Almost every other month, I anxiously wait to get my new PORT magazine in the mail. It’s the only magazine that I’m subscribed to, mainly because I think that printed magazines simply cannot beat the online speed and the freedom to customize RSS readers have — and, of course, I’m reading too much online already. However, a few reasons won me over: first, PORT promised to go back to the golden age style (think 60’s Esquire, Bazaar, Brodovitch, Lois), meaning longer articles, uncluttered covers, photography tending towards art and a few more — second, I’m still a sucker for starting collections (buying something from the first issue becomes a goal in itself) — third, come on, for £6 one issue or £20 per year, it’s a steal (lately though they seem to be rising the price a bit, as I’d guessed they would). The only other magazine that I’d subscribe to is Eye, but I prefer to buy it as soon as it hits the street, as there’s no benefit from being a subscriber other than waiting to get it in the mail while everyone else has finished reading it already.
Now, to get to the point, I won’t comment on PORT’s inside design. It’s a beauty, boasting a bespoke typeface, great typographic layouts and fine photography — something that Mr Dieter Rams would most probably enjoy. The problem is that, issue by issue, the PORT cover seems to be taking small steps towards mainstream glossy mag design. The first issue had an amazing cover, the gold-foiled logo being sustained by subtle typography, making the cover look more like a film poster than a magazine — and not just because of the striking b&w portait of Daniel-Day Lewis. The matte paper was another nice touch, a pleasure to hold it. The second issue followed pretty much the same style, but the logo got a big bigger, black-foiled this time. The photo made room for a headline (everyone knows Daniel-Day Lewis, but the editor of The New Yorker needed the explanatory title). I wasn’t very keen on the photo cropping, but it was still a good cover. With the third issue however, things started to look too familiar: margin-to-margin logo, full-blown photo, little whitespace, big titles, glossy paper, plain-printed logo. Not much different from a Vogue or an Esquire.
The three issues of PORT, so far.
PORT’s statement, “the magazine for men”, obviously means that they want to be considered a mainstream title, but why go the same route as the others? Monocle have already proven that doing things differently is a great way to become a successful magazine — and a brand, for that matter, as they’re now about much more than just the magazine. And, while I admire their business & brand strategy, for me, they are more style than content — the magazine looks gorgeous, but the articles are spread over too many categories, and — worse — they’re selling a lot of overpriced branded stuff that I don’t need or wouldn’t spend money on. I’m generally weary of brands trying to do more than what they do best. I really doubt I would buy Apple shoes or Starbucks wine, for example. Even if Virgin seems to pull it off, how many of their products/services can be named the best in their segment? Thoughtless brand extensions are a good reason why people don’t care anymore and the brand gets diluted.
But back to PORT, one reason that I could find for the bigger logo was a certain case of shelf visibility. If it didn’t run from one margin to the other, the mag might be ‘invisible’ if covered by others. Since the cover has everything centered, they could only enlarge the logo (Monocle bear their logo in the left corner).
It's a tough shelf life, we know.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the next issue. Hopefully, the content and the inside design will remain just as beautiful and distinctive. Otherwise, I might lose my hopes for printed magazines completely — and sigh each time when getting it in the mail for the next two years.
As always, any comments are welcome, so let me know what you think.
— Mike Dempsey’s Sign of the Times blog post on the old age of editorial design (check the epilogue as well);
— Creative Review’s article about the launching of PORT mag.