48 Hour Mag: Writing, Editing, Designing and Shipping a Magazine in 48 Hours


The editors behind 48 Hour Magazine, which launches its whirwind of a publishing experiment tomorrow, must have nerves of steel. The concept is this: the editors announce a theme for the issue and contributors  (you can sign up to be one on their homeage) rev their engines and crank out content within a 24 hour window. The subsequent 24 hours are devoted to selecting pieces, editing, designing, printing and shipping the issue (in both online and print form).  48 Hour Magazine takes it one step further and aims to pay their contributors. To get the lowdown on how all of this is going to go, we talked to editor Mat Honan (who also happened to write our March Foursquare Mayorship in SF story) about how the insane/brilliant idea came to be.


How did you guys find eachother?
Alexis Madrigal, Sarah Rich and I all work in publishing in San Francisco, and are "'one foot in print, one foot in the internet'" type people. The three of us bumped into eachother at Toronado one night. We started talking about a magazine called Strange Light, put out by Derek Powazeck. It was done on the fly, printed on demand and had all these photos that people had posted on Flickr. It was really beautiful and really well done but it was also done in 36 hours. We started talking about how great it would be to put out a magazine that was more traditonal in that it would have reported pieces, contributions from great writers, photographers and artists but to put it together over the course of a weekend. We even said, 'We could call it 48 Hour Magazine!' This was in February or so.  I approached Derek for some guidance. We met up at Four Barrel and while we were talking about it, it became apparent that he was interested and I asked if he would do layout for us. So Derek came on to do our layout, and Alexis and Sarah knew Dylan Fareed, so he's doing all our back end design work. He built our content management system to accept and edit content with. The sixth person is Heather Champ [Derek's wife], and she worked at JPEG Magazine and was Flickr's community manager. She came on to do photo editing.

Why "Issue Zero"? What's the idea behind that?
I hate to say it but we 're still undecided as to whether we're gonna call it that. It was Sarah's idea and we've been using it as a working title with the idea that we're blowing up a traditional magazine model but now were talking about calling it "Issue One," because there are some negative connotations with "Issue Zero." And we won't know until Sunday whether we're gonna call it "Zero" or "One".

What's the most inspiring thing about media's new era that sparked this idea?

I was a big fan of early 1980s hardcore punk music like Black Flag and the Meat Puppets and bands that sprung up as a reaction to the bigger, more high-profile 70s bands like Rush. It was this whole concept of DIY and to me, there's a little bit of that to 48 Hour Magazine. With tools like Magcloud, anybody can make a magazine. You don't have to raise money in advance. All you have to do is the production and print it on demand and have people buy print issues online. You don't have to have capital to do something new. it seemed like a really great way to explore making a niche publication.

My wife said something to me last night that was really astute. She said people are fascinated by the idea that you can doing something youself without having a lot of money. I think that's what these mutuals (Magcloud, Spot.us, etc.) have done. It's taken a while to happen but the web and social networks have given us the ability to give and receive information and accomplish things that only really well-financed operations could do 20 years ago.

Where will it be sold?
Magcloud will ship anywhere to the US, Canada and I think the UK. People can order [print] issues online. We're also going to get copies. People have said they want to contribute from Australia to Rwanda, and for those that get chosen for the issue we'll mail them issues personally. We're going to try to get on sale at various newstands but we haven't gotten that far yet, to be honest. We're just kind of overwhelmed by this weekend.

What San Francisco inspirations helped create 48 Hour Magazine?

San Francisco tends to be a city that's open to a lot or experimentation and it draws a lot of people who are into experimentation. All of us who are involved are transplants. It's a city that we're all drawn to because we're all into experimentation with different forms of media we've been able to see first-hand the success of other projects around San Francisco. Pop-Up Magazine has been a real kindred spirit to us. It's just a center for experimentation and once we all got here, we've just continued to be inspired by all the things going in San Francisco.

How will you put it together? How much coffee will you be drinking this weekend?
Actually, one of our sponsors is Ecco Caffé, which is a roaster out of Santa Rosa and I'm getting ready to pick up many pounds of coffee from them this afrernoon. 
We're having friends and volunteers come in and read stuff Saturday and dropping things into folders marked 'yes', 'no' and  'maybe' and then we'll start editing those submissions. We'll have an all-night editing marathon Saturday night. Pieces that make it through editing will get put through design the same night. I'm pretty sure we'll get no sleep Saturday night. We'll probably get some sleep Friday.

I know the theme for the first issue is still a secret, but can you tell me what were some of the themes that you decided against?

We tried to look for themes that could be interpreted in a variety of ways and would have a lot of different approaches. One of the themes we seriously considered was debt. Given what's going on with the Dow Jones right now, that would have been a good one but we picked something else instead.

What will you have learned if the project fails?

We're not going to fail. We just won't. No matter what, we're all going to have a great time and I'm sure we're going to produce something great. I'm not going to kid myself or anybody else and say we've invented some new model and we're gonna put out magazines that have dedicated full time staffs working on design and really spend a lot of time massaging stories and a lot of back and forth in the editing process. We're not gonna be able to do that, but I fully expect we're going to have a magazine thats gonna be great to read.

Good luck tomorrow!

Thanks, we're going to need it!

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