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So What Do You Do, Tyler Brûlé, EIC Monocle?

The renegade publisher explains the long road from Wallpaper* to Monocle

By Greg Lindsay - December 19, 2007
Tyler Brűlé's name will forever be linked with Wallpaper*, the jet-setting lifestyle magazine he founded in the mid-90s while still only in his late twenties. He was hailed for capturing the era's zeitgeist before he had even published a dozen issues, by which time he had sold the magazine to Time Inc., the company's first overseas acquisition. He'd conceived of the magazine while lying in a hospital bed, recuperating from wounds sustained as a freelance journalist operating inside Afghanistan on behalf of the BBC. What once seemed like a deeply ironic contradiction -- that he had dreamt of luxury living after his brush with geopolitics -- have since merged into his latest project, Monocle. Best described as "The Economist meets Wallpaper*" Monocle is the magazine Brűlé has been dreaming of since his bitter departure from his first love in 2002. Published by Winkreative, the brand consultancy he has run full-time since then, Monocle marries the achingly tasteful and internationalist mindset for which he's known with a news slant that relentless looks for opportunities and curios abroad rather than threats. The result is a manual-sized magazine that sells subscriptions for $150 a year and has a readership that's also so well-curated that luxury advertisers are beating down his door. Brűlé replied to mediabistro.com's questions from (we think) an overnight train at midnight last week as he raced to the next appointment in his jam-packed datebook.


Name: Tyler Brűlé
Position: Editor-in-chief & chairman, Monocle; chairman & creative director, Winkreative
Resume: Foreign correspondent, BBC; founded and served as editor-in-chief of Wallpaper*; created and anchored the news program "The Desk" for BBC 4; launched Monocle
Hometown: Winnipeg, Canada
Education: Attended Ryerson University in Toronto


When did you first have the idea to create Monocle, and how & when did you finally decide to launch the magazine? What made you think that a fusion of international reportage with a jet-setting luxury lifestyle component would be an editorial and commercially viable magazine?
Jet-setting luxury lifestyle component? Are you reading the same magazine that we're editing? I don't see any of that in what we're doing. The magazine's international but hardly jet-set. In many ways Monocle's the magazine I've always wanted to do. In fact, the basic concept pre-dates Wallpaper* by a good six years. We started work on rough layouts, structure and costs in the spring of 2005 and started raising finance in early 2006. I was convinced that the concept would work because I've spent many years watching consumers' magazine purchasing habits at airports and it was frequently Wallpaper* and The Economist. I decided to merge elements of the two but refine the package.

Who reads Monocle? What do you think is the maximum readership of the magazine worldwide. I understand that the eventual circulation target is 150,000 readers, which is more than Wallpaper* has now (and about the same as during your tenure as editor). Is the readership of Monocle the same as the readership of Wallpaper* during your era? And considering their geographic dispersion, is it truly possible to speak to them as a coherent community?
We invited all of our London subscribers to a shopping evening at our offices earlier this week so I can tell you that our readers are predominantly male (70 percent) and work in finance, public policy, assorted academic fields, media, and assorted travel sectors. They're over 30, are probably leaving in a different country from where they were born, and are on the hunt for opportunities. They're also looking for smart media.

I think some day we can take this up to a circulation of over 200,000 globally. That's a dream, not our business plan. There's definitely a constituency of readers who left Wallpaper* who've picked up with us and a whole new group of readers who've never even heard of Wallpaper*. I think Monocle's readership is more interested in bigger ideas and doesn't see a wall between politics and culture.

As for geography, I feel it creates an opportunity. While many media brands go more local we can talk to a group of readers who want to feel connected to the world's major cities.

Considering how wired (and wireless) your readers are, why is Monocle a magazine and not an electronic publication? What opportunities does print afford you that digital publishing does not? And please discuss your business strategy in light of your extremely high cover price ($10 US is what I'm paying every month) and even higher subscription price, which I don't think exists anywhere else in the media landscape. What does that mean for your business model in terms of the contributions of circulation revenue, ad revenue, and digital revenue? I imagine it doesn't look like any other magazine out there.
It's both. As of today, Monocle's ranked as the number three news/politics brand on iTunes. I feel that's quite an accomplishment having only been present on the newsstand for 10 months and on iTunes for ten weeks. Print still sets the agenda but it needs a digital wing to give it a different, more varied metabolism.

Who said subscriptions should be cheaper than getting a title on newsstand? I think it's a business model that simply doesn't work when you're shipping magazines to 79 countries. At the same time, when you offer up every single story archived there's a value to that -- hence the 50 percent increase on subscriptions. Today there is a consumer out there who will pay for quality journalism and recognizes that it can't only be the advertiser that pays the bills. As for the business model, we've only assumed newsstand sales and ad revenues. We left the digital component and subs blank because we knew we were doing something different. 5,000-plus subscriptions at $150 has had a lovely year end effect on our plan.

Japanese fashion editors are more like buyers -- they want clothes to sell and not linger in fashion cupboards.

How were you able to recruit a global network of contributors reporting on location from Rwanda, the former Soviet Union, Japan, etc. in an age where most magazines, television networks, and newspapers are cutting back on their international staff and coverage? I see that some of your staff, like Fiona Wilson, have been with you since the Wallpaper days, but how did you go about recruiting new correspondents in out-of-the-way places? How do you manage them? Are they essentially stringers pitching stories? Or are you assigning them?
Cut-backs elsewhere have created our network. There's no shortage of good talent as a result of bureau closures and shrinking international news sections. While we started out by commissioning writers we've known for some time, we now have journalists all over the world contacting us with ideas and thrilled that there's a new platform for international reportage. That said, 90 percent of the stories start at our hub in London.

How would you describe your editorial point-of-view with regards to news? American magazines' tend to cover international news through the lens of the "War on Terror," the Iraq War, and the damage to America's self-image. This view is, of course, noticeably absent from Monocle. How would you describe the political and socio-economic stance embodied in the magazine?
Our view has a distinctly eastern side of the north Atlantic flavor. This means we sit in London but are influenced by the currents that have made this city more European and increasingly one that looks to Asia. Commercially, this viewpoint is proving to be a hit in America as readers are tired of seeing the world through the prism you mention.

How would you describe your point-of-view with regards to the design, fashion, and lifestyle coverage within Monocle? Your incarnation of Wallpaper* is justly famous for being so out-of-step with other fashion and shelter magazines and so locked-into its own vision of the world that it became an iconic, Zeitgeist magazine. Where and how did you develop this sensibility, and why -- a decade after Wallpaper* burst onto the scene -- are you still somewhat on the fringe?
Mmmmm, fashion. For starters, we hired a Japanese fashion editor to ensure we had pages with wearable, fresh brands and not spreads devoted to building the careers of photographers and stylists. I have a very clear view of who's reading this magazine and as a result we want to shoot garments that are relevant and also have a story. Slowear's a good example of a Monocle brand -- it focuses on being best in class and is not consumed with being the brand of the season. I think Japanese fashion editors are more like buyers -- they want clothes to sell and not linger in fashion cupboards. On a related note, our Porter bags have now sold over 1000 units (mostly to men) and we keep hearing that people like our vision because we introduce brands that are new, forgotten or rarely seen. There's a political message here as well, you'll note that brand provenance and legitimacy counts for a lot with us.


Greg Lindsay is a frequent contributor to mediabistro.com. He's currently working on his first book.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]



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