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Slick bait: Gloss returns to print as young publishers create new breed of magazines

The warp speed of 24/7 digital news has left some readers craving slower, less disposable media. Old titles are returning, and new titles are bursting onto the scene. Two young Melbourne publishers, determined to re-define the magazine industry, think they might know why. Sam Irvine reports.

Slick bait: Gloss returns to print as young publishers create new breed of magazines

Feast your eyes on this: publishers Sasha Gattermayr and Sasha Aarons present Tart at a book fair. Photo: supplied

Story by Sam Irvine
 

If you’ve ever picked up a copy of Melbourne-based print journal Tart, you could be forgiven for thinking that it feels more like a book than a magazine.

The hefty, independently-produced publication doesn’t subscribe to typical magazine conventions regarding size, content or production quality, and nor is it intended to end up in a pile in your garage or in a recycling bin where most “glossies” eventually go, either.

Hand-drawn cover art and high quality paper stock are among the charms of culinary print annual, <em>Tart</em>. Photo: Sam Irvine

Hand-drawn cover art and high quality paper stock are among the charms of culinary print annual, Tart. Photo: Sam Irvine

Published on weighty, high-GSM paper and featuring hand-drawn cover art by local artist Rosie Goodchild, Tart’s eclectic mix of interviews, essays, poetry and recipes makes it more like a weekend lift-out, cookbook and art journal all rolled into one.

It’s just one among many magazines launched by young Australian publishers during the Covid pandemic years that are reimagining the way we engage with magazines and driving a resurgent interest in print media.

Founded during the 2021 lockdown by friends Sasha Gattermayr and Sasha Aarons, the philosophy behind Tart was to create a print-based publication that broke away from the business-oriented, high-turnover coverage of the domestic and international food scene.

It was an area that Gattermayr says she felt was lacking in Australia’s media market.

“We thought that there could be a magazine that celebrated the slower, more personal side of food … something that aligned politically with the way a lot of people think about food,” says Gattermayr.

With an estimated readership of 1500 people, Tart’s loyal audience is all the more impressive given that aside from the odd Instagram post and a retail website, its output is focused on print.

Gattermayr says Tart inadvertently benefited from the confines of lockdown.

“There was a shift to a more localised, present existence … people were slowing down and taking stock of their work-life balance, and that philosophy really carried over to the appetite for Tart.”

According to the latest figures from market researcher Roy Morgan, magazine sales were up 3.5 per cent in the year to November 2023. This figure may appear meagre, but print experts say it’s part of a broader trend that includes the return of several popular titles, including newsagent staple, Elle Australia.

Senior lecturer in media and communications at RMIT, Julian Novitz, says the increase in sales is a consequence of Australians rediscovering the pleasures of print media after being confined to screens during the pandemic.

“You can go online and read a magazine or news website, but you’re constantly being called to click away to try and diffuse your attention across a wide range of sources,” says Novitz.

“There’s a particular pleasure in print magazines in that they’re contained, it’s a space you absorb in a dedicated way that is detached from other distractions for a particular period of time.”

Pick bait: The experience of reading print magazines is more immersive than digital or social media. Photo: Shutterstock

Pick bait: The experience of reading print magazines is more immersive than digital or social media. Photo: Shutterstock

According to Novitz, the renewed interest in print has evolved into a “new
conscientiousness” toward magazines, particularly among younger generations who are interpreting print magazines as collectible products.

“There’s a move away from a disposable weekly publication to a higher quality, higher value publication that’s more of a luxury object than a rapidly updatable, disposable form of media.”

They come with a price to match, too. At present, Tart produces one issue per year, which sells for $40, considerably higher than titles such as Elle that cost around $15.

But Gattermayr says it’s a publication that is designed to stay on the coffee table for longer, and one that young readers are willing to invest in.

“People really do respond to it, particularly when it’s printed well, and that’s something we’ve really taken seriously,” says Gattermayr.

It’s not just about the immersive qualities of the page, either. Magazines have played an important role in post-pandemic community-building for young people too.

“With newer publications we’re seeing a movement away from aiming for this mass audience that’s national or international, and looking at building a more sustainable community,” says Novitz.

Just ask the founder of Demure, Lucia Droga.

<em>Demure</em>‘s five print issues were all sold out – a sign of the craving for young creatives to see their work in print. Photo: Sam Irvine

Demure‘s five print issues were all sold out – a sign of the craving for young creatives to see their work in print. Photo: Sam Irvine

After observing a vacuum of print publications for predominantly female, queer and gender-nonconforming artists to have their work published, Droga and a group of friends launched Demure as an “in-between” print and online media platform.

“We felt like there was a big gap between publishing on social media and getting published in a magazine or journal,” says Droga.

“You don’t need a portfolio to be published [at Demure], you’re allowed to be improving.”

Three years, five sold-out print editions and a host of social events later, Droga says a unique creative community has flourished, something she attributes to the desire for young people to connect with each other post-pandemic.

“There has been a shift since lockdown of changing the way we work and doing more events, doing more social meetups, and just really wanting that face-to-face community. And when you do get it, it’s so valuable.”

With both Tart and Demure now in their third year of production, questions remain about whether the current print demand will persist, particularly as the pandemic legacy wains and costs continue to rise for both producers and consumers.

Novitz predicts there will be a correction in magazine sales compared to pre​-​pandemic levels, but the renewed demand for printed content, particularly in the design community, will continue.

“For designers, architects and people interested in visual arts, the magazine format can be indispensable; you can’t easily translate that to a purely digital medium.”

For the teams at Tart and Demure, the biggest challenge is satisfying demand.

“I would say the most common feedback we get is that people want us to publish more frequently. It’s just such a massive undertaking to do it at the quality we want to do it at,” says Gattermayr.

“There definitely is that demand [for print], and it’s growing really fast, especially in the past six months,” Says Droga.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s good.”

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

Winner — BEST PUBLICATION 2016 Ossie Awards