More independent magazine titles have surfaced in recent years. Such publications usually offer alternative perspectives and delve into niche topics not commonly covered by mainstream media.

The UrbanWire spoke to the creators behind three such publications. Learn more about why they started their journeys despite the difficulty in turning a profit from their passion projects. 

Now & Again: An Art and Design Magazine

The first three issues of Now & Again. Physical copies of the magazine can be purchased in Singapore, New York, London and Zhejiang. 
Photos Credit: Chen Yi An

Now & Again was conceptualised by a group of four friends in 2016.

“We were all going to different universities to study different things, and I was going to do my National Service (NS). So, we wanted to have a common project to work on together, to have a reason to meet-up and talk,” explains Chen Yi An, the Editor of Now & Again

The Editor of the publication, Chen Yi An, is currently residing in London. He is studying Interaction Design Arts at London College of Communication. 
Photo Credit: Chen Yi An

Their first issue, Disappearances, is a very intimate body of work, comprising many personal stories from their contributors.

Yi An reflects that in hindsight, it’s possible these personal accounts might not have been very relevant to his readers. 

“We didn’t consider from the very beginning that someone was going to be reading our works, so we could definitely do more in understanding that our magazine should have readers.”

The team’s first meeting in 2018. 
Photo Credit: Chen Yi An

Before the second issue came about, some contributors from his first line-up already opted to split. He was cool with it as he wanted the partnership to be flexible. 

“I feel that the minute this becomes restricted, in a sense that you must be part of the team, it won’t be fun anymore.”

It’s harder for him and his team to cope with discouragement from some well-intentioned adults. “They’d sit us down and say that it’s good to have passion and be creative, but we have to be realistic.”

“I understand where they’re coming from. But as 18 and 19-year-olds, it was a lot to take in. We just wanted to create something.”

However, money did turn out to be an issue for the print publication as thousands of dollars were needed to be spent on printing alone. While they were able to break even for the first issue, they needed more funds to print the second issue. 

Fortunately, they managed to get partial funding from The National Youth Council’s Young ChangeMakers Grant, which helped keep the project going. 

For now, Yi An still prefers to focus his energy on delivering good content to his readers, rather than thinking about turning a profit.

“The minute profit becomes the goal, it just won’t be the same anymore. It’ll really take the joy out of doing this.”

Yi An conducting an interview with Professor Zhou Yanfei for a piece in the latest issue, Exquisite Corpse
Photo Credit: Chen Yi An

As for what he likes most about his magazine: “The team is scattered across the globe. So, although we are Singapore-based, we don’t only offer up a Singaporean’s perspective.”

“We also grew in different ways, in terms of our perspective and artistic practice. So, it’s amazing to see how we can all still come together and make art as a cohesive whole.”

Blurb: A Culture and Lifestyle Magazine

The magazine was conceptualised by two friends who had a shared love for art, design and creative ideas. They describe Blurb endearingly as their “little brainchild”. 
Photo Credit: Blurb Team

Collaboration is always in the books for Lydia Tan and Joshua Lau, who’re both graduates from the School of the Arts (SOTA).

The Covid-19 Circuit Breaker was the clincher that finally spurred them to launch Blurb, an online magazine and collective, in June 2020.

Joshua explains: “The lockdown gave us the impetus we needed to break out of our inertia and start creating again.”

The two friends hope to make subjects like art and culture as accessible to as many people as possible. 

“One thing we noticed as we were trying to formulate Blurb and from our own experiences is that people feel removed from art because there are so many barriers,” Lydia explains.

Joshua agrees. He recalls that when he visited a local art exhibition, he came across pamphlets which emphasised that “normal” people can also appreciate art.

To him, this was an example of how “a class-based system and cultural hegemony was playing out, [and] we really felt an urge to bring that down”.

The two editors of Blurb have known each other since studying theatre in the School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA). 
Photo Credit: Lydia Tan

To break down these barriers, they opted for an online platform over physical print as “anyone can access it”.

They also give lots of creative freedom to their external contributors. Instead of dictating what can or cannot be showcased, the pair simply take on the role of being a guide to offer help and support during collaborations. 

“We’re not the art authorities, we’re a community,” Lydia elaborates. “In the end, if you come to us, it’s most likely that you want a platform to share work you’re proud of, and we’re more than happy to do that.” 

Lydia and Joshua are currently taking a hiatus to re-examine how they can deliver more elevated and thoughtful content to their readers. Prior to that, Blurb would have new content every fortnight. 
Photo Credit: Blurb Team

Building this community was not an easy task, but the affinity between the members of the team has made the journey joyful, Lydia adds.

“Joshua and I started out with great synergy, and we could really play to our strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

“Now we’re joined by other people, we can create even better things because we can [better] articulate what we were envisioning.”

AKAR: A Southeast Asian-centric Magazine

The two co-editors and longtime friends kickstarted the print publication in their mid-twenties in 2018. They’ve always wanted to work on a writing project together. 
Photo Credit: AKAR

Nurshelia Muez and Zafirah Zein launched AKAR in an effort to reclaim and relearn their Southeast Asian culture.

“We’re all so exposed to Western literature, ideals and ideologies. We personally found that we were so disconnected and distant from our own culture [and] history,” Zafirah explains.

“There is so much I don’t know about Singapore and Southeast Asia, and it doesn’t help that the publication and literature landscape doesn’t give much exposure to the region.”

Nursheila (left) is a researcher of religion and politics at a government think tank and Zafirah (right) is a journalist. 
Photo Credit: Zakaria Zainal

Having to churn out all the content without external contributors has proven to be challenging though. 

“We realised that we’re not experts, so as much as we want to write everything, there is a lot we still have to learn along the way,” Nurshelia shares.

They say they have had the privilege of collaborating with notable individuals such as writer Alfian Saat, documentary photographer Ore Huiying, and actors Sharifah Amani and Choo Seong Ng of the iconic Malaysian film, Sepet.

“By being able to approach artists and creatives who are already doing such great work, we get to bring their talent[s] to the table,” Nurshelia explains. “These are the people that we admire and have been following on Instagram, and we get to learn from them.”

The first two issues of the magazine, Foundations (top) and Motion (bottom). 
Photo Credit: Zakaria Zainal

The duo are still trying to find out how they can juggle this passion project, their day jobs and their family. It’s especially challenging for Nurshelia as she’s a mother to two young children. 

But they are determined to keep producing content and grow their readership. 

“I think that we’re building very genuine connections with the people we work with, collaborate with, and our readers – we definitely have a community going on.”

Edited by: Anmi Chou Shigeta
Proofread by: Winny Wint Htae