There is absolutely no doubt that we live in a digital age. From our laptops to our smartphones; being onscreen is a way of life for humans these days. But who are the people out there molding the web and building these virtual worlds that we all so embrace? Where are their stories; their tales of success and failure? Finally there’s a magazine that points to that place on the map; that continent called Cyber.
“There were a number of reasons (he chose print) and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number.” Kai Brach
Offscreen is a print magazine all about people who use the internet and technology to be creative, solve problems, and build successful businesses. It’s an ink on paper that embraces digital – some might say integration at its best.
Kai Brach is a one man operation of Offscreen; he is the publisher, editor and art director for the publication. For ten years he was a web designer before he decided that he needed something more tangible than the virtual worlds of the internet to fulfill him. He needed to feel his work would last beyond mere pixels; he needed the collectability of print. He needed more than a software update; he needed the final version.
I spoke with Kai recently through Skype from his home in Melbourne, Australia. We talked about the life of a web-designer-turned-print-publisher; the fact that he taught himself InDesign and the basics of Magazines 101. Kai is an extremely ingenious and talented young man who knew what it would take to lift him to the next level of his creativity – from pixels to print – he found fulfillment in the printed word.
So sit back and enjoy this unique conversation with a man who learned for the first time what the phrase ‘final version’ truly means – a printed magazine – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kai Brach, Publisher & Editor, Offscreen…
But first the sound-bites:
On why a web designer would choose a printed product: There were a number of reasons and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number.
On the launch of Offscreen: It was a weird feeling because you send it off and a few weeks later this product, this magazine, comes back; especially for someone who hasn’t ever done anything in print before; it was a pretty amazing experience.
On his major stumbling block with the launch: On the editorial side, and I still find this really challenging, working with 40 or 50 different contributors and getting them to give you what you want when you need it. That was and still is the biggest challenge of making any magazine; it’s working with the contributors.
On his most pleasant surprise: The good thing was when I got the first issue in the mail, that was great, but what was even better was seeing other people get it in the mail and talk about it on Twitter and put the photos on Instagram, letting me know that opening the mail smelled amazing and that they had completely forgotten that print had these other multi-sensory experiences that they don’t get when they sit in front of a screen all day.
On whether he would ever work in the digital realms again: Sure. I think everything has an expiration date and every project we do comes to an end at some point and I would never say I would not go back to digital.
On what keeps him up at night: I think most of my worries that give me sleepless nights relate to contributors who are not getting back to me or are being late or telling me that they can’t do something at the last minute. Contributor worries definitely keep me up at night.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kai Brach, Publisher & Editor, Offscreen…
Samir Husni: I was fascinated with your own personal digital background and the content of your magazine is all about the web and digital. Why did you choose print for your magazine?
This process was not fulfilling at all and I really wanted to produce something that lasted longer than the average website. I wanted to create something that I could put on my shelf and say, look, this is what I made, and it will last as long as I have it on my shelf.
That was one of the reasons that I decided I was going to stop doing client work and try my hand at something completely different. If it turned out OK – I knew that I would be proud of it.
The other reason was there’s so much stuff being produced online. I personally find myself either reading something on my Kindle, iPad or my iPhone, which I don’t have an iPad any longer, but when I read something on any of my mobile devices, I get probably 10 minutes of read time before I’m interrupted by an email or some other notification. Or I’ll try to scan over articles or longer reads, but I find myself never engaging with them properly. And I noticed that whenever I read a book or a magazine on my travels, when I’m on the train or on the plane, that’s when I actually enjoy reading. So, I thought that it would be nice to have the things that I care about, reading about the web and how people build companies and how people are creative with technology, to read about that in a format that I actually absorb properly and not just scan through or quickly run over because I have another 15 messages to answer.
And so print was becoming almost like this island where I could go and relax and discover the actual process of reading again. It was really nice and calming. And that was the other reason; I just wanted to create something that people would not find distracting and that they wouldn’t feel pressured to read on the go.
So those were the main reasons, I guess. And then, of course, it’s hard to charge money for digital content, where you can put it in a magazine and provide a nice product experience; you make it something people want to keep, a collectable item, it’s then easier to charge people for it. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you make a lot of money with it, because in publishing, and I’m sure you can attest to this fact, it’s really hard to actually make a lot of money, especially when it comes to independent publishing.
Samir Husni: Tell me the story of the launch; were you in Germany or had you already moved to Australia when you came up with the idea? Briefly, recount for me the launch of Offscreen.
Kai Brach: I was already in Australia and working as a web designer, but then I decided to stop doing that and gave myself six months to figure out what I wanted to do. I started traveling for those six months. I went to Europe and the U.S. and a few other places and I actually met up with quite a few people that I knew from the web industry.
It was during that time that I actually started to enjoy the stories that happened behind the scenes. We talked to a start-up guy who was very successful, but when you talk to him personally, you realize he went through a lot of failed attempts before he became successful and those stories that I was hearing from different people while I was traveling, encouraged me to somehow put them in a book or e-book or podcast, somewhere I could publish them.
So, I came back from my travels six months later and I decided at that point that I wanted to make a print magazine. I didn’t really know where to start, but I contacted some other magazines that I had sitting on my desk and asked them very simple questions about how to get started; what tools do you use; what production companies do you use; what printer do you use; just lots of questions.
Then I emailed a lot of printers in Germany and Australia, because I know German and the Germans know a thing or two about the printing press. (Laughs) I contacted various printers and asked them quotes based on very random numbers that I thought would make sense. I asked for a quote for 3,000 copies in the beginning and then I compared quotes and pretty much decided; OK, Germany is the only place where it makes financial sense to produce a magazine because in Australia it was extremely expensive. The cost of living is really high here.
From there, I decided to make a magazine based on the quote that I had. I had a quote based on 96 pages and I knew that was my limit. I put together a spreadsheet of people that I wanted to have in the first issue. Some of the people that I met during my travels were in the first issue, but also people that I knew through Twitter and Facebook were in there too.
Basically, I emailed a lot of people just asking them questions such as whether they would be interested in doing an interview with me and have that conversation printed in a magazine.
Of course, if you ask a web designer or some other digital person if they want to do an interview for an exclusive print magazine, you usually get some frowns and some weird looks, but once they saw the first issue, they really appreciated the magazine as well.
So, I pretty much taught myself just like when I did web design. Then, I jumped online and I actually did a course on a website called linda.com, which is an online tutorial where you pay $25 and you can watch videos of people using InDesign and preparing things for print and using color management; all those sorts of things. I taught myself how to use InDesign in a couple of weeks and of course, I used a lot of magazines that were sitting on my desk as a source of inspiration. I copied a bit here and there, but tried to be creative in other ways and after three months or so I did the PDF version of the first magazine and sent that to the printer in Germany and then I waited for four weeks or so and pretty much camped in front of my mailbox for the first issue to arrive.
It was a weird feeling because you send it off and a few weeks later this product, this magazine, comes back; especially for someone who hasn’t ever done anything in print before; it was a pretty amazing experience.
Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block with this launch and how did you overcome it?
On the editorial side, and I still find this really challenging, working with 40 or 50 different contributors and getting them to give you what you want when you need it. That was and still is the biggest challenge of making any magazine; it’s working with the contributors, especially if you’re trying to interview really busy people and get them to sit down and do a lengthy interview with you.
On top of that, keep in mind that I’m the only person behind Offscreen, so there’s no team. I do all the editorial, design, publishing and distribution myself. Every day I put on all these different hats and sometimes you get stuck in a certain area and it just doesn’t move forward.
So production was difficult because I was a web designer before I was a print magazine publisher and it was really hard to come to that final version and send it to the printer and be happy with it.
And the biggest challenge on creating the editorial side of it was dealing with so many different people at the same time and you have all these deadlines lined up.
Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise?
Kai Brach: I think getting the magazine in the mail; the first issue, especially, was amazing. Unfortunately, other issues you get after that; you always see the things you can improve upon, instead of the things that you’ve done right. If you ask any publisher, he’ll always tell you that most of the time they always see things that are wrong with it, instead of the great things about it.
The good thing was when I got the first issue in the mail, that was great, but what was even better was seeing other people get it in the mail and talk about it on Twitter and put the photos on Instagram, letting me know that opening the mail smelled amazing and that they had completely forgotten that print had these other multi-sensory experiences that they don’t get when they sit in front of a screen all day.
Hearing the feedback from people with every single issue is what I live on and what I look forward to.
Samir Husni: Do you ever see yourself going back to web design and working within the digital sphere again?
Kai Brach: Sure. I think everything has an expiration date and every project we do comes to an end at some point and I would never say I would not go back to digital. At the same time, I’m still part of digital. I’m interviewing all these people and I also design and run my own website and I do a lot of social media activity. So, I’m still a part of digital and working within the digital industry as much as I am working in print.
But who knows what the future holds? Print is a great project and I really enjoy it, but I think every publication has a point in time where it either completely reinvents itself or it just stops. The makers or the publishers try their luck with something else.
Samir Husni: I hope you have a long life with Offscreen because the concept itself and the stories you’re telling, the people you’re profiling, is our world today. We live in a digital age, nobody can deny that. But very few people actually know those stories and I think you’re not only doing a great favor for the printed magazine industry, but also the digital world. You’re taking the fantasy out of digital and the virtual out of digital and bringing it to reality.
Kai Brach: I think there’s a lot of content that’s similar to what I do in the magazine that exists online. But for a lot of people when you put it into a magazine; first of all, it reaches a different category of readers. With magazines there is a category of readers that like to discover new things. When they go to shops or they see a magazine on a coffee table somewhere else, it’s a different type of reader that gets excited; you can’t really compare them with someone who subscribes to a certain blog or follows someone on Twitter.
But at the same time the content online is similar, there are a lot of interviews on podcasts and in e-books that everyone can listen to. Of course, my housemate who’s an architect probably wouldn’t listen to a two hour podcast about a digital product. So, for those people, they will discover that world through a magazine that they stumble upon. Would they stumble upon a podcast? Not really. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: Tell me a bit about your background. Are you originally from Germany, or did you grow up in Germany? And what’s the link between Germany and Australia?
Kai Brach: I’m German. I grew up there and lived there until 2002. I moved to Australia and settled here about six years ago. I was working as a web designer and I also did a lot of traveling and spent a few months in New York and went to other places around the world. I worked while I was on the go. I think that was one of the things that I was worried about when I started the magazine: would I be able to maintain that nomadic work pattern that I had, because I love being flexible and being able to go anywhere and work from my laptop. Luckily, I can still do that, but there are a few reasons I need to establish an address and be at home for, in terms of publishing. But 90% of it I can still do on the road, so I still travel.
Samir Husni: And you’re based in Melbourne now, right?
Kai Brach: Yes, in Melbourne. I spend a bit of time every year in Berlin, maybe one or two months. There is a lot of activity, in terms of independent publishing in Europe at the moment. I attend a lot of conferences and it seems for independent publishing; Europe is the place to be at the moment.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Kai Brach: (Laughs) What doesn’t keep me up at night? Today I actually woke up at 4:00 a.m. Not because I was worried, but because I woke up for something and then I started thinking about my emails and how I had confirmed most of the interviewees for the next issue.
I think most of my worries that give me sleepless nights relate to contributors who are not getting back to me or are being late or telling me that they can’t do something at the last minute. Contributor worries definitely keep me up at night.
Samir Husni: Thank you.