It was my pleasure to be invited as a guest on Grace Bonney's (Design*Sponge) radio show / podcast After The Jump today. Along with Paul Lowe and Paul Vitale of Sweet Paul magazine and Michele Outland of Gather Journal, we discussed the future of print media and what it's like to be a small publisher today.
"As makers we create something from nothing every day whether it is logos or lunches, business plans, communities, new creative adventures, or positive change. Our hands make dreams into reality and have built an entire maker movement but we don’t make time to gather and share enough. This October we’re crafting a new kind of gathering for the creative community together."
To discover more and register for the retreat, visit the registration page.
It's week 2 of Creativebug's Building a Creative Brand online class (you can still register and watch the first couple of videos to catch up) and I am pleased that I signed up for this course. This week's video (over 40 minutes!) was particularly good, delving into pricing, business plans and financial considerations. It was really Todd Gibson's show (of Oliver + S), he had a wealth of great advice and I look forward to the online chat with him and Liesl on Thursday that is part of the course benefits.
I signed up for this course for reasons I assume are not typical of other participants. I do have a business brand that is working fairly well and have been at this for a few years, but I am interested in online classes since I hope to offer some from UPPERCASE one day. One of the best ways to learn is from the perspective of a student. I am also interested in Creativebug and how this company markets and presents its content. (One minor disappointment is that the course downloads are not especially well-designed and don't do a service to furthering Creativebug's own creative brand, though the content is adequate.)
As a business owner, I could also use some motivation and mentorship—Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop mentioned last week that being a boss is tough. And in my experience, it can feel pretty lonely, too, at times. It is difficult to ultimately be in charge of all the decisions, it can get tiresome and draining and running a business can certainly take over from the creativity that started the business in the first place. Today's video addressed some of this and I'm taking some of Todd's advice to heart. He also addressed issues of pricing products which was particularly useful as I bring something new to the UPPERCASE shop shortly.
Another fringe benefit of the course structure was being introduced to Mightybell, the community platform that the course uses for chats and conversations. I've been looking for something like this for UPPERCASE for a while and Mightybell's aesthetics and functionality is quite appealing. (And it's free!) So I've started a fledgling community and am pleased that we have 50 members so far in just a few days. Join us and we'll develop this place together as wonderful way to connect and share around specific projects or interests.
As a creative entrepreneur, I've admired Creativebug since their launch in 2012. And although I'm firmly and lovingly rooted in print and paper, I consider video and video editing my hobby (I just happen to use UPPERCASE as a guinea pig testing ground for video projects.) I got to see the Creativebug team in action earlier this year at the Makerie and it was fun to see them at work and to learn a few new techniques through observation of their process and watching the finished videos.
Earlier this week, I saw that they were offering a 5-week video series called Building a Creative Brand. With instructors Lisa Congdon, Christine Schmidt (Yellow Owl Workshop), Heather Ross, Liesl Gibson and Melanie Falick heading the course, I signed up right away. I'd been meaning to sign up for a while, and this course was the incentive that I needed.
Coincidentally, Kelly Wilkinson, one of the founders of the company, emailed me a few days later to ask if I'd share the workshop information on the UPPERCASE blog. If you're interested, please sign up and we'll take the course together!
The early bird price is $125, and Creativebug members get a special price of $99. You can subscribe through October 6th for $9.99 a month and then you'll also get the member pricing on the Creative Brand Series. (Use the code UPPERCASE to get early bird pricing extended from October 7-13th.) The series starts off October 14th and other than the release of each subsequent video, the pace is up to you. Click here to learn more about the course.
Since the blog is taking steps into hosting advertising on the sidebar, I will also be providing affiliate links to services or products that I use. If you click on the Creativebug links provided in this post or on the sidebar and proceed to signup for a course, UPPERCASE will receive a small commission. Thank you.
If you enjoy "startup" stories like I do, here's the backstory on Creativebug:
UPPERCASE magazine has never been a magazine in which ad sales drive its success (or influence its content!) From the beginning, my goal was that readers—subscribers and single issue purchasers—would be the base for its financial stability. Thankfully, we have found a loyal foundation of subscribers. As I write this, Jocelyn is preparing the master mailing list and I am happy to report that we have just over 3000 subscriber names on the mailing of #19. This subscription money pays for our print bills and distribution costs.
Over the years, we have not been without advertising support though—we have had full page ads in the inside front and back covers over the years. The revenue generated by these "bookend" ads have gone towards paying our roster of contributing writers, illustrators and photographers. We have actively sought advertising partners, but we simply have had no luck in garnering more long-term partnerships. Perhaps because our style isn't the typical "pushy ad sales" way. Perhaps because our magazine's content is so unique and eclectic, advertisers don't see how they fit in. Perhaps because we are based in Canada and not the USA. Perhaps because we can't afford to have a full time person on ad sales. Perhaps because our editorial content cannot be influenced by advertisers. Perhaps because we're not a magazine that highlights big brands and a consumer lifestyle. Perhaps.
We appreciate the companies who have placed ads throughout the years; they show an understanding of the culture of our community of readers. We are grateful for the smaller advertisements through the Peeps and Marketplace in each issue. However, when it comes down to dollars and cents, it is the "prime real estate" of the full page ad space that needs to be sold to justify the cost of time and salary to woo advertisers in the first place, and also provide the cushion we need to pay contributors. We are still looking to find two visionary companies who see the value of print advertising coupled with social media access to our engaged and enthusiastic readership. We are still open to advertisers who are the right fit.
However, as a print magazine, we find that it is increasingly difficult to sell print ads. At this point, at almost five years in, I have to say that it is nearly impossible! Advertisers nowadays are interested in tracking click-throughs and metrics and prefer online placements and digital publications. Numerous conversations with potential partners have told us as much.
We are considering implementing ads in the sidebar of the blog to offset the lost revenue. I would like to know what you think about ads and the UPPERCASE blog.
Your responses to this survey will help us improve this website and our magazine—and maybe help us navigate a way into selling ads that work for the advertisers, the magazine AND our readers.
publisher / editor / designer
Today marks the "changing of the guard" at UPPERCASE. Alas, we say goodbye to Eleanor, who has been our customer service expert for a year and a half. She has been fulfilling orders, answering queries, managing subscribers and stockists... all while attending SAIT's Engineering Design and Drafting Technologies program part time. We commend Eleanor for juggling schedules and racking up the kilometers on the c-train, shuffling from college to work (and back again!) She has been a wonderful and loyal employee and we wish her lots of success in her studies and future career.
And so, we happily introduce you to Jocelyn who will be taking on Eleanor's job—and then some—in a full time role. I am relieved that we will have someone consistently available to deal with customer queries, stockists, distribution and shipping matters... it is a vital role in a business built on subscriptions and fulfillment of online orders.
Jocelyn has been with us for just a couple weeks, but she has been an avid reader and supporter of UPPERCASE for a long time so she is fitting right in! You can follow her Instagram #dailyUPPERCASE and see behind-the-scenes from her perspective. (She offers the warning that her Instagram feed is also full of lots of cat pictures.)
Erin is our marketing/publicity manager, working with me here in the studio three days a week and always available via email. Erin and I are looking forward to our quick trip to Toronto next week, to attend the National Magazine Awards and to visit our lovely stockists.
My husband Glen needs to be recognized, too, for supporting me and UPPERCASE by being a wonderful stay-at-home dad to our son Finley. Glen is also a regular contributor to the magazine—look for his Creature and Abecedary columns in the summer issue. (Looking for an excellent work of fiction to read this summer? Pick up Glen Dresser's novel Correction Road. There's a thoughtful review here.)
thank you, everyone!
(a brief history of UPPERCASE)
Today, Calgary's Metro News published an article entitled, "Calgary's Art Central Facing Closure."
As my Calgary friends know, Art Central has been UPPERCASE's home since the beginning. Suite #204 was just an empty shell without shelving or lights when I first saw the space in late 2004. By early 2005, I was a happy tenant in a building concept with a lot of potential. With gloriously large windows, an old brick wall and a white slate of a gallery office, the space was endlessly inspiring and motivating.
Initially, freelance graphic design was my main occupation and UPPERCASE-related projects were side projects and creative experiments. "UPPERCASE gallery, books & papergoods" sold greeting cards of my own designs, handmade notebooks, hosted illustration shows, had a small selection of books on design and a nice supply of pretty paper goods for a growing number of walk-in customers. In tandem with the physical store, I began to sell my offerings online and to dedicate time to growing an online community through the UPPERCASE blog.
In 2007, UPPERCASE hosted an unusual gallery exhibition and launched its first book. The Shatner Show was an illustrated homage to William Shatner (of Captain Kirk fame) featuring 76 illustrations of his life and career. Endorsed by the man itself, the show was a great success and was featured on international newscasts and garnered a lot of positive press. But more importantly, it showed me my true calling: publishing.
In short succession, I released a few more books and decided to launch a magazine modelled after my own creative interests. My blog readership had grown modestly and I hoped that if even a small portion of those readers would support a print endeavour, publishing a magazine on a regular basis could be feasible. The inaugural issue was released in April 2009. (And I officially "retired" from freelancing; there was simply not enough time in the day to do it all.)
Fortunately, the magazine was well-received but I quickly discovered that it was far more work than I could ever have guessed. At the end of 2009, I closed the retail aspect of UPPERCASE. Growing a retail business in Art Central seemed to be an uphill battle—especially when compared to the success of online sales. When comparing the results from a bit of foot traffic with the potential of online traffic, the decision to close physical retail was obvious. (I also had the costs of inventory as well as print bills to consider.) Expecting a baby as well, I knew that though I can juggle a lot at once, new motherhood plus publishing plus retail was just too big of an equation.
I have no regrets about closing my retail store, though I do miss all those lovely stationery goodies and the joy people expressed when stopping by for a visit. I was also aware that closing my shop, a regular destination for many Calgarians, could impact my neighbours in Art Central. I remained committed to Art Central and our doors were open to curious walkers-by and we were active in First Thursdays and hosted occasional shows in our gallery.
For locals who still visit Art Central, it has been hard to miss the steady increase in vacancies over the past number of years. In this post I'm not going to go into detail about why the Art Central concept has been so difficult to sustain. But I do think it would be useful to write a post-mortem about what happened (or didn't happen) here, particularly in comparison to the seemingly successful creative entrepreneurial centres such as Wychwood Barns, Konstepidemin and the American Can Factory profiled in issue #16 of UPPERCASE.
Over a year ago, the Art Central building was sold to a new owner; a property company that purchased this building along with many others in the downtown core. I stress that they purchased the building—they did not take on a stewardship of the Art Central concept, a concept that had been seriously malnourished for many years prior. Now the news is public that the building is going to be "redeveloped" ie demolished to "replace the current building with a taller structure that may incorporate commercial and residential spaces," tenants are left to determine what they're to do next.
The story about the impending closure of Art Central might be breaking to Metro News today, but tenants here have known about this since late January when were told in a meeting that the building was slated for redevelopment. Though I suspected that something significant might happen eventually (rumours were certainly afoot) I wasn't prepared for the immediacy conveyed in a statement by the VP recommending "look for your alternatives now while you can."
In response to the media queries that I have received about Art Central's impending closure, I would like to state that the story here isn't about big vs little, corporate vs arts. The concept had failed long before these new developments.
My work and my life have been intricately woven with Art Central for eight years. Now, facing its closure has been somewhat like having a loved one with a terminal illness. After the initial relief that it will soon have a resolution to its misery comes time to grieve for what is lost and what might have been.
I've been quite depressed about the news; it has been hard not to picture my beautiful studio in a pile of rubble. At first there were days when I stood at my doorstep at home, unable to motivate myself for the walk to work. On one hand I didn't want to be reminded that Art Central could be demolished; on the other hand I didn't want to waste any time away... So I did what I usually do when faced with a problem: I set out to solve it. I am happy to say that I have found a contender that is somewhat different from my current studio, but it inspired me the moment I walked in. Now, rather than imagining endings, I am looking forward to new beginnings and the potential of this new location. I look forward to chronicling that adventure when the time comes.
It has been difficult not to share this news with you until now—my wonderful community of supporters here on the blog and Twitter. I know I have your support as UPPERCASE moves forward and continues to flourish.
Please also support the other tenants at Art Central. For those with galleries and retail, it has been difficult. They remain open for your business!
Publishing books and a quarterly magazine has been far more challenging and exhilarating and fulfilling than I could have dreamed. I am very lucky to be doing what I do.
Onward and upward!
Live to you from The Prolific Group in Winnipeg, Manitoba! The next issue is on press right now and I am happy to be here in person to see it printed.
To find out more about our printer, visit Prolific and ask for Chris Young—the best print sales person you'll ever work with.
LOVE LOVE LOVE by UPPERCASE The poster I designed in 2009 and sold via my website. It was designed by typing the word love with various pressures on my Royal typewriter and then scanning and enlarging the results. See the original blog post here.
LOVE LOVE LOVE by The Gap This week, Eleanor came to work wearing this shirt. This isn't a new shirt, she recalls purchasing it maybe three years ago which would place both designs to the same time period (and right when my posters were making the blog rounds). This design from The Gap uses various weights of the font Trixie.
What do you think? Creative coincidence or lazy knockoff? Love or no love for The Gap?
However this tshirt came to be, it is old news now. And that's the thing... it is so difficult to police your designs once they are out on the web and in the world. If Eleanor hadn't worn the shirt to work, I would have never seen this design so very similar to my own. In the course of design career, my work has been copied and blatantly ripped off a few times. Unfortunately, there has been a case quite recently where I could very obviously trace the path from my work directly to some other company's product. In fact, I could overlay their design onto my original and trace the similarities in fonts, angles and placement of elements—let alone that the overall impression of the design was that it looked like it was by UPPERCASE. I sent polite but firm letters to the offenders, consulted with a lawyer and was very disappointed with my lack of choices to see the wrongs made right. Ultimately, I decided that I could not commit the time, emotional energy or funds to pursue it and I had to just "let it go". But the disappointment lingers and I wonder how the infringement will affect my income. It is very hard to let it go.
NOT LETTING GO: ANOTHER TSHIRT TALE
Modern Dog is a Seattle-based design firm who is standing up to the big guys in another case of infringement on a tshirt. They have chosen to fight, at considerable expense and effort. In order to offset the costs, they have set up a website which accepts donations to help in their legal bills. I made a small donation to show my support.
Modern Dog writes: "Compelled to make things right, we entered into a lawsuit that is now a year in the making. If anyone had asked me a year ago if I thought this case would drag out for months, I would have said no. I naively believed that this case would be settled in a few weeks.
Boy, was I wrong.
We find ourselves in a battle with some of the biggest corporations in the world, and we have no idea how long and hard they intend to fight as they have seemingly unlimited resources. Our jury trial date is not until September 2013, in that time the process could easily bankrupt us. We need money to see this case go to trial; money for depositions, forensic accounting, expert witness testimonies, and other expenses related to the case.
In June of 2012, I made the decision to sell our Greenwood house, partly to reduce our overhead expenses, and partly to fund the lawsuit. I realize now that we are in it for the long haul. I cried the day I handed the new owners the keys, but I also felt a sense of relief because I knew that I personally would be able to help my company fight."
Please help the underdogs.
And do your part when it comes to respecting intellectual property. Know the difference between inspiration and infringement. Don't put images on Pinterest if you don't know who created them. Don't repin or post without attribution. Give credit where credit it due.
The following post was previously published [with some slight edits and updates below] on the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association's blog last year. AMPA has generously provided UPPERCASE a bursary to help offset the costs of travel and accommodation to Toronto to attend DesignThinkers. Thanks, AMPA!
Having heard great reviews of DesignThinkers conference over the years, I finally got to experience it firsthand this year thanks to a bursary from AMPA. With an eclectic variety of speakers, presenters were from a graphic design background (advertising legend George Lois, book designer Chip Kidd, lettering goddess Jessica Hische) and from big companies (speakers representing Google, Oprah Magazine, and Method Home). The conference was very broadly about design thinking—about how creativity can affect change, enhance communities, engage consumers and entertain audiences. As magazine publishers [and creative entrepreneurs], these are our goals.
Surprisingly, I found the most useful information for succeeding in publishing from two guys who make nice-smelling soap. Method, by combining eco-conscious products with innovative thinking and eye-catching design in a very traditional product category, has become an extremely successful company. Conference keynote presenter Eric Ryan (founder of Method) has a background in advertising; his friend (and co-founder) Adam Lowry was a climate scientist in his previous career. Theirs is an entertaining story [available in their book], honestly presenting the failures alongside the success.
So how does running a cleaning products company relate to publishing a magazine? It's all in the attitude and using the Method method of business thinking. Here are some of the most relevant points:
Create a product that people love and they will not only become dedicated customers but advocates for your brand. If you publish a magazine that people love (not just like), they can't live without it. The magazine [or your product] becomes part of their way of life—they identify themselves by it. They proudly tell others about it, they're invested in the content and they support it financially. My magazine is built on this notion; it was heartening to see this approach work so successful on a bigger scale.
Kick Ass at Fast
If you're not one of the "big guys" then you have to be better in other areas. For Method, this means that the relative small size of their company and manufacturing processes allows them to quickly seize opportunities of trends or customer feedback and implement change swiftly. For magazine publishers, it means that interacting and reacting with readers in real time is vital. You can no longer exist just in the realm of print—social media engagement is a vital and required offshoot of publishing content. Readers expect a dialogue; create a platform where this can happen and it will result in a stronger base for your publication. Smaller publications can achieve this much more easily than large publishing conglomerates, since readers can access us on a more intimate level.
Having fewer but more reliable customers is better than having lots of one-time customers. Method realized that their version of laundry detergent will never compete with "Tide", but they realized that their ideal customer will pay more for a product that they respect and understand. So fewer newsstand sales is fine if you have a strong subscriber base—a long term relationship is what magazines need to cultivate.
Win on Product Experience
Method is all about delivering an exceptional product experience. They take the mundane such as toilet bowl cleaner and reinvent the category, elevating the product design and packaging into something unique, useful and memorable. Whatever topic your magazine covers, yours should be the ultimate: the most reliable reference delivering the most intelligent expertise in the most engaging way possible.
To differentiate your product on the shelves, your design needs to be different. And not just different for the sake of different, but different for good reason. When Method launched its first product, they hired Karim Rashid, a superstar in industrial design, who created a bottle that not only looked unique, but one that functioned in a whole new way. Theirs was so innovative and unique on the shelves that other companies had to struggle to catch up to this new standard. Good design comes from good thinking. Make sure that the packaging of your magazine [or product] is in service of its content and that it recognizes the intelligence of its readers.
What began as a Facebook group conversation about the challenges of working for oneself and building a creative business developed into a gathering of creatives on a small island off the west cost of Canada this past August. Presenters included Fiona Richards (Cartolina Cards), illustrator Douglas Jones, Leslie Shewring (A Creative Mint), Tamara Komuniecki (Delish Magazine) and more. Kari Woo, a jeweller living in Canmore, shares more about the Forage Symposium:
Mariko Paterson McCrae, ceramic artist a co-owner of Feedlot Studios on Gabriola Island courageously came forward early in the conversation to offer her studio as our venue. Luckily for everyone Feedlot is co-owned by Mariko’s husband, graphic designer Bryan McCrae, who was very much the all-things-technical support team. This magnificent setting provided the perfect retreat ambience for this fine gathering and a stellar behind-the-scenes crew of local artists, supporters, and small businesses helped to bring it all together.
A Gathering of Ideas + Makers, the symposium was an opportunity for inspiration and learning. Three days of jam-packed content included topics on how to use social media successfully, where to find funding for creative projects, partnership and collaboration and how to find your audience. We discussed the pros and cons of consignment vs. wholesale venues; brick and mortar vs. online; outsourcing production vs. keeping it in-house. Panels deliberated about time and money management, delegating, prioritizing and balancing family life with work.
Thanks to size and magic of our venue it felt like we were sitting around someone’s (albeit large) living room facilitating the intimacy of our discussions. Panelists were open and honest, sometimes standing on the edge of vulnerability. They shared both victory moments and challenges, advice about what to do and what not to do based on lessons learned, as well as valuable technical and industry information.
Personally, I already see the tangible outcomes that my attendance is having on both my creative and business practices. The nuggets that I gleaned from this bounty of information were solid affirmations with philosophical and practical implications. We are all scared, but who cares? Get over it. Just do what you want to do. Do your research and figure it out. Be prepared for success!
UPPERCASE was happy to provide complimentary magazines to Forage participants. Up next: more about Kari Woo.
Today (Friday) I'll be speaking at the Evernote Trunk Conference in San Francisco, on a panel entitled "Big Ideas for Small Business". I'll be sharing the points outlined in my presentation with you later, but for now here is the video that Evernote did to profile UPPERCASE.
This is big news... after having the same blog since 2005 and the same online shop design since 2007, UPPERCASE's virtual home was overdue for a renovation and makeover. The old sites predate my professional shift from designing for clients and running a side retail business to what UPPERCASE is today, a publishing company producing a quarterly magazine and books (9 and counting...) for the creative and curious.
The main site, www.uppercasemagazine.com, better highlights all the content that UPPERCASE has to offer: a beautiful new blog with bigger images and better access to past posts; more previews of the current and back issues; more content from the print magazine; more videos... the goal with the new design was to provide more content with better navigation and a clean slate design that allows the content to shine.
Another big improvement is the visual and functional integration of the main website with the online shop. shop.uppercasemagazine.com is a vital companion to our online home: this is where you can subscribe, renew and shop for our back issues and books. There are links and "add to cart" buttons throughout the main site and blog, so it is always easy to click through to the shop and make a purchase or commit to a subscription. For our many repeat customers, we have added an account option so that you can save your login and address details (also in the works is a customer portal so that you can manage your address changes and search past orders.) We have created a password-protected wholesale shop, so wholesalers won't accidentally stumble into our retail listings and customers won't accidentally purchase a box of 30 magazines. (Of course, if you want to purchase large quantities of anything, just contact us and we'll set you up with a wholesale account!)
Our online home's foundation and walls are thanks to some great web services that I have been using for years. I'm still working on the plumbing (ie database, customer management and the un-pretty but necessary things) but to have such attractive "curb appeal" is all-important to a business like mine that is largely built online.
The main site and blog are hosted on Squarespace V6, the newest platform from my long-term blog host (and ALT Summit party co-host). V6 is just out of beta this week, so congratulations to all the people at Squarespace who have been working hard and have answered our numerous queries over the past weeks. The layout functionality of V6 is pretty impressive and I love the flexibility of multiple columns and content blocks. I'm sure it will just keep getting better and I look forward to even more features.
The online shop is hosted through Shopify, which offers really great e-commerce solutions. I purchased one of their premium shop templates and the migration from the old site to the new site was so seamless I could hardly believe how easy it was. I'm still working on optimizing the shop for mobile devices, but the basics are there!
The typographic details are extremely important to me, so I use Typekit for web fonts: Museo Slab and Proxima Nova. Proxima was designed by Mark Simonson, an UPPERCASE magazine subscriber! A big big big thank you to my left-handed right-hand man—my husband Glen—for making all those little tweaks to the CSS and getting the design details from my head onto the screen.
UPDATE YOUR BOOKMARKS
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