Episode 347 – Slow journalism with Rob Orchard

Rob Orchard‘Slow journalism for us was just a way of encapsulating that feeling that when you take your time, you can do something more quality.’

In a media landscape dominated by the white-hot, reactive world of social media and rolling news, it can be hard to keep a sense of perspective. That’s why a small group of editors decided to do something revolutionary: create a form of journalism that deliberately avoided breaking news, but instead focused on looking back to identify the real significance of events several months after they’d happened, once the dust had settled. Throw in high-quality production values and sophisticated infographics, and you have Delayed Gratification, the flagship publication of the slow journalism movement. 

Independent publishing – of books or magazines – is famously financially precarious, and in this conversation Rob Orchard and I explore the bloody-mindedness and vision that lie behind it and the joy it brings to those brave and foolish enough to take it on, and why the world needs those brave fools so badly. 



The Slow Journalism website: https://www.slow-journalism.com/ 

Delayed Gratification on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dgquarterly

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

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The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Rob Orchard, who’s the co-founder of the Slow Journalism Company, co-editor of its flagship title, Delayed Gratification, and co-author of An Answer for Everything: 200 infographics to explain the world, which is such a ballsy title, I love it. We’ll come to that later.

Along with Marcus Webb, he has twice been named Independent Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. And prior to forming the Slow Journalism Company, he worked as Editor of Timeout Dubai and Timeout Paris, and ran a customer publishing company in Dubai. So welcome to the show, Rob.

Rob Orchard: Very nice to be here. Thanks so much for having me on.

Alison Jones: Oh, it’s so good to have you. And yes, we will definitely come to that hubristic title, which is glorious. And my son is completely in love with, as I mentioned off air, but we’ll come to that. But I want you to talk at the very beginning about slow journalism because it’s such a great, I can feel my breath just calming as I say it and in a world of kind of Twitter and on and on, on and on, why is it so important? What is it?

Rob Orchard: Right. Very good question. So slow journalism, I suppose, was the way that we encapsulated the idea that we were trying to embody in this beautiful magazine. So Delayed Gratification Magazine, world’s best magazine. I’m basically going to throw all the…

Alison Jones: …hubris…

Rob Orchard: …at this, but, so it’s a beautiful, quarterly magazine that we launched in January 2011.

And at that time, there was a group of us, all of us editors, we’d worked together for a long time and we were looking out over the media landscape. And it was just increasingly bleak. And this is 2011, bear in mind. So really all of the really nasty, mad stuff, the deep fakes and the disinformation, all that sort of stuff really was yet to come. And the kind of the bot farms and the realization that your phone is destroying your life, all these different things. All of that, you know, we were all kind of in love with our phones. Everything was great. But the media world was really in a precipitous decline.

You had all of these big titles like long established magazines and newspapers folding, cutting back, you know the ones that survived, they were kind of cutting back on the amount money they could pay people. They were getting much, much less adventurous. You were seeing the hollowing out that has only continued of local news. So people were still sort of thrashing around and trying to find the model that was going to fund good journalism. And we had kind of educated people, not you and I, but like people had been educated over 20 years to expect stuff for free online, and that turned out to be calamitous in terms of the production of good news journalism, because good news journalism is really, really expensive and it takes time and you have to be prepared to follow leads that don’t kind of come off. And you have to be prepared to invest in people.

And so all of that was going on. And at the same time there was this idea that digital was the answer. Like, digital is the future, it’s going to sort everything out. And all these people sort of piling into digital without anybody actually having pointed at how they were going to make any money out it.

So we were looking out at that and we think it was all a bit dismal and we were seeing these kind of, you know, we were seeing news shifting from being something that was mediated by editors to something that was mediated by what people were searching for. And you know, that was kind of pitched as a positive, taking it out of the hands of a group of middle-aged people in New York and London. That’s probably true as well, there’s kind of quite a lot of that to that as well. But what you were seeing was the start of things being led by Twitter and things being led by kind of celebrity and by clicks. So this idea that actually you would have people go into news organizations and instead of going out into the world and seeing what they thought was important, they were being told what to write about, based on what people had been searching.

So all of that was going on, so we were horrified by this and we were all big print people and we loved making magazines and so we wanted to do a quarterly magazine that was the opposite of that. So instead of being speedy and knee jerk and immediate and giving hot takes, it would take its time to a ridiculous extent.

So it would wait for three months after events had happened, until the dust settled, and it would look back over the events of a quarter at a time, and it would pull out the stuff that genuinely mattered. So get rid of all of the white noise and the fluff and the PR spin, and then all of the gubbins, just go back to the stuff that was important, stories that other people had missed or mistold because they were trying to do them so fast and ask the question of what happened next. And so that’s been our format. And it was always a kind of a bit of an experimental magazine. It was always going to be advertising-free.

So it has always been free of advertising, supported uniquely by readers and subscriptions, and non-partisan. So not coming from one political spectrum, side of the spectrum or another, just basically a magazine about ideas and trying to invest in good journalism. And it’s been one as well where we’ve just tried to be increasingly ambitious with sort of journalism we do, the places we send people, the amount that we invest and so on.

So that was the background. And so slow journalism for us was just a way of encapsulating that feeling that when you take your time, you can do something more quality. Not always, but you know, it’s a bit like there are parallels with slow food and slow travel, both of which were reactions against, you know, slow food obviously reaction against fast food.

This idea of something is missed through speed and that actually if you want quality, sometimes you have to take more time. So that has been our voice, that’s been our kind of idea. And it was a bit of a voice in the wilderness, I think, for the early years, which was quite good for us because we got quite good coverage from people.

Like, who are these chumps doing a print magazine? And it’s always been a niche concern. This is not a massive mainstream, kind of big title, but it’s now got like a nice dedicated group of subscribers that support it. And I guess we’ve continued to try to champion that. And I think it’s become more evident to people because as you touched on, the sheer speed and overwhelming nature of the 24/7 news culture that we inhabit makes us anxious, constantly on the back foot, reaching for our phone every time there’s an update. Sometimes when there are children and other interesting people in the room that need attention, but our mind is zoned out. So something that comes along once every three months and gives you a screen break and says, don’t worry, you don’t need to concentrate on the flim and the flam and the gubbins 24/7. You can actually just get this and catch up. That’s quite nice.

Alison Jones: Yes, there’s a real wellbeing aspect in that which I think is also true about writing, actually, a completely different subject, but writing by hand is a similar sort of taking yourself out. Fascinating to hear your analysis of the challenges that the magazine industry was facing because of course I was in the book publishing industry at the same time.

Very similar thing. You know, what is the model here? Everybody wants everything for free. How do we make that work? And gosh, there’s so many ways we could go with this. I really want to talk to you about how magazines are positioned alongside books in the content ecosystem.

But let’s go first, I think, to the fact that you have made it work in what is actually an incredibly difficult business model, you know, it really was. As you say, it’s the business model that was driving the end of journalism as we knew it. We just couldn’t put stuff out for free. And how do you get to the point where you have got enough people who know about you, who care enough about you, who are prepared to spend some cash to get what is a beautifully produced magazine? I mean the paper quality, everything about it is gorgeous. It’s not a cheap magazine to produce, but where was the step that took you from ‘this is a great idea’, to ‘we can make this work financially’?

Rob Orchard: Well, I think, to be honest with you, it was a combination of total naivety and bloody mindedness because, honestly, I think that the best magazines are probably launched not by publishing professionals who’ve calmly, sort of evaluated the market and looked at the demographics and worked out how they’re going to take this to the market, all that sort of stuff. And who the advertisers are going to be and how it’s going to fit in with other things.

I think they’re by people who bloody mindedly want to pursue the bee in their bonnet. So it’s just like, you feel a compulsion, right? You want to produce something, you want to get it out there.

So we did that and we had, if you look back to our early projections, such as they were, I mean, bear in mind, so this is five journalists and an art director, none of whom have got any practical kind of financial experience at all. And none of whom have really kind of, done anything serious in the UK in terms of business.

And if you look at those projections, they’re laughable. They’re the projections of total fantasists. Like, oh yes, maybe we can sell 5,000 copies of issue one, you know, or that stupid thing that everybody does but actually probably most people don’t do, but you’re like, there’s 66 million people in the country, so all we’ve got to do, it’s… you know, and then to get them to buy an obscure print publication that probably doesn’t fit into their lifestyle at all. That’s all we’ve got to do.

Alison Jones: I’m going to step in there because that is hilarious. I get so many proposals in the challenge that say, I’ve quantified the market and they say there’s this many million people in this space, so if we get 0.1% of those… It does not work like that.

Rob Orchard: It’s absolutely nonsense. It’s absolutely just jazz thinking. And so there was that and then it was just you keep making each issue. And for the first three and a half years, we didn’t take any money out of it, so we were just working freelance evenings and weekends just to keep the wolf from the door. It was really, really tough. It was very, very hand to mouth. I remember doing sort of things where I was just thinking, well, look, if I can just put off the printer for another kind of two weeks, then I can move this money about, I can do this, and you know, it was all kind of a bit grim, but it was also delightful.

Like, I mean making a making a publication is one of the nicest things that you can do as you know, it’s kind of just a very creative, lovely thing. If you do it with people that you are very kind of close with, as I have, and that you really, really respect, a small team of people that you just all think they’re all absolutely brilliant, then there’s nothing nicer in the world. It’s lovely.

So it was kind of a mixture of kind of bullish disregard for reality, being infatuated with what we were doing and I suppose also being at that stage in our life. So this was like I had a kind of a three and a half year run before I had my first kid. And I could not have launched this after having a first kid because I just wouldn’t have had the energy and I would’ve been far too worried about it making money.

And then, you know, it’s been hand to mouth a little bit of that time and we found other revenue streams. So, infographics turned out to be a massive thing for us. We’ve talked a lot of infographics in big organizations. We’ve made infographics for organizations at various times. And then we’ve tried to do these extra things like making a book and we’re working on some other projects at the moment, so, you know, a little bit at a time.

But I mean, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we’re now like awash with cash having finally cracked the answer to independent magazines. Independent magazines is like an economically very precarious business model. And certainly, it’s one of the things as well unless you’ve somehow got into the space of being a need to have for your customer, then when you are nice to have, then you are one of the first things that when they’re going through their direct debits, that they’ll kind of cross off the list at a time like this, when everything’s kind of pricey, everything’s going through the roof.

So it’s not that we’ve solved it, but we have got to a stage now where everybody’s paid and the business feels like it’s got some stability and we can keep growing.

Alison Jones: And it’s interesting you talk about the infographics as well. I want to pick up on those. You almost say they’re like a byproduct and then they developed their own revenue stream, which is really interesting. Tell me how the infographics came along, why you realized so quickly that they were so important and why they matter, why they work so well.

Rob Orchard: So, my co-editor Marcus, who had a real bee in his bonnet about them, he’s a very big publishing brain so we were working on this magazine together in late 2010. And David McCandless’ book Information Is Beautiful had come out a little bit before and we were looking at like this is kind of really, this is super exciting stuff.

And so we were talking about it and Marcus really pushed and said, Look, we need some points of difference for the first issue. Let’s get some infographics in there. And we were very lucky to be blessed with the world’s best Art Director, Christian, and so he just kind of took this and ran with it, and then it just became part of it.

And the reason it became part of it, I think it’s twofold. Number one, it’s a brilliant way to condense three months or three years, or 300 years’ worth of data into an easily digestible story. So from the slow journalism angle, if you get it right, it’s quite nice like that. And the number two thing is for any publication, there’s something about having ebbs and flows, right? Light and dark. You can’t get to the end of a 10 page feature about how awful everything is and then turn the page and go into a 10 page feature about how awful everything is in Yemen. It kills you, you’ll stop reading. You know, the reader is a human who needs to, you know, like have a respite from how awful things are in the world.

So we’ve kind of used it as a way of kind of producing rhythm in the magazine. So, you know, full stops and kind of, you know, like nice little palate-cleansing moments between more serious pieces.

Alison Jones: Amuse-bouche. Okay.

Rob Orchard: It’s an amuse-bouche and also to extend the metaphor into a slightly kind of grimmer realm, it’s like a gateway drug, I think. So, I think it’s quite difficult to sell people just on a book full of long-form journalism, comes out once every quarter and if they pick it up the newsstand, they pick it up and they’re like, oh God, 10 pounds, wow, that’s a bit pricey. And then they start flicking through. And when I look at, when I clock somebody in Smiths doing that, it’s never the long-form features that they stop on, those beautifully researched things that we sent somebody for weeks to do something, we’ve legaled it and we’ve wrangled it, we subbed it and gone back and forth. You know, it’s the nice little infographics, the funny little facts that have been illustrated and catch people.

And that’s what they show people and so they’re brilliant for getting people to engage. And you know, when we do teaching in big organizations, very often we talk about that, if you want somebody to engage with your report or your presentation, or you want somebody to kind of take a bit of time with a broader story, this is a great way to drag them in.

This is like the infographic is the gateway drug for your bigger story.

Alison Jones: Yes, and it’s not easy to do, but then it’s not that hard either. I think thinking visually is a skill like any other, you can develop it. One of the ways of doing it is looking at how people do it. So I would commend to you both Delayed Gratification, but also the book An Answer For Everything.

And honestly, that’s what my son is hooked on your gateway drug because he just…

Rob Orchard: No, that’s…

Alison Jones: …the book and my 14-year-old son cannot get enough of An Answer For Everything. I think this is because he feels he has an answer for everything and he just feels a kind of kinship with it. But yes, there’s that sense of, he’s like a sponge with facts.

But I know that if I’d sat him down with four pages of closely argued text, I’d have got nowhere. Give him an infographic, all over it. I don’t think humans… humans? He’s human obviously. I don’t think adults are any different.

Rob Orchard: Humans are different

Alison Jones: Oops.

Rob Orchard: …will your son listen to this?

Alison Jones: No. Oh, he won’t. It’s his mum. He won’t listen.

Rob Orchard: Well, no, that’s really, that’s really interesting. So I think there is a generational thing there. I think, so actually when we have occasionally done reader surveys and we’ve matched it with demographics, we’ve asked people should we have more or fewer infographics in the book, we get about 50% of the readers with the younger readers saying more. And about 50% of the older reader say fewer. So we just kind of kept the same number.

But it’s definitely, and I’ve had conversations with older relatives who’d be like, look, how do I read this? I don’t really get it. Where it’s much more intuitive for young people, I think. And you’re right that there’s nothing actually, there’s nothing difficult about infographics.

They’re mysterious, but they’re not complicated. Now I say that as not being the designer. So…

Alison Jones: I find them very easy.

Rob Orchard: …all you have to do is you just have to tell a man and he makes them. It’s really wonderful. No.

Alison Jones: The rest of us though, Rob?

Rob Orchard: Exactly. Well, so Marcus and I do, we do everything in tandem with Christian. So we develop the whole thing together. So what we all say in our classes is this, there are no good infographics without good stories, which seems quite an obvious thing to say, but actually the vast majority of infographics that are produced, and it is a absolute deluge out there, particularly in the business world, the vast majority of them are a complete waste of time and marketing budget and you know, design effort because they don’t contain a relatable human story at the heart of them. The sort of thing that you would genuinely want to tell your friends down the pub, and you are much better off enshrining one of those stories in a 3D pie chart made in Microsoft paint. You know, like 1998 version. Then you are doing a bells and whistles illustrator thing with moving parts with a story that doesn’t resonate with people.

So you can make stuff very straightforwardly and there’s all sorts of free software, Infogram is absolutely brilliant now, like there’s very few things that you would want to do that you couldn’t do with that.

And then all you need is the principles. So actually, so we run these regular classes for, well, they are discounted for subscribers, but also non-subscribers very welcome. We run them online, slowjournalism.com, and it’s just two hours. And what we do is we take you through from the beginning, so like what infographics are, how they work, how humans process data visually. How you get to a really good story, once you’ve got your good story from the data and how you said about parsing data to get this, how you then know instinctively what sort of design’s going to work for it, and then you’re away. And then it’s just practice. So, yes, I mean, it’s not difficult, but there’s a lot people doing it wrong.

Alison Jones: Yes, if you meant to just make that sound simple, I’m not sure you succeeded there, Rob. It does sound like quite a lot of stages actually, would recommend that people have a look at the course. There’s no way you’re going to give us five minutes and we’ve got the thing, so I get that. But yes, they work extremely well.

Let me come back to that point I flagged earlier because actually at £10, the magazine is straying into kind of book price territory as well as the way it’s doing it. So, how do you see, so you’ve almost created a niche within the content ecosystem. We’re used to having magazines, we’re used to having books, and here’s this thing that’s kind of in between the two, which is really interesting.

Have you ever thought about it in those terms, how they relate together?

Rob Orchard: So for the longest time we’ve pitched the Delayed Gratification as being halfway between a very slow magazine and a very fast history book and sort of sitting somewhere on that scale. That kind of bookazine thing, when we launched there wasn’t really the same sort of thing for it.

So if you were a bookazine in Smiths, then you were like a standalone guide to how to use iPads for pensioners or whatever. And you had the special section so you could go through, now it’s much more common because there’s been this unbelievable wave of independent magazines coming out.

And equally when we came out, so we came out we cost £10 issue one, January, 2011. And actually as in this next issue, we’ve got to go up to £12 because the cost of paper has gone up by 26% in the last year and so is everything else, obviously. Small amount, but still significant.

But yes, so £10 at that stage was outrageous because most the magazines kind of around it were sort of £two. But now, actually it’s not that mad, you know?

Alison Jones: Magazines have really shot up over the last 10 years, haven’t they?

Rob Orchard: You’d struggle to find a decent magazine for less than five pounds, most are in the £5 to £10 bracket. But then you’ve got all of these independent magazines, you know, that’s selling for £15 plus.

Alison Jones: Which is fascinating actually, because books haven’t really done the same.

Rob Orchard: No. No, they haven’t, have they.

Alison Jones: The differential has closed.

Rob Orchard: Yes, you are right. And there’s all sorts of services that are not set up for this style of thing. You know, there’s services set up for books. There’s services set up for weekly and monthly magazines with rapid turnover, but distributors and marketing things and subscriptions organizations and all these different things, were not geared up at the beginning for that kind of quarterly subscription sort of thing. That has changed though, there’s a lot more opportunity if you wanted to launch this sort of thing, then you can do it and much more straightforwardly. And so we also teach a lot of classes in how to launch an independent magazine. And there’s such an interesting appetite in it.

And there’s a lot of people who I think, are trying to work out whether they would rather write a book. Lots of people talking about whether they would rather like to write a business book. Or actually they think that there’s something with a bit more regularity that they can put out there.

And as you know, with a book, it’s one of those things where you’ve got one chance and if you seize a particular moment, and if the PR people are brilliant and if everything’s in your favour and if maybe you know, like a similar title has come out done really well or whatever, like all of these different things align, then in that brief window where you are a novelty, you can just fly.

But actually you can have written the best thing in the entire world and those things not align and it just not really kind of take off. So there’s something about the kind of the quarterly thing of just building up people, building up people over a more protracted period of time, getting them on direct debits and then having something to build from that I think can work really, really well.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s so interesting and I hadn’t, I don’t know whether I hadn’t just picked up on it, but that I’d noticed that increase in price of magazines, but I hadn’t noticed the growth in that bookazine space, and you’re so enthusiastic about it, you make me want to go and publish in that space, so I’m…

Rob Orchard: …come to my class. Yes, but also for…

Alison Jones: …stacks of free time, me. Should certainly do that.

Rob Orchard: But for a crash course in what’s going on out there, go to Mag Culture. It’s this amazing, I mean, there’s loads of them, but there’s amazing independent magazine store in London and just spend two hours going around because you will be astonished by the number and the variety and the quality of the independent publications that are just kind of coming out and part of it is also, it’s journalists coming up, you’ve still got all of these kids who want to become journalists and they’re doing the courses and they’re coming out, graduating and they’re finding that there just isn’t a pathway in. There aren’t the jobs, there’s no kind of like starter jobs in local news that they can then move on.

So they’re kind of finding a backdoor and so they’re publishing these things and they’re not necessarily meant to last for years and years and years, but they’re just kind of a calling card. They’re showing we can do this, we can do some amazing things. So you get this flurry of creativity and incredible publications and then it kind of dies away again.

But it almost doesn’t matter, the ephemeral nature of it is sort of part of the beauty.

Alison Jones: Part of its charm, yes, and it’s really interesting as well that contrast between mass journalism, which is struggling so much, unless you know, really big ones. And then this sort of thousand flowers flourishing, that sort of just deep niches where people can really make a mark.

Rob Orchard: Yes, definitely. I mean I guess we’ve seen it everywhere. Like podcasting is an incredible thing from that point of view with far lower barriers to entry than printing something. And so that sort of thing has flourished as well, I suppose. I mean, I suppose what you don’t see going to a place like Mag Culture is the sheer attrition rate.

 I’ve sort of often wondered about doing an infographic where you just track the last 10 years the sheer number of magazines that have launched and then the average lifespan of each, because a lot of them are haemorrhaging cash from the beginning and though they look good, they’re kind of doomed.

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s what they say about publishing, isn’t it? How to make a small fortune in publishing. Start with a large one.

Rob Orchard: Yes, that’s the thing. Yes, yes, yes.

Alison Jones: I always ask my guests, Rob, for a a best tip. Now let’s just look at writing generally, not sort of books per se, but if somebody’s listening to this, they want to do more writing for their business, in their business, what one thing would you say to them?

Rob Orchard: I’m going to do two things. I don’t want to destroy like the premise of the show.

Alison Jones: The format gone? Okay, fine.

Rob Orchard: You’re definitely going to edit this out afterwards. Oh, one thing, right? One thing. Yes, so two things and both very obvious, but both I find incredibly useful. So the number one thing is walking. So this morning I started my morning as I do every time. So I go out to Margate to work with Arthur and Christian. And it was a lovely bracing morning in Margate. And so we went out with his dog Arthur. Beautiful Patterdale terrier, dressed in what I can only describe as a sort of a tutu. He’s got this kind of like elaborate winter wear that he sort of wears, was very jolly and so he went out…

Alison Jones: …still talking about the dog here, right?

Rob Orchard: …exactly. We’re all in tutus. This is the second secret. Yes, no.

So we go down to the beach and actually just that kind of, the very fact of moving and talking with somebody, not face to face, but sort of next one another seems to be incredibly good for generating ideas and for letting things out. So we find those super, super, super productive.

Just kind of long walks. I come back and you’ve got 12 ideas off the back. That’s amazing. And I have been through phases when I’ve been writing and editing very intensely where I have really tried all of the tricks to force myself to do that. You know, just to physically get up and just go, even if you feel like you can’t possibly, because there’s too much to do. You’ll treble your kind of rate after that.

And the other thing I think is about editing is that I have found the very best thing with editing is to not edit on screen. I think to print things out and you need to get an old-fashioned red pen and sit in a comfy armchair and circle round stuff.

And maybe it’s like what you were saying about when you write stuff by hand, but a bit of the brain is activated when you are kind of scrawling stuff.

Alison Jones: There’s a kinaesthetic connection there, isn’t there.

Rob Orchard: Don’t know what it is that goes on, but it’s so much easier to see what’s wrong with stuff than it is. And actually I do have a final tip on that actually, which is and then you have to do that thing.

This is four, this is point 4. Oh my God, actually destroying your podcast format. This is awful. But point number four.

At that stage you have to do what my business partner Marcus used to refer to as killing your darlings. So you have to be prepared to chuck out paras that you love and that’ve got amazing quotes and hilarious anecdotes because they just don’t fit with what you are actually trying to say.


Alison Jones: I misheard ‘kill your darlings’ as ‘clean your daleks’.

Well, I’m actually terrified to ask you now which book you recommend, because there could be, you know, your whole library is going to come up now.

Rob Orchard: This is thing, well, actually, so do you know what, I was thinking about this and I had a very delightful break with my family on the Isle of Wight earlier this year, and a friend of mine, very good friend of mine, gave me a copy of The Four-Hour Working Week before I went away.

Alison Jones: Tim Ferriss.

Rob Orchard: Yes. And I’m sure a lot of people recommended this before.

Now a lot of it, I was reading it and I mean, I don’t think he was a man who was burdened down by like the weights of kind of middle-age and children, all that sort of stuff. So a lot of the stuff he was saying about this aspirational lifestyle, we can live like a billionaire around the world.

I’m like, dude, I’m not doing any of that.

Alison Jones: Not going to happen.

Rob Orchard: And a lot of the test cases, testimonials, I wasn’t completely convinced by, but I mean, it was another world as well. You know, it was a world where you were just discovering all of these, you know, apps and so on that could revolutionize the way you work and so on.

But there were a few things in there that I took away from it. So I took away this stuff about batching and optimization of processes, which is a very obvious business thing. But one that small businesses struggle with. And sort of feeding into that as well, small businesses run by, you know, kind of individuals or small groups of people, there’s a massive tendency to do everything yourself because you can do it better than everybody else. And the thought of paying somebody else to do it worse than you is mad. But he talks about how you have to get out of that mindset, which is completely correct. You know, as somebody, actually, we had a business advisor a few years ago who was getting frustrated with me for just keeping everything in to myself.

He said, what’s going to happen here? Are you going to end up buying a printing press and printing it in your own home? You had to give stuff away otherwise, it’s just kind of completely stupid. And I think there’s stuff in there as well about, which again, is so obvious, but also so ignored particularly I think by independent publishers, which is to give customers what they want, not what you think they want. And so to genuinely look at what is the people want.

Now, as I’ve said, I’m very bad at that because what we tended to do is just make the magazine we want to read and then hope that people coalesce around it. We’re trying to think about that a lot more in terms of our processes. So, you know, if I was a subscriber to magazine, what would be the ideal type of service that I would get? How would I want to be able to change my subscription, you know, move things about, switch from quarterly to annual, whatever it might be, and trying to get all of that stuff.

And, you know, if I was a subscriber in Australia, how would I want to receive this? What digital components would I want to have? All that sort of stuff. So, quite obvious stuff, but quite often the best business books they just coalesce stuff that you instinctively knew anyway…

Alison Jones: …but didn’t have the words for.

And actually that last point you make is so interesting because you separate out the editorial and the kind of the process. So which is really important because the whole point about giving people what they want is the Henry Ford thing, isn’t it? They just ask for faster horses.

You know, there is a space for actually giving them what you’re passionate about and hoping it finds its people. And as well as that, you can give people what you have created in the way that suits them best. So separating out those two aspects is really interesting.

Rob Orchard: That’s true. I think it’s just, it’s also, I think people, when they start their own small business quite often think that they want to reimagine absolutely everything from scratch. So for example, we reimagined the contents page for our first few issues of the magazine and we redid each one as a infographic and it’s still infographic, but now it’s much, much easier to read because we realized that actually it was quite complicated.

And the other big thing was, for years we didn’t have page numbers because everything in the magazine was done around dates. And so we thought, oh, this is like innovative. We’re so like, we’re so iconoclastic that we’ve done away with page numbers. And so at one point, somebody said I think it’d be really quite useful to have page numbers in here?

We put them in and having page numbers was a big revelation. It was like, it’s, oh wow, can you imagine? Huge innovation.

Alison Jones: That’s hilarious as a book publisher. No, I’m actually getting a little bit of a cold sweat just thinking about it.

Rob Orchard: Yes, indexing very complicated, yes.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. And we’ve gone way over time and it’s all good. It’s absolutely fantastic because I wouldn’t cut out a bit of it, but possibly your eighth tip, but you know there’s so many options here, the courses, the magazine, the book, tell us where people can go find out more and find about more about you.

Rob Orchard: So just go to slow-journalism.com and you can see the back issues that we’ve got. So each issue of the magazine, we get a different artist from around the world to do cover for us. So our very first cover was Shepard Fairey and we’ve got Shepard Fairey back in to do, he did our fifth year anniversary, our 10 year anniversary.

We’ve had Ai Weiwei, we’ve had Michael Craig-Martin, we’ve had Beatriz Milhazes, Grayson Perry, all sorts of good people and then all sorts of kind of up and coming artists as well. So you can see that and you can get a kind of flavour of the magazine there. There’s loads of beautiful infographics and some of our longer-form stories on the blog.

You can get the book An Answer for Everything there. You can book tickets. We’ve got tickets in how to make infographics coming up, how to launch an independent magazine. There’s our TEDx talk talking about slow journalism, what it is and why we think it matters. So that’s probably the place to head to, I’d say.

And there’s ooh, we’ve got a promo on at the moment as well. So if anybody wanted five pounds off the magazine, there’s an early bird promo and the code is earlybird, just the words early bird, all one word. And that gets you five pounds off a subscription, which makes it very affordable and a terrific Christmas gift.

Alison Jones: Now, given that this is going to be out on the internet forever, we need to date stamp that, so tell us when that code expires.

Rob Orchard: That’s a good question. Well, I mean, actually an early bird code by implication ought to expire quite early on. It’ll definitely. I mean, you know what? I’m just going to say now I’m going to take the decision that I’m just going to leave it open for a good months now. So I reckon as, as long as it’s, you know, like by the end of February or something.

Alison Jones: Okay, so about if you’re listening to this before the end of February 2023, you should be good. Get on there and have a look. Brilliant. Fantastic. So much fun talking to you Rob, and I feel like we’ve covered quite a bit of ground there and I hope it’s been really, really useful for people. I’m definitely going down to Mag Culture tomorrow and yes, I’ll see you all there.

Alright, good to see you. Thank you so much.

Rob Orchard: Thank you.

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