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When Digital Craves Print, A New Global Food Magazine, The Cleaver Quarterly, Is Born… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

April 2, 2014

Kickstarting It Into Gear, A New Print Food Magazine Specializing In All Things Chinese Is About To Be Born: The Cleaver Quarterly Promises To Split Asunder All Doubts About The Asset Of An Ink On Paper Platform…Mr. Magazine’s™ Interview With Lilly Chow, Managing Editor, And Iain Shaw, Brand Director Of The Cleaver Quarterly.

CLEAVER COVER GRAF LOWERA quarterly print magazine that takes a “playful” look at Chinese food from a global perspective; The Cleaver Quarterly promises to be something unique and different among food mags everywhere.

Using long form writing and vivid photography; Managing Editor, Lilly Chow and Iain Shaw, Brand Director, two of the trio behind The Cleaver Quarterly, talk about their reasons for bringing a print product into today’s world and how their magazine has an audience just waiting to discover it. I could feel the passion in their voices every time they mentioned the name of the magazine. They are a team with a lot of zeal and love about the subject matter and the platform that it will manifest itself upon. The team is not just going through the motions of a magazine launch, they are creating their “Chinese food” and eating it at the same time.

Along with Jonathan White, Executive Publisher, the three have lived in China collectively for over 25 years, so they’re very familiar with their topic and very excited about their new Kickstarter-promoted platform – an ink on paper magazine.

So if you think you know everything you need to about Chinese food, think again as you sit back and enjoy Mr. Magazine’s™ conversation with two of the powers-that-be behind The Cleaver Quarterly all the way from Beijing, China…

TheCleaverQuarterly_Team
From left to right, Jonathan White, Lilly Chow and Iain Shaw.


But first the sound-bites:


On the reason for going with a print product in a digital world…

People love using Facebook and Twitter to make friends, to keep in touch with people, to share information — they love the immediacy of it. But I think many people are kind of finding that they want something they can get their hands on.

On the decision to launch a food magazine specializing in Chinese food…

We’ve all been living here for many years and in all this time we began to realize that everyone thinks they know Chinese food and we’re talking around the world but for most people that doesn’t go much further than the menu at their local takeout restaurant.

On the target audience of The Cleaver Quarterly…
It’s people that love to eat, they love to read about eating and they don’t have to be experts in Chinese food. They love exploring, they love trying new things, taking photos, putting them on Instagram. It’s people that are curious to know a bit more.

On the importance of social media when it comes to promoting the magazine…

I think social media for us has been a key and will remain a really essential way of how we promote the magazine.

On the power of a great printed product…

A great print magazine, we’ve said to each other, is like a home-cooked meal with friends and family instead of a microwaved dinner for one. We believe that great photography and writing and illustration are like good food, they’re meant to be savored.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Lilly Chow, Managing Editor, and Iain Shaw, Brand Director of The Cleaver Quarterly…

The Cleaver Quarterly - White on Black

Samir Husni: My first question to you is what gave you the idea to come up with a food magazine and to have the first issue specialize with Chinese food, but in a playful way?

Lilly: The three of us, there’s Iain and me here tonight, Jonathan, our colleague couldn’t be here. Together we’ve been living in China collectively for over 25 years and in all that time we began to realize that everyone thinks they know Chinese food and we’re talking around the world, but for most people that doesn’t go much further than the menu at their local takeout restaurant. And not that there’s anything wrong with that but because we’ve been living here for so long we’ve been lucky enough to experience so much more about Chinese food. The regional diversity is just staggering and we’ve all eaten many different things from the mouthwatering to the stomach-churning. We’ve discovered that this is truly a culture that’s obsessed with food.

SH: Lilly, you’ve written before, you’ve published and you’ve edited books, so how does the magazine offer information different than let’s say Beijing Eats, the book that you’ve edited?

Lilly: Beijing Eats was a restaurant guide in book form and so it was perfect for tourists and perfect for expats who you know had been living in Beijing and wanted to continue exploring the regional diversity of China in a single city. It was well received but many people who heard about the book felt, “Oh I wish there was a version for Shanghai,” or another city. They loved the resource that it was but they felt it was a shame that it didn’t travel — it was very specific to Beijing.

What we aim to do with The Cleaver Quarterly is to have a global focus and a global audience and a global pool of contributors. It presents a challenge logistically in terms of finding all the people that we want to get great content from and then finding the audience and making sure everybody gets what they want out of it. But it also increases the pool of everybody who has ever experienced Chinese food.

For example, we’ve joked about publishing a story by someone who’s only ever had one Chinese meal in their life and it just so happened to be very memorable. That could be a great contribution — it doesn’t have to be somebody who grew up in China or has been eating it all their life. In fact, the person who encounters it in a completely novel way might have a much more interesting story than somebody who takes it for granted and only eats the same thing, the same Chinese meal every day.

SH: Iain, you’re the brand director and if somebody stops you and says, “Iain, you’re bringing this new food magazine, The Clever Quarterly, you’re in China trying to publish a global magazine all over the world, what’s your strategy as a brand director to ensure that this new launch succeeds? There’s no shortage of launches and there’s no shortage of food magazines, so what’s your brand strategy to create a better and different strategy than what’s out there especially since it’s coming all the way from China?

Iain: The first thing is it starts with knowing your audience, it starts with knowing who we are, who we are aiming this magazine at. We start with a pretty clear idea of that. It’s people that love to eat, they love to read about eating and they don’t have to be experts in Chinese food. They love exploring, they love trying new things, taking photos, putting them on Instagram. It’s people that are curious to know a bit more. We know who they are and the next step is finding them.

I think the key piece of the puzzle has been social media here, and social media plus the existing food blogs that are out there. But getting out there and finding out what people are saying about Chinese food and really finding those people who’re already writing about it, taking photos, and then making contact with them, building a relationship with those people. I think social media for us has been a key and will remain a really essential way of how we promote the magazine.

Up until now we’ve used Twitter; we’ve used Facebook and Instagram. Those have been the three key planks and we have had a blog more or less since the beginning. It’s been a really slow process, but yet we’ve uncovered more and more people out there that a lot of them aren’t even writing for anyone. They’re in it because they love it. Some of it is because they’re ethnically Chinese and some of them it’s just because it’s a cuisine that they really enjoy. We’ve found an Indian guy that’s living in the south of China and he’s all over Instagram. He’s got quite a bit of followers on Instagram but he doesn’t seem to have a blog, for example. This is all quite ironic because it’s a print magazine but in many ways digital has been our friend and will continue to be our friend.

SH: I’m hearing that from a lot of people and new magazine publishers that digital is an important asset in publishing or in communicating where social media can put you in touch with the audience. Why then is there a need for the print magazine? Is it to fulfill; to close that circle? Is it to create reality out of virtual relationships? Why the need for a printed Cleaver?

Iain: Well, social media, it’s one medium. What I was about to say is that social media is the medium by which we’ve built an audience so far but it’s not really the message. The message for us I think is also kind of putting a different face on Chinese Food from what people are used to. I’m sure if I say Chinese Food right now all kinds of images will come flooding into your mind, the usual clichés of Chinese food and Chinese restaurants in North America and in the UK, these are global in some ways. We want to take those clichés and as much as possible throw them out of the window and present a more dynamic sight to Chinese food. Social media is one way.

That’s what we want the Cleaver to be; we don’t want it to look like your aunt’s Chinese cookbook that she’s had at home since the 70s. We want it to look fun, we want it to look dynamic and we think that a print magazine is still one of the best ways of creating that kind of a feeling.

We also think that everyone is using social media now but I think people are finding the limits of what they can find with technology. I’ve got my iPhone, I’m doing crosswords on my iPhone now, it’s much more convenient to do a crossword on my iPhone than in a print newspaper because I won’t buy a print newspaper.

But people will also think that there are limitations to where technology can take them and I think you’re finding that across many different industries. A lot of things that were considered to be dying are coming back, the old is being revised and that’s happening in things like food and drink, craft beer, for example, people want beer that they can taste, that’s interesting, that’s got interesting names and interesting flavors. People want their hair cut by a local barber. They want things that someone’s taken time over and they want things that are well crafted. And I think that’s happening in many different industries.

I think in our industry, the print magazine and the sort of unlikely revival of the print magazine is the expression of that. So people love using Facebook and Twitter to make friends, to keep in touch with people, to share information — they love the immediacy of it. But I think many people are kind of finding that they want something they can get their hands on, they want something that they can take time over on a weekend, they want something that they can hang onto for longer, for however long it takes to punch out 140 characters.

SH: Lilly, you are a digital native and here you are preaching about the beauty and the power of print. What gives? Besides what Iain said, for you as an editor and as a writer; does print provide you with a better medium to release your inner creative soul into the pages of a magazine? Do you feel any better seeing your work in print as opposed to digital?

Lilly: I would have to answer yes to that. I have to answer this from two perspectives, as a writer and then as an editor. Personally, I grew up reading magazines, flipping through them, subscription drives, looking over all the magazine options, the excitement of getting it in the mail, that’s part of me. And there’s something so exciting about creating that tangible product that there’s no replacement for that. And that’s true for all three of us, we love print and we love making magazines.

A great print magazine, we’ve said to each other, is like a home-cooked meal with friends and family instead of a microwaved dinner for one. We believe that great photography and writing and illustration are like good food, they’re meant to be savored. So there’s that aspect to it. But as a writer, yes, seeing my work in print, that’s an incomparable feeling.

As an editor, being able to provide that to other people is also a great privilege. There’s also something to be said for print from the editorial point of view which is you can have higher standards when you have limited real estate. When people come to you and say, “Hey, I have this idea for a story,” if you have a website you can’t say “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t have room for it.” You have all the room in the world. But if you say we only have 80 pages and it’s filling up quickly and you have to show me that you’re really adding value, it’s a great excuse if you will, to encourage people to raise their game from a writing point of view or from a design point of view because they understand it’s limited and they have to bring their best in order to win the right to be in these pages.

And I like being at the top of my game and I like challenging other people to be their best. And the so-called limitations of print, the fact that it’s limited and not infinite, an infinite number of pixels, that compels people to make the most of their creativity.

SH: As a digital native, is it easier for you to promote a brand that has a print entity or just a digital brand?

Iain: Well, I think it’s certainly a challenge to promote a brand whose main entity is print, no doubt, because if you’re only digital, then maybe your content is going to be video which you can easily share on social media. And if it’s print obviously you can’t send paper across Twitter or Facebook and so yes, there’s a certain challenge because you have to kind of convey the excitement and the feeling and the experience of reading your print magazine using digital forms.

But then the challenge is to find unique ways of doing that. I just gave the example, we haven’t used video a lot, but I noticed for example a lot of print magazines are putting up short videos on Instagram when they have a new issue out. And it’s a very simple video of plop down the magazine is simply there on the table and somebody is flipping through the pages and the camera captures it, 15 seconds put that up on Instagram. I’ve had the preview of several print magazines in the past month just because of that.

And you know, it’s challenging promoting print across digital media but then you know it’s always been challenging promoting a print magazine to a global audience because unless that magazine is stocked in your local news agents then you don’t have any sense of what it’s about.

SH: So tell me about your launch plan. I know you are launching a Kickstarter campaign later this week. The first issue will be coming out in May — is it going to be coming out in the states, globally, in china?

Iain: Kickstarter starts this week and that goes on for a month. The first issue should be back from the printers early May and then as soon as it’s back from the printers we’re ready to distribute.

Now we don’t have any physical stock initially so the first issue is going to be mailed out from China direct to subscribers. The first round of subscribers is mainly going to be people who have backed our Kickstarter because the magazine is one of the rewards for that.

We don’t have any distribution points in North America or anywhere else for issue one. We’ll be selling mainly via a shopping cart on the website. The first issue’s distribution will be direct from China to the people’s homes.

SH: Any idea what you would be happy with? Maybe 5,000 subscribers?

Iain: For issue one, I think our initial print run will be smaller than that. So 5,000 would be beyond expectations. If there are 5,000 subscribers that would force us to do a second print run so that would really be incredible. I think a few issues down the line we’d certainly like to be at 5,000. But it’s hard to say at the moment.

We are confident now that there is a real audience for this and what we know now compared to one year ago in terms of the studies that are out there, the food scene that is popping up and growing across different cities, we know so much more about than when this idea came about and we are confident that the audience is there for this that they are waiting for somebody to come along to tell these stories, to start giving them the space that they deserve to start telling these stories and basically to treat Chinese food more than just another ethnic cuisine or a niche interest.

Lily: As a global phenomenon.

Iain: As a subject that has endless variety and endless stories to be told. To answer your question, 5,000 subscribers is a little bit in the future we think. We’re confident that the audience is there.

SH: Did the two of you grow up in China?

Lily: No, I am Chinese American; I was born in the U.S. I grew up in Southern California.

Iain: I started to “grow up” in China when I was 25 years old. I come from quite a small town in Scotland, which probably had about 2,000 people but two Chinese takeaways. I think they say you need 1,000 people to sustain one Chinese restaurant in a small town. The town I grew up in is a small place. I’ve been in China for 10 years now but this is where I live.

SH: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Lilly: I would have to say personally it’s my to-do list. Sometimes I do manage to fall asleep and then I will wake up and it’s like on my mind’s eye, this checklist and then I keep thinking of things to add to it. Part of me just wants to get up and write it down so that I don’t have to keep thinking about it anymore. It’s amazing like all the things I forget to do during the day I remember at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Iain: For me I would say what keeps me up at night is sort of checking Twitter every 20 minutes to see if we have any more followers. Constantly looking at that number.

SH: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2004
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