Tyler Brûlé is getting ready for a pleasant task. Sitting – for once – behind his desk at Midori House, the London headquarters for Monocle magazine, the globetrotting media visionary and founder of style bible Wallpaper is about to start penning the editor’s letter to Monocle’s five-year anniversary issue. It’s a triumphant moment that many thought would never arrive – when Monocle’s first issue was published in February 2007, many media experts – both self appointed and trained – predicted that the magazine wouldn’t live to see its first birthday. Thick, expensive, printed on exclusive paper and packed with reports and analysis from all corners of the world, Monocle beat the odds and found a loyal, steadily growing circle of readers. Today, the magazine has a global distribution of 150,000 copies in over 100 markets, and last October it made the Ad Age Magazine A-List together with titles like Vanity Fair and The Economist. Brûlé himself was named Editor of the Year.
One of Monocle’s favourite subjects is cities, and especially the opportunities and the quality of life they offer. Tirelessly jet-setting around the world and always keeping his eyes open, Brûle is an expert on cities and their power to draw people and investment. And for Stockholm, he says, it’s time to shape up.
Totally Stockholm: Five years with Monocle – it must have been quite a journey?
Tyler Brûlé: It’s been an amazing journey. From the beginning, it was very clear that there was a gap in the market. We were very focused on what we wanted to do, what we wanted to deliver to the international audience. Shortly after we launched in 2007, the market went completely south and we saw the beginnings of the global financial crisis, but even in that period, Monocle continued to grow. That’s a testimony to the fact that people are still interested in a global perspective and want to read stories they can’t find anywhere else.
TS: What did you want to achieve with the magazine?
TB: I personally was looking for a magazine I couldn’t find. A mix of business, world affairs, design, architecture, and all the other things I like. The more I thought about my friends and the general market, the better the idea seemed. We’d seen how magazines had become reduced in terms of quality paper and reduced in their physical appearance. We wanted to go to the other direction, make it more like a book, something you want to collect and hold on to.
TS: Many people were sceptical of Monocle in the beginning – not least in Sweden. Some said that it would disappear from the market within a year. How are you doing now?
TB: Well, all those people need to go chew on birch trees, or whatever the Swedish say. Five years later we’re a hugely profitable business. We could go and buy other magazines if we wanted to. That’s the really exciting thing, not just to prove that they were wrong, but to see how we’ve been growing. We knew it would be rough in the beginning, but oddly enough, we succeeded. Ours was a steady, slow growth. It reflects how Wallpaper was too; it wasn’t this meteoric rise, but rather, a steady, slow growth.
TS: Instead of launching an iPad version like many magazines are doing, you’ve now invested in setting up a radio station. Why?
TB: We thought about where you could go in media today. We’d tried television, we’d done a television program with Bloomberg TV, but we wanted to do something that was entirely ours. Also, radio is more closely aligned to us as a magazine. As fast as we sometimes move at Monocle, a monthly magazine is quite a slow and laborious process. The speed at which radio moves seemed like the perfect thing. We’d done the Monocle Summer Series and noticed that whenever we did anything with music, we always had an enormous growth on our website. If we could combine our storytelling with music, we could be off to a winning formula. We’re now three and a half months into doing this, and over ten million shows have been downloaded. It’s tripled our expectations. And again, it’s commercially working.
TS: Some years ago radio was deemed old-fashioned – but now it seems like it’s having a moment?
TB: That’s the problem with many people who say things about the media. Oddly, we live in a world where there’s a multitude of options. But many commentators are predictable in their views. If it’s something new by Google or Facebook, it’s the future. But in the UK, radio had its best year in history last year. Lots of people are attracted to social networking, but it doesn’t mean the old things don’t work. And another thing is that this is solely a web venture, delivered to mobile devices. The platform is very modern, but interestingly lots of people think it sounds very old school, like something from the 1970’s – which I take as a compliment.
TS: Do you follow Swedish media at all?
TB: In bits and pieces. I think that when you look at the Swedish magazines, there’s been a quality decrease. 15 years ago, the magazine market, even the newspaper supplements, was much more interesting in terms of design and quality. There hasn’t been enough innovation. When it comes to television, the Danes are topping the Swedes and pumping out great TV-drama. The Swedish media is in a bit of a rut, and it needs to step up. If I look at Swedish TV, there’s way too much American content, and not enough homegrown content that could sell internationally. Swedes need to make shows to appeal to Swedes, but if they’re going to make money and have big budgets, they also need to sell internationally.
TS: The Danes seem to be doing everything right at the moment – food, architecture, film.
TB: Denmark has maybe a bit of a little brother syndrome, but in a different way than Finland, which has also been punching above its weight. Sweden is the most populous of the Nordic countries, but it’s been riding on its laurels a bit too much, and now it’s being challenged by its neighbours. Look at the rise of Finnair, or the power of the incredible Angry Birds. And then you look at Denmark, exporting film, TV, cuisine. And Norway, where Norwegian just ordered 220 new airplanes. That’s a huge international statement, and it should really make the Stockholm business community think what their message should be.
TS: What should the city of Stockholm improve, in your opinion?
TB: Looking at all the huge infrastructure projects going on right now, it seems clear that the city recognizes that something needs to be done. But maybe it should have been started ten years earlier. The city is heaving under the weight of all the traffic challenges that it has. The other thing that it needs to spend money on is really telling why Stockholm is a good place to live in. Stockholm can compete against other cities, but people need to know how. If I relocate my family or my company there, what do I get? Aside from that, Sweden likes to talk about the big number of immigrants they take in, but I still think it isn’t good at actually integrating people. After 15-20 years of traveling there, I still don’t see a mix. It’s great that they’re allowed in, but it seems that they’re all stuck in Rinkeby. Then of course that goes two ways, they need to want to be involved. But London, for instance, has a much greater sense of diversity.
TS: What’s interesting to you in today’s Stockholm?
TB: Right now when I look at the Swedes, I sense a kind of a realisation due to the crisis with companies like Saab and Ericsson. There’s a lot of soul-searching and reinvention going on. But maybe it’s not fast enough. There’s the Swedish way and then there’s the world’s way, and I’m afraid it’s going to have to be more of the world’s way in the future, and some companies are too slow to understand that. For instance, if Stockholm only has a five-week summer at best, people in the service industry should take their vacations at another time. There’s no sense in going on holiday when all the cruise ships come. It doesn’t mean that families can’t have a month off, but some should go in June, others in July and some in August. Sweden relies a lot on Stockholm, and tourism is important. They have to rethink summers in Stockholm and find a way to maximise them.
TS: Besides the summer – what do you think are Stockholm’s strong sides?
TB: It has a human scale. I know that has a bad rap, many people are saying that the city should be more vertical and have taller buildings, but when you’re on the street, the scale is very human, and that’s definitely a positive. And London might have diversity, but Stockholm got the cycling message much earlier. It’s really a city that is designed for walking or cycling. Compared to Finland, Norway and Denmark, it’s also great that it has a seven-day-week culture. If you’re a busy parent, you can go shopping on Sunday, and you don’t need to cram everything into Saturday. Stockholm has really understood that to be an international city, you need to be a seven-day city. n