Launched in 2010 in London, with the mission to inspire creativity and share happiness, Oh Comely is a little gem filled with sleek photography and insightful articles.
The magazine has quickly built a loyal readership and set a high standard for any future publisher. Liz Bennett, co-founder and publisher talks about happiness, real life treasure hunting and what it takes to thrive in the independent magazine market.
Liz can you walk us through the launch of Oh Comely first issue ?
I launched Oh Comely straight out of University with Tes me co-founder. We didn’t really have any industry experience at the time. We had a general idea on how to put a magazine together, but things like distribution, selling advertising and dealing with printers were all new to us. It was a really steep learning curve but I think we managed it pretty well.
How did you fund the first issues and what is your actual business model?
We started with a small startup loan and that paid for the printing of the first couple of issues. Right now the biggest part of our revenue comes from subscriptions and from some agency work we do under the company name Adeline Media. The magazine acts as a flagship for that work. Advertising is also an important part of our revenue but not as much as the subscriptions. At the moment we have around 3000 subscribers and we print around 20.000 copies.
How many of you work on the magazine today ?
There are three of us full-time. We do the magazine but also the agency work. There are also three people part-time. We also work with many freelancers and a few contributing editors.
Many independent magazine struggle to find a sustainable stream of revenue. You’ve been going strong for five years now what is your secret sauce for success ?
There are as many business models as there are magazines. Especially these days. When we launched we were dependent on having a newsstand presence whereas now you can launch a magazine that you can base purely on your blog or website. You can also do what Stylist has done in London very well, being distributed for free and exclusively based on advertising. There are so many ways of doing a magazine today that I think there is not one right way. It’s all specific to who your audience is, where you are planning to sell it and if you are actually planning to sell it. Starting a magazine today is not the same as five years ago since the industry has changed and is constantly changing.
In what ways is today’s magazine market different from five years ago?
I think there have been some incredible launches. I think of titles like The Gentlewoman, it’s an amazing magazine. There are also different independent magazines that have brought a breath of fresh air to the industry, I think about Lucky Peach, Frankie that was a real inspiration for us, or the zine Oomk which is a really funny and witty zine based in London aimed at Muslim women. All of them are doing some really interesting things and bringing some innovative ideas. Another really interesting title is Flow magazine based in Holland, the amount of amazing things inside each issue makes it each time really exciting to open. I also love the way you get immersed in Dumbo Feathers interviews. There are so many interesting titles these days that were not existing five years ago.
What is your answer to those who say that print is dead?
I get quite tired of the “Print is dead” story. I think it’s a false dichotomy between print and online. I don’t think they are in opposition to each other. I believe the way forward is to see them as working together. Your online presence is leveraging your offline and vice versa.
I also think that a magazine like Oh Comely enables people to switch off and there is a real hunger for that in the market at the moment. People are using screens all day and they want a moment where they are not looking at a screen or getting distracted and print enable them to unwind and switch off. It’s certain that in certain areas online has been a really big problem for print but I think that’s often for titles that are really informative.
What is the philosophy behind Oh Comely editorial line?
When we decided to launch Oh Comely we really wanted to do magazine that would be a breath of fresh. Five years ago, when we started, the women’s magazine market was very homogenous, there was a lot of pink and a profusion of very shouty cover lines. Our idea was to go to the other extreme, so our first covers were largely white with just a small image in the middle. We now have changed the art direction of the covers but back then we were kind of rebelling against what was in the news stands. The main reason behind Oh Comely was to create a peaceful and safe experience. I believe that when you read Oh Comely you can relax and unwind, and you can be sure to find something homely, interesting and honest. I get emails from readers telling me how Oh Comely inspires them to be creative and how it makes them smile when they are having a bad day. That kind of messages are really heart warming and the main reason we made the magazine. We wanted to make something that would make our readers happy and I hope that’s what we are doing.
You talked about how you were rebelling against the homogenous choice of women’s magazine, do you feel that Oh Comely is feminist?
I would say that it’s feminist. We always strive to have an open and inclusive portrayal of women and it’s important for us that we have women of different ages, cultures and background as readers. I think that’s a really important part of the vision of the magazine. A fair and honest portrayal of womanhood is a really important part of our ethos. That said, we are not a political magazine. I think our feminism is quite implicit, we don’t tend to have pieces of feminist arguments in the magazine but I think that it doesn’t detract from the fact that feminism is an important part of our DNA.
What is the process behind each issue, how do you come up with articles ideas ?
These days we have themes which make it really fun to brainstorm and come up with ideas. We have a really eclectic team and everyone brings their own interest and strengths to the title. We are also often being pitched by our contributors so it’s a real mixture of ideas and there is no real precise process. One thing we sometimes do, that I think is different from what other publications do, is that we have open brainstorm meetings where we invite contributors to come brainstorm and throw ideas around. I think that a lot of time when contributors pitch ideas to a publication they don’t have the full experience of what happens behind the publication so when they come brainstorm with us it’s a really a good way for them to be immersed in the process that’s behind making a magazine.
What was for you the most interesting subject you published ?
I’m thinking about our most current issue because it’s the most fresh in my mind. We have a really great interview with filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour who has just finished a movie that she describes as the first American Iranian Vampire Western. She is a really lovely interview subject and in the magazine she has a really nice conversation about vampires and some really interesting reflections on film genre. I was really proud of the interview and to have her in the magazine. In this issue we are also running a real-world treasure hunt. I’m really looking forward to see how people will respond to it. We have hidden matchboxes in cities around the country and people can use the clues in the magazine to find them. I’m excited to see how it goes, it’s a risk project as I have no idea if people will actually take part but I really want to see what happens.
What would your advice to somebody wanting to start a print magazine today?
I think I will make sure that it’s a really for someone. Even if that someone if quite broad in your mind I think you needs to have a community that actually want the content that you are producing. Once you know who the magazine is for and how they are going to experience the content then you start thinking how to reach them.
When you started who did you imagine your readers would be?
I think it was women in their 20s and 30s who were frustrated with options on the newsstand. But what I really like, is that we now know that our reach is broader than that, we have younger and older readers and we have men who read the magazine even though it’s in the women’s magazines section. It’s mainly people who want some creativity and calm in their life whether or not they are in creative professions.
With so much going on online and in newsstands how can one stand out ?
I think you have to offer something unique or you have to be better than anyone else. Online the challenges are very different, consistency is very important. Let’s say you have a website and people know you are going to produce a really cute cat photo a day and they know they can rely on that, then you can be sure that they will come back to your site again.
If you are a print magazine it’s quite different. I think it’s more important to have really amazing content. Obviously consistency is still important but I would rather have outstanding content that consistent mediocre content in print. The kind of content that people remember and talk about it to their friends is what you should achieve for.
What are Oh Comely future plans?
We are actually at a really interesting time because we are planning to bring out a subscription box alongside the magazine. It will be a package of treats and beautiful things to keep that are an extension of the magazine. It will be really nicely connected and they will both support and inform each other. That’s coming out in May and I’m really excited about it. I think it will be a really fun extension of the curiosity and fun you can find in the magazine.