Independent Magazines in Malaysia

22 June 2016

Keep print alive and explore these three Malaysian indie magazines.

Let’s face it: there’s still nothing quite like the feel (and smell) of a book or a magazine. And although some may argue that print publications are fast becoming outdated in this digital age, smaller niche magazines are actually thriving. In 2014 Stack - a British independent magazine subscription service - reported a 78% increase in revenue and a 76% growth in subscribers.

“It needs to have a really pure, original idea,” says Ruth Jameison, author of Print Is Dead. Long Live Print: The World’s Best Independent Magazines, in an interview with The Independent. “And it needs to know who its audience is and speak to them.”

In Malaysia, three independent magazines have sprung up and are carving out a loyal following for themselves. 

Musotrees

Musotrees was born out of the desire of four friends to share their travel experiences and photographs. “We thought of the idea three years ago,” says Kerol Izwan, who is the editor-in-chief at bi-annual magazine. The avid travelers, who all come from a science background, often shared their travel photos on social media platforms like Instagram before they decided to take the plunge and publish the first issue in 2015.

While a lot of travel magazines and websites out there offer tips and itineraries, Musotrees is all about pairing photography with simple storytelling. Content of the magazine is made up of personal stories by the editorial team, as well as by contributors from around the world.

“We practically work from our bedroom, and sometimes from one cafe to another to get things done,” says Kerol. “We are 100% Malaysian-made and we’ve worked with various creative people. It’s a huge recognition for us.”

But why print?

“My team and I love print; to smell the paper, browse the page, feel the texture—it’s satisfying to produce something physical that you can hold and touch,” Kerol explains to us.Not having knowledge of the publication industry is difficult, Kerol admits, but they have been getting pointers and guidance from other magazines.

“Publication is a tricky and risky business, but we are optimistic,” says Kerol of the magazine’s future. The team is always thinking of new ways of strengthening their business model while growing the magazine’s circulation numbers. Musotrees is already available in 11 countries to date, with more countries to be added soon.

Musotrees Volume 3 will be available from July 2016 onwards. It retails at RM58 per copy. Visit Musotree’s website for more info.

Odd One Out

After seeing a lack of Malaysian-made independent publications on local and international bookshelves, Hamizah Adenan and Mas Shaari decided to launch their own bi-annual magazine, Odd One Out, which features stories of people in Malaysia that were “not only underrepresented but also misrepresented”.

But just having those stories out there was not enough. Hamizah also wanted to affect people’s experience of reading.

“The way we view art/images, the way we listen to music, or the way we perceive information is often taken for granted,” Hamizah explains. “Print offers that very special tactile and tangible experience. It allows me to be creative and think beyond the content.”

So it’s not unusual for the team to share with us who their ideal readers are. “They understand the value of print and appreciates the work that goes into producing a printed magazine,” says Hamizah. “They also have a deep appreciation for quality print with engaging editorial content that speaks out to them.”

Two issues in, the team has learned that having the right printer is as important as getting the magazine into readers’ hands. “We’re not just looking for a printer,” shares Hamizah, “But we’re also looking for a collaborator - someone who is passionate enough about the end product that he/she understands what we need and is there to offer the best solutions.”

Besides slowly growing a loyal readership, the Odd One Out team is working to prepare volume 3. And about the future, Hamizah reveals that “what I really, really honestly hope for is that I can continue publishing this magazine for as long as possible. I’d like to just focus on that first.”

Odd One Out volume 2 is available for RM58 from their Facebook page.

Penang Monthly

Penang Monthly was first published in 2009 as Penang Economic Monthly, a monthly magazine by state government think tank Penang Institute.

Penang had seen some key changes since 2008, as editor Ooi Kee Beng explains:

“There was a change of the state government, the first in 40 years, and this was followed by the UNESCO World Heritage Listing for George Town. Furthermore, the ASEAN Open Skies programme liberalised air travel tremendously, and this promised a giant leap for Penang tourism.”

As a result of this, Penangites wanted a publication that could speak of their hopes, aspirations, and realities. The free magazine features issues which engage and encourage discussions touching on urbanity, city planning, heritage, governance, travel and politics; and provides socio-economic data for the benefit of policy and decision makers.

Despite having a small team - “Two, sometimes three editors, a designer, and that's it,” reveals Kee Beng - and despite having so many interesting events in Penang like the George Town Festival, the George Town Literary Festival and many more, Penang Monthly has managed to hold its own. “The challenges have been economic, but Penang Institute has always been very supportive.”

“We simply wish to raise the level of discussion about Penang and Malaysia,” shares Kee Beng, about the future of the magazine. “We want to make people realise that they must analyse their own daily lives as much as they analyse anything else that is more abstract and further away.”

Penang Monthly is free and available at 20 locations in Penang and 3 in the Klang Valley, and also on its website.

By Myra Mahyuddin
Photos of Musotrees courtesy of the Musotrees team

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