Behind the scenes: Future Perfect magazine

by Steve Watson in December 2014
Current affairs

Something serious is happening. Independent magazines have always been known for their good looks and niche cool, but a growing number of titles are pushing beyond that familiar territory and setting out to engage broader audiences with big, difficult ideas.

Some have been at it for years (step forward Colors and Delayed Gratification), some (like The Outpost) are settling into their stride, but there’s a whole new generation just getting started.

For example Pollen launched a couple of months ago to debate the finer points of critical theory. Weapons of Reason hit shelves this autumn with its first salvo of thoughts on how to save the world. And Future Perfect is now on its second issue, bringing a new voice to Australian current affairs and politics.

I didn’t see issue one of Future Perfect, but as I read issue two last week I became fascinated by its mix of ambition and humility. Its makers are clearly new to magazine publishing and there are rough edges that need smoothing, but they’re not letting that stop them. Instead they’re learning on the job, and sharing their discoveries and their excitement with their readers. I caught up with editor and creative director Nicholas Watts to find out where their big idea came from, and where it’s likely to go next.

Future-Perfect-cover

Let’s start at the beginning. What’s the editorial mission for Future Perfect?
We saw a gap for a magazine that has a really particular aesthetic, but which is filled with content that might change the way you think. It’s really about taking the smorgasbord of lifestyle publications out there, and saying, “Well, these things look amazing and they’re really popular – maybe we can have a go at this and make sure the writing inside affects people.”

That’s where it began and as it grew it became more specific. Nick (Underhill, publisher), Kevin (Loo, associate editor) and Ryan (Frazer, senior editor) were the three guys who had the idea to start with and they asked me to be part of the team because I had some more professional skills, and as we worked it became a response to the Australian media landscape.

That’s not a particularly positive place to be at the moment, and the idea of a publication that has interesting political writing is a real turn-off for lots of people because for a long time our news and politics has been horrendously one-sided. So we tried to create something that’s easy to digest and that mixes news with fun, interesting articles that won’t assume in-depth knowledge but won’t be condescending either.

Future-Perfect-magazine

You say you’re the one with the experience – what’s your background?
We all went to university together in Wollongong, which is to the south of Sydney, and I did a creative writing and philosophy degree. I worked for some time as an editor on other things, so I brought that experience with me.

You’re quite open throughout the magazine about your inexperience; whether it’s paying in cash for your first print run, or beginning your interview with Al Gore’s speechwriter by saying that you’re getting used to being corrected by interviewees.
That’s something I was very insistent about, because I knew that this was our first foray into publishing. There are some successful magazines that have been born out of people who have worked for 10 or 15 years in a media company, and I really didn’t want to splash out there saying, “Hey, we’re here to fix you. We’re the best publishing project ever!”

Wearing our naivety and inexperience on our sleeve is a good thing. We didn’t want people thinking that Future Perfect takes itself too seriously, when really we’re just doing the best we can.

Future-Perfect-magazine

So where does this take you in the future? Do you want to get more professional, or will you always remain a bit more amateur and on the fringes?
We’d all like to think that one day we’ll be doing this professionally, but I don’t think we’d want to lose our tone as a result. I’d say even if we keep doing this for another couple of years, we’ll always want to get better. We don’t want too much polish and shine – we want readers to know there are people behind this.

You printed in Berlin for this second issue, which I imagine makes it much easier to distribute around the world than printing in Australia.
That’s right. The printing and finance decisions for issue one were really kind of thrown together. We got a bunch of quotes from Sydney printers, and found one that was insanely cheap. We did think the guy sounded a bit dodgy – he never let us meet him in his office, and in the end he insisted we pay him in cash and we picked the copies up on a street corner!

I think we probably got what we paid for in terms of the quality of the printing, so when we went to print issue two, we wanted to make sure we were using recycled paper, we wanted to make sure the colour was coming through properly, and Kai Brach from Offscreen magazine put us onto AZ Druck, his printer in Berlin. Their quote was incredibly competitive and they were phenomenally communicative with us about the print process, so that was a big deal.

It was disappointing to take it out of Sydney, and hopefully if we do print a few more issues and we’ve got a bit more money we might be able to find a Sydney printer and fulfilment centre that’s just a bit more expensive. But the way we feel now is that really our hands are tied if we want to get Future Perfect overseas – it just makes sense to print in Germany.

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