The Power of Print: A Catch 22

In Conversation with Alec Dudson - Editor-in-Chief of Intern Magazine

Goldfish, the most dependable and low maintenance of childhood domestic pets, are estimated to have an attention span of 9 seconds. Human beings, just 8. Let that sink in for second, well only if you can spare one.

As we come to accept the pixelated reality in which we find ourselves, there is little doubt that the way in which we share and consume information has witnessed an almighty shift; irrevocably altering our loyalties and habits. And yet, independent publishing, most notably the tactile print magazine, a poster child of the industry’s revival, has been able to garner our attention, secure our following, and capture our imaginations, taking pride of place on our bookshelves and coffee tables.

As the household names of mainstream publishing begin to feel the pinch, pivoting towards a digital first strategy, producing print on a quarterly and biannual basis, indie mags have only gone from strength to strength, tapping into an audience that is searching for authenticity, purpose and connection. Younger readerships are looking to identify with brands that provide a space for the issues that effect and define their world. Tom Bureau, Chief Executive of Radio Times publisher, Immediate Media, was on to something when he rallied against the notion of a decimated print industry, reminding us of the fact that magazines cannot be seen as a single homogeneous market.

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If independent print publications are able to capture the hearts and minds of a generation raised on a diet of digital media, then what I’m about to say might come as quite a surprise. Alec Dudson, Editor-in-chief of Intern magazine, a tireless champion of the creative youth, and curator of a print platform whose pages are dedicated to empowering both its young writers and readers, is going digital. Now, that may be slightly misleading, they have always been online, so to speak, but for the foreseeable future the printing arm of the business will be put on notice, in favour a multidisciplinary digital offering. Dudson explains that this model will allow him to see through his vision for Intern - providing a space for the young and talented, where they can showcase their work, while continuing to initiate frank conversations around the subject of global intern culture. Going digital will diversify the narrative, allowing for growth and exposure on a grander scale, while preserving the essence of print.

Intern magazine - the product of a successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign, and brainchild of Alec Dudson, occupies a unique space in the market. It’s original concept makes it niche, no one (fingers crossed) has sought to imitate its carefully curated subject matter, and transparent - its remit perfectly mirrors its ethical approach to publishing. The magazine and accompanying web space aim to represent the value of interns through 100% paid commissions, making a product from the work of its junior editors, writers, illustrators and photographers, who like many interns, are still refining their craft and are faced with the reality of unpaid internships to bolster their résumés.

Having experienced the merry-go-round of unpaid internships himself, Dudson is well accustomed with the uncertainty that characterizes life after further education. A graduate of Manchester University, Alec was inspired by his own interning experience with Boat magazine, and later Domus, where he witnessed first hand the attention to detail that goes into the creation of a tactile collection of stories and experiences. Honoured to have played a role in the publication of Boat’s forth issue, which took readers on a journey through Athens, reporting on the culture and societal happenings of the city,  Alec found this process addictive, leading him on a quest to create his own print platform.

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In what can be a rather selfish pursuit at times, print allows the producer, in this case Dudson, to invest deeply in the finished article, pleasing oneself with the little details that can be overlooked in the digital space. Alec describes this as his own treasure hunt, a chance to see whether his contributors will pick up the seemingly innocuous details that he has oh so subtly dotted throughout the pages of print. With each issue, the finished body of work is not always predetermined. And while the magazine’s purpose and ethos informs the content, a great deal is in flux, with each issue boasting a new cohort of writers, whose stories and tales also affect the visual aspect. On seeing the final product, Alec admits that the sense of pride and satisfaction never really dissipates, especially for the contributors; seeing their name in print still pertains to a great sense of achievement. And yet, Alec has made the decision to embrace a digital first strategy, carefully working with brands and individuals to reflect Intern’s values and moral underpinnings, while broadening the message.

On reflection, Alec asked himself why, after four issues, he was belligerently seeking to continue the magazine in print format, and whether his reasoning tallied with his original aim to empower young people. On this occasion, his love for print was overshadowed by his inherent and commendable desire to help others. While Intern has been hugely popular and successful at home and away, each print issue must surmount the same set of hurdles to infiltrate and impact its target audience. From the anxiety inducing sale or return bargaining, common with most stockists, to shipping overseas and awaiting to see whether you have broken even, creating print is almost certainly a labour of love.

We agree, print isn't dead, but its does need to be alert to the shifting tides of consumerism. An active and advanced web platform makes it easier to share content, quickly and efficiently. With trends here today, gone the next day, immersing the magazine digitally allows it to monitor these shifts, partnering with like minded brands to expand upon Intern’s offering, in a way that print can sometimes be too slow to capitalise on. The most recent collaboration with Ace and Tate, the eyewear for every side of you, went down a treat, with Dudson helping the brand to deliver upon their brief of convincing skeptics to move up north by creating, what was in effect, a love letter to Manchester. Sharing five stories about the city as a creative entity, ‘A New Revolution’ showcased the city’s regional talent, from High Hoops, who are making a powerful statement about the nature of Manchester’s nightlife, to Joe Hartley of OH OK LTD creating community through participatory placemaking, and Islington Mill, the former textile mill and physical antithesis of the much lauded stereotype of grey and dreary Manchester, the online series, was able to send a positive message about the city, providing a subtle reminder that none of us should be limited by where we are from. Seamlessly transitioning into the digital sphere, Intern magazine has been able to navigate the world wide web with the same insight, instinct and in-depth knowledge that made it so popular in print.

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Thanks to the reactive nature the internet, Intern’s increased presence online was timely and well intentioned. Pose a question or Call to Action on a medium of choice, be it Youtube, Instagram, or Twitter, and within moments you have your answer. Alec has many tricks up his sleeve to ensure the platform is serving its audience’s tastes and interests, while also addressing the most prevalent and enduring issues facing interns today. The maximization of their Youtube channel and a podcast guided by its audiences interning predicaments will further their quest to move beyond editorial, to become a platform that can ignite change and provide solutions by tapping into a readily available and highly engaged audience.

While he cautions those still pursuing the independent publishing route not to give up all their print dreams in one fell swoop, a good dose of realism and practical thinking is advised, running a print platform requires a great deal of goodwill, perseverance, and a number of revenue streams. Having come out the other side of print, Alec is closing a chapter on this avenue of storytelling, but he is not yet shutting the book. He admits that his connection with the industry will never subside, but his way of communicating Intern’s message will continue to evolve. His fondness for print is still shaped by his love for the design and perspectives shared through the medium. Niche titles allow the reader to deep dive into subject matter, while simultaneously unplugging themselves from the matrix of online content. Perdiz - a Spanish  magazine about people and what makes them happy has captured Alec’s attention of late, particularly a short story which shares the experience of one of the first humans to be accepted to live on Mars indefinitely. It is the simple and approachable proposition, the effective portrayal of human experience, and the beauty of storytelling through the medium of print, that stops Alec from walking away from the tactile print magazine in its entirety and why he works so hard to ensure its essence is translated digitally. 

PaperJenna Campbell