Print magazines aren’t dying, according to Elise By Olsen. To the contrary: they could be more relevant than ever. The 18-year old publishing prodigy from Norway is very convincing on this point. She already has a successful magazine to her name (youth magazine Recens, which she started at 13 and recently resigned from to find a new, younger editor), and has since devoted considerable time to getting the creative formula for a contemporary print publication just right. Wallet, her new tri-annual fashion magazine, is a good example of how to harness the best aspects of online media for print, without dumbing down the content. Fold spoke to By Olsen last week about her critical interviews with fashion powerbrokers, how to make print magazines relevant again, and why she welcomes readers to tear the ads out of her magazine.
You started Recens when you were 13 and recently resigned from your post as editor-in-chief to start a new publication, Wallet, a critical magazine about the fashion industry. What is the core concept of the magazine and what inspired you to pursue it?
I wanted to redeem good, critical fashion journalism, because I feel that that’s something that’s really missing [from the media landscape] today. The first issue of Wallet is called “Admins of Authority” and it questions the hierarchy of the fashion industry. It asks critical questions of people who have power in it and people who work under that power. Eventually we plan to talk about authority in other industries, applying a similar critique to the art industry, the music industry and the food industry. That’s why we called it Wallet, because we want to talk about how these industries capitalize on us.
I like the idea of this shifting focus. What made you want to stay flexible in that way?
My interests are multi-faceted. I care about art and I care about fashion and I care about politics, and I feel like a lot of people are that way. I work with a brilliant team and our internal process is based on having good conversations around everything that we publish. It’s a learning process for all of us. That’s why we are keeping the concept so dynamic.
I feel like those conversations have yielded a lot already. Tell me about the format of Wallet, which itself is so creative.
Wallet will be published three times a year, and every issue will be a little book in its own right. The magazine is pocket sized, it’s 11 by 22 centimeters, so it fits right into a jeans pocket. We wanted to sort of adapt the accessibility of the iPhone. There’s been this trend of doing all these huge coffee table books and magazines, which are not convenient. We wanted to see if people would actually carry it around.
I feel like the format and the contents interact in a really interesting way.
Yeah. The magazine starts off with a prelude, which is like an editor’s letter, an introduction to the topic and the interviewees. And then we go into twenty pages of critical interviews with people in powerful positions in fashion. In the first issue, it’s Adrian Joffe, President of Comme des Garçons, Sarah Andelman, Founder of Colette, and Jefferson Hack, the publisher of Dazed & Confused.
How do you approach the interviews?
I’ll give you an example. In May of last year, I flew to Paris and I did the first interview with Sarah [Andelman]. I asked her, straight up, “do you think the industry can survive without you?” I think she expected a school newspaper reporter. She was shocked. For two minutes she was just like, ‘ummm.’ And then she was very uncomfortable and she asked me, “why do you ask me that?” Everything about it just showed me that there’s not enough critical fashion journalism because people aren’t used to be asked these kinds of questions. All three interviewees denied that they had any kind of power in the fashion industry. To me, saying that you have no power is one of the most powerful things you can do.
How do you build on that in the rest of the magazine?
The second half is 20 pages of visual conversations. While the first interviews are with people in power, this section is with people who are affected by that power. Fashion workers. We invited 20 creatives we admire — fashion creatives, photographers, and stylists — to interpret the topic of authority. They each submitted submit one image, and we curated it into a 20-page visual essay. That’s our way of enhancing a sort of collective effort while still shining a light on the individuals
What is your approach to ads?
We have tear-out ads in the middle. I call that feature “the analog ad block.”This gives readers the same freedom they have online of blocking out ads. They can easily tear out the ads, throw it away, or hang them up on their wall. Whatever they want.
It sounds like you have really drawn the best lessons from online media for print.
Exactly. A lot of publishers believe that print and digital media are competing. I don’t think so. I think the real magic is in maximizing the digital experience and then also maximizing the physical experience. In Wallet, for example, we have four pages of blank lined pages at the end, so you can take notes. That’s also something that is supposed to make the publication part of your essentials. It’s going to be interesting to see how people use it.
Listening to you, I get the feeling that the death of print is a generational idea — the shock of a media generation that grew up analogue and viewed digitalization as this overpowering threat.
Yeah, I don’t believe in the death of print. There are statistics saying that young people are buying more books then ever. My generation grew up online. Using the internet is as natural to us as walking. But that has made physical objects into a luxury for us. It’s something we need because of the digital world. I personally don’t like reading on a screen. Sure, I’ll read an article, but I won’t read an ebook. There’s something about paper. That’s why people are still buying print. But a lot of publishers are not doing it right. That’s why they’re cutting down on print publications
It’s not working for them because they don’t believe in it.
And because the format is being used wrong. Daily newspapers aren’t doing so well because daily news is done better online. It’s faster. But books and print are timeless. They’re always going to be there. But you have to think of them that way. That’s why Wallet is going to come out three times a year. That strikes me as the perfect amount for a print magazine.
You talked about the physical magazine being complimented by a digital side. How will that work for Wallet?
I kind of see it as a semi-physical, semi-digital publication, but the digital side will be very much on instagram. That will be for the more instant conversations. There will be a steady conversation between the digital and physical sides of the publication, between the instant and the permanent, which I think is really interesting. I think of it as instagram publishing.
Publications are starting to figure out that instagram may be not a good way to promote articles, but it’s a good way to create a complimentary meta product.
That’s exactly what I’m trying to do: create a holistic concept. Our instagram will talk about everything that happens between the issues. I want to refer to it as an extension of the physical magazine.
Brands are very interested in reaching into the youth market. How do you use that to your advantage?
I have benefited because I’m young and I represent a generation that brands are really trying to tap into. So when big brands criticize the ad block feature, for example, I can say ‘but this is what the the new generation wants.’ Suddenly they’re all for it. I’ve been exploited as a young person in an adult-dominated industry for so long and now it’s kind of like hitting back. I think it’s funny. I think it’s kind-of nice. Young people today tend to separate their creative and commercial work very strictly, but I think you need to merge it. There’s money in this industry, and I think the best thing you can do is take it, make sure they give you enough, and then use it in a way that changes things for the better.