GWAS Scoop: InsideOut gets a makeover

It's not all about Vogue, you know. In fact, the fashion glossy's News Magazines' stablemate InsideOut has a few surprises between its September issue sleeves ready to hit shelves tomorrow.

With a relatively small circulation of 48,372 copies*, the prestige bi-monthly is
beloved by a dedicated group of interiors nuts who get more pleasure from furnishing rooms than fashioning outfits. Much like Vogue, it covers local design and retail, while also maintaining an international focus, featuring inspiring individuals with equally aspirational homes. Vogue and InsideOut share a certain aesthetic sensibility, though the interiors title is a little more, um, approachable; homely, even (well, I'll be!).

I imagine the InsideOut girl (cousin to Vogue's "Uptown Girl"), spends more time on The Selby than The Sartorialist; shops for vintage cushion covers rather than shoes; keeps her linen closet well stocked and her desk drawer in order; and can tell you exactly where to find the perfect duck blue wallpaper for your newly renovated 'space'.

Editorial director and published author Karen McCartney (pictured) talked to GWAS about her passion for interiors magazines, the evolution of InsideOut and what we can anticipate with the redesigned September issue...

GWAS: You have an extensive editorial career. Have you always been passionate about the design category? Before I came to Australia [from the UK], I mainly worked as an editor in fashion and general lifestyle but had started to become interested in home and interiors and did some work for British Elle Decoration. My full passion for interiors and design was unleashed when I moved to Australia and worked on the launch of marie claire lifestyle.

[Karen oversees Notebook: and Country Style, in addition to InsideOut]. How do you divide your time between the magazines you oversee? Are you very hands-on? Basically my role breaks down into three parts; I am the day-to-day editor of InsideOut, I oversee Country Style and Notebook:, and I am the voice of editorial matters in our executive management team. I am very hands-on as editor of InsideOut and am involved in design, copy and concepts for features, as well as marketing and advertising relationships around the brand. I have a fantastic team of people who I have worked with for a long time, so we have a sort of creative shorthand in our communication that makes life easy. With both Country Style and Notebook:, I am there for the editors to discuss anything to do with the business of editing — I am a sounding board and a support.

You were founding editor of InsideOut. Can you tell us about the launch? How did you get involved? I was editing [Matt Handbury's) marie claire lifestyle at the time and was approached by News Magazines — now, almost ten years ago. News Magazines had researched a gap in the homemaker market defined by an inspiring/practical positioning and, convinced by the research, I moved across to launch the magazine. It was a pretty stressful time because News Magazines was at an embryonic stage as a division, and we had to staff up and launch in just under four months. News Limited was incredibly supportive and has continued to be so.

How has InsideOut evolved since its inception? We launched with a determination to produce a package that inspired and excited the reader but also delivered real, actionable information and that is something we have stuck to. The delivery of that message, in terms of the art direction, has changed but the core philosophy has not. I do believe our strength has come from the level of service journalism we provide, where not only do you see the home but also, for example, find out what floor stain they have used. We know our readers are at a very active stage of homemaking and we cater for that interest.

How has the GFC affected the magazine's editorial direction? It hasn't changed it fundamentally because InsideOut has always reflected the shopping spectrum, from Space to Ikea, but you would be crazy not to respond. InsideOut's tag line is 'inspiring homes with heart' and to that end we tend to feature houses where the personality of the owners is evident. Often it is about collections and ideas where money spent isn't the primary driver and that sets us apart. I am very conscious of the price of things and have briefed the stylists to consider whether the things they use are value for money, even at the higher end. The magazine needs to stay inspiring and reflect the energy and excitement of products in the marketplace, but we don't want readers falling off their chairs when they see the price tag.

How is InsideOut holding up against competitors? In the up-market, bimonthly section of the market, InsideOut is the market leader. Our circulation took a small drop last period but I am pleased to say we have had strong sales this year which will be reflected in the next audit.

The interiors category is almost as big (if not larger) than fashion. How does a magazine stand out in a crowded market? Australia has a tremendous selection of interiors magazines that I believe are amongst the best in the world. Lifestyle and home is something we are good at. All the titles have their own spot, their own readers and community, and at present there seems to be room for all. InsideOut has carved a niche where it is up-market but approachable. We do not assume that our readers will know all the latest designers — we are happy to tell them. We do the research and tell our readers where to find pieces and what they can expect to pay for them. We put great emphasis on detail and information — and the hard work shows. Our readers know they are buying a quality, well-considered product.

Has the proliferation of design/interiors blogs and websites affected your readership, or are they more of an accessory? In the redesign we have increased the amount of blog and web contacts and references. It is a great source of further information and we are keen to embrace the potential and service it can be to our readers. I don't think it is a threat, more of a parallel resource.

InsideOut has its own blog: has this been an important part of brand extension/connecting with readers? Doing the blog has been great fun. Our deputy chief sub, Lee Tran Lam, runs it and it is there for staff enthusiasms and things that we think are great but aren't compatible with our deadlines. The blog helps give all the staff on the magazine a voice and an opportunity to highlight what interests them. While we are exploring a broader online presence, the blog allows us to connect with the readers in that space.

How do you manage the balance between supporting designers/the industry and delivering value for readers? Are there strict guidelines in terms of pushing product? At the end of the day it just has to be about the readers, and they are fairly savvy about when magazines cross the line. I guess my role is to police that. I do, however, realise what a hard job the ad department have and if they suggest something that, for me, goes too far I try and make an alternative suggestion that they can take to the client. There is usually a compromise. Fortunately, most of our advertisers have a natural fit with the magazine.

What got you and the team thinking about a redesign? It is always tricky. We last redesigned when we went bimonthly in 2004 and while we haven't stood still since then, we just felt a bit of a refresh was due. We have endeavoured not to throw the baby out with the bathwater — and there are lots of things we have left the same. I think it is about constantly engaging the reader, feeling that the pages are cared for and considered. The magazine is the result of a dedicated, happy team and that shines through in the redesign.

Do your readers appreciate change or do you anticipate a backlash? You never know with readers, and some might be very attached to the previous treatment, but I think that they will enjoy the refresh. It isn't too radical. When we redesigned Country Style some readers were upset but wrote back a couple of months later to say that they had come to terms with the changes and continued to enjoy the magazine. It is more dangerous to ignore change and fall behind.

What are some of the key changes in the redesign? We have concentrated on changing the upfront news pages to capture more of what is going on in the areas of design, shops, books, blogs and creative people, be they artists or architects. Again, working into the notion of 'inspiring homes with heart' and that sense of personal connection. Creative director Tracy Lines has used hand-drawn lines, textured paper, handwriting and a typewriter face to warm up the pages.

What's your hope for the future of InsideOut? InsideOut has forged its place in the magazine world through a distinctive editorial positioning and an adherence to quality in everything we do. We place a great deal of emphasis on being good to deal with, whether it is with editorial contributors, advertisers or marketing partners. As a brand we will have been going for 10 years next April, and there are plans afoot for various brand extensions and creative partnerships.

Let's hope readers and mag-stand browsers embrace the new look. Congrats to the team!
*March 2009 ABC audit results

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Victoria said...

I love Inside Out - love the blog too. Thanks for the great interview Erika!

jess said...

I love the layout and aesthetic of the magazine, as evidenced in your scans. It has a cool, quirky, retro feel, and if I weren't a struggling uni student (a cliche, I know!), I would probably get a copy for that reason alone. Until then, I'll just have to admire its pretty pages at work tomorrow.

Inside Out said...

Thank you for the lovely and comprehensive look at the redesign, Erica!
By the way, as proof of your blog's power and reach – I just walked past the Vogue office (literally, two seconds ago) and heard someone say, "good wrap on Girl With A Satchel"!
Lee Tran