Indiecon. Interview with Malte Brenneisen and Urs Spindler
5 - 6 September 2014
Since doing their master’s theses at the University of Hamburg, Malte Benneisen and Urs Spindler have been busy with the topic of independent magazines. A blog evolved as part of their finals project in which they collected independently published magazines with very different focuses in terms of content. In the meantime, an archive has developed that includes over 100 German-language publications. In September, they are launching a festival for the first time that is dedicated to the area of indie magazines. Indiecon will offer panel discussions, workshops and, of course, lots of exciting presentations. The following people will be involved: Gabriele Fischer (brand eins), Oliver Gehrs (Dummy), Kai Brach (Offscreen), Josephine Götz (Päng! Magazin), Dirk Mönkemöller (The Weekender) and Steven Watson (Stack Magazines). We will be there as well and present form. We spoke with the two event organisers about their work and the upcoming conference.
What fascinates you about indie mags? What made you to continue with the blog that you started as students during your masters work and allow it to grow and grow?
What’s that phrase again? “Only suffering creates passion” - we always find it astounding how much devotion independent magazine makers risk just to make their ideas a reality or to convey their messages. It’s an interesting thing: one magazine maker sits in the communal kitchen all day and phones advertising customers such as BMW or Google, while his flatmates are having sex in the next room - and other magazine makers sell off a few of their editing computers just to finance the next print run. At the end of the day, the result is editorial and creative magazine concepts that sit on the newsstands next to Spiegel or GEO. In terms of our master’s thesis we began by being interested in the “how?”. For audience media there are press databases like Zimpel and Stamm, however, we didn’t find anything that brings together magazines and their makers in Germany. Our directory indiemags.de is an attempt to bring this enormous area together little by little. At the same time, indiemags.de will become a place for exchanging ideas and makers to network with each other. This is why this year we are organising the first Indiecon - a festival for independent magazines in Hamburg.
How far apart are the concepts and structural backgrounds of the individual magazines from one another? Is their independence the only thing they have in common?
Indie mags could not be more different. They are sometimes round or triangular, look like a newspaper or an artistic letterpress. They are sold in skate shops, museums and churches, are issued in large numbers or as limited hand produced copies. They cost 20 euros or nothing, and have articles about art, hooligans or architecture. In our master’s thesis we differentiated between three organisational forms: titles with a high level of organisation (GmbH, UG, KG, AG or mixed status such as GmbH & Co KG; management board, regulations and capital contribution; commercial register entry, obligation to produce accounting and balance sheets), titles with a low level of organisation (GbR, business registration sufficient; founders bearing full company risk; private liability) and non-commercial titles (associations or non-profit enterprises). Much can be read into this, whether it is a question of bringing a specific issue to the public eye or if a magazine is produced as a hobby or just alongside something else or if it is intended to earn money.
How do you define this independence? When is a magazine an indie mag in your eyes?
We are more likely to define what indie mags are not. In our view, they are not associated with a party, church or public corporation. Indie mags are also not part of corporate publishing. They are not published by a company that sells goods or services other than the magazine. Indie mags appeal to a larger public, can generally be bought and understood by any interested party. Trade press and members’ magazines do not belong in this group either. Furthermore, indie mags as far as we are concerned are not associated with a large publishing house. Naturally, publishing houses also have fantastic magazines. But we believe that there is a difference if a magazine maker has the maximum creative space to make its own financial and editorial decisions. Or in short, the bosses are also the makers.
Has the attribute “independent” become a type of seal of quality or distinction?
Phew, it’s not our job to assess that. There is scarcely an independent magazine that is truly independent. Some must make their advertising customers happy, others are dependent on reasonable journalists, graphic artists and illustrators to deliver the content. On the other hand, some would disappear into the background without a creative lead or the printing machine in the cellar. When we speak of “indie”, we primarily mean a space for opportunity. Indie mags are independent of direct intervention in the working process. They are free of institutional or ideological barriers, independent of strict hierarchies and do not necessarily strive for profits.
What have you been able to see since establishing your blog? How have independent magazines changed (in terms of content and design) in German-speaking countries, how the scene?
The blog is only 18 months old - and to work out its development we would have to examine the independent magazine market more precisely over a much longer period. Our research for our master’s thesis showed that indie mags are not necessarily a new thing. The attribute of independence has developed into more of a buzzword for the makers of indie mags to distinguish themselves from established mainstream magazine publications. So the variety of titles seems to be less of a short-lived trend or part of a current wave of establishing new magazines but rather more of a long-term phenomenon. The sector does not only include the popular new titles from large publishing drop-outs – such as Niklaus Förster’s Impulse or Katarzyna Mol-Wolf’s Hohe Luft. According to press research, the trend for independence harks back to the period of establishing the alternative press in the 1970s and 1980s, if not to the first flyers and newspapers in the 16th century. The oldest magazine that we recorded in our investigation (Das Magazin) appeared for the first time in 1924.
What inspired you to organise a conference?
We wanted to submit a master’s thesis in 2013 that would not sit at the back of a dusty drawer but would make a contribution. So, alongside our research we created the indiemags.de directory and gradually uploaded information. In no time at all, we received the first emails from magazine makers who wanted to be included with title page and information. To date, nothing has changed. We have every title sent to us, check it according to our criteria and then upload it. We are in close contact with many of the magazine makers who now number over 200. Similar questions come up over and over again concerning sales, distribution, financing but also about the makers behind specific titles. Therefore we wanted to network in real time by setting up Indiecon - a festival for independent magazines. We are inviting 150 national and international magazine makers to Hamburg to look at the main question “What is indie?” in panel discussions, presentations and workshops. We have already published the names of the first speakers and their answers on our website.
What hopes do you have of the conference?
By networking with experts we would like to understand more clearly what is behind the indie term. The spectrum will be very large, from the backroom printworks to the mass product. We believe that the exchange can be very fruitful. Perhaps a journal and a writer or photographer will find each other. Perhaps a maker has a solution for a problem over which another editorial department has been brooding for an eternity. We would like to bring the makers from behind their desks and get them together. To do this, we need the right atmosphere with fragrant paper and a good environment. We are expecting to have a wonderful atmosphere – because most indie makers are interested in transparency and community – not competition. And from our point of view, this is also the basis from which remarkable new indie mags will evolve in the future. And another thought about transparency and community: we are organising the festival pro bono and alongside the day job. Whatever participants pay will flow directly into the event. Without the voluntary support from our friends and partners of Die Brueder nothing would happen – nor without sponsors like Hoffmann & Campe, AZ Druck and Adobe Typekit. Thank you very much!
The Indiecon Festival for independent magazines will take place from 5 – 6 September 2014 in the Heinrich-Heine-Villa, Hamburg. Tickets for supporters cost 150 euros, for regular participants 99 euros, and 75 euros for students.