Magazine as Community

A Kinfolk reader pictured in the gallery on the Kinfolk website, uncredited photo.

On a warm spring day in the West Village, I was resting at a local coffee shop, and reading the latest edition of Kinfolk magazine. Suitably, it was the spring issue, so its bare white pages featured images in light greens and pinks and clean borders, and simple stories about flowers, picnics, and ice cream. I was flipping through the pages with care, in an attempt to keep the book in mint condition, until I came to a short piece of fiction, “A Wayfarer’s Series: Lessons in Italian Cherries.”  The black and white houndstooth pattern of a QR scanning code below the headline caught my eye, conspicuous on the polite beige page. So I grabbed my phone, and introduced technology into my normally uninterrupted reading experience by scanning the code with the RedLaser application. The URL opened to a page on the Kinfolk website featuring an original piece of music created specifically to be played while reading the story. I put my earphones in and pressed play, and after a few seconds of loading, the music started. The score sounded as if it could be played at the beginning of a film where the protagonist sets out for a great adventure. Ready to start an adventure of my own, I began reading the short story. At first, the twee strains of the folky guitar brightened the mood, and the interplay between the sonic and ambient sounds did enhance my reading experience. But after two minutes, my phone went to sleep, and with it the music stopped. Frustrated, for the remainder of my time reading the story I was racing the automatic sleep mode of my phone by attempting to read at a faster pace. The heightened awareness of technology while reading disrupted my ability to be immersed in the fictional journey of cherry enthusiasts. The environment that the authors and editors worked to create was interrupted by technological barriers.

Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends that anchors our relationships and energizes us. We have come together to create Kinfolk as our collaborative way of advocating the natural approach to entertaining that we love.  Every element of Kinfolk—the features, photography, and general aesthetics—are consistent with the way we feel entertaining should be: simple, uncomplicated, and less contrived.

Kinfolk, as you can see by its mission statement, describes itself as a community of artists. It is produced through a collaboration between writers, photographers, illustrators, chefs, and stylists from around the world, a community that grows with each new volume, every quarter year.  Nathan Williams, the founding editor, and his wife Katie, work with a small team in Portland, Oregon, to edit all of the work, and to manage the digital and print content and distribution. In an interview for Weldon Owen about how Kinfolk was created, Nathan says:

We started the magazine with a group of friends last year after deciding there just wasn’t a magazine, blog, or any kind of entertaining resource that resonated with us. We were always making meals together with our college friends and planning dinner parties, but they were never elaborate, nor did we plan much in advance. We wanted something that felt real and attainable, so a few of us literally sat around a computer and started putting together the concept.

Kinfolk asks something of its readers that not many publications ask—to participate in their community outside of the physical magazine. Each volume is meant to inspire gatherings of your own, whether it is learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee for a friend, or throwing a seafood feast for your community. The emphasis on the importance of community is what sets Kinfolk apart from other niche publications, and is what they center the majority of their content around. Kinfolk provides inspiration, ideas, and recipes for readers to be able to create environments that encourages relationships with others, even in urban landscapes.

Volume 7, the spring edition of Kinfolk, focuses on ice cream and spring traditions.  A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the back cover reads, “We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, and so we buy ice-creams.” Quotes such as this one are used as openers for each story as a way to set the tone for the reader.  The individual stories are split between three main sections: Entertaining for One, Entertaining for Two, and Entertaining for a Few. These headings represent several kinds of communities being created by readers, and provide a vision for what those gatherings might include. The layout of the magazine swiftly invites the reader into the community in the first three pages. The opening spread welcomes the reader, and has a short excerpt written by Nathan Williams, which sets in motion the stories that follow. The spread also provides email addresses to contact for questions, subscriptions, and submissions. Any person is allowed to submit photographs, written essays, and illustrations to the editors. Page two and three, in place of a traditional masthead, show an image of the countries of the world speckled with black dots representing “The Kinfolk Community.”  Following is a list of each contributor’s name, location, and role. After a simple two-page table of contents, section one begins.  Text and photographs are centered on the modest white pages, framed by an expanse of white space.  The only visuals that bleed out to the edges are the ones that cover two page spreads, and are usually images of tables set with food.

Several of the Kinfolk stories include various media created for the web. The first signal of technology in Volume 7 is the QR code I previously mentioned.  It is the first of two embedded pieces of music produced by La Liberte Music Composition.  These are the only signs of the Internet in the magazine, with the exception of the invitation at the end of the magazine to “keep in touch” via Kinkfolk.com. The invitation is well intentioned in print, but to make the offer authentic, Kinfolk provides opportunities to interact with other readers and contributors in multiple cities every month. Kinfolk hosts events and uses digital media to encourage reader attendance. Recently, readers were invited to bring their own flowers to trade in flower potlucks in 20 different cities. Their digital presence promotes the paper version, which is only available in select stores around the country, by promoting these events.

I have interacted with Kinfolk through a variety of mediums—web, tablet, and printWith each, the editors attempt to build the same aura around the publication—by standardizing the color palette, the fonts, and other aesthetic elements; the tone and register of the writing. But, they haven’t yet figured out how to allow the mediums to speak to each other cohesively As new media is increasingly seen as a necessary medium, publications such as Kinfolk are realizing that audio, animation, and video have the potential to function as key components in the creation of their publication’s aura. On the websites and on tablets, publications are struggling to understand how to best animate work which was originally created and formatted for print.  Kinfolk’s editors are just some of the many that are learning how to navigate the various digital tools to speak to its audience.

On kinfolk.com you will see a lot of blank space, a scrolling box of images from the latest edition of the magazine, and several links that will direct you away from the site. The site itself is not the location in which the readers can find new content; I see it more as a directory with a list of other sites where content and information can be found. One link brings the audience to the Journal, which resembles a Tumblr page and features upcoming events, workshops, and videos, which are posted a few times per month. One recent addition to the Journal is a Spotify playlist titled “Sounds of Spring,” which features 17 songs by various artists curated by Nathan Williams. I’ve had this playlist on repeat while I’ve been studying for the past few weeks, and it is one example of successfully using digital media to promote the magazine. In the Gallery tab, you are directed to a page where you can look at hi-resolution images from the magazine, as well as images that were not featured in the issue. The “Films” tab opens up a Vimeo page that holds all of Kinfolk’s videos in one place. Two videos are created with the inception of each new edition, including one promotional and one new dinner series. But the videos are not yet integrated on the iPad or on the website itself; you can only view them via social media and the Vimeo page.  The digital content is not as accessible to readers as it would be if it were concentrated within the respective platforms.  This spreads the community out wide instead of drawing them into one location.

The iPad version of the magazine makes use of the technology of a tablet in a way that is much more innovative than the website. The editors present the same stories as in the print edition, but have added some features that allow the reader to interact with stories via the touch screen. One photo essay in the Spring 2013 iPad version of Kinfolk allows the reader to move around the images similar to cutting and pasting pictures to make a collage. The photographs are beautiful, but the idea of a collage really only works when images are printed. Tablets are capable of presenting images that can move, such as videos and animations, yet none of the Kinfolk photo essays or other stories have implemented moving elements. This may be due to the fact that embedding videos on the tablet version would increase download time, and would take up a lot of memory.  Having enough digital space is one of the challenges when creating new media publications. Artists can continue to create ambitious digital content, but the technology must also keep apace with the innovations.  Creative use of digital media can oftentimes outpace the capacity of the platform.

Kinfolk editors are navigating new methods for communicating with their audiences across platformsThey are trying to imbue the tablet and website with the print aesthetic and editorial visionGiving digital space an ethereal and woodsy aura is a feat that will only be won after many more trials, risking the frustration of many more readers at coffee shops on warm spring days.  But as it is with all new communities, patience will be compensated.  Challenging technological barriers will produce the capability of enriched relationships online and a greater understanding of the culture of new media publications.

Below is an interview with Catherine Searle-Williams, the Online & Features Editor at Kinfolk Magazine. She offers further insight into how Kinfolk is using new media, and how they might improve the use of technology in the future.

Allison Hurley: How do you think digital media such as short films add to the general aesthetics of Kinfolk?

Catherine Searle-Williams: Films were an integral part of Kinfolk from the beginning and will be for a while, mainly because we just love making them. We primarily work with two small production companies (Sea Chant and Tiger in a Jar) and I really enjoy formulating ideas with them and helping on some of the shoots. They produce incredible films that flow seamlessly from the print articles, and help tie in a cohesive brand and mood from print to web. Recently we’ve been incorporating original songs/compositions to accompany select written stories. We’ve loved this diversification of content and the multi-sensory experience it provides readers.

AH: How is Kinfolk experimenting with digital media now?

CSW: I see our work in three mediums: print, online and digital (includes tablet and short films). Our move into each of these has been completely organic; we knew we wanted to illustrate ideas or recipes, so we worked with artists to create videos, and when readers asked for a tablet option, we created one. We’re now doing a complete overhaul of our website and digital component to provide a much more user-friendly digital experience.

AH: How do you see the digital aspects of Kinfolk expanding in the future?

CSW: We are launching a new website and digital component of Kinfolk in May and are really excited about this medium. There will be 3-4 original stories a week and 2-3 archived spotlights from past projects and from print, current and past. The design of the site gives the content much more justice than our current site and is intended to be comprehensive resource and provide tons of take-away value.

AH: What has given you the greatest difficulty when trying to reach your audience through your website?

CSW: Frankly, it’s been difficult for us to have the time to give the current website our time and attention. The platform is not very user friendly and it didn’t get us excited to produce content. The online journal was a lot of spotlighting others and cool things that we admired, content sourced from elsewhere, but the new website will be all original content and just a treasure trove of goodness. We have an incredibly small team and wear many hats. We just couldn’t stay on top of it the way we’d have liked to and have made resolutions for this new year, one being the redesign that we’ve been putting lots of energy into.

AH: How is the relationship between the website and the printed magazine successful? How might it need improvement?

CSW: This new branch will allow us to focus the magazine as the ‘why/meaning’ behind get togethers and recreational activities, and the site will be the ‘how’–a collection of the actual activities. Our hope is that when the weekend is coming and people are looking for things to do, they will know that they should go to the Kinfolk site for inspiration and suggestions. The website and magazine will go hand-in-hand, always complimenting the other.