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The Blog from Oi Polloi presents: by Sam Waller •

Rare Mags is a new shop that, as the name suggests, sells rare and hard-to-find magazines from right around the globe.

Based on the cobbled streets of Stockport, this place stocks everything from world-renowned design titles to highly-limited fanzines printed on newsagent photocopiers.

I talked with founders Martin and Holly to find out more…

First things first, why did you decide to start a magazine shop?

Martin: I suppose it maybe seems more obvious to be a book shop that sells magazines, but I wanted to keep it more specific. Magazines are something I’ve been involved in with previous jobs for a long time now, and we’re both pretty mad about them, so in some way, it made sense.

Holly: We set it up because we love magazines, and we want other people to love them. Martin’s been going on about owning his own business for eight or nine years now. Every single time we go away on holiday, we’ll be sat in some little bar eating tapas or something, and Martin would say “You could open up this kind of thing in Manchester, it’d be amazing.”

A few years back people seemed to think magazines were dying out, what’s the situation like for them now?

Martin: There’s always been specialist magazines out there, but for a long time magazines tried to cover all bases in one publication. But now it’s going back much more to specifics and niches, with very refined subject areas.

Whereas before you’d have a design magazine which would cover absolutely every single aspect of design and lifestyle architecture and illustration, now it’s much more split down. There are so many new magazines out there now. On average we’ll contact maybe ten new magazines a day.

Holly: They’re a niche within a niche. When you open up a magazine, you read an article and it’s a part of life that you didn’t know existed.

I suppose these new, slightly more grass-roots magazines are a fair bit more personal than more traditional, old fashioned publications too — they’re not just churned out by a big publishing houses.

Martin: Exactly. It used to be that there would be twenty magazines coming out of one publishing house. But now it’s much more independent.

Holly: There’s a connection. You read an article about a piece of architecture in The Modernist, and then you can go and see that piece of architecture, and you can make your own decision and maybe even contact Eddy to say what you thought about it.

And then you’ve got zines that anyone can just make. It’s really exciting.

“They’re not transitory or throwaway — they’re desirable objects.”

Do you think as it becomes easier to make magazines now, there’s a risk of stuff getting watered down a bit?

Martin: When there’s a small press publication for almost every citizen in Greater Manchester, it’s hard to find enough readers. You’ve got to think about who is going to read this stuff — it can’t just be a vanity project. It does speak of how democratic it is, to be able to make things, but yeah, you’ve got to be mindful that as the quantity of these things increases, there’s still an outlet for them.

Maybe our job is to make an edit, so it’s not overwhelming.

Holly: It’s to refine it, to say, “Look at this.”

Yeah, shops and stuff help to give people an idea of which ones are worth buying. What with the internet and faster communication, it seems like the ‘job’ of the magazine has changed a bit over the last ten years. Not really sure what my question is, but do you have any thoughts on this?

Martin: I remember how I used to always try and get onto the letters pages in magazines. And then there was all the news and listings, but now that stuff is on the internet. I suppose that could be seen as a shortcoming of magazines, but really, it sets them free. They’re not transitory or throwaway — they’re desirable objects.

Opening a shop selling printed magazines is maybe seen to some people as old fashioned in the days of virtual living. Do you think there’s been a resurgence of this real life activity?

Holly: Up until a few years ago, everyone was still so enthusiastic about buying everything from the internet. But it’s now about creating a pleasant place to go, a nice place to hang out.

A prime example is tonight the plant shop up the road is open late and they’re having beers. And then you’ll go to the cake shop over the road, and you can chat about how they made cakes for a member of The Misfits. This is what you want. This discussion and conversation is something you cannot get on the internet.

I think maybe five or ten years ago, there was still this wave of people thinking, “Amazon sells everything, why would I go anywhere else?”

Bit of a basic question, but what do you think makes a good magazine?

Holly: A cracking front cover. It’s the first thing you see. It’s what brings you in.

Literally judging a book by its cover?

Martin: I used to notice that a lot of the fashion magazines would all end up looking really similar each season. You’d get all the new ones delivered, and they’d have all gone for the same colour palette and style of model on the cover. But the further down you come into these independent publications, there’s this wider variety of individual styles. They’ve got fewer people to answer to.

Do you still read magazines cover to cover?

Martin: I definitely used to. I remember I’d read every single word, probably even the contributors list and everything. I don’t know if there’s attention span thing now where it’s harder to do that, but now, I just dip in and out.

You’ve mentioned the niche aspect of things a few times. Do you think people are more accepting of niche interests and obsessions these days? Everyone’s got a collection of obscure records these days.

Martin: Yeah, it’s not seen as this nerdy thing like collecting stamps, I think people are much more accepting these days. There are definite parallels with things like record collecting and film photography. When these things that have almost died out come back, they come back in a limited way, but a strong way. The people who are into it are really into it.

And the smaller industries that grow around these things, like the darkrooms or record shops — they’re there because it really wants to be there.

There’s a thousand better ways to make money.

Holly: It’s like that stupid thing that Have I Got News for You used to do, Magazine of the Week. They’d talk about Trout Today or something like that, and it was funny, but I’d think, “I bet that’s actually really good.”

Martin: Someone got in touch with us yesterday asking if we sold any tunnelling magazines. I thought they were maybe after something to do with potholing or something, but they wanted an industry led magazine about actually making tunnels.

There’s real magazine obsessives out there. Why do you think these things attract that kind of interest?

Martin: Maybe it comes down to that completist thing. Because a magazine comes out issue by issue, there’s something about that numbered aspect. And then especially when a magazine stops, like with Inventory, it’s attainable as there’s a finite number.

Holly: With magazines, a hell of a lot of people are into them. Approach a random subsection of people, and everybody will say about how they used to buy this magazine or read that magazine when they were younger. I always got The Beano, and my brother got The Dandy, and I always took the piss out of him because I obviously got the better deal. Everyone has something like that they can remember. 

I think also, magazines don’t have that much information in them, and that’s what’s brilliant about them. If you go online, you can be reading content for the next thousand years, but if you pick up a magazine, you will finish it at some point.

Martin: It’s an edit, it’s narrowing something down to what the publishers want you to read about.

Maybe a bit of a naff question, but what are your favourite magazines?

Martin: Apartmento is definitely in there. It’s been consistently great, they’ve kept a really good mix of almost historical figures in the creative world – and then there’d be something about a young artist from Barcelona who lives in a half knocked down warehouse. It’s stayed consistent, whilst striving to be new.

Everyone could probably think of enough ideas for one magazine, but keeping them going is the hard thing. A lot of stuff just lasts three issues.

Martin: Sustaining it is the hard part. If something can get past three issues, then they’re probably going to last for a while.

I always got The Beano, and my brother got The Dandy, and I always took the piss out of him because I obviously got the better deal. Everyone has something like that they can remember. 

On a slightly different note, recently I saw a magazine that Nando’s had made, trying to tap into youth culture. What are your thoughts big brands getting fancy marketing companies to make a magazine to try and earn cool points?

Martin: I saw the Nando’s one. A load of people were clearly just sat around a table, thinking they needed to get into this grass roots thing. It weird, it’s an imitation of the real thing — pure aesthetics and marketing.

I love seeing what people are producing, regardless – but it’s strange.

I didn’t even have anything about chicken or food in there. I wouldn’t mind reading about how they make perinaise sauce. What next for you lot?

Martin: We’ve got quite a few events and exhibitions lined up. We want that to be a big part of what we do – not just as a way to get people in the shop, but as a way to support the people who need a space to show stuff.

Any words of wisdom to end this with?

Martin: I don’t know, I’m not very good at wisdom. Even if this runs the risk of sounding a bit earnest, I just hope this is a nice place for people to drop in and say hello. 

Holly: Yeah, come to our shop, it’s great.

Find out more about Rare Mags here.

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