Jeremy Leslie, Founder of magCulture
Jeremy Leslie is mad about mags, and his devotion to magazines has come to dominate his life over the last 16 years, in the shape of magCulture.
magCulture started in 2006 as a blog that Jeremy used as an outlet for his enthusiasm for the magazine scene. Since then, it has expanded to become an online journal, an actual shop in Clerkenwell, packed with examples of independent magazine culture and where in-store events take place, a studio, and an annual conference, magCulture Live, which takes place in London and New York.
Before all this, Jeremy had substantial experience in putting together magazines himself. After studying at the London College of Printing (now London College of Communication), he began working as a designer and art director for Time Out and culture magazine Blitz. He moved to John Brown Media, where he became Creative Director, working on magazines for clients including Virgin Atlantic, BSkyB and Waitrose.
Now, aside from magCulture, Jeremy is consultant Creative Director at independent publisher Maison Moderne in Luxembourg, a member of D&AD and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), and was given the Mark Boxer Award by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2018 for his contribution to the magazine industry.
He agreed to take a little time to talk to us about his life in magazines and what he believes the future holds for the form.
Were you interested in design from an early age?
As a kid I was obsessed with Lego, always building, and used to create birthday cards for family… the usual thing, I guess?
I remember collecting football cards, and being aware of logos and designs without having the language to express anything.
A key reference was visiting the (then) new National Theatre in 1977 and being bought a poster designed by British artist Tom Phillips—it marked the new theatre with the phrase, ‘The New National Theatre is Yours’.
Then there were record sleeves of all sorts, but Barney Bubbles’ for Stiff Records made a deep impression. I used to hang around the Stiff offices blagging posters and pins.
What was the first magazine you can remember picking up?
The first ever would have been kids TV mag Look-In, mainly for the cut-out and fold-together TV studio that came with it. My dad worked at the BBC and the school holiday visit to TV Centre was a regular event.
Was there a particular magazine that kicked off your interest with the form?
I was really into music, it was punk times, and music led me to the New Musical Express; I bought it every Thursday to catch up with new releases, read interviews, check the gig listings. But it wasn’t a great piece of design or production, aside from the occasional special issue. It was all about the content.
Neville Brody’s designs for The Face were different: here was a new form of content that I need to read, and that had been DESIGNED!
Have you ever published your own magazine?
Yes – a postpunk music zine grew from my NME obsession, although design was a low priority, and more recently I co-published design mag Fiera with Katie Tregidden. I’ve launched plenty of mags for clients, and have ideas for new things but no time to produce them at present.
Are there definite rules for what makes a good magazine?
There are many detailed rules for editorial and layout, but the core of any good magazine is the way text, image and design play off each other. I love how two different magazines can address the same story in completely different ways.
This, simply, is what graphic design is.
Is there still a place for printed magazines in today’s digital culture?
Absolutely. The new generation of magazines offer a vital alternative experience to the speed and flow of digital: they provide a calm, slow respite from our screens, yet wouldn’t exist without digital. All rely on the web to promote and sell globally.
Are there any clear growth areas in magazine publishing?
The indie scene continues to boom, the pandemic has powered publishers and encouraged readers.
And many news magazines are more successful than ever: The Economist, Private Eye et al… perhaps not surprising as they’re the perfect antidote to the online conspiracies.
People talk about engagement, how online reaches so many people. But if you want those people to spend more than a few minutes engaging with your content, you need to produce it in print. Think quality and loyalty, not quantity and promiscuousness.
Do you have any favourite magazines at the moment?
Always! At one extreme I still love The New Yorker for its front cover art and the quality of its writing, its traditions, while at the other end of the scale I love Civilization for its Dadaist attack on those same traditions.
Did you ever expect magCulture to develop into what it is today?
Not at all. I’d love to claim magCulture’s development has followed a carefully orchestrated strategy, but the reality is that it has grown organically step by step and sometimes stumbled.
We combine a central ethos – a reminder that print is very much alive – with a willingness to try the new. The two big things that powered us were a/ launching a WordPress blog in 2006 and b/ opening the Clerkenwell Shop in 2015. Having a public space to share our vision is extraordinarily empowering; we can hold events, record podcasts…
Not everything works, but we keep moving, and have developed a loyal audience and feel a central part of a global community.
What are the criteria for choosing the publications you stock in the shop?
The magazines have to be special in at least one way: concept, content, design, or production. Our favourites encompass all these things.
We do turn down magazines, that’s an important defining part of all that we do. We choose carefully what we write about on the online Journal and stock in the Shop.
What does the future hold for magCulture?
The immediate future means returning to our pre-pandemic programme of events and projects. We’re almost there, we’ve held our conference in London and New York IRL, so things feel better! Next up– shop events.
We’re also about to launch The magCulture Club, a member scheme for our customers, readers and listeners. That’s been in planning for years!
Beyond that we just want to continue to remind people that print never died. We’ll keep trying things…