For the second edition of Magazine Workshop, we have the phenomenal mono.kultur which focuses on people who make art and culture. Since 2005, this Berlin based interview magazine has been publishing one in-depth interview per issue in an unconventional A5 format. The subject and the nature of the interview drives the distinctive design of each issue.
We had an email conversation with Kai von Rabenau, founder and publisher of mono.kultur, to know more about how the magazine started and what inspires him to keep going.
Could you tell us how mono.kultur was born? Also, is there a particular reason for choosing print as your publishing medium?
I’ve been a magazine addict since I was a teenager. I’m not quite sure as to why. I guess, coming from a small town in Germany and this being the pre-internet days, it was initially a way for me to find out about new music from the UK or the US, and it spread from there. I am still a voracious reader of magazines as it is the perfect medium for me to relay and consume information. After studying graphic design in London, I moved to Berlin to work as a photographer. Producing my own magazine had been somewhat of a dream for some years, and there was a moment when I had the time and the desire, and technically, with the growing sophistication of computers, it was suddenly possible to just do it by yourself. So I thought it’s now or never.
This was around 2003 or so – the independent publishing boom hadn’t really started at the time. There were still very few self-published magazines around. To cut things short, I found myself a nice group of people who were also interested, and we just went for it. We’re all from magazine or arts background (writers, designers, etc.), and I think part of the motivation was a certain frustration with working for commercial titles with all their obligations and limitations. So mono.kultur was always meant to be this space where we could have total freedom and total control. It took us almost two years to get the first issue published in 2005, and everything else developed from there.
What’s the most challenging and the most fun part about making/running a magazine?
Oh, the most challenging must be the technical side of it – getting the money together and even worse, getting it into stores. mono.kultur is such a specific format so it doesn’t really fit into any of the mainstream categories, which has made the promotion and distribution really tricky. Some of the choices we made (and stand by) just make these things difficult – beginning with the small size format, which for bookstores is difficult to handle and place. So it’s things like that on the contra side of the equation.
On the plus side, what ranks at the very top is the collaboration with the artists. Through mono.kultur, we have had the privilege of collaborating with some artists we seriously admire, and the fact that they will take the time to work with us and the appreciation they demonstrate are still baffling to me. A close second ranks the work with different designers and journalists – to see how a text emerges, molded into shape, and then translated onto the page. The wizardry of graphic design, seeing how everything slowly falls into its place is still a process I very much enjoy. It’s a little different every time, even though the format of mono.kultur itself hasn’t changed since the first issue.
How do you sustain it financially?
These days, almost exclusively from sales. In the beginning, we sometimes had some support from galleries, etc. for specific issues, but ever since our online store went up and doubled our sales, we haven’t really bothered much with that. Money really bores me though.
What inspires you to keep going?
That’s a question I often ask myself – after 12 years, why still do it? The idea with mono.kultur always was that we would do it for as long as it is fun. None of us anticipated that 12 years on we would still be doing it. But I guess there you have your answer – not that all the aspects of running a magazine are fun, definitely not, but the fun parts still outweigh the downsides.
For better or for worse, we never really had any ambitions or illusions as to the commercial impact of mono.kultur, but we still have ambitions for the magazine, for getting certain artists, for making better interviews, for coming up with new ideas for the design, for collaborating with people we appreciate. For us, it is very much a playground and space to experiment, and it’s important to have that, or at least it is for me.
I think part of the motivation was a certain frustration with working for commercial titles with all their obligations and limitations. So mono.kultur was always meant to be this space where we could have total freedom and total control.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a new print magazine?
Well, what to say. I think, most importantly, make sure you have your motivations and priorities straight. Publishing a magazine is hard work and it eats up a lot of time and resources and there is little money to be earned, unless you are very very lucky or smart about it. Ask yourself why you want to do this, and if the answer to that actually holds up. Is it a magazine that really needs to exist, or is it self-indulgence? Is it really new and unique? Is there a space for it? If you can answer all these with a loud yes, then by all means go for it – if you are determined and committed enough, everything else will fall into place.