Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: The International Magazine Centre with Nikki Simpson

By Linda Ruth (Cross Posted at BoSacks.com

The first time I zoomed with Nikki Simpson, I knew that our little group—Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, and I—had to have her as a guest at our Pandemic Roundtable. She’s got a great eventcoming up, and our Roundtable members will be there for it. And joining the Centre is the easiest thing in the world, all publishing people are welcome.

Nikki isn’t someone who sees obstacles. She sees only opportunity. So, when she noticed that publishers starting international offices in the UK were doing so, as a rule, in London, she saw an opportunity to welcome them to Scotland. What could be easier? Get a building where publishers can have space, office infrastructure, freelancers, and the support and inspiration of other publishers. In the meantime, while you’re working on that, there’s plenty of good you can bring the publishing community—training courses and events, ideas and introductions. 

Gemma: Is your Centre based in Edinburgh?

Nikki: It will be. We want to be somewhere it will feel natural to go to a coffee with a publisher. Now, while we’re saving money to open our doors, we’re doing as much digitally as possible. We’re currently working on an online training course, which will be free to our members.

Joe: This is a new and exciting concept.

Nikki: Yes, there are trade organizations, but they take a different angle. We in the publishing industry tend to be magazine geeks. We spend a lot of time talking to each other, but not enough, I think, talking to the people who read our magazines. We’re doing that. And we focus on the small publishers, something the few remaining organizations cannot afford to do to the same extent, given their business models.

The proposed exhibition space for the International Magazine Centre.

Bo: Till now there hasn’t been a real mechanism for the little ones. We as an industry need the small publishers, and they need support. I’ve spoken for years about the need to incubate young publishers.

Nikki: That’s part of what we’ll be doing. Sometimes it seems as if the industry is netting down to the top three publishers, but there are still a lot of very creative ideas, still a lot of up-and-comers.

Bo: When companies like Future buy out everyone else, it creates a vacuum that provides openings for new businesses.

Nikki: There’s still too much focus on audited circulation, because the big publishers generally use it, and, since the big ones newsstand-based, the message the advertisers get from these publishers is that the business is dying. This message trickles down to the advertising base of the little ones. So, every time the audit numbers come out, the advertisers lose interest in advertising, and the smaller advertisers who go to the smaller magazines also lose interest. It makes small publishers feel like imposters. You hear them saying, “Well, I’m not really a publisher, I’m not audited, I don’t go to conferences, I’m just someone putting out a magazine.” 

Bo: It’s a shame, because there’s a lot that can be learned at conferences.

Nikki: Not if most of the presentations are about things that don’t work on a small scale. As an alternative, we’re offering peer-to-peer support. We have a great mentoring scheme. We’re finding it’s making a difference; it’s changing the way people do business and making them more successful. 

Gemma: I started alone and built to four magazines. This roundtable has been a great resource. What you offer would be amazing.

Joe: So often when I work with small publishers, everything they do is self-taught. 

From Upper Left: Nikki Simpson (International Magazine Centre), Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, Linda Ruth and Sherin Pierce.

Nikki: For me diversity is also really important. In the UK the industry is predominantly white and middle class. It’s only two percent black, for instance, which is ridiculous. As a business we pride ourselves on being easy access. But if you don’t know people, and maybe they all know each other, you don’t feel welcome. It’s another reason for the training course. You can watch it for free and pay a small fee to sit the exam. 

Sherin: Out of necessity, we small publishers must innovate. People who work for a smaller company get to do so many different things, it’s a great opportunity to learn. We can pivot. It’s nice to fly under the radar. It’s where innovation takes place. It’s more fun. We don’t praise ourselves enough, so you don’t hear so much about us. The press goes to the easiest thing. They don’t dig deep enough. 

Joe: I’ve got some robust publishers whose stories don’t get told because they aren’t audited, not counted. 

Nikki: Yes, for example in Scotland I discovered a publisher with 2 million pounds turnover, 20 people staff, and I’d never heard of them because they were digital and b2b. The scene is so much bigger than we imagine.

Sherin: All boats have to rise, and if small and independent publishers do well, we’ll have a much better industry. We’re always happy to share information with new publishers, and in the process, we might learn something too.

Nikki: That’s what I tell my mentoring people. They might know more, have more experience, but they can learn as well. We have a series of Hive events, in which one person will present a problem and then turn off their camera and mic and listen in while the others discuss. We mix the groups up, students with professionals, new publishers with more experienced ones, so that everyone gets a fresh perspective, a unique angle. 

Bo: What kind of problems do publishers bring to the Hive?

Nikki: It’s a real mix. Some people aren’t actually publishers but in adjacent businesses. They might ask questions like, “I’ve lost my Mojo over lockdown, what can I do?” or “How can I better connect with my audience?” Things like that.

Sherin: We’ll come to the Hive.

Gemma: What is your membership model?

Nikki: We’re funded through Patreon. I have about 53 patrons, most from the UK but also from the US, Spain, New Zealand, Italy. It’s nice to know people like what I’m doing enough that they want to support this effort. 

Bo: I did my newsletter for over 10 years without making a dime. Keep plugging away and you’ll be surprised what might happen.

https://www.patreon.com/InternationalMagazineCentre