What does it take to create an independent magazine? A look inside Nutmeg

In 1980 me and my then fellow band members formed an independent record label and released our first two singles. We financed the recording ourselves (with help from a flatmate), designed the sleeve (having never designed anything in our lives) and set about physically getting copies to record shops all over the country. This involved hitching to London, but luckily I had a full-time job at the time so was excused. Our first single was played by Peter Powell on Radio One at lunchtime one day as I happened to be visiting my parents and within a year we had a record deal. Job done.

The recent growth in independent magazines feels very similar: small collections of people and individuals doing by themselves what they love in the vague hope that others might feel the same.

When I first started thinking about a Scottish football publication, my company Palmer Watson was busy redesigning newspapers all over the world. We still do, though the industry being what it is means we do it less often. Which made it the perfect time to bring together my two loves: football and design.

When I first caught site of the Blizzard (the long-form football quarterly edited by Jonathan Wilson) in 2011, I was initially frustrated by our own lack of urgency in doing something similar. But gradually I began to realise that the approach it took to football journalism, with long reads over text-only pages, was interesting. It did, and still does, the occasional Scottish piece, but as with a lot of the UK media, Scottish football isn’t taken too seriously. Which I get. We’re no longer that important in the great scheme of things, but I’m still first and foremost interested in the Scottish game (despite being an Ayr United fan) and I suspect and hope there are many like-minded people out there.

So 18 months ago I met with Wilson and picked his brains about how it launched and how it has continued to grow. I also had conversations with other independent magazine folk such as the people at Delayed Gratification. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been open and helpful. It’s bit like post-punk bands sharing their gear.

Our idea with McBlizzard, as we called it then, was that it should be a platform for writers. It would be all about them. We would be looking for some established names to help support it and get involved while also looking for new writing talent.

We considered sponsorship to finance the project but found it difficult to sell it to anyone. It became obvious that crowd funding was the answer. The Blizzard and Delayed Gratification both said they would have gone down the same route had it existed then. It would also be a way of gauging interest. Basically we would be testing the market.

We chose Kickstarter because it was a well-known name and something we hoped potential readers would trust. We simply offered people the chance to subscribe to between one and four issues, set our target and got to work on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. We primed writers who’d said they’d support it to do the same. Twitter became our major marketing tool as well as an appearance by myself and Scotsman writer Alan Pattullo on Off The Ball. Indeed, a few days after doing the show, presenter Stuart Cosgrove emailed me a piece which was heaven-sent; it set the scene regarding the state of Scottish football in 2016 and became the centrepiece of the first issue.

We reached our crowd-funding target halfway through the 30-day campaign. And then started to panic. We had a real live publication and it was called Nutmeg.

To paraphrase Kevin Costner in Field Of Dreams, we felt that ‘if we build it they will come’ (he actually said ‘he’ not ‘they’ but let’s not spoil a good analogy). We hoped that by creating a platform for writers we would get people approaching us. And that’s exactly what has happened with writers contacting us, suggesting ideas and the occasional complete article landing in our inbox.

We then set about building a website, or rather finding someone who could do that for us. Again, using our Twitter followers we asked if anyone was interested in helping and we found someone who it turned out worked for a company owned by an old friend. We also used Twitter to find writers and illustrators as well as track down people to help out on the subbing side.

Issue one was then planned, designed and produced. Having never edited a publication in my life, I now take back everything I ever said about my past bosses. Editing is difficult and stressful.

The first issue of Nutmeg has been dropping through letterboxes in the last week and we have sold out the first run. We’ll make a digital download available, but we’re first and foremost a print publication.

We still believe in print and the tactile experience of receiving, opening and reading a physical object at your leisure. And we’re confident there are enough Scottish football-loving readers out there who think the same.

Ally Palmer is the editor of Nutmeg and is a design and editorial consultant with Edinburgh-based Palmer Watson, which has led more than 50 print and digital newspaper relaunches around the world. This is Palmer Watson’s first venture into publishing.

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