How do you set up a magazine? Joe Hedinger tells us the history of Dog-Ear, a uniquely shaped print and online magazine run voluntarily from Norfolk.
Pete (the designer) and I used to work together in the world of ad agencies (for our sins). One lunch time, I happened to wander past Pete’s desk and noticed that he was tinkering with an interesting little concept on his computer. We got to chatting, and he explained he’d recently been to a shop called Motto in Berlin, where he’d seen a long, thin publication. Inspired, he’d returned home with the idea of playing around with economical formats – specifically, what could he do with a single piece of A4? He’d got to the stage where the concertina-fold idea was coming to life, but editorially, he wasn’t settled on anything in particular.
I’d just graduated with a degree in English Literature, so took one look at the idea and thought “bookmark! Poetry!” We popped to the pub after work, agreed it would be a fun little side project to work on together, and Dog-Ear was born. We settled on a loose (almost non-existent) editorial ‘policy’ (simply: what moves us), decided to embrace a very relaxed approach to deadlines (we just publish when we have the time, and the funds) and made it really easy to submit work to us (you just use a form on our website). We also concluded it would be best to have a really focussed distribution plan (bookshops, libraries, the occasional cafe and, sometimes, inside other magazines).
The first issue contained mostly submissions from friends and colleagues, but somehow, word got out, and after features in places like Creative Review, Design Week and It’s Nice That, we started getting work sent to us from all over the world. We realised pretty quickly that Dog-Ear’s diminutive size belied its power – not only did it make printing and distributing a doddle, it also, amazingly, inspired artists. Rather than feeling restricted by the small shape, writers and illustrators (aged 8 to 80) found the limitations liberating. The poems, doodles, limericks, patterns, flash-fictions, paintings, puzzles and sketches kept rolling in, much to our delight.
We revamped our website when we brought another team member on board – David, our amazing developer – and a really big break came when we distributed Dog-Ear through Stack, the independent magazine subscription service. We started to engage with bookshops a little more through our monthly book recommendation email (which also helped to grow our community), and after playing around with social media, realised Instagram was a natural fit. More media coverage, including a spot in Monocle, drove a lot of new interest, and we were able to find some paper and print partners in the form of Paperback and Pressision (in exchange for a logo in Dog-Ear, they’ve helped to reduce our core costs significantly). As our number of stockists increased, we opened an online shop, and experimented with selling books from independent publishers, before settling on simpler things – bundles of back-issues, fun bits of merchandise, and a sustaining-member subscription package. This gave birth to our ‘business model’ (if you can call it such a thing): we use the sale of back-issues to fund the printing and postage costs of the latest Dog-Ear, ensuring the newest publication is always available for free. And it’s working. Probably our proudest moment recently was receiving praise from Margaret Atwood on Twitter – and a little donation from her, too.
We’re now approaching the printing of Issue #10. Dog-Ear remains a passion-project – even though we are now officially registered as a Community Interest Company, it’s still something we fit around our day jobs (I’m now a bookseller at The Book Hive in Norwich, and Pete has teamed up with David to form Back to Front, a branding agency and official supporter of Dog-Ear). It can be a bit of work at times, but generally speaking, our relaxed attitude to the traditional ‘rules’ of running a magazine (no deadlines!) means it’s never a burden, only a joy (and, as a bonus, our fans love that the new issue always comes as a surprise). After ballooning a bit, we now cap our print run at something manageable – around 3,000 copies – and send everything out by hand to over 40 stockists around the globe.
We’re still committed to being a democratic publishing platform – we want to reach as many people as possible, inspire as many people as possible, and involve as many people as possible. Moving forward, we’re thinking of applying for funding, as we’d like to launch a children’s version (Puppy-Ear!), create lessons plans around the format, run inclusive creative-writing events, and perhaps even hold an exhibition of Dog-Ear publications (think people-sized versions of the magazine, like room dividers, around a room…) If you or anyone you know would like to help with any of these endeavours, we’d love to hear from you. But in the meantime, why not send us a poem?
Joe is a bookseller based in Norwich. He did a degree in English Literature before venturing to the big smoke to work at some ad agencies and later the BBC, specialising in business strategy and innovation. Nowadays, he splits his time between award-winning independent bookshop The Book Hive, and Back to Front, a branding and web development agency.
Pete is co-founder of Back to Front. He’s worked as a graphic designer in advertising and branding for over 15 years, at places like Fallon and Lucky Generals (where he was head of design, managing a team of up to 12 people). Over the years he has worked for numerous clients including the BBC, Tate, Wellcome Trust, Sony, Twitter, Nokia and Cadburys. He currently lives in New York.