A magazine’s life

| 12 June , 2009 | Reply

I recently chatted with Sahil Merchant, Chief Magazineologist from Mag Nation, about Mag Nation and our love of all things glossy; his family are determined to achieve Global Magazine domination!


To me the concept of Mag Nation is a glossy world where I imagine escaping to curled up on a sofa with big puffy cushions armed with an abundance of coffee, cupcakes and glossies to flick through to keep me company.  My world would stand still as I inhaled the glossiness of the world indoors as the world outside continued on its day, none the wiser!

So, how did the Mag Nation come about?  How did guys come up with the concept of creating Mag Nation when it\’s such a girlie concept?

Mag Nation came about as a result of a family conversation over a few glasses of wine. People don\’t realise this, but we are a small family company. My uncle and aunt in NZ were operating a small magazine store (sort of like a newsagent) and we got talking about how passionate people were about their magazines, and how the existing retail landscape did nothing for magazines. It was all just so boring, and we thought we could fix this.

As for being a girly concept, I don\’t quite see it this way. I think we engage people who are passionate about their fave magazines. It doesn\’t just have to be glossy or fashion related, but could be about cars, sport or even death (yes – we stock something called “The Death Mook”). Last time I checked, both men and women tend to die in equal proportions.

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What did you do before Mag Nation?

Prior to starting mag nation, I was a girl. That\’s about as believable as the truth….

I have a law/commerce degree and worked as a management consultant at a company called McKinsey & Company. My uncle is a Pathologist – as in a medical specialist. Just the background you would expect from two guys who founded a magazine business.

What made you jump across the pond from NZ to bring Mag Nation to Australia?

It was always our intention to bring our concept to Australia. We did start in NZ, but it is too small as a standalone market to attract serious investment or build scale.

What do you love the most about what you\’ve created?

This is going to sound really corny, but we have made a real difference in people\’s lives. It continually astounds me just how passionate other people are about mag nation. I love our brand, its quirky irreverence and its willingness to flip the bird to conventional industry thinking. Yet, nothing feels better than seeing people enjoying what we have created and hearing how they use us as a refuge, a temporary escape, or an opportunity for “me time”.

What is a typical day like for you?

I also have 3 little kids, so between trying to build our business and being a good Dad, my day is never typical. Perhaps this is what I like so much about what I do. Both my uncle and I span store operations, marketing, branding, finance, legal, HR, sourcing and toilet cleaning… I probably don\’t get more than 5 minutes on any one topic. Things are never static for us.

Tell me about the store itself.  What\’s it like to walk in the doors and inhale the sense of glossiness?  What can customers expect to experience when they walk through the doors?

Which store? We currently have 5 of them! I find it very hard to answer this question. I am way too attached to our stores. Perhaps the best answer I can give is that our stores have been set up to be anything you want them to be. If you want to lounge around and read, you can do this. If you want to zip in, purchase, and zip out with your favourite mag, you can do this. If you want to indulge in gorgeous stationery, you can do this. And if you want to explore magazines that you have never seen before, then this is also encouraged.

The one thing you can be guaranteed of is the widest range of magazines to be found anywhere. And a zero pressure approach. Our stores actualise our brand tag line “everything at mag nation can be touched, felt and browsed… except for our staff”.

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What are your thoughts about the future of magazines?  The world is moving into the digital realm, overseas you can download online versions of magazines.  I know it\’s not the same as fingers flicking through a glossy but what are your thoughts around that concept?  Are our magazines grasping this new concept?  Sales are reportedly down but I can\’t imagine not being able to flick through a glossy getting lost in the aspirational images of what they represent.

Content is undoubtedly shifting online, but this doesn\’t worry us. The very best magazines will always attract an audience wanting the physical product. A lot of the generic stuff will be killed off by online content, but there is nothing bad about getting rid of the crap and focusing on the winners.

The type of magazine that we believe will succeed in the future is the magazine that is able to create a community of interest that engages in their brand. Great content is no longer enough, as content is now ubiquitous. Great mags have to have something else and the best of them are mobilising the voices of their fans to create a presence larger than just the magazine.

Take a publication like Sneaker Freaker as an example. There is a global sneaker community that comes together around this magazine, but the magazine is just one part of the community. Their website, launch parties and sneaker swap meetings are all part of their unique voice. Frankie is another great example. Their Forum is one engagement tool, but think about how many people chat about a Frankie article over a coffee. The magazine becomes almost a social lubricant, which elevates it beyond a mere collection of words and images. The same cannot be said about lots of other magazines, which are simply content in print. These are the ones that don\’t get the new media environment we are in, and will ultimately disappear.

What mags are proving to be popular?  It seems to be that niche mags are proving to be the up and comers wouldn’t you agree?

In a word, yes. As communication barriers come down, magazines that previously couldn\’t aggregate sufficient numbers of aficionados can now find their audience. Two great examples are T-World: The Journal of T-Shirt Culture and Dumbo Feather Pass It On. Both are local Australian publications but with a growing international following. 10 years ago, how would these magazines have been able to engage people outside of their home geographies? It is the long tail of niche publications that mag nation is best known for.


Is there are a difference between readers in NZ and Australia?

Yes there is… readers in NZ tend to live in NZ while Australian readers can generally be found in Australia. After the all the big words that were used in the last two responses, that\’s the best I can come up with.

(Editor’s note:  I meant to ask if there was a difference in what NZ’s and Aussies read or are we the ‘same’?  Doh to me!).

I know you are busting your chops trying to find a home here in Sydney, have you had any luck yet?

We have our eye on a couple of locations. It is not an overnight process. It is very frustrating, as so much is out of our control. Why is that retail landlords are the only species who haven\’t yet realised that we are in a recession and that the crazy unsustainable rentals  of the past are…well… unsustainable?!?!

Tell us about your magdentifer.

The Magdentifier is my favourite part of the mag nation website. It takes you through a bunch of questions which get increasingly silly, and then on the basis of your responses, recommends magazines that you might like. So many people have commented on just how accurate it is. We built it for a laugh and to make online magazine browsing lots of fun, but it has actually started to serve as a real starting point for people who want to get some suggestions for magazines they might not be familiar with.


What\’s next?

  1. We have just launched the second phase on our website – The Third Floor, which sells gorgeous stationery, niche designer t-shirts, and books on fashion, design, photography and pop culture. It also features a new blog that we have just started
  2. Physical expansion. We just have to get to Sydney and Brisbane sooner rather than later.
  3. Sleep. It is past 1am, I have little kidlets, and I am on feeding duty tonight.

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You can follow Sahil on twitter and facebook and of couse check out one of his stores in Melbourne or NZ and if you’re unlucky (like me) not to have a glossy heaven near you, his website is your destination of gloss.

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