Our editor in chief reflects on the past 10 years and shares a snippet of what’s to come.
Two months before we wrapped for the Christmas holidays a special mission was launched involving this chairman, creative director Richard Spencer Powell, editor Andrew Tuck and our bunker in Zürich. To set the tone we started with a round of drinks at Kronenhalle, a hearty dinner of schnitzel and gulasch and more drinks.
The following morning we walked to our tiny Swiss outpost, stopping to admire seasonal shopfronts, well-designed promotional posters, flashes of good typography and vintage logos. After 20 minutes we reached our office and laid the framework for the day ahead. The last time we’d held such a meeting was 10 years earlier when we were all a bit more fresh of face, the world was a little less digital and there was still a functioning retail news trade – more on the latter in a moment.
Armed with notebooks, blank flat-plans, back issues and a pile of the titles that both inspire us and keep us on our toes, we went about taking a critical look at the magazine that we’ve been producing for the past 10 years. We also considered what was required to vault it to the next level and position our enterprise for the next 10 years. Should we leave the cover as it is? Were there sections that needed a light makeover or a complete overhaul? Did we feel that the paper stocks still worked? And what about the type size? With a readership that’s been ageing with us gracefully, should we look at point size and spacing?
Before long, pencils were flying over the page, sections being heavily interrogated and erasers taken to established formats. “How far do we want to go with this?” said Richard. “Are we 30 per cent or whatever feels right?” We pondered this for a few moments and agreed that we should take the issue as far as it needed to go. “We should remember that when we launched we were primarily a print magazine,” added Andrew. “And a decade on there’s a whole new generation of readers out there who haven’t been part of the journey.”
When I first shared the idea for Project Europa (the original code name for Monocle) with Andrew on a jetty in the Stockholm archipelago in 2004, much of the design that you’re familiar with was in place: the black frame, the font, the matte paper and the approach to photography. Project Europa was going to be global, liberal, curious and book-ish, and serve stories from corners and sectors that were less covered or even forgotten. I explained that it was going to be a single edition for the whole world: no diluted version for Southeast Asia or a reworked edition pandering to the Americas. The belief then, as today, was that there was an international audience who wanted a magazine that told a global story and that it should appeal to readers in Hamburg, Nagoya, Beirut, Seattle and Montréal in equal measure.
Most importantly, Project Europa would be independent and wouldn’t be swayed by investors who pretended that they had the answers about the future of media. Andrew went back to his job at The Independent for two years and checked in periodically to see if I’d raised the funds. Richard set about refining the concept and we’d see how our project was evolving every few weeks. I spent much of 2005, 2006 and early 2007 talking to possible investors and advertisers. In October 2007 we were ready to go: Andrew resigned from his post at the Sunday paper, our production director Jacqueline Deacon placed orders for tonnes of paper and positions were secured on newsstands.
If you’ve been with us from the start you’ll know that we’ve evolved cautiously on page. We’ve held our ground, gently pushed our photography and introduced and deleted sections along the way. As we’ve expanded our retail offer (we now have seven shops), built a 24-hour radio station and published more than 20 books, one thing has not changed: our belief in the importance of paper and that the magazine is the core of our activities.
As a result, this 100th issue marks a turning point for us as we set up redesigning, sharpening and expanding our editorial remit. Without giving too much away from the Zürich summit, I can promise longer reads, a new opening section, more media coverage, an expanded food-and-drink offer, more fashion, some new paper to snap between your fingertips and a host of new regular beats in our Affairs pages.
A decade ago we were a team of 19 based alongside Marylebone Station; today we number well over 100 full-time staff in nine outposts around the world and we’re still growing. Thanks to you, dear reader, we’re able to question worn-out narratives about contemporary media and deliver an independent, quality journal that challenges and pays its own way. As the retail-news trade continues to wither (too many poorly informed boards believe that people don’t want to read magazines so they kill off outlets where our industry should be thriving) we continue to fight for spaces in airports, train stations and neighbourhoods where you find great periodicals.
While we wage this battle I encourage you to join our club by subscribing. You can do it simply online, call us if you feel like a chat or even get your 101st issue signed by the founding team. A big, big thanks for the past 10 years and cheers to the next lap. All the best for 2017.
For more from our editor in chief, read his column in the ‘FT Weekend’