Jocks & Nerds returns after a 2-year hiatus. Founder and Editor, Marcus Agerman Ross spoke to one of my contributors Pete Brooker about why he has revived the brand and got his take on the current climate for the print industry.
Why did we take two years out and what have you learnt in your two year sabbatical?
I was forced to close it down because the business didn’t work anymore. When I realised I had to shut it down I realised I was exhausted, physically and emotionally - aside from the financial pain of it all. I always says there’s only one thing harder than running a business and that’s running a business that’s failing. It’s a horrible place to be.
I started working over 20 years ago and, for better or for worse, I saw what I did as journalism and that journalism was something independent - an important view on the world.
That has all been stripped away before our eyes - I don’t think anyone really understood how it happened or how quickly. (When I started Jocks&Nerds Instagram didn’t even exist and smartphones where a totally new thing!!)
I found myself in a tough situation. Middle-aged with professional experience in only one industry - one that essentially no longer exists. The skills people want today are brand new and I find them really boring.
(I was actually looking at the site of a fairly creative company recently - not for work but for something else - I clicked on their jobs board and all the jobs were things like UX developer, coder, etc!!) I genuinely think it’s very hard to be a creative professional right now. There used to be outlets for creativity that might not have paid so well as the commercial work but all of those avenues are being torn down by the new technology.
I looked for work in places where I thought my skill sets and experience would be really valued but I got nowhere. I also looked at working in totally new sectors but nothing was really coming together.
In that time, I decided to start a Jocks&Nerds radio show on Soho Radio so that we could keep the name alive and some connection with our audience. I think radio/podcasts are about the only place where you can be journalistic and independent right now. There’s no money in it but there’s essentially no cost either so you can reach people fairly easily and say what you want. It doesn’t tick every box for what I want to say as an editor but it is very useful.
Over that period I kept meeting readers and fans of the mag who told me how much they missed and that there was nothing else out there. I realised that although the advertising had gone, the readership still remained and I started to think how I might be able to put something back together. That was really the start of it.
The word is there will be no advertising this time around in Jocks & Nerds, how do you expect to finance the publication?
I’m incredibly lucky that I have managed to build an incredible team of contributors around Jocks&Nerds who believe passionately in what we are trying to do and that we stand up for something important that no one else is doing right now. They give up their own time, money and energy to help make it happen.
Now I’m printing the magazine digitally which means I don’t have to print more copies than I can sell. The downside of this the unit cost is really high hence the higher cover price but it is the only way to get it out.
In reality I’ll lose money doing it but I can’t see any other way right now. I value complete control and the ability to do something of value over advertising. Besides, advertisers ultimately destroyed what we were doing in the first place so it’s much better not to have them.
Were you tempted to completely rebrand?
We already have a recognisable name and we’ve built a sizeable, loyal audience over the best part of a decade so it makes sense to continue as Jocks & Nerds. But we have redesigned the magazine and made a new logo.
This is partly down to the fact that the content is slightly different now and we want people to regard it more as a book or periodical than a magazine - it’s designed to be archival and of value on the bookshelf.
I was lucky that the art director who worked with me at the very beginning, Phil Buckingham, was keen to get involved again. He knows the ethos behind the magazine inside out and knows how to work with me so that was really helpful in this process.
What part of the physical print format did you miss most whilst you were away?
I’ve said this many times recently but I think it’s a really important point. Magazines are in many ways completely anachronistic today whilst also being vitally important. There are issues about them being hugely expensive to produce, difficult to distribute, slow, bad for the environment, etc.
Equally, they are important because no new media format is able to do what magazines do. By that I mean if you think of audio (music, radio, etc) and visual (TV and film) the end user experience isn’t really altered. If anything some things are better. Digital radio is crystal clear and podcasts can be listened to on the go.
But magazines which are edited around a theme, idea or view on the world, that use design as an integral part of the editorial voice, that combine imagery and text in a considered way, that have scale and impact - nothing else exists that can do that - so they are important if those things are valued and I mean that from an editor/journalist point of view.
As I said at the top, the business model is broken so I hope there can be a new way forward with printing costs, distribution, etc and a break-up of the tech oligopolies somewhere down the line. Independent voices like ours are being crushed and I think it will set a dangerous precedent for media going forward.
More of this interview can be found on Pete’s site, Human Research.