Under the umbrella of our Placeholder series, we'll be investigating the best bookshops the UK has to offer. Some will be familiar, others might take you by surprise. However, the common thread at play here will be an appreciation and love for all things publishing. Head here for our previous look at the Ideas On Paper shop in Nottingham.

magCulture has been at the forefront of the publishing world for more than a decade - however it's only the in the last two months that the resource made the bold move by leaping out of the Internet and into the real world, with a physical shop.

The background of magCulture is a very different story to the previous shop we visited, despite the two entities being united in the idea of a magazine-specific shop, and a love for beautifully designed, innovative magazines. Despite the size and cultural vastness of London, a magazine-specific shop is not something that has existed in the capital per se, so magCulture founder Jeremy Leslie filled this vacuum by opening late last year - a (mighty) stone's throw away from the Barbican area, in a former newsagents.

Tim Boddy spent a cold afternoon (or two) in magCulture and conducted this interview with Jeremy Leslie. A couple of magazines we bought in store just prior to Christmas - you can read about those here.

Placeholder: magCulture

Obviously magCulture began as an online entity - could you give us a brief history of how and why that started, and how long you've been part of that yourself?

The name came about from a book I did that was published in roughly 2003 called magCulture, and it was the second book about magazine design I'd done. The idea behind the books was.. although they were very visual, it's about design and the look of the things, while also containing a series of in-depth essays - not just on design but about the relevance of magazines in broader culture. The first book was called Issues and the second magCulture, which felt like a strong, confident name and relevant to what the book was about.

Shortly after that I launched the website on the basis of developing a follow-up book, so the idea was originally just a research tool to try and tease out more magazines. I just felt that for most people magazines were quite a temporary passing thing that you enjoy, then pass on or recycle or throw away; which is fine as that's what they're for in many ways, most magazines are a passing form of entertainment. But they also act as fantastic records not just in terms of text and image but in terms of design, and with the whole mix they reflect their era almost unconsciously. So that's why I wanted to record some of them in books and talk about them in a way that they had some sort of weight; a lot of magazines would come and go and no-one would be any-the-wiser, and make a record of them.

Almost like an archive

Yes - so the website was a similar idea to the book, but the book didn't materialise until a lot later. What I found was when the website launched in 2005 (then onto Wordpress in 2006), at that point it a hit a moment where all the publishing companies and magazine publishers were investing in broadband and proper access for all their staff. So the magCulture blog arrived at the time when everyone had the Internet on their desk in the office, and it all grew together. It filled a void that hadn't even existed until a year before. We built an audience particularly here and in New York (English-speaking publishing worlds) and since then it's spread around the world.. people read in around 130 countries. Obviously some very slight numbers in some of those countries, but fundamentally the UK, America and obvious parts of Western Europe, Germany especially.

Placeholder: magCulture

So what was an experiment became something more significant in 2008, and in 2009 I left my full-time job to set-up a design studio of my own and I called that magCulture to have that part alongside the website. Six years later and various other things have happened alongside during this time such as events around magazine publishing and innovation. And although the site focuses on magazine publishing in general, it tends to focus on independent publishing because that is where the more interesting things are happening. We do cover the more mainstream/branded magazines and digital products - anything that comes under the loose description of magazines, anything that piques my interest. Then we began to get a few emails from people saying "it's great being able to read all this stuff, but where I live I can't get hold of magazines". So five years ago we started selling a small selection of magazines online - very deliberately small as didn't want to get involved in a big fulfilment business. So that's been ticking over since.

I've always in the back of my head had this idea of a design studio which is behind here [points to the back of the shop] with a shop in front of it, it was always a pipe-dream that we'd talk about on Friday night in the pub. At the beginning of 2015 there had been such a growth in the attention paid to magazines particularly in the independent magazine sector, I felt there was a big opportunity to open something in London that did it properly, like other cities - like Berlin is rich for magazine outlets, as is Barcelona. Other cities have better provision for the presentation and sale of magazines and I wanted London to have that. I thought "if I don't do this now, I'd be really annoyed if someone does do it". So I did it. I had no background in retail and little idea of how to start this - the online shop was a service that about covered its cost. And we just tried it.

We opened in the middle of December and it's been a good first few weeks, and with Christmas in the middle we had a big buzz for 10 days then shut down over that period and now we're building it up again. It's very much as I envisaged it and we've just put the whole lot online as well that has everything available, and we're gong into the new year with the hope to make it a success.

Going back to the point you made on London not really having any specialist magazine stores - I mean obviously there are shops to go to that also sell magazines - but it seems surprising that London of all places doesn't have this magazine-specific outlet. Do you think there's a reason why this hadn't happened?

I think a number of things happened. This space used to be a newsagent, so traditional newsagents sell mainstream popular titles, selling slightly less, the margins are tighter, the whole industry is squeezed, there's less money to be made on magazines - so a lot of newsagents are going out of business. So unless you really know and love what you do - there's one or two like Charlotte Street News and Wardour Street News who do it well and have caught up with things. They have all the mainstream magazines, a lot of foreign newspapers, the independents, European, and weeklies.

They have a broad range of magazines all in a small space so it's fairly cramped, which has it's own appeal and there's nothing wrong with that and I enjoy going there. I think Artworks in Rivington Street has quite a cramped feel but they do what they do well. But in particular with the independent magazines when you're asking people to shell out £10-£15 on a single item then I think they deserved to be presented in an environment where it's a more 'showroom' experience as you'd find in other shops, so you can really see what you're buying, and have time to make a decision, and compare. Rather than a traditional newsagent environment where you're flicking through quickly and finding something - which I'm not knocking, but what we're doing is different.

A better experience for magazines like this (independent magazines) which is more of a welcoming "come in, spend some time here, have a browse, enjoy". Some people will spend half an hour going round and make a decision and go back and grab a title. Other people will collect them as they go and make a little pile in the corner.

Placeholder: magCulture

I find that with these kind of magazines a lot of the content is quite reflective in tone? So it makes sense to give them that space within the physical environment, and give people in the store the chance to breathe and reflect.

Yes these are all very consciously created as designed objects; that's as important as the content and part of the experience you're going to have with them isn't it. That physical entity. The space within the shops reflects that with itself. This is more of a place to come and spend time, there will hopefully be some surprises. So we don't limited ourselves and may even have free titles for example - if there was a particularly interesting issue of Shortlist, Stylist, or things like that then we'd have them in. It's purely about enjoying magazines.

A quick kind of flippant question on the browsing/anthropological experience; in our last feature on mag stores at Ideas On Paper the owner noted that probably half the people when they pick up to read these magazines have a quick smell of them - as with these objects you tend to use all the senses as opposed to reading something on a screen. Have you picked up on that specifically, or little affectations of that ilk?

[turning to a colleague] That's funny as we talk about that a lot. In fact, this morning we were talking about exactly that. Kathy who publishes Anorak magazine (a kids mag) came in and the first thing she did was sniff one of the magazines and we were laughing about it.

There was another customer in the corner who was also busy sniffing a title - it's just something that people tend to do. But that's part of it, it's a slightly flippant side to it but also a serious side; we were also talking earlier with the online side of things and how you can't quite get the sense of size. But look at the shelves here with the variation of scale between the magazines both in terms of height and width, and thickness or thinness, whether it's stapled or perfect-bound, or hardback - all these physical differences where you can come into a shop and feel and touch and smell and even hear. All these different senses are catered for. And you can't do that online, we have to set a boundary where everything's the same width and it's completely out of proportion.

I hope people come here from all over, from other countries, from other parts of this country and other cities, and see some stuff and think "Oh this is interesting" and fleshes out what magCulture is, and they'll go back to where they live and feel more comfortable buying online.

Placeholder: magCulture

Picking up on that, what kind of people have you found in terms of demographics have come into the shop?

I don't think there's any real surprises in many ways. We've had people of all ages, families.

I suppose maybe the most noticeable thing is those who know magCulture and have wanted to come to this shop - from quite far away. But also it's a small parade of shops here and definite local interest.. everyone knows it's here and noticed it. It's changed from this slightly little grubby worn-out Newsagents into this shop. I haven't had any negativity, I mean maybe some people resent it is some respects but I haven't felt that from anyone. All the other shop holders have been very supportive. Lots of people come in, people from the library come in, people who live in the posh houses round the back, people who live in the Estates here. All sorts. People have come locally, people have been passing by, people have come from Reading and Liverpool for example.

Underlying the question I assume there may be a certain assumption of person who would come here, but I don't think that's the case. It's a very broad church and lots of different people are interested, a lot of students who are right next to City University. Before Christmas when term was still on we got a lot of them in, there's a Journalism course that helps.

This may be too early in the shop's existence for this question, but have you found that anything has sold particularly well?

Yes we have - a lot of it is to do with newness. One of the things we've been doing over the last year online is doing a piece about a different magazine shops all over the world. And certain magazines always came up during those interviews; it didn't matter which country it was always the same ones - Kinfolk, Cereal, and so on. But we've found things slightly different. Having said that all those aforementioned popular magazines have had issues out for a couple of months and so we might not expect to sell them so well, they've been around so people will already own them.

The ones we've seen that sell the best so far have been the Rapha magazine Mondial, and Ride Journal. Two cycling mags! The temptation is to assume 'oh two cycling magazines it must be that', but I don't think it is. They're both brand new and both great magazines. Also, Mondial isn't available generally, we've got it but it's not open-distribution - so that explains that. It's not really available anywhere unless you go to a Rapha store.

Placeholder: magCulture

The Outpost sold very well and that again is hard to get hold of. Delayed Gratification sold well as that had a new issue since we've been here. Before Christmas, we sold a lot of Anoraks. It's been really interesting as some titles that we just got five of to see if they sell or not; and I've been pleasantly surprised as things like The Modernist and other smaller obscure magazines that you may not even know before you come in have done well. But people have spent time with them and looked at them and bought. Both of those are on our second order already - I would never have looked at those and thought 'Oh that's going to sell well'. So it's a nice surprise.

But people I know who have magazine shops in London and a guy in Brighton who has a great shop called Magazine Brighton - the one thing they've said to me is you spend your whole time in this business looking for patterns; but there are no patterns. Even though we've been open only 20 working days, every single day has been different. One morning I came in and said "It's really weird we haven't sold any The Gourmand", and then that day we sold six copies. There's no rhyme or reason. All I can do is look at Shopify every now and again and think "Oh we've sold a lot of that". We took Vogue Italia when we opened and we didn't sell a single copy so we sent them back, and then by mistake they sent us the next issue and thought "oh no".. but it's a different issue and we sold them all. It's interesting, there's no logic it seems like.

Take each day as it comes I guess. In terms of personal favourites, I guess there's so many you could choose from. But in terms of newer titles is there anything that has really caught your eye and got excited about?

That's what keeps me going really, what gets me excited is the new ones. Looking at the recent incomings there's a few - MacGuffin (we've got them coming to do a talk), that's a lovely magazine that's just come out, and it's beautifully made and magazine making at its best in my view. The first one's about the bed, and the second one's about the window, and it's a discursive idea about the window and there's history, anthropology, collecting, art - all different aspect and approaches taken towards the window. Obviously, it's a really basic and mundane thing that we take for granted, but MacGuffin made an exciting pile of content about it in a really beautifully and creatively designed package.

Named after the Hitchcock red herring idea?

Exactly, it's in a way not about the window at all, it's about the meaning of the window and its influence in a wider sense, in all aspects of what we do and it's fascinating. It's a great magazine. I do think Mondial is very good at what it does and I'm not even interested in cycling, but I respect what it does. Vestoj is our magazine of the week this week and it's fantastic. Again it's very text heavy but it's beautifully produced. It's a fashion magazine but deals with fashion criticism so you won't find a fashion shoot in there, with the current issue about 'failure' and has a quote from the Emperor's New Clothes on the cover, which is very healthy for a fashion mag. They did an issue recently about body image and how it's fucking up people's body image - but it's not a protest, it's a discussion of the issue, it's a discourse. It's different from Vogue Italia or other titles.

There's so many. The Happy Reader is fantastic reading, and The New Yorker is still a gold-standard. We're going to look into expanding that part and get small weeklies in - that's an area that's booming.

I'd normally ask you about further future plans right now, but it may be a bit silly what with you only having just opened?

Well we have this event tomorrow night with MacGuffin so there are plans, and into this year we're planning a monthly event called Meet, tomorrow night being Meet MacGuffin, next month will be meet somebody else. That's an early evening event where you come along and it's very ad-hoc and relaxed with standing room only, it's free and there's beer. Magazine-makers come and talk about their magazines, have a chat, and people can go on to whatever they're doing on a Thursday night. So it's a way to get people in the shop but also I know from experience that if you hear someone talking for 10 minutes about their magazine you get a far greater understanding of it - and something like MacGuffin, for example, needs a bit of explanation.

We're also doing a few launch parties for various magazines, the new online shop has just gone live and that's something we're going to push and grow, and all sort of other plans. It's exciting. And exhausting. But exciting.

Placeholder: magCulture
Placeholder: magCulture