After I posted a link to the list of people who inspire me this morning, I got a few replies on Twitter asking me why I crossed out Tyler Brûlé. So I guess it’s time to write the rant I have been meaning to write for quite some time now.
Tyler Brûlé is a media entrepreneur, born in Canada and now residing in London (with houses in Sweden, St. Moritz and the recent addition of Beirut). He founded the famous Wallpaper magazine in the Nineties and sold it to Time Warner. He has been a long-time columnist for the Financial Times weekend-edition, writing about his life on the “Fast Lane”. After a few other endeavors he created Monocle magazine and published the first issue in February 2007. It has been growing ever since and is one of the most successful print publications in a time when “print is dying” is a common mantra.
I have been a fan of Monocle ever since I stumbled upon it for the first time. I don’t think I fit the profile when Brûlé created the concept for the magazine (a readers survey about a year ago asked about the yearly income and offered “below 130.000£” as the lowest choice). He had the richer jet-setter in mind who buys a copy of the Architectural Digest with The Economist at the airport. Actually, I think he has mostly himself in mind when thinking about the target-group for Monocle. Nevertheless, a couple friends and I have been enjoying the magazine quite a lot. Below the surface of luxury and jet-set is an agenda that promotes quality by design, good service as an essential, focus on simplicity and urban living for the 21st century. Descriptions of the perfect neighborhood, appreciation for hand-crafted goods and the edits of beautiful places in cities around the world have been highly influential to me.
Besides the content, the magazine itself is a thing of beauty. High quality paper, great illustrations, an appealing layout, analogue photography. The magazine is a great example of print that still matters. Brûlé has created the perfect antidote for an industry that believes that its future lies in digital completely. This is basically how you do print right in the 21st century.
Another great aspect of Monocle is the advertising, something that the digital world should learn from (as PSFK has advised in June). The Monocle team and the attached agency Winkreative is collaborating with their advertising clients to create ads that are actually interesting and relevant to the reader.
So yes, I’m a fan of Monocle and haven’t missed an issue for years. But recently the quality of Monocle has taken some hits, in my opinion, and that seems to be connected to Brûlés growing problem with the digital world. I kinda understand his annoyance with a publishing industry that seems clueless about the disruption brought on by the web and the future of their business models. I completely agree with him that the way in which CNN and other news outlets are using social media is mostly ridicules and should be mocked. I’m guessing that Brûlé is asked about this a lot and at some point, propably while being asked for the millionth time if publishers should be on Twitter, he cracked. Snappy comments about everything social media started to appear in his column and on the podcast. That’s fine with me. So much social stuff out there deserves it. I cringe every time I see the host on CNN turn to someone asking “So what are the comments on Twitter?” But the minute this started to appear in the print publications of Monocle, I took issue. Monocle used to focus on positive stuff and ignore the negative. That’s how the editorial staff curated the magazine and I really enjoy that approach. But since the end of last year, negative comments about social media have started to appear in the magazine and clouded the curation. And I’m sure this is coming from Brûlé. I’ve tried to just read over it. But the problem is that the comments are everything but a reflected, in-depth analyses. Brûlé in his reaction to the embarrassing behavior of the media industry throws out the baby with the bath water and despised everything user-generated and digital. He reached a new climax when he promoted the Monocle Mediterraneo (their newspaper-ish summer edition) as their anti-iPad-publication (Sure, the iPad sucks at the beach or the pool. But unlike Brûlé most of us only spend a tiny fraction of our time lounging in the sun somewhere).
The thing is, I don’t really care what Brûlé thinks of social media and digital publishing. I don’t need a Monocle Twitter account, a Monocle iPad app or even a Monocle website. I just want them to focus on doing what they do best: publishing quality print products with great content and a positive world-view. Let the media industry continue making a fool of itself on their own. Please, just don’t care and I’d be happy (But if you want to see a good use of Twitter, look at what Monocle-regular Alain de Botton is doing on Twitter). Until this happens, I will continue waiting and hoping for someone in the media industry to figure out the right combination of offline and online, print and digital, expert-created and user-generated.