Bad luck or a blessing in disguise? Rolling Stone Australia's managing editor Poppy Reid talks about what it's like to launch a print magazine in 2020 and why she's confident about its future.
Tumultuous. Unprecedented. Challenging. Whatever way you want to describe the past seven months of this year, the general consensus is that you need to throw the rulebook out. Not, then, the ideal time to be resurrecting a print magazine that published its final edition in Australia back in January 2018.
However, Rolling Stone has always been a quiet overachiever in Australia and, with its first issue selling out a month after launch, it proves that we're hungry for this kind of hard-hitting, relevant, long-form journalism.
Both cutting edge and timeless
Managing editor Poppy Reid, who picked up the reins in November last year, says she's thankful for the platform when so many other media outlets are folding. 'Important conversations need space to breathe and to be told, and we feel a responsibility to host some of those conversations.' She adds, 'Rolling Stone is a timeless magazine no matter which issue you pick up. I think our readers understand that it can either take you back to a certain moment of nostalgia or resonate with the present moment.'
'It can either take you back to a certain moment of nostalgia or resonate with the present moment.'
Issue #1 featured Tones and I on the cover, with an eight-page spread covering the artist, her overnight success and the real woman behind the public persona. It also looked at the popularity of Hillsong's music and the impact of COVID-19 on our music industry. Issue #2 will be making history with Sia's first ever Rolling Stone cover interview, as well as featuring interviews with Lime Cordiale, Cold Chisel and Tash Sultana.
Cultural moments in the spotlight
It's not just the music content that readers keep coming back for either – from politics to sports to culture, the magazine delivers thought-provoking but measured perspectives on current topics that are resonating in the public arena. In the upcoming issue, Reid says one of the most exciting features 'delves into the world of Christian Instagram influencers. It's funny, illuminating, surprising and shocking – all at once.'
'It's funny, illuminating, surprising and shocking – all at once.'
Aside from the subject matter, it's the depth of research that makes Rolling Stone features so enlightening. To put Issue #2 together, 'we interviewed a trans woman who is affirming her gender in a country that gives her very few rights, we spoke to doctors and Medicare spokespeople and a professor who specialises in marginalised social groups.' Reid and the team also 'spoke to NBA great Patty Mills, who is quietly doing awesome things for this homeland; sat with Lime Cordiale in their Sydney home and drank cups of tea; we spent hours on the phone with media watchdog and comedian Jordan Shanks aka Friendlyjordies... and we even asked Cold Chisel’s Don Walker to walk us through legacy album East, 40 years after its release.'
Challenges in a disrupted world
It hasn't all been easy sailing, however. Bauer Media withdrew from Australia last month, shutting some of its most iconic magazines including Harper's Bazaar and OK! and highlighting the devastating impact of the pandemic on the print sector. And on a practical level, it has limited Rolling Stone's access to stars. 'No, we couldn’t do a photoshoot with Sia. No, we couldn’t have our photographer take a shot of her via Zoom. No, we wouldn’t be flying to LA to meet with her.
'We are releasing this next magazine into a world disrupted, both at the macro and micro level... some of it is just crippling, like what is happening to the live music industry amid COVID-19.'
These setbacks don't dampen Reid's optimism for the magazine's future, or her confidence in the value of the brand, although she admits to being nervous about launching, not only in the current media landscape, but also during a global pandemic. 'Rolling Stone is the most iconic music media brand and it's synonymous with some of the biggest moments in music history... We're very lucky to be launching with such an iconic title in this time.'
Historically, it has also attracted the best talent, with Hunter S. Thompson and Annie Leibovitz among the writers and photographers who have contributed to the magazine. Locally, it has made news (in other news outlets) with its striking cover models – Paul Keating, Lorde, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson among those, as well as Bon Scott unzipping his jeans to reveal his huge tattoo.
'Rolling Stone is... synonymous with some of the biggest moments in music history.'
The appeal of print
So with the abundance and immediacy of digital journalism, what makes the print version of Rolling Stone so appealing to readers?
'If you're anything like me, I prefer my long-form reading uninterrupted and quiet. I think a physical magazine like Rolling Stone offers that opportunity,' says Reid. 'You just can't beat the feeling of holding a tangible print magazine in your hands. And especially now, we thought it might help those who wanted to unplug from screens and stop the constant noisy scroll for a while.'
'... it might help those who wanted to unplug from screens and stop the constant noisy scroll for a while.'
It's not only the generations of readers who grew up with the magazine 'being their music and cultural bible' returning to the fold; subscriber numbers show that the younger generations are equally interested in Rolling Stone's content, proving there's more at work than mere nostalgia.