Monocle is big and well designed. There's a measured obsession at work that sieves and captures: things that are obviously prefaces are headed "preface", photos are carefully labelled 01, 02 etc, and pull quotes float between stylised 66 and 99 quote marks. There are maps reminding you of its proudly New York/Mittel-Europe/Tokyo global pedigree; they have more labelled numbers that reference an unnecessarily separate key. This design says: we've gone out into the world, netted and classified it, and here's the need to know, pinned down and labelled on the page. It has the same density - that no-time-to-finish-it fear - that you get with Economist or the LRB - it feels packed, and looks beautiful.
It has great, thick, matt paper stock which takes a pencil beautifully and, where the print is light, an ink pen too. Actually, it makes me wish that they would bind in about 20 blank pages of that stock three-quarters of the way through - or wherever the ad yield is lowest - so I could use it as my work notebook for the week or so I'll be reading it. I wouldn't mind if the pages were branded up like posh hotel notepaper, as long as they had loads of space for the actual notes.
The Kita Koga comic is a nice touch. Magazines within a magazine (different design, editorial approach or paper stock) are common these days, but this is interesting: tucked in the back like a supplement or sampler, you read this manga comic from East to West in the Japanese manner. It's about geopolitics and culture and brands and ... well, similar content, different presentation.
The articles are readable: thankfully it doesn't split the articles up with either adverts or other articles. The content is better than Wallpaper, but sometimes feels a bit Economist-lite. Or: you know when you read the arts reviews in the Economist and they seem a little less, well, Economist, than the rest of it - there's a sense of that. It's tempting to say that it's the Wallpaper-meets-Economist thing, but obviously the Economist itself is also about providing the need to know overview rather than the depth. Huffington Post dubs it "substance with style" in contrast to Wallpaper's style with substance. And maybe this substantial lightness is a good thing. (You can tell I know nothing about content, can't you.)
I think the difference might be that though they both (forgive my banging on about the Economist, but it's the only magazine I regularly read) have similarly one-eyed lenses upon the world (the one pro-company/pro-individual/less-government, the other unvaryingly informed/ne plus ultran/aspirational), the Economist rubs a finger across the surface of events and trends, while Monocle appears to dip its finger into an area to provide a sample. Monocle's is an approach that's possibly more honest. Though it doesn't work equally across it's five sections: Business is much better than the (geopolitical current) Affairs, and Culture somewhat smears into Design, interiors, fashion and then Edits, which looks to me like more things to buy. Interestingly there are very few prices cited in this magazine - presumably due to the global readership - except for the scary global defence spending charts dotted like RAF roundels through the Affairs section, and the co-branded promotion at the back. It has the effect of making you doubt that these aspirational goods are affordable for you. A purer consumerist experience perhaps, in which the goods transaction is abstracted into a design-yearning. From section to section it can be quite confusing.
There's a great interview with the LEGO CEO. As a brand partner Star Wars has gone so much better for them than Harry Potter. I wonder why, but the interview is far too short to tell us, though (a hopefully longer version) is up on the website. (I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the talented Dan P. Hill Esq does with the website and broadcast elements.) There's a great piece on lighting that's also too short. The long report on Japan's navy is quite a scoop. The marketing article has interesting trivia (a ten-pack of Wrigley's in Ohio was the first product to be barcode scanned, p116). And I want some Russell moccasins now. I've only got through two-thirds of it; there's lots of good stuff.
So there's a tension between the aspirational ethos and the reportage. When it's working well Monocle is like the New Yorker, and when it isn't it's the Wallpaper Street Journal. I'm beginning to wonder who it's for. "The brief we wrote was a simple one: a smart, forward looking, single edition global briefing for a highly mobile, international audience" says the editor's coda on p 242. Patrick Bateman would read this magazine, and holding it I sometimes sensed the Bateman that's in us all, quivering.
- That sounds rather more critical than I intended. Sorry. To try recapitulate it as a compliment: Monocle is provocatively deep-shallow, serious-aspirational, light-heavyweight. You're going to love it or hate it. Or love-hate it.
From the little I've heard about launching magazines from friends in the business, it looks like a unusually finished and polished debut - publishing has less of that perpetual beta thing we see on the internet. Monocle is an impressive book, as Dan puts it.
Will I buy it again? Yes.