Thursday, June 28, 2012

Howler — An American soccer magazine

As soccer has grown in the United States, more gradually than exponentially, the infrastructure of supporting journalism has slowly developed around it like a scaffold.

In many ways, the fervency of the journalism reflects the attitude of the fans. As with a great many things, a more demanding public begets a more solvent underpinning. This, in a nutshell, is one of the great successes of the build-up of soccer in the United States. More people are taking notice, so more people are writing, Tweeting, talking about and photographing the growth. The revolution may be here, but it will also be televised and broadcast on a live internet stream.

That we are doing this amid the greatest technological boon the world has ever seen makes our American soccer journalism base a unique one. We essentially begin our story already outfitted with the greatest array of tools with which to produce media in history, which means we inevitably are inundated with the ubiquity of web-based journalism. Much of it, as you'll see in the links in our Reading Room section, is brilliant.

It is at this fascinating T-junction that a magazine named Howler and its enterprising group of founders joins our story.

Howler is a unique model because it is a product designed especially for print that sprung out of a tilled ground made fertile by the internet. The glossy magazine, more than a year in the making, will publish its first issue around Labor Day this year and will follow a quarterly schedule — roughly releasing in September, December, March and June. It aims to compile thoughtful, long-form soccer journalism pieces, original art and photography and collapse it all into a cohesive package that both informs and satisfies aesthetically. The publish dates were chosen thoughtfully, aimed to coincide with the beginning of the European season, the conclusion of the MLS season, the subsequent opening of the MLS season and then the conclusion of the European calendar.

Uniquely, it will do so utilizing a roster of mostly American journalists and catering to an American crowd. Which is not to say Europe and the rest of the world won't have its day in print, but rather this will be a decidedly American production.

"We want the magazine to look beautiful and to have really great original art and photography," co-founder Mark Kirby said. "There's really a fantastic community of web journalism, and we want to do something that supports that community by doing things that work well in print that you can't necessarily do online."

There are magazines that do similar things, like Jonathan Wilson's The Blizzard, but none so widely published with a North American audience in mind. Kirby and friend George Quraishi, both of whom have a history in print media, got to talking about the idea of a soccer magazine with a bent on the literary and eye-catching, and they eventually reached out to Robert Priest and Grace Lee for a meeting. Priest and Lee are renowned for their design work with high-profile mags like Esquire and GQ, and the project really began taking shape when the four met for the first time.

"It was a really great sort of fortuitous meeting where the four of us realized we were talking about the same thing," Kirby said.

The problem was money. High-quality glossy mags aren't cheap, and the group of four spearheading the thing didn't want to cut corners on the ever-important design details. So they turned to Kickstarter. Their site went live on June 1 this summer, and the group settled on a lofty goal of $50,000. The immediate outpouring surprised and awed all of them. The Kickstarter page closes on Friday, and they surpassed their total two weeks ago. They've currently generated about $65,000 in capital toward the mag, including three donors of at least $500.

"We were nervous starting that Kickstarter total as high as we did," Kirby said. "It's expensive to print a magazine and we were a little worried. You can't launch a magazine with a Kickstarter campaign. We were totally overwhelmed by not just the amount of support but also the total number of people who signed up."

That number was up near 1,400 at Kirby's last count, which represents a very tangible public thirst for a magazine that hasn't yet published a page. The cast of contributors is already threatening to make Howler a player on the world stage. From David Hirshey to George Vecsey to David Wangerin to Wilson himself, Howler is outfitted with a number of power players in print. Kirby estimated about 60-65 percent of the copy for the first issue is already in, which includes a story about an American taking a trip to Europe to meander through some of the continent's holiest soccer shrines. It will be, in essence, the world taken through the perspective of an American, which will likely be a running theme throughout the breadth of the magazine's run.

Now all that remains is the release.

"When we looked at how robust the online community is, we think there's definitely space for print magazines," Kirby said. "I don't think any of us think it's going to become a huge mainstream success. It's not going to be Sports Illustrated in terms of number of subscribers. We do think there's enough support. Part of it comes down to the team we have. We're sort of all soccer lovers who have experience in print, and we think we can make a good magazine that a lot of fans can enjoy."

- Will Parchman

1 comment:

david said...

Yes! I backed this on Kickstarter, so happy that it's going to print!