'm not entirely sure where the visual style comes from. There are lots of magazines that influenced the original layout, like Monocle, Process Journal, The Travel Almanac, Underscore and other magazines.

      I think it was clear from the beginning that I wanted something fairly minimal that doesn't distract too much. Having more (natural) photos than illustrations, screenshots or infographics seemed like an easy decision, given that the magazine is all about the human side of tech.

      To be honest, I had to first discover and learn how to use typography in print (coming from the web). It's something that you get better at after making your fair share of mistakes.

      Consistency is always a bit of a tricky balancing act: you want issues to stay fairly consistent, but at the same time you don't want to fall into a template-like pattern that makes each issue look identical.

      I wrote this in the latest editor's note:

      This magazine is the longest project I’ve ever worked on. Having now spent more than three years fine-tuning a single product, I have developed a respect for the evolutionary process, whereby change comes in small tweaks rather than sweeping overhauls. Like most creative people, I feel a constant urge to follow trends and inspiration, to start all over with a blank canvas. But over time, I have learned to take joy in making little improvements, many of them only noticeable to the most loyal readers.

      With that in mind, and after much consideration, I’ve made some more substantial refinements in this issue, most obviously to the cover. There is also a new typeface in town, several new smaller features and, if I may say so, some really thoughtful long-form writing. But once you dive in, you’ll hopefully find that all the things you liked about Offscreen in the past remain largely the same.

      Some people say magazines have to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant. This may be true, but I also believe that readers turn to print because they appreciate the medium as a more predictable, less erratic alternative to the ever-changing web. And so creating Offscreen remains a delicate balancing act between keeping things consistent and keeping things interesting — for you and for me.

      1 point
  • Matthew VernonMatthew Vernon, over 4 years ago

    Do you pay interviewees? or are they fine to do them unpaid in return for promotion/press?

    Sorry if this is imposing - you did say 'anything' though ;)

    0 points
    • , over 4 years ago

      No worries! :)

      I don't pay interviewees. I think that would be weird and AFAIK is not general practice (unless you are retired CEO of a bank).

      Most of the pieces in Offscreen are about people telling their own, very personal story, and so they are to an extent self-promotional. It would be weird to pay people to talk about themselves or their companies.

      Besides, I've never been asked for money to interview someone. Have you?

      2 points
  • Zeh Fernandes, over 4 years ago

    Hey Kale, During my college i started a design magazine. Now we are launching our #4 and last edition. We are shut down the project, but i have some doubts how you make offscreen successful project:

    • How many magazines you print per edition?
    • How do you got your sponsorship?
    • How was the reception of the public and how you expanded the offscreen brand?

    Thanks and i love the visual of offscreen.

    0 points