The Guest List is a magazine / audio CD / CD-ROM based in London and focused on clubs, fashion, film, books and art.
Chucky, the editor talked about the project which is now in its third year.
I asked her about the format.
Chucky: Format has always been a big issue for us. When we started we were just a pocket sized magazine; there was no CD ROM, it cost a pound.
At the end of last year the magazines that were doing similar things to us started to make their magazines A4. The magazines were free and they started to charge. Naturally we felt that a change was happening. We were already charging so we didn’t need to do anything on that score. We didn’t want to be A4 because people liked our magazine because it was small. We introduced the studio downstairs last year and we were already producing multimedia stuff for clients, so we thought using this resource was a perfect way to expand the magazine. As well as reading about the film they might want to see they could also actually see a clip of it; if they read about an artist they could also hear the records.
Magazines have often had cover mounts but Guest List always put out an audio CD with the magazine.
The basic idea behind a cover mount is that it’s a marketing ploy. If your magazine isn’t doing very well you put a free CD on the front and hopefully people buy it cos it’s a bargain. That isn’t what we’re trying to do; we want to give another dimension to the things we’re writing about.
The package exploits the three dimensions, building a relationship between the parts, making the contents come alive. The CD audio part is reviewed by the magazine and CD-TV part which also possesses clips and other material best represented in a timebased and interactive environment.
The result is that the editorial ceases to be classic journalism which is basically a translation of experiences or thoughts into words and is instead an enhancement to the experiences that the reader / user gets first hand. This is what CD-ROMs were always supposed to be but so seldom are.
The format is so obviously right for the subject matter but as the first of a kind, presumably it wasn’t easy getting it accepted by the readers / users, let alone getting it on the shelves.
If we had launched this product at first we would have had enormous problems because we fall between magazine and audio. We initially launched specifically as a magazine and we did have enormous problems with the distribution of the magazine originally because of its size; it didn’t fit in a normal distribution bundle. We couldn’t get them into major chains as they had to sit on the counter because of the format. We were in Seven Eleven to start with. Then we had a lucky break after six months, we got it into HMV in Oxford Circus. They took some copies and sold 150 of the first issue that they sold without any advertising and the managers thought, “This is going to sell.” So slowly we put it in five HMVs in central London and before long it was doing 600 copies. Then the rest of the country came onboard with HMVs and Virgin stores. The distribution of this product ( the CD ROM/ magazine /audio CD) is easier because it’s ｣2.95 so there’s a bigger incentive to sell it as they get a lot more money back on it than the ｣1 product we were doing in the beginning.
Where I think The Guest List has been particularly clever is in the balance between the content of each part. The magazine is enough of a reason to buy the package although the other sections are also substantial enough to warrant the expense. Basically if you don’t have a computer you can read the mag and hear the tunes and if you have a computer at the ready you can see the rest.
I think it’s ahead of it’s time. If you work producing CD ROMs and you work in the media industry, you get immune to what the rest of the population is doing. You think that the things that are enormous in the media industry are enormous everywhere else and they’re not. We get a lot of people phoning up about the magazine and they were saying stuff like “This product is Fantastic,” and I’d say, “Which part of the CD -ROM did you like the best?” and they said “Oh no we haven’t seen the ROM yet, we just like the box.” We still get that. Lots of people thought it was a playstation game and we got tirades of angry phone calls form people.
Despite only half the people buying it see the interactive part, the unique format has attracted advertisers; agencies representing the kinds of brands that feel very comfortable in the space between edgy club culture and cutting edge technology.
When we put out the first one (the CD / audio / magazine format), we had more agency meetings in the first three weeks than we’d had in the nine months of the previous year. A lot of people were saying “Well we really like it but what do we do on a CD-ROM?” For the most part we end up using VHS footage on as they can’t prepare anything digital or interesting. It’s just ridiculously expensive at the moment to engage an agency and get them to prepare it for you. But as it gets more populist surely the prices will come down.
Apart from the format, there is a deep commitment to the importance of what the journal deals with and is inspired by.
I came out of fashion college, I went to do fashion journalism. About a year into it I started to think ” this is so stale and it’s such a closed industry. I started to get more interested in music. I did a work placement at the ministry of sound about four years ago when it was good. I was really fascinated by what you could do with a club and on how many levels you could touch people in a club and through music.
It became apparent that a shift was going on and as the superclub had peaked something else was going to happen.
By the time we started the magazine the superclubs had peaked and the whole industry and the whole country was flooded with cheese. Everyone was exploiting music and all the music was crap. No-one cared about quality.
The club industry is wide open, anyone can start a club which is a good thing and a bad thing. The more choice you have obviously, the more chance you have of finding something good.
The nineties are supposed to be the caring backlash to the eighties but in a way this is the decade when young people have really come into their own.
The nineties is a decade of expression and this is where my enthusiasm for what we do comes from. Everyone is going on about the cool Britannia being a reflection of the swinging sixties, but from my information the swinging sixties never really happened apart from in a very small cliquey area of Chelsea. What’s happening now is very different to that ; it’s happening on all levels, it doesn’t matter who you know or where you come from, you can just do it. There aren’t the prejudices that previously restricted young people.
It seems to me that both the format and the attitude make it accessible and able to present a diversity of stuff in a way not previously possible. In a way the format alone makes it possible to bring together interests which were previously kept apart, more by the limitations of each medium than by the fact that these interests were not shared.
It’s easy to get hung up on format, especially when there’s something remarkable about it. At the end of the day content is king and if you’ve got fuck all to say then it doesn’t matter how you say it. The Guest List is definitely a quality journal first and a cutting edge media experiment second; that’s the way I like it.
Get it at Tower records in Tokyo.