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Elsie Magazine: The Creatively Sumptuous Publication Teams Up With Fiverr’s Website For Its Fourth Issue To Bring The Most Eclectic & Interesting Content To Its Audience Yet – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Les Jones, Founder & Creator, Elsie Magazine

September 26, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Interview from Across the Pond

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“I think, probably like you, Samir, I’m a huge lover of print. I don’t think that you can really substitute that kind of quality of sitting down with a magazine or a book. I think the online, digital environment is extremely exciting, but it’s just different for me. The production of an actual physical item that people not only read, but hopefully put onto their shelves and keep is really important to me. So, no, I don’t think digital is the absolute future; there’s still a big future for print.” Les Jones

“I suppose it was always inevitable that there would be a bit of a print backlash. Digital came in rather big and bold and everyone just assumed that was the future and print would disappear, but there’s no indication of that at the moment. I think people still like to hold a magazine and flip through the pages; it’s a completely different experience than scrolling through a digital magazine.” Les Jones

Picture a magazine with fantastic photography, eye-catching typography and a dedication to design that would make even the most studied of creators of layouts salivate. Then throw in an individualized theme or topic of content that is so totally unique in its concept that the magazine virtually stops you in your tracks with its originality of information.

Once you’ve conjured up that image in your mind’s eye, you’ll find yourself thinking about Elsie magazine, a creative and independent publication whose founder is based in England. And while the magazine may originate from across the Pond, the content is completely global in perception.

les-portrait-1-colourFounder and creator of Elsie, Les Jones, is a man who is a self-admitted thinker of thoughts – thoughts that come with rapidity and continuity. And when you peruse Elsie for the first or the fifteenth time, you’ll understand his genius. I spoke with Les recently as he had just wrapped up issue four of the magazine and had teamed up for this issue with the website Fiverr, a unique site that is a marketplace for creative and professional services. For the fourth issue, Les decided to commission a random group of individuals who use the site to advertise their skills and areas of interest, something the website refers to as “gigs,” to fill the pages of the fourth issue. The powers-that-be at the website saw the magical conglomeration of creative design and typography and decided to join the fun for this iteration of the magazine by sponsoring Les in his endeavors for the “Fiverr” issue.

It’s a spot-on idea that hits on everything good and viable for combining two platforms that offer two different experiences. I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who has a thing for print, but knows how to utilize digital to make it an original and provocative experience, Les Jones, founder and creator, Elsie magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

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On the creation of issue four of Elsie magazine: In order to tell you about issue four, I need to tell you a little bit about issue three. Issue three was based completely on one photograph that I took in London. It was a picture of a sign that had been covered in stickers. And when I had a look at it on my screen, I suddenly had the thought that behind every one of those stickers was a person and a story. When I came to issue four, having spent quite a while tracking all of the people down behind the stickers, traveling all across Europe to meet all of these really interesting people, I decided that I wanted to make as eclectic a magazine for number four as I had done for number three. But I gave myself the self-imposed grief of doing it without leaving my house. And I had a few ideas knocking around in my head as to where I wanted to take the magazine.

On whether the future of print is utilizing the best of digital: I’m not sure. I think, probably like you, Samir, I’m a huge lover of print. I don’t think that you can really substitute that kind of quality of sitting down with a magazine or a book. I think the online, digital environment is extremely exciting, but it’s just different for me. The production of an actual physical item that people not only read, but hopefully put onto their shelves and keep is really important to me.

On whether he’s using the magazine as an experience that he’s actually living: Yes, I would say so. For me, the reason that I said the magazine was not specifically because I wanted to publish a magazine; it was very much along the lines that I wanted to create experiences for myself. So, you might have picked up from earlier issues of the magazine that randomness plays quite a big role in what I do. You might remember from the first issue I ended up in Poland and it was a completely random visit, where I threw a dart into a map and then just went off for a week.

On whether he felt allowing the website Fiverr to be a sponsor was a wow factor for this issue: To be honest, I hit on the idea, having been pointed in the direction of their website. And I kind of lost myself in the project and I was probably at least two-thirds of the way through the magazine, if not three-quarters of the way finished, when, and why it hadn’t occurred to me before I don’t know, but it occurred to me that I was obviously doing an entire magazine through the conduit of the Fiverr website, that this might be something that Sam and the guys at Fiverr would be interested in as well.

On whether people can go to the Fiverr website and find Les Jones there: If you go to Fiverr and you search “Les Jones,” you can download a copy of the magazine, the Fiverr issue. And I have put a couple of other gigs on the site that are linked to previous iterations of the magazine.

On why he thinks it took so long for the magazine industry as a whole to realize that print is still a viable resource and very important: That’s a very good question. I think print has always been there in the background, fighting the rearguard action, hasn’t it, in terms of trying to maintain its presence within the marketplace. But what I see, and I’m sure you do too working with magazines across the world, if anything it’s a growing environment. The amount of small, independent magazines out there at the moment all just trying to carve out a particular niche; I think they’re coming in thick and fast at the moment.

On his most pleasant moment during his magazine journey: There were many, I must say. The nicest moment for me was the piece of mail art that I had from a girl in Canada. It was the most beautiful thing that she produced and in the actual words that she put in the letter, she talks about the fact that on her university campus she quite often leaves the letters around randomly for people to find and pick up. And she enjoys that experience; dropping a little bit of creativity into people’s lives even though she might never meet them.

On the biggest stumbling block he had to face and how he overcame it: If I’m honest, Samir, there really weren’t any really big stumbling blocks whatsoever. I commissioned the gigs and I worked on the process or on the basis that if it was interesting to me and I if I thought what was going to come back was interesting to other people, I went with it.

elsie-3On what someone would find him doing if they showed up at his house one evening unexpectedly: You’d have to catch me in the house and not out in one of the fields around my house walking my dog, but I also could be watching football on the television. I’m into football big time. Generally, I’d probably be on my computer doing some work. There’s usually a glass of wine in the vicinity; although I have been pretty good for the last six to eight months. I don’t have a glass of wine during the week, only on the weekends these days.

On what keeps him up at night: I tell you what keeps me up at night and I just recently had this experience when I woke up at half past four in the morning; it’s ideas. I wish sometimes that I could turn the tap off and not have the ideas swimming around in my head all of the time. I don’t particularly solicit them, they just drop in. As soon as they’re there, they announce their arrival and I feel as though I have to give them the space and think about them.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with founder and creator, Les Jones, Elsie magazine.

elsie-cover-1Samir Husni: The last time we spoke was in 2011 when the first issue of Elsie came out and you were creating individualized magazines. Now, somehow you’ve turned the tables and you’ve done a magazine created by a host of individuals in one magazine. Tell me about issue four.

Les Jones: In order to tell you about issue four, I need to tell you a little bit about issue three. Issue three was based completely on one photograph that I took in London. It was a picture of a sign that had been covered in stickers. And when I had a look at it on my screen, I suddenly had the thought that behind every one of those stickers was a person and a story.

So, I set out to try and track down all of the people behind the stickers in that one photograph. So issue three of the magazine is basically the entire journey of tracking down all of these people behind the stickers, which took me all over Europe to Italy and to Portugal, to The Netherlands and New York, where the guy was a tattoo artist, and I really just tracked all of these people down behind those stickers. It was really an interesting project. I printed all of the stickers on a sheet, and the idea was that people then would actually put the stickers on their own cover, so they created their own magazine cover.

When I came to issue four, having spent quite a while tracking all of the people down behind the stickers, traveling all across Europe to meet all of these really interesting people, I decided that I wanted to make as eclectic a magazine for number four as I had done for number three. But I gave myself the self-imposed grief of doing it without leaving my house. And I had a few ideas knocking around in my head as to where I wanted to take the magazine.

And then a friend introduced me to Fiverr; she had just had some illustrations done for her wedding invitations. So, I went onto their website and thought it was a very interesting environment, with these people all over the world basically posting their gigs, what they’re prepared to do and what their skills are, into the marketplace.

So, I started to dabble and I started to commission people all across the world to just do whatever it was they were advertising to do. And I just waited for things to come in. And as soon as they started coming in I felt that I had a really strong concept for the magazine, and rather than it be all about me and my photography and my graphics, things like that, I would create a curated magazine, where I’m putting all of these things in, and is quite random and eclectic, coming from 29 different countries. And then I would piece it all together as a whole. So, that’s kind of where it all started.

Samir Husni: It seems to me that you have utilized the best of digital to create a print collectible edition; is that the future of print?

Les Jones: I’m not sure. I think, probably like you, Samir, I’m a huge lover of print. I don’t think that you can really substitute that kind of quality of sitting down with a magazine or a book. I think the online, digital environment is extremely exciting, but it’s just different for me. The production of an actual physical item that people not only read, but hopefully put onto their shelves and keep is really important to me.

elsie-2The interesting thing about all of the stuff that came in for the magazine is that it all started with digital; you’re right about that, people sent me their content via email and download. But quite a lot of it was also physical. One of the first things I commissioned was a woman in Japan and her gig was to send Japanese sweets to post. And she was actually the first one, and then I got this envelope and I opened it, and outpoured all of these beautiful Japanese sweets in their wrappings.

Quite often, when I was going into the actual Fiverr site and looking around for things that I wanted to feature in the magazine, the physical nature was quite important. People would send me postcards, and I had a couple of people send me mail art, where they literally designed the letter, from the envelope to little drawings and the notes that they put inside. And all of that is very tactile stuff, which for me were probably the most interesting things that went into the magazine. So, no, I don’t think digital is the absolute future; there’s still a big future for print.

Samir Husni: You invite people to come to your place and stop by; you’ve put your address on all of these envelopes; are you using Elsie as more than a printed magazine? Are you using it as an experience that you’re actually living?

Les Jones: Yes, I would say so. For me, the reason that I said the magazine was not specifically because I wanted to publish a magazine; it was very much along the lines that I wanted to create experiences for myself. So, you might have picked up from earlier issues of the magazine that randomness plays quite a big role in what I do. You might remember from the first issue I ended up in Poland and it was a completely random visit, where I threw a dart into a map and then just went off for a week.

And I think that kind of setting the ball rolling and then just following where it lead was really interesting for me. And that’s where I get the creative payback, if you like. I don’t sit down and have a clear vision of a finished product; I just like to start it and then see where it leads.

So, I think you’re right. Using the magazine as a catalyst to experiences and interactions and ways of working with people, is very much what it’s about. I’m also about to start new live events with it as well. So, I’m doing about 12 Elsie magazine events around the U.K. The first one starts next week and will go into the New Year. As well as sort of gauging reactions about Elsie and the stories in the magazine; I’m also going to use those events to get the audience to actually create new content for future issues. So, they’ll be doing stuff also to actually provide content for future issues. And I like that idea and the interactions and that experience-based thing; very much so.

Samir Husni: The experience that you had this time is you were able to get a sponsor, which you have not done with the first three issues.

Les Jones: No, I hadn’t done that before.

Samir Husni: Were you that convinced that the website Fiverr and this issue of Elsie was a wow factor, so you decided to merge your efforts with them and see what happened?

Les Jones: To be honest, I hit on the idea, having been pointed in the direction of their website. And I kind of lost myself in the project and I was probably at least two-thirds of the way through the magazine, if not three-quarters of the way finished, when, and why it hadn’t occurred to me before I don’t know, but it occurred to me that I was obviously doing an entire magazine through the conduit of the Fiverr website, that this might be something that Sam (Katzen – PR Manager) and the guys at Fiverr would be interested in as well. *(See my question to Sam Katzen at the end of the interview with Les Jones…)

So, I literally sent them an email and told them about doing the entire magazine pretty much through the content on their website and that it was coming together really well and was an interesting experience; would they be interested? And I asked if we could have a conversation; I didn’t really make a formal approach for sponsorship, if you like.

elsie-2-cover-009It was when I sent the stuff to Sam that they got in touch with me and said that it looked like a really interesting project. And that they would like to get involved with it in some way. And it’s fantastic to have some sponsorship behind the magazine, because everything I do on the magazine is self-funded and I pay for everything myself, so to have that support was great.

I was very keen to point out and to be fair to Sam and the people at Fiverr, and they were also in agreement, that they had no involvement in the editorial direction of the magazine whatsoever. That was 100 percent me and they supported it from the general principle.

Samir Husni: Can I expect to be able to locate you when I go to the Fiverr website, and see your name with the statement that you’re willing to create a magazine for whoever wants one? All they have to do is submit their idea and you’ll create the magazine and this is what it will cost them? (Laughs)

Les Jones: (Laughs too) That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? If you go to Fiverr and you search “Les Jones,” you can download a copy of the magazine, the Fiverr issue. And I have put a couple of other gigs on the site that are linked to previous iterations of the magazine.

One of the things I do, and I think there are a few in issue one, are these random illustrations where I literally just put my finger in the dictionary and then create a word from Googling that image. So, I’ve put that on a as a gig, If you want me to use your name and Google your name and then whatever comes up, create a unique piece of art from it, that’s one of the gigs that I’ve put onto Fiverr. But to do a magazine, a whole magazine, knowing how long it takes? (Laughs) That might be pushing it a little bit.

Samir Husni: Why do you think it took the magazine industry as a whole almost five to ten years to recognize that print isn’t going away and that digital isn’t our sole future? Supposedly, we are some of the top creative minds in the world today; why do you think it took so long for magazine media to figure out that print is still a viable resource and very important?

Les Jones: That’s a very good question. I think print has always been there in the background, fighting the rearguard action, hasn’t it, in terms of trying to maintain its presence within the marketplace. But what I see, and I’m sure you do too working with magazines across the world, if anything it’s a growing environment. The amount of small, independent magazines out there at the moment all just trying to carve out a particular niche; I think they’re coming in thick and fast at the moment.

How long they’ll survive, I don’t know. That’s been one of the questions that I’ve often asked myself about Elsie; how long can I keep it going? One of the things that was a real spur to me is when I launched the first issue and it was reviewed by The New York Library Journal, they voted it one of their top 10 new magazines of that year, which was fantastic. And one of the things that they put in the review was, the chance of Les Jones keeping this magazine going was pretty small, but enjoy it while it lasts, is the way I believe they put it. And I kind of took that on the chin and thought OK, I am going to keep this going and I am going to keep pushing it. (Laughs)

It’s a tough journey because without the same exposure the mainstream magazines get, just trying to get the word out there and the magazine in front of people is really difficult. Slowly, but surely, it’s growing a fan base of people who value the uniqueness of the magazine.

I suppose it was always inevitable that there would be a bit of a print backlash. Digital came in rather big and bold and everyone just assumed that was the future and print would disappear, but there’s no indication of that at the moment. I think people still like to hold a magazine and flip through the pages; it’s a completely different experience than scrolling through a digital magazine. I find that I concentrate more when I have a physical thing, rather than the digital.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant moment for you during this journey; I mean besides receiving all of those candies from Japan?

Les Jones: (Laughs) Which I haven’t eaten yet.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Les Jones: There were many, I must say. The nicest moment for me was the piece of mail art that I had from a girl in Canada. It was the most beautiful thing that she produced and in the actual words that she put in the letter, she talks about the fact that on her university campus she quite often leaves the letters around randomly for people to find and pick up. And she enjoys that experience; dropping a little bit of creativity into people’s lives even though she might never meet them. That letter just kind of kept opening and revealing more bits of stuff and little letters and bits of typography. I thought it was fantastic.

The most humorous and the one that made me laugh the most was a crocheted beard, which I have shown it to all my friends and after the New Year, in the winter, I’m thinking of getting everyone a crocheted beard. (Laughs) So, that was great.

I love that kind of eclectic nature of some of those kinds of gigs. I deliberately chose those that were slightly off the wall, rather than some of the more mainstream things.

Samir Husni: And what was the biggest stumbling block with issue four that you had to face and how did you overcome it?

Les Jones: If I’m honest, Samir, there really weren’t any really big stumbling blocks whatsoever. I commissioned the gigs and I worked on the process or on the basis that if it was interesting to me and I if I thought what was going to come back was interesting to other people, I went with it.

I curated the magazine, so not everything that I actually commissioned went in. Probably 20 percent of the stuff didn’t make it for whatever reason, I just didn’t think it fit or wasn’t in keeping with the flow of the magazine.

I suppose the only small thing was that once I’d actually commissioned a gig from someone, and then went back to them and told them what I was doing with the magazine, then asked them if they would contribute some information about themselves, where they lived and what they did, and most people responded, but I had to chase a few down for the information. Not because they were being reluctant, they just hadn’t gotten around to it. Other than that, it was really a pleasurable experience. It was great having those kinds of things drop into your email inbox or having an envelope dropping into my mailbox. It was great.

elsie-3-cover-with-stickers2-lrSamir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing, reading a magazine, reading on your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Les Jones: You’d have to catch me in the house and not out in one of the fields around my house walking my dog, but I also could be watching football on the television. I’m into football big time. Generally, I’d probably be on my computer doing some work. There’s usually a glass of wine in the vicinity; although I have been pretty good for the last six to eight months. I don’t have a glass of wine during the week, only on the weekends these days.

It’s a very relaxed environment. Probably a lot of noise with all of the kids in the house; I have four children; although they don’t all live at home now. But, yes, I’d probably be doing something creative or just catching up on things.

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

Les Jones: I tell you what keeps me up at night and I just recently had this experience when I woke up at half past four in the morning; it’s ideas. I wish sometimes that I could turn the tap off and not have the ideas swimming around in my head all of the time. I don’t particularly solicit them, they just drop in. As soon as they’re there, they announce their arrival and I feel as though I have to give them the space and think about them.

I’ve actually got lots of ideas for other magazines, other than Elsie. Hopefully one day I’ll turn Elsie into, not just the magazine it is, but into a publishing house for a range of titles. So, I have lots of creative ideas for other magazines floating around in my head, I just need to find the time, space and the resources to bring them to market.

Samir Husni: Thank you.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________

*About Fiverr
A question to Sam Katzen, Fiverr manager of PR:

Samir Husni: Sam, may I ask you a question? Why are there so many people on Fiverr offering print and print related services; offering to send you a postcard or a handwritten note?

Sam Katzen: While there are a lot of people offering those gigs on Fiverr, in reality about 99 percent of our marketplace is digital services. So, most of the things are being delivered via the Internet, and that makes sense because a lot of the users and customers are small businesses. So, a lot of the services are sort of in the professional vein, but I also think that because our marketplace is so broad; we’re in 190 countries, with millions of users because of that, you have an opportunity for creativity to really flourish and be exposed from a global standpoint.

What Les has experienced in Elsie and what the magazine really showcases to me is that there are different varieties of what’s considered interesting and creative from all over the world and those things can all be expressed in a place like Fiverr. And that’s probably one of the reasons you see a lot of mail art, for instance.

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