The design courses blog for BA (Hons)
and HND Vis Comm at Edinburgh College

Magfest 2016

20 September 2016

Magfest is Scotland's largest festival dedicated to magazine publishing and is held annually in Edinburgh. This is its fifth year, and was the biggest yet, with more than 300 delegates and a great city-centre location at the Central Hall, Tollcross.  The theme for 2016 was 'fight for your audience', and all of the talks loosely addressed the state of the sector and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Magfest attracts publishers, illustrators, journalists, photographers and designers (professionals and students), and of course educators. The format consists of keynote speakers on the main stage, broken up by short panel discussions, breakout workshops in other parts of the venue, and short talks by up-and-coming magazine publishers.

This year the list of speakers was exceptional, the pitches by new magazine publishers was a minor revelation, and the general organisation, promotion and networking opportunities of the event were all first rate.  I attended the morning sessions and some of the afternoon talks - a group of our HND Graphic Design students spent the whole day and had a great experience.

My program copy, beautifully typeset by Eric Campbell.

The morning highlights included the opening speaker, Vanessa Kingori MBE from GQ Magazine, who set the tone for the whole event by looking at the challenges facing the publishing industry, and the opportunities of new technologies and superior content. It was immediately clear after a few minutes that we were all in for an absorbing day, especially when Vanessa played a cool clip of David Bowie in 1999 predicting that the internet would alter how we communicate in ways which "we can't yet even imagine".

Also up in the morning was the CEO of News UK (and former editor at the Scottish Sun), David Dinsmore, who described the huge operation the group runs across the nation, and the many successes of Scotland's best-selling tabloid newspaper.

Next up was Holland's Ernst-Jan Pfauth from De Correspondant - a Dutch-language digital magazine of crowd-sourced journalists which is ad-free and uses a disruptive strategy to operate outside of the commercial constraints normally associated with magazines.  Original content, beautiful design, and an inspired subscription model have been key to this title's rapid success. For me this was the highlight of the day, and with hindsight, a talk like this about publishing would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

We also had an interesting diversion into modern Scottish politics with Angela Haggerty, editor of CommonSpace, talking about the vacuum this news platform has filled in terms of balanced journalism in post-indyref Scotland. Angela also talked about a social media platform funded by Common Weal, called 'CommonSocial'.

Lunch (in a metal box) is served.

The early afternoon talks included Terri White, Editor-In-Chief of Empire Magazine (and a former editor of Time Out New York), who discussed current trends in film magazines and the risks publishers need to take - which she duly demonstrated by playing a hilarious x-rated Empire infomercial delivered by Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool - google it.

In between these keynotes I really enjoyed the short pitches from all the new publishers, in particular the titles She is Fierce, Counterpoint, and Nutmeg stood out.  It's a pity I missed Astrid Stavro and Primate's Espen Brunborg, who talked about editorial design and web design respectively, but I'm reliably informed by our students that these two talks were superb.

And with workshops on comics, infographics and etc, there was something for everyone at Magfest. The free (and rather excellent) lunch, a set of great freelance stalls, and a fully stocked shop of Scottish titles all added to the sense that Magfest is firmly established as a brilliant event for creatives and publishers, and probably doesn't need to fight for its audience next year.