Coffee Table Mags

We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind that make them remarkable.

Meet Thorsten Keller, the owner of Coffee Table Mags, which is an online magazine shop in Hamburg, Germany. We sat down for a talk with Thorsten about his huge passion for independent magazines and coffee, and the process of how to find new engaging publications for the shop and the importance of using social media to create and market a business.

Hello, Thorsten! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of Coffee Table Mags from the beginning till today?

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Thorsten: Coffee Table Mags was launched, April 2014, but the idea of Coffee Table Mags is much older than the real existence of the shop. My love for magazines began to grow at an early age when I was doing the school paper, and since then I always wanted to have my own magazine. One time I was really close to releasing my own magazine, but due to financial reasons I was forced to put the dream on hold, but the love for magazines remained. So I kept on reading and buying lots of magazines, but most of the magazine I really liked were quite difficult to get. So I began to play around with the idea to create my own shop. First, I wanted to open a physical shop like Do You Read Me or Soda Books, but having a physical shop is associated with many costs, and at the time I was not sure that I would be able to make a living from it. Then one day, a friend of mine, who is a great coffee roaster, asked me if I wanted to start selling some magazines in his new coffee shop because he knew that I always wanted to combine coffee and magazines.

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This was the perfect offer, but this was only two months before the opening of the coffee shop. I had nothing. No name, no magazine, no web shop, no magazine rack. So I began from scratch. I made up the name Coffee Table Mags – surprisingly no one had used this name before – and ordered a lot of magazines that I really liked. I built a magazine rack at home, and the night before the opening, I set up my online shop. Ever since, my collection of magazines has grown and evolved and so has the business of Coffe Table Mags. It is very important to me have personal contact with every customer, and I´m always thinking about new ways to improve the business and the experience for my customers. So currently I’m thinking about redesigning the shop, rethinking the way I send out magazines, planning magazine related events, and hopefully some day I will open up a (pop-up) shop with specialty coffee and lots of independent magazine, like I always wanted. 

What is your background?

Thorsten: I’m a freelance graphic designer and besides running Coffee Table Mags, I’m mainly working with print projects in design or advertising agencies.

What does a typical day look like for you at the shop, if there is a typical day?

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Thorsten: My work and days during the week vary a lot since Coffee Table primarily exist online, and I have my freelance work onside. But I stop by the coffee shop where I sell a selection of the magazines, once or twice a week, and my day always starts the same way: Every morning, I take a picture of a magazine and a cup of coffee. Mostly I take one of the new arrivals in my shop or magazines I consider to stock in the future. I always try to find the coffee cup, which is the most compatible match regarding the colors of the chosen cover. I arrange both together with some flowers on one of my two self-made tables and take several pictures. I instantly edit this best picture on my iPhone and publish it on all of my social media channels, with a little text on what the magazine is all about. On good days, I need around one hour for everything, and on bad days up to two hours. After that, I hurry to get to the agency where I am booked at the moment. If I am not booked at the moment, or there is still enough time, I keep on reading in the photographed magazine. 

Independent magazines have had a thriving success the last year – how have you experienced this new wave of small independent publications?

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Thorsten: Every month, it seems like a new magazine is popping up somewhere in the world. For example when searching on the platform Kickstarter, which helps creators find resources to make their idea a reality, you will most likely find a magazine that is trying to get funds for their first issue. I also get a lot of emails from new publishers. So it is really obvious that independent magazines are having a thriving success, and as a big lover of print and independent magazines, I welcome this development a lot. But the downside of this development is that it is becoming more difficult to stand out in the mass, as there are several magazines with the same content or similar design. That also makes it a bit harder for me to pick the right one, the one that is exceptional. One great example for an exceptional magazine in the field of travel magazines is Boast Magazine. It manages to showcase a city in all its diversity, from the beautiful and lovely to the broken parts, which I find very refreshing, and it is something that you cannot read in other travel magazines. So with that in mind, the mission of my shop is always to be on the lookout for these outstanding magazines and provide them to my customers.

Tell us a bit about the process of finding new magazines– where do you buy them, and which qualities does a magazine need to have to get shelf space in your shop?

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Thorsten: There are mostly two ways of finding new magazines for me. My favorite way to find new magazines is through following and browsing different Instagram feeds or reading blogs like the ones from MagCulture, Gym Class, Coverjunkie or Stack Magazines. I also love to look at Magpile.com. They provide a great overview of new and upcoming magazines. Since opening my shop in April 2014, I also get a lot of emails from independent publishers who are also very interested to get stocked in my shop. This is also very inspiring to me.

I buy most of my magazines directly from the publisher. On the one hand, this is my most preferred way of buying magazines because I can support the makers of independent magazines directly and most efficiently. But, on the other hand, it also means that I have to order a fixed number of copies, have to pay them upfront and cannot return them if I do not sell them as well as I thought. That’s why I also buy some magazines from some distributors, which can provide me with several magazines from all over the world. The good thing is that I mostly have 30 days to pay the bill (so I might have sold some copies already to pay this bill). I often save money on shipping, and I’m able to return unsold copies.

When I decide to stock a certain magazine, it needs to convince me in every aspect: above all there is content. But design, the way they use typography and the quality of their pictures and illustrations have to be great too. Last but not least it has to be produced in good quality. It makes a huge difference for me if a magazine is printed in good quality on nice paper. Most of the magazines are kind of collectables, so everything has to fit. Maybe that’s why the name Coffee Table Mags fits so perfectly to my demand on magazines? 

What defines your audience at Coffee Table Mags?

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Thorsten: My audience are primarily creative professionals such as architects, designers, fashion designers, journalists, photographers, stylists. But there is also a growing group of people who don’t work in the creative industry, but who are very open-minded, and who are creative in their free time and value quality products. They love traveling, great food, specialty coffee, and fantastic independent magazines.

Which market and sales channels do you use at Coffee Table Mags to reach out to your audience?

Thorsten: My main sales channel is Instagram. Of course, I also use all other social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and so on, but Instagram is by far the most important. It does not matter if they are located in China, Brazil, USA or somewhere in Europe, every time I ask my customers from where they know about my shop, they always say Instagram.

Photo Credit – Coffee Table Mags.

To learn more about Coffee Table Mags and explore their magazines,
go visit: coffeetablemags.com

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