Who needs Twitter when you’ve got a network of shops around the world? Our retail outlets are proving to be better forums for debate than any social network – a case in point is the great response we’ve received to our newspaper edition, says Tyler Brûlé.
It turned out to be a busier summer than initially forecast at Monocle HQ – and our outposts around the world. The launch of our Monocle Mediterraneo newspaper at the start of August gave us a taste for working with a larger format, tighter deadlines and a whole new distribution model (not to mention a great party on the streets of the Mar Mikhael district of Beirut at the shop Papercup).
Our editor Liv Lewitschnik finally found an apartment in Hong Kong and threw open the doors to our shop-cum-bureau in Wanchai; we had a visit from Stockholm-based architect Andreas Martin-Löf to help us plot our office expansion here in London; and we started work on our new retail outlet in New York’s West Village (our shop at 535 Hudson Street is set to open on 30 August). Thankfully, we were blessed with one of the best summers in recent memory, the addition of a cosy oak bench outside our front door quickly turned into a sun-trap for topping up fading tans, and warm evenings offered enough opportunities for pulling out the rosé.
As we set to work on our October issue and prepare for a new season of the Monocle Weekly, we’ve also decided to stick with newspaper publishing and we’ll be producing another edition for release in the run-up to the Christmas season (more on this in the issues to come). So successful was the adventure in newsprint that it sparked a host of discussions on the editorial and commercial floors. Should monocle go weekly? Should we stay with the big format permanently? Should we buy a newspaper press? For the moment we’ve parked some of these ideas but we’re excited that we kicked off 2010 with a plan to deliver 10 issues to newsstands and will end up rounding out December by delivering 12.
We’re often asked what the benefit is of having our own stores and whether this is an odd deviation from our core business of producing stories for print and digital distribution. Aside from the fact that the stores are great billboards for the Monocle brand, make money and allow us to express and market our brand on our own terms, they’re also a proper and lively forum (even lab) to meet our readers and listeners.
On the weekend that Monocle Mediterraneo hit our shelves I was in our London shop and watched how people reacted to the newspaper. Without fail every customer instantly picked up a copy and those who didn’t immediately purchase one felt compelled to open it up and smell the fine newsprint and remark about the quality of the paper. The ones who were particularly keen on the whole sensory nature of the newspaper explained that they were going to buy two copies: one to get dirty with on the beach (ahem!) and the other to keep on the shelf with their collection of other editions. Our shops also allow us to get direct feedback and offer more spontaneous responses than readers might otherwise receive if they dropped an editor a note. That same Saturday afternoon also saw an animated discussion about why London doesn’t rank in our Quality of Life survey (see issue 35) and ditto New York; a concerned customer asking why Robert Bound and I always give editor Andrew Tuck such a hard time on the Monocle Weekly; and a couple from the north of England asking about our newsgathering process. I think the shops are one of the reasons why so few people ask us about our social networking ambitions as the bricks and mortar format is a much more interesting forum for chatting, debate and commerce.
That said, our digital team might well have the busiest autumn of all as they’ve been working in various locations on a new version of our website. Launched in late 2006 (before there was even a print edition), monocle.com has become a hub for followers of our daily Monocolumn, fans of new product launches, listeners of the Weekly and viewers of our growing library of films. While I can promise there won’t be a call for our editors to suddenly burst on the scene offering comments on Twitter (see Robert Bound’s story on this topic on page 93), you will see us developing more programmes (both video and audio) to expand our reach and the way we report. The Mach 3 version of monocle.com will also see more services, sharper navigation and a new design. In the coming weeks we’ll be inviting some of you to give it a test drive.
As we approach the end of Q3 it’s wheels-up time for most of us as we head out to scout for new bureau space, interview new correspondents, plan a Monocle Summit and host a party or two in São Paulo and Washington. You can always find me at email@example.com and my chief navigator Alexander Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.