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Purity in Print: Dumbo feather, pass it on

In the world of magazine racks and newsstands, Dumbo feather, pass it on is the title people pick up when they’re looking for a bit of soul with their morning coffee. It has achieved that which many other publications have failed to do – create an end result that is unpretentious, unassuming and intensely relatable – by simply embracing the beauty in honest conversation. Showcasing in depth interviews which span an entire fifth of the magazine, Dumbo Feather ensures that no topic of discussion goes unpublished. Stories are not butchered by word counts or, it would seem, advertising requirements – these are interviews that have brought purity back to their art form, taking the reader into the room with the subject and the journalist and truly getting into the heads of the people who have made their dreams come true. Dumbo Feather turns the focus on the creators instead of what they have created, and rather than being overwhelmed by blatant added value, every few pages are intercepted with tales, tips and ideas that seem to complement the content in an almost holistic way. We asked the founder, editor and publisher Kate Bezar to take us into her head so that we too could shine a light on someone who has created something utterly significant.

When you started Dumbo Feather, I know you were looking to create a title you would read. How did the actual idea for the type of coverage formulate? Was it a gradual, note-by-note process, or did it just come to you one day?

I was at a point in my life where I desperately wanted and needed to read about individuals who’d found what they were passionate about in life, and how they’d gone about pursuing it. I walked into a newsagent one night wanting to buy a mag and just went round and round in circles. I left empty-handed, but thinking, 'If there's nothing here I want to read, then maybe others feel the same way'. The more I thought about it, I realised that I wanted to read about the winemaker rather than the wine, the architect rather than the house, the entrepreneur rather than the business. I couldn’t find a magazine like that so decided to make it myself and, with a beautiful twist of irony, in the process of doing so, I found my passion too.
As I kept thinking about what, in an ideal world, I'd want in a magazine. I realised I wanted it to be about the 'real' story, not the 'PR' version. I wanted to hear people's own words. I also wanted a little bit of fashion, I little bit of art, architecture, issues-based articles … a little bit of everything. That's how I came up with the format of having the entire issue based around five people's stories, told verbatim, with sub-feature stories expanding on things they mentioned - that way I could include some travel stories, some food stuff, some design bits.

Were you always into writing?
Not really … love reading, always have, always will and have kept journals on and off over the years, but never in my wildest imaginings did I see myself as a writer .. Still don't to be honest. I enjoy it, but it's still the side of things I'm least confident about.

What do you owe to Dumbo Feather’s success? Why do you think it has gone as far as it has in an age when “print is dying”?
The only type of print that may 'die' is content that can be more easily and readily produced and accessed online eg., gossip, news, reviews … I believe even 'house and garden' type mags will suffer. Who'd buy a magazine about landscaping when you can google 'retaining walls' and find a million examples? What will survive, and this is key to Dumbo feather, are publications that are timeless, ie their content doesn't date, that are in-depth ie. take longer than 30 mins to flick through, and are beautiful things in their own right - tactile, sensory …
In terms of Dumbo feather’s success ... I think it's mostly due to the fact that it fills a need that no other publication does - that's why any 'product' ever succeeds.

Do you think print is dying? Of the ones that do fail, what do you think they do wrong?
See above. In terms of all the small titles that only last one, maybe two, issues before folding … Publishing a magazine is a very 'romantic' idea, one that many people dream of having a go at … often as a means of getting their own and/or their friends' fashion/photos/illustrations/writing in print. That's not the right reason to create a mag. It has to fill the readers' need, not the publisher's needs. It's also just a massive undertaking - it's expensive, tough to fund and
relentless … those deadlines never give up!

When you first came up with the idea, what were your next steps? Did you immediately think it was possible?
Yeah, I did. Nothing's rocket science, except rocket science. That said, I also had naivety on my side - I truly had no idea what I was in for. I asked friends what their favourite mags were and what their ideal mag would be like to make sure my idea was solid. I then went to 'paper school' run by Spicers Paper to learn all about paper stocks, went on a tour through a printer to find out about that side of things, got some great designers on my side who knew how to put a mag together with their eyes closed (not literally) … basically just put one foot in front of the other. It's a cliché, but like most clichés, it's true.

Did you ever want to throw in the towel? What kept you persevering (through the inevitable long days/nights?)
Oh so often!!! I just really wanted to make it work and I knew it had 'legs' because I'd had such amazing feedback, even from the first day it went on sale I began to get emails from people who'd discovered it in their local newsagent and implored me to keep going. I'm pretty determined, stubborn, single-minded … I don't give up easily.

Do you have any personal favourite stories that have appeared in the magazine?
Loads … there's a great one coming up with a woman called Fleur Sullivan - such a character and such strength of character. Awesome. Jim Haynes was wonderful too.

What is your favourite part about what you do?
I love doing the interviews and meeting such fantastic people - I've made some very special friends. I also love seeing it all come together in those last couple of weeks before the issue goes to print. Seeing what Jim, our art director, comes up with is heaps of fun - he's a genius.

And your least favourite?
Oh the usual - money stuff. Paying bills, chasing money ...

What advice would you give to people who want to start a magazine?
Make sure you're doing it for the right reasons, that it's not just an ego-trip for you, but that you're truly creating it for readers. And make sure you've got advertising support before you even start.

Kate Bezar.
photo by Steve Bacon.

interview: Seema Duggal


May 11, 2010 at 5:20 PM dana | yellowtrace blog said...

Such an inspiring and wonderful story. Kate Bezar - we love you.

May 23, 2010 at 1:49 PM C said...

Fantastic article. I've heard about this magazine but haven't picked up a copy yet. Thanks for inspiring me to do so.

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