We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of independent publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.
Meet Store Manager Isabell Hummel and Sebastian Steinacker, the founder of the well-known bookshop Soda, which is located in Munich, Germany. Since 2004, Soda has offered “Curious publications for curious people”, and in January 2015, Soda began a new adventure, opening their second shop in the vibrant city of Berlin. We sat down for a talk with Isabell and Sebastian about being the first of its kind, not only in Munich, but in Germany; how Soda has evolved over the years, the process of finding new publications, and this year’s thriving success of small independent publications.
Hello, Isabell and Sebastian! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Sebastian as a founder, could you please walk us through the story of Soda from the beginning till today?
Sebastian: I set up Soda with a partner back in 2004 in Munich. I had just come back from London, where I studied Fashion Design. While studying at the old Central Saint Martins fashion facilities in London’s Soho district, I had come to rely on the numerous magazine stores, bookshops and libraries in the vicinity for my research work. Back home, the lack of a similar shop was apparent, so we decided to open our own shop, and Soda became not just the first shop of its kind in Munich, but in Germany.
Our first shop was tiny, only about 20m2 in size. In 2007, we had grown out of it and moved to a much bigger location in the center of town where we have been ever since.
In January this year, we expanded the Soda concept to Berlin, and the reason for opening a second branch this year was mainly to profit from the international focus that is on Berlin. I’m frequently asked whether it was a deliberate decision to set up shop in the Mitte district, but it was just a coincidence: while I was in Berlin hunting for locations last year, I remembered that I had a customer who was in the hotel business there. I figured that it might be a good idea to get his opinion on locations and prices, so I contacted him. As luck had it, he had a store available right next to Rosenthaler Platz, which he offered me.
Isabell what is your background and how did you become a part of Soda?
Isabell: I have 15 years of experience, working in retail. While studying fashion journalism in Munich, I also managed a little concept store just across the street from Soda. That’s how I met Sebastian. Three years ago, I moved to Berlin and started working as a headhunter in Fashion. I did that for one year before Sebastian told me about his plan to open a second Soda in Berlin. When he asked me if I could imagine joining the team and running it, I immediately said yes, and so it began.
What does a typical day look like in the shop, if there is a typical day?
Isabell: There isn’t really a typical day in the shop, I must say. However, there are certain things that happen almost every day: We’re open from 11-7; I get deliveries of new magazines and books every day. I have my customers; I have friends visiting and bringing me coffee, and I get to meet and talk to publishers and distributors almost each day. Of course, there’s also a more practical side of running a shop one needs to consider, such as paperwork, unpacking, and organizing.
I really enjoy Soda being a place where like-minded creative people meet randomly and come to have a chat, exchange experiences, get inspired and connect.
Your primary focus at Soda is magazines, and especially independent magazines, which have had a thriving success the last year – how have you experienced this new wave of small independent publications?
Sebastian: There have been so many changes, it’s hard to decide where to start. On the whole, I think we could differentiate between two major parts. On the one hand, there’s the design of the magazines, and on the other hand, there’s the market: which magazines are being bought and why?
Regarding design, I’d like to highlight just two of the major changes that have taken place over the last 11 years: firstly, when we started out, there were none of the frame style covers that are ubiquitous today. An image at that time filled the whole of the cover, no white frames to be seen anywhere – until Fantastic Man started this trend with their third issue in 2006.
And secondly, these days, a magazine designer can choose from a much bigger variety of formats. Back in 2004, there still seemed to be some sort of unwritten agreement that a magazine needed to be roughly A4 in size; heaven knows why. There were hardly any of the pocket size magazines that are so popular today.
When it comes to the magazine publishing, I notice that we seem to be in the middle of an atomization process. Back in the days, there were a few big players who dominated the scene, but today the number of smaller independent publications has increased, which means that nowadays, readers literally have hundreds of titles to choose from – many of them made by only a handful of people, conceived for a niche audience and with just a small print run. New ones are still popping up on a constant basis. And while the large publishing corporations are still moaning about their losses and wondering what to do next, many of the independents are thriving.
Tell us a bit about the process of finding new magazines and books – where do you buy them, and which qualities does a magazine/book need to have to get shelf space in your shop?
Isabell: There are a bunch of ways we come across new titles. The most obvious being us visiting book fairs in Frankfurt or London, our distributors introducing us to new titles they think we might be interested in, or publishers contacting us directly. But people also come to the shop and present their magazines and books, especially the self-published, more independent ones. I get hints from customers, mostly tourists, who tell me about cool publications they discovered and, of course, there’s the internet, where you stumble across nice new titles every now and then when you engage yourself with the topic and know where to look.
Usually, when a new magazine or book is presented to us, Sebastian and I both have a look at it and then exchange opinions. Of course, it has to convince us, visually. We’re most happy when we’re being surprised by a new look or a new topic or even just new ways of presenting existing topics. While Sebastian is a pro concerning graphics and visuals (since he’s been in the business for such a long time and has seen a lot), I like to dive into the matter and try to actually read as much as possible to see if the content matches the look.
Sometimes there are titles we know will work in Munich but not so much in Berlin and vice versa, so that’s another aspect we always have to discuss. But basically it’s a very personal approach, and there are reasons (don’t know if they’re all good, but they’re there) as to why each magazine or book is getting a place on our shelves – or not.
What defines your audience at Soda?
Isabell: Our claim is “curious publications for curious people”, and I believe that sums it up quite nicely. Of course, I can only speak for the audience in Berlin. Due to our location at Rosenthaler Platz, we get a lot of tourists from all over the world, people who have heard of us or know the Munich shop and want to see the new one. But the majority, I would say, are the creative professionals. We have many agencies in the neighborhood, and the people working there are always keen on finding new inspiration or simply being up to date with what is going on in print. We have the designers and photographers seeking inspiration as well as the models looking for their spreads in the magazines.
We have been open for almost a year now, and I’m happy to say that we already have quite a few regulars and print enthusiasts, who come in almost every week, expecting new issues with great excitement and stocking up on their favorites.
Which market and sales channels do you use at Soda to reach out to your audience?
Isabell: We have to admit we hardly do any active marketing at all. Word-of-mouth really is our most important marketing tool. We have a Facebook and a Twitter account, which we feed rather irregularly. I guess we’re lucky because we are in a market with very few competitors, so we get a lot of press without actually doing very much for it.
To learn more about Soda and explore their books and magazines,
go visit: sodabooks.com