Since the personal computer’s advent in the 1980s, folks have been proclaiming “print is dead” like parrots that just learned a new phrase. But for many magazine-lovers, that mindset is on par with workshopping a eulogy for a family member after spotting a few grey hairs. Even if the mag game is on the trajectory of the one-foot-in-the-grave geriatric it’s often portrayed as, there are a few modern magazine stores in London that exist in cocoons crafted out of custom shelving, where print not just lives but thrives and, still, electrifies.
Merging the throwback appeal of magazine kiosks and the familiarity of corner cafés with the thrill of hunting for rare reads like vintage vinyl in record stores, these natty purveyors of print are helping to alter the narrative of magazines from being passé to being pop. Along with their flat whites, assorted generations of magazine readers are drawn in by a bounty of obscure editions and special releases, in myriad languages, on everything from skateboarding and LBGTQ culture to food, economics, and, of course, travel.
These magazine outlets are obvious labours of love, undergirded by a belief that may be whetted enough to puncture some of the fatalism surrounding the state of print publications, inking the spirit of print back on the map of London.
Shreeji’s awning shines like freshly bleached cricket whites, its fascia stamped with the raspberry red outline of Air Mail’s propeller plane emblem, a partner digital publication that can be read on the newsagent’s ipads. The shopfront’s uncluttered window panes sparkle like an ad for Windex, allowing passersby a gander into the kiosk’s sleek and narrow front space, about the length and breadth of a London taxi. A hazel-hued, floor-to-ceiling bookshelf hugs the extent of the rear walls, stand after stand lined with front-facing titles, familiar and obscure.
Step inside, and find the curved pew bookrack holds a nifty armoire that opens up to an espresso maker manned by a barista that can work the knock box and rattle off recommendations to newcomers while dishing out ‘hiyas’ to regulars. An onyx plinth rests in the centre, a pedestal for elegant cake stands preserving flakey chocolate croissants, and bundt cakes are available on the nearby tea trolley.
Shreeji didn’t always look like this. When Sandeep Garg, co-owner, took over the neighborhood newsagent in 1982, the 18-year-old worked hard to keep the store stacked with interesting reads. Yet the cluttered layout, typical of well-stocked newsagents, cramped the kiosk’s wings as a hangout space: it was a good place to pick up a magazine, but perhaps not the most comfortable place to delve into one. Fast forward to 2020, and Garg partnered with Gabriel Chipperfield in a multifunctional redesign that opened up the newsagent so its many treasures could breathe and were more accessible, also converting the previously unused backrooms into a chic reading salon. Shreeji currently stocks over 500 titles and offers online access to over 3,000 publications.
Travel titles in print: Lodestars Anthology, Fare, Cereal
The red, black, and white banner of MagCulture stands in Clerkenwell, paying homage to the area’s publishing history while representing a new age with a trove of over 700 magazines. The double front display allows pedestrians to drink in the store’s 1960s-era 606 Universal Shelving System, originally designed by Dieter Rams and executed on the premises by MagCultures partner Vitsoe. Those behind the indie magazine emporium “believe independent voices in print are more important than ever, as digital channels get ever-more efficient at closing down serendipity.” However, they aren’t opposed to using such tools to better promote the print medium.
A decade before opening their physical shop in North London, they started out as an online presence that compiled regular reviews of magazines along with sharing industry news; 15 years of such posts from The Journal are available free online. Today, their multifaceted approach comprises a weekly newsletter, a monthly podcast, annual conferences in London and New York, pop-up shops, and design masterclasses. Publishers can even submit their magazines to be stocked at their shop here.
The space feels like a gallery, but here you can touch the displays and browse for as long as you’d like. While the premises do not hold a café, take your purchases to the nearby gastropub, The Peasant, and peruse them over a pint.
Travel titles in print: Table, Tonic, The Black Explorer
Take 200 steps out of Paddington Station and find yourself at a charming corner-front café and magazine kiosk. The well-manicured frontage is complete with a black-and-white pinstripe sunshade that hangs over a wrought-iron enclosure with bistro tables. But what catches your eye—like a cat at a koi pond—are the flashes of salmon pink and canary yellow covers refracted through the window glass. Once inside, order a coffee from the Kiwi barista and succumb to the balmy fragrance of cardamom cinnamon rolls, courtesy of their Swedish pastry selection.
Tuck yourself on a stool along the window-facing countertop and plot what paper you are going to print from the gargantuan on-demand printer sitting in the corner, capable of producing thousands of global newspapers from Jornal de Angola to Malayala Manorama—you can even order them to be printed in advance. But the true grab is a foray into the tight-knit, straight-edged horseshoe of Vitsoe shelving that hold 300 circulated titles, from household names like The Economist and The New Yorker to rarer finds hot off the press.
The kiosk-styled café is owned by Monocle, a global affairs and lifestyle media house. In their words, Kioskafé was “developed as a response to the shrinking news trade, the… space is a celebration of print, putting the written word, fine images and crisp paper centre stage.” The store receives many visitors keen on tracking down Monocle’s sought-after special editions, such as their deep dives into Japan to Italy.
Don’t forget to grab a souvenir pen or tote from their stationary table, or underwear and toothbrushes from their discreet travellers’ section, given the proximity to one of the U.K.’s busiest train stations. The reason they can fit so much into the small space is that Monocle’s Japanese design team painstakingly crafted the store’s layout, making each nook of the niche magazine outlet fit like a well-designed print spread.
Travel titles in print: The Travel Almanac, The Gourmand, Konfekt
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.