How a creative agency thinks about digital publishing

Interview with The Church of London

The Church of London, a creative agency based in the U.K., is truly on the forefront of understanding how to “do” digital publishing. Instead of focusing on the hottest new technology, they create compelling experiences across analogue and digital platforms. They act as content curators through their websites, apps, in-person events and print magazines, building communities in the process.

The Church of London has worked with Google to produce ThinkQuarterly, the limited edition magazine that brings together some of the world’s leading minds to discuss the issues facing businesses today. They also publish their own in-house movie magazine called Little White Lies. I spoke with editorial director Matt Bochenski and digital director Alex Capes to discuss the beauty of print and the future of digital. 

What innovative things are you doing with publishing?

BOCHENSKI: We’ve actually being doing some innovative work with the print covers of Think Quarterly. We’ve had a magnetic cover; we’ve had pop up covers; we’ve had a moving cover. We’ve even been nominated for a Yellow Pencil award for our covers for the “People” issue, which were individual pieces of art that when combined together created a giant piece of cover art (editor’s note: see the video below of how Church of London managed to do this).

We do spend a lot of time thinking about digital publishing, but I believe that print is still an unexplored medium. There is still so much you can do with print that people aren’t doing. One of the things that bothers me is that people use the word ‘digital’ to mean ‘innovative.’ Digital can actually be quite un-innovative and boring, but print can be every bit as innovative and exciting as digital.

How does your film magazine Little White Lies speak to the power of digital journalism and publishing?

BOCHENSKI: The way we describe Little White Lies is that it’s a platform for content about film. One of those platforms is print, one is a website, one is an app, one is in-person community events. We’re curators of content.

Can you tell me about the Little White Lies website relaunch?

CAPES: In probably two months or so, we’ll be relaunching the Little White Lies website, and the launch is really a rethinking of how content works on different platforms. It’s taken quite a while for us to get a handle on what exactly Little White Lies means on all of these different platforms – on younger ones like websites, tablets and smartphones, in addition to on the more mature print platform.  

BOCHENSKI: I had someone ask me the other day ‘How can Little White Lies help me love movies?’ That’s what he wanted the magazine to do, and that’s what we want to help him do. We want to help people love movies. From the second you wake up in the morning, you can look at our mobile app for film updates. When you’re on the bus going to work, you can sit and read the magazine. At work, you can go on your desktop and read reviews. On your way home from work, when you pass your favorite cinema, our app will tell you what time movies you’d love are playing. 

We were recently at SXSW where you hear fascinating ideas that are very abstract. Are these ideas really going anywhere? For us, we ask how a technology would be useful. We would never just put the magazine directly on an app. Magazine apps aren’t for reading magazines. Magazines are for reading magazines. Apps are for creating a community. A lot of magazines make the mistake that every new digital platform is just another place to put a magazine.

Do you think you’ll continue to have robust print publishing operation?

CAPES: Definitely. It might be a smaller number of people in terms of total subscribers, but our print platform might get bigger and more elaborate. There will be a smaller number of ‘uber subscribers’ who pay a certain amount every year for a beautiful print product. They become the top level. The lower level are the people who get our content in different formats. We’re aware that not everyone has a love of print and a connection to tangible products that we do. We’ll hit people at different levels and print will always be a part of that.

BOCHENSKI: I think you have to have mad historical blind hubris to think that print is going to die now because of the internet. It’s a survivor. It’s been around 500 years. How many times has it faced disruptive technologies? Every generation loves to believe that this is now a different age, that this is the epoch changing technology. Maybe it is, but I think the idea that print magazines will die is honestly a little silly. Terrible magazines will die because their business models fail.

CAPES: The internet is a great leveler. As an independent publisher, we can come to this platform on the same level as magazines backed by millions of pounds. We can innovate more quickly than they can; we can grow in this space more rapidly. Print publishing is inherently limiting because of costs and scale. The digital space has allowed us to level the playing field.

BOCHENSKI: I don’t think it’s a level playing field. I think it’s now stacked in our favor.