In 2011, publications across the globe were abandoning print to focus on online content. Readers were demanding everything for free, so, to bring in ad revenue, publications churned out more and more (and more) content, often at the expense of quality. Meanwhile, four friends in Portland, USA, founded Kinfolk magazine. The first issue was in print. It was on heavy, expensive paper. A modern, minimalist design, with no ads at all and large white borders surrounding features and photo essays.
It was the antithesis of current publishing trends, but immediately it found a huge international audience (within three weeks the website had six million views) in the form of a new up-and-coming global lifestyle trend. Kinfolk tipped itself as “a slow lifestyle magazine that explores ways for readers to simplify their lives, cultivate community and spend more time with their friends and family.” It turned out, millennials with a penchant for beards, lattes, itchy jumpers and food photographed from above had been waiting for just such a magazine to come along, and Kinfolk piggy-backed on the slow-lifestyle trend to grow at a staggering speed.
The magazine was soon available from big retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but Kinfolk used innovative non-traditional distribution channels too, like selling in small boutique shops that put the magazine directly into the hands of an audience willing to spend $18 on a magazine. The high asking price allowed Kinfolk to remain ad-free and stay true to what founder Nathan Williams calls the “Kinfolk message.” But the $18 also carried a message of its own: that, like Monocle (who we discussed here), you are buying into an aspirational lifestyle.
This consistency of the Kinfolk message spawned an army of followers. Kinfolk dinner parties, brunches and “Flower Potlucks” were organised from New York to Istanbul to Russia, and Kinfolk readers posted their lifestyle to Instagram. A lot. Invariably, food photographed from above in soft focus, wood, latte art, cacti in terracotta pots. The fact that this sort of photo is now considered an Instagram cliche is testament to the influence Kinfolk had – not just on social media but on magazine photography and design to this day.
Kinfolk also expanded to create Ouur Media which, as well as the magazine itself, publishes books on homeware, cooking, and entrepreneurship. They have a clothing line in partnership with a Japanese firm and even a gallery space in Copenhagen. All of it playing on the Kinfolk aesthetic and lifestyle, leveraging the brand reputation and existing audience to extend their reach.
Kinfolk helped spark a print magazine renaissance. Against all predictions, the industry is in the best shape it’s been for decades, as people everywhere crave something more than the ephemeral offering of the web. Kinfolk was there in the right place at the right time, but the proof of its influence is the amount of copycats it’s spawned. The key to standing out for Kinfolk, though, is not daring innovation, but continuing to do what they do, and continuing to do it better than anyone else.
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Image credits © Kinfolk Official