Bright spots in the world of media are rare, which may be one reason Tyler Brûlé keeps attracting attention; his aggressive sense of style is surely another. Monocle magazine – “a briefing on global affairs, business, culture & design” – is the London-based centrepiece of a growing brand, which now includes radio programming, travel guides, a string of retail boutiques, and cafés in London and Tokyo; he also owns Winkreative, a creative marketing agency that does work for clients such as Porter Airlines.
This Friday, Brûlé, the 47-year-old Winnipeg-raised founding editor of Wallpaper* magazine, will be in Toronto as the honouree of D/X Intersection, Design Exchange’s annual fundraiser. The Globe spoke with him recently by phone.
You’re being honoured at D/X Intersection; I presume it’s because of your influence on design?
Yeah, I guess. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about the event. They called me and they said come along, and I will be coming along. So we’ll see what happens.
Do you have a sense of what your influence has been?
Not necessarily. I find it a bit curious sometimes that I’m lumped into the world of design. It’s rare that somebody puts a journalist in this world. So, I guess I’ve had influence in editorial design. A perspective in the early 1990s and 2000s on modernism and its impact on development and cities et cetera has been a component of it. I’m often called a designer in the press; that wouldn’t be right, because I don’t design anything.
The cover story in the November issue is “Canada Calling” …
You’re surprised The Economist followed us this week [with “Liberty moves north: Canada’s example to the world”]?
Haha. Well, great minds etc. I was going to say, are there any particular Canadian designers or design firms you especially like right now?
I think [Zita Cobb’s Fogo Island project] commissioning Todd Saunders, as a Canadian based in Norway, has really been outstanding. Also Todd as an architect has been fascinating to watch, as a design ambassador for Canada. I guess in the world of design and manufacturing – wings + horns from Vancouver, the company Reigning Champ, also from Vancouver – are really interesting to look at.
Dare I ask if you have a favourite Canadian city?
Don’t ask. No – it’s a toss-up. I think in terms of architecture, neighbourhoods, probably Montreal is more attractive, but for doing business and global connectivity – and that’s of course what pays the bills and allows us to live the lifestyles we want to lead – it would be Toronto.
Speaking of paying the bills, Monocle is said to be profitable. What can other media learn from its success?
Listen, it’s pretty simple …
Charge customers for your product?
I think it pays to be conservative, from a business perspective. We’ve been fortunate that we don’t have the deepest pockets in the world, and so we’ve had to be very careful. But I think that’s kind of good for us, and we’re very happy that we haven’t done a tablet edition and we haven’t chucked tons of money where there is no revenue. And that’s the key thing: We haven’t felt the pressure to be on social media and to do all the things that everyone else does.
Partly, though, isn’t Monocle’s success simply proof that niche publications for the global elite, like the global elite themselves, are more resistant to the economic ups and downs than the rest of us?
Yes. But I’d also admit that we’ve not had a very easy middle of the year. We didn’t manage to dodge this sort of Brexit gloom. But certainly, my friends in the monthly magazine business, no one is having a good time with their digital business. People can talk up traffic all they want – but try to needle them on profitability for their digital business? It’s not happening.
Well, sure, we all know that.
Well – “we” – yes you and I do, but I don’t think it’s reached the boards of many companies. I mean, seriously: The Economist on Snapchat? What the hell is that about?
Have you heard that Rogers Media just killed off a bunch of their print magazines, saying they’re going to focus on a digital strategy?
I think there are too many people sitting around boardroom tables, the day before their board meeting, as an exec or non-exec – they go and talk to their granddaughter or goddaughter, their third child from their 24-year-old wife – who say, “How do you see media?” And of course, someone who is not in the demographic, someone who is not going to be purchasing this brand any time soon, or supporting it – I think “purchase” is the most important thing, we forget that all of these things that we’re attracted to, they’re all free platforms! So of course people are going to be incredibly promiscuous when it comes to them. No loyalty. But it’s a problem of the English-language world. Having been at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week, it’s not the same situation in Germany, I would say.
You’re famously not a fan of social media. Would you mind if we tweeted out this article? Put it on Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram?
You do what you like. Listen, if someone could say that it sells more physical copies of The Globe? Wonderful!
And Monocle too!
This interview has been edited and condensed.Report Typo/Error