Let me get this out of the way: I unashamedly love Let’s Explore Magazine.
The idea, the platform, the Kickstarter campaign and the beautiful outpouring of support that was the result of Issue 00 hitting doormats the world over at the end of 2015. My own copy sits inside it’s sturdy envelop having been carefully read back-to-back several times.
So, when I heard that LEM head honcho Kilian Idsinga was going to be self-funding LEM Issue 01 and would not be using the help of another Kickstarter campaign, I had to find out more and see if I could lend a hand. Disclosure of interests over.
A few days ago I got in touch with Kilian and asked him to tell me about his thoughts behind both the new Friends of LEM concept, what LEM means to him, and his choice not to crowdfund the next issue but instead focus on building a sustainable commercial model.
What follows below comes straight from the heart. Grab a drink and settle in.
Over to you Kilian.
Behind Let’s Explore
Simply put, I started Let’s Explore Magazine because I wanted to make a magazine of my own.
I’ve been making magazines for other people for over a decade now and it felt like it was my time. But you can’t do that by yourself. Well you could, but 1) it’s less fun and 2) both time and funds are limited. Especially when still working full time.
Getting my hands on content wasn’t that much of a problem but getting quality content was something I knew I needed to do and do well. But, because I’d been building the LEM online platform for a year and a half before I started with the printed magazine, I already knew some quite talented storytellers I could call on.
Quite frankly, it was just a matter of asking people if they would like to participate in this crazy idea of mine. Namely, publishing a quality magazine of 176 (!!) pages with high production values.
If you decide to do something, do it well…extremely well. That’s my motto, haha!
Once I had the content covered, it came to funding. From the start, I knew that the magazine would become a reality. No matter what. It just had to be made and that was the “easy” part, so to speak.
If nothing else worked, I was prepared to fund the entire thing from my life savings. This made my Kickstarter campaign pretty straight forward. Before beginning the campaign I had a finished magazine to show, which really helped got get people engaged; and in the end, I managed to ship the magazine even before Kickstarter wired the money my way.
This triggered a stream of thank you emails, social media coverage and an extremely positive vibe in general. First of all I was (and still am) incredibly proud that I could create this first issue and second, I was very happy to be able to share the amazing stories people contributed. One of the stories in LEM00 is titled “Your story matters” and it’s something that has stuck with me ever since.
I hate making promises I can’t keep, so I never make those kinds of promises. One of them being, I don’t promise exposure when someone decides to contribute to the magazine. In fact, when I ask people to contribute, I don’t make that promise either. I ask people if they want and if they can contribute and as thank you, I give them a blank canvas to create their story within the boundaries of the theme.
This is something that almost never happens in the magazine industry. One always gets a certain brief to stick to. And by doing so, this is somewhat limiting the creative powers of the hired storyteller. Its a bit backwards if you ask me. If I ask a creator to provide work, I ask them because of THEIR abilities, not mine. So it makes sense to let them do their thing.
This idea was something I felt was very important when starting with issue LEM00. But it really grew on me, once I got feedback on that first issue and then started on the current LEM01, themed crossroads.
[EMULSIVE: speaking of which, all the images which follow are from the new issue]
Again the choice of the theme isn’t random. I’m at a crossroads myself and I want people to share theirs. Believe me, there are going to be some amazing personal stories in the next issue, some of which actually brought me to tears. The fact that people want to share those kind of very personal experiences is simply beautiful and is, in part, the result of being given a blank canvas. At least that’s what I like to believe.
People want to share their stories, they want to create without boundaries, they want to experiment and they want to push themselves in whatever manner they see fit. It dawned on me that I have the possibility to provide a platform for them. This makes it a win-win situation for contributors and myself, because I can create a magazine without boundaries…I’m in charge and not a client.
I keep the contributors in the loop about the progress with an irregular newsletter and I call it OUR magazine – I truly mean that. It’s a collaborative project and we all need each other. I actually feel that community thing when conversing with everybody. It’s amazing.
But this only covers the content bit again. This time around I felt like I should take a chance and trust the community even more. Crowd funding somehow feels a bit too distant from how personal the magazine really is. Personal for me, as well as for the contributors. It should be able to fund itself. I don’t have to make money from the magazine. Heck, I’m even willing to loose money on it, because the energy coming from creating an issue with 30 people is simply amazing.
Issue 01 of the magazine, once again, will be produced and paid for, in large, out of my life savings (don’t tell my girlfriend haha), but also through projects I’ve been doing in the meantime as Let’s Explore Publisher: the creative agency I launched simultaneously with Let’s Explore Magazine.
#FriendsOfLEM is a way for me to create some limited items (postcards with 5 images from the magazine, again thanks to the amazing contributors), and make the project just a little bit more special. And (I have to say), it’s just fun to create, it’s as simple as that. It’s also a way of getting more funds before actually producing the magazine. This way I won’t start out with 4000 Euro’s of debt like the first time round and hope to break even in the end.
The dream, my dream, is to eventually be able to give back more to the contributors than I’m doing now. Also, I want to give more than just “the magazine” to people who pay me to do what I love, and I want to keep putting ace stories told by amazing people out into the world.
Of course, the postcards are a nice extra. Thanking #FriendsOfLEM by offering a slot for their name and URL in the magazine, for me, adds to the community feeling, which is very strong in the magazine and the people who buy the issues.
In a way, it’s a combination of paying it forward and paying it back. Being thankful.
All these little bits help in making the business more and more sustainable, and by doing so, keep the project alive. I’m not looking to make a huge profit. Every penny earned goes straight back into the magazine to create the next issue and to make it better in terms of content and production. I have a full time job to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, remember?
Well, this turned out a bit longer than I anticipated, haha! I guess all that’s left is for me to talk a little bit about the timeline for Issue 01. I’ve been teasing some of my process as I finalise the layout of Issue 01 and expect to go to print in the first week of October 2016. If all goes to plan, then shipping starts in the last week of October (well in time for the holidays! 😉 )
~ Kilian Idsinga