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Vanity publishing, maybe the hardest way of doing it

Luxembourg's leading independent publisher Mike Koedinger on the secrets of success, his print projects and lifestyle magazines.

Kimberly Lloyd

Since its inception Mike Koedinger's media group in 1994 has grown to become Luxembourg’s leading independent publisher. In an Interview with Kimberly Lloyd, the charismatic Producer of Colophon, the international symposium on magazine culture confabulates about the vain independent magazine industry, the need for new concepts of copyright protection and about the secrets of success.


Lloyd: Mike, we first met in the year 2004, in Barcelona, during the first International Independent Magazines Festival. Today, you have conquered the Luxembourg magazine market with your publishing house and have established your own fair dedicated to independent magazines. What else has changed so far?


Koedinger: Working has become much more interesting as my publishing structure turned highly professional and my network truly international. Today we publish, with a team of 42 fulltime collaborators, seven print publications, several websites, we run an editorial graphic studio and our own advertising sales agency. We currently produce 45 events a year for our very own Business Club: lectures, panel discussions, workshops, wine tastings and cocktails. We monitor the pulse of business in Luxembourg and its surrounding greater region. Since we first met, we also started working for clients. Today we publish the magazines of Luxembourg’s national Airline Luxair and the City of Luxembourg. We work for clients that share our values and believe in quality and innovation.


Lloyd: Colophon is a magazine fair that you have founded. What have you learned so far?


Koedinger: We do not consider Colophon to be a “fair”. It’s an international encounter of creative minds working in the field of the (independent) magazine industry. For its second biennale in 2009, we have curated and produced 15 exhibitions, 40 hours of lectures and have published the book “We make Magazines”, for a weekend of the same name in Luxembourg where people meet to share ideas and get inspired. Like-minded People have traveled from over 30 countries to our tiny Luxembourg, all seeking one aim: self-expression. Obviously that’s the motivation behind self-initiated, independent publications. Self-expression; the search for excellence and innovation.


Lloyd: Yes, sometimes our undertaking is bullied as “vanity publishing”. Mike, you don’t do all the projects described above for the sake of “self-actualization”. Do you live grandly now?


Koedinger: I do appreciate my life and my work and the balance of both. If that’s living grandly, yes, then I do.


Lloyd: Tyler Brûlé launched his new format Monocle, which I considered a highlight in the international commercial magazine world for the past year. What else has changed on the magazine market?


Koedinger: The very impressive multiplication of titles has brought a strong competition in the market. Publishers have to face that. Just publishing another style magazine including small talk on fashion, movies, music and design isn’t enough anymore to get attention. Instead of general lifestyle magazines as in the 80s to 90s, today’s magazines have become micro-niche orientated. Maxime Buechi re-invented the tattoo magazine with Sang Bleu, Zach Frechette and Casey Caplow have created Good; a magazine “for people who give a damn” - an “entertaining magazine about things that matter”. Sasha Wizansky had the beautiful idea to publish Meatpaper.


Lloyd: Right, I have noted quite some movement in the fanzine section and numerous sub cultural printed matters have emerged. What do you like about this?


Koedinger: The smaller the project, the bigger the freedom.


Lloyd: Why can’t a bigger project be as fulfilling as a small project? Some of our advertising clients have grown, too and I think that a few of them no longer believe in the publishing methods of the 90s. I also think that we as publishers must educate our clients to certain limit.


Koedinger: Absolutely, if you are able to handle a big project and benefit from trust, and then naturally, freedom for your client, you know that you are a very good and experienced professional. I truly believe clients are able to understand any project, if it’s really good enough and you take enough time to talk about it passionately!


Lloyd: It is said that good publishers never read books themselves or enjoy magazines as the amateurs do. Do you agree?


Koedinger: I don’t. I love to read, and I love to enjoy magazines as a regular reader. You have to know when to stop working when you grab for a print product.


Lloyd: Now to the distribution issue: the concept of a bookstore or a magazine store is quite antiquing yet necessary for our survival. How would you like to change that?


Koedinger: Luckily, some innovative people have already launched very interesting projects. Think of MagNation in Australia and New Zealand, Do you read me? in Berlin or Stack, the London based online subscription offer to discover each month new magazines. People buy magazines, when they have the opportunity to flip through magazines in an inspirational environment.


Lloyd: In your book “We make Magazines” you have discussed the subject “The secret of success” which seems to be a major issue to all of us and even highly discussed by various marketing gurus. But, honestly if there is a secret, why give it away?


Koedinger: I believe that sharing is an attitude that makes people happy and successful. Obviously there is not one big secret for success in publishing, but different experiences. People with the right attitude “get it back”.


Lloyd: Just for the record, if you could sum up 10 elementary rules for a student wanting to commercially establish his fanzine, what would they be?


Koedinger: Here you go!
1. The goal of a fanzine shouldn’t be commercial.
2. Have your own ideas.
3. Get an excellent team.
4. Produce a first issue without compromises.
5. Promote the first issue.
6. Gain credibility within your target group.
7. Produce a second issue.
8. Again: own ideas – no compromises – promote it – gain more credibility.
9. Develop your distribution network.
10. Become a reference in your field, but stay humble.


Lloyd: There is something for everyone, Koi carp breeders, shoe-fetishists, yacht furnishers, wedding planners … which target group or topic is still absolutely neglected in the field of magazines but could be profitable?


Koedinger: So many, just think of any weird idea that has become true. Before you knew that it existed, you couldn’t have thought about it. Remember Ortodoncia; the Barcelona based magazine including pictures of naked girls with braces.


Lloyd: I do remember. I personally believe that creating magazines is like reinventing a brand again and again with a very short product life cycle. - And I don’t just mean some silly relaunch with a few new fonts that are designed by some fancy graphic designer.


Koedinger: A magazine definitely needs to live in a permanent evolution. That’s the fun part of it.


Lloyd: What do you enjoy about art? What do you hate about law?


Koedinger: I hate that art can be so fake, and I love that law can inspire great creativity.


Lloyd: Say, can you hate the artist but love his art at the same time? Which artists do you admire?


Koedinger: Good art probably always makes me love the artist too, but it’s not a rule. I guess you don’t want to know that I love Yves Klein, Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp, … but you might be looking for emerging talents? Well, … look out for the brilliant Stina Fisch!


Lloyd: If you could change the copyright laws, what would you change and why?


Koedinger: First of all, I would like people to understand why copyright laws are so important and that every production of content has its price and its value.


Lloyd: I hail to that but I also believe that the 21st century needs a new concept on what copyright is - what should be protected by whom and how and when; and most important who are the executors of these laws? As we see in the case of Google, the Internet seems to cause trouble here and there; the constitutions have no appropriate answers to those issues. All the copyright holders have as an answer is anger.


Koedinger: You are right, there’s a lot to be discussed … and lobbied for. I like to share but I think paying for content is the only way to encourage production.


Lloyd: As you’re living in this petite European country, how do you evaluate the importance of the geographical location for yourself? Tell us how you became the monopolist of the region and market.


Koedinger: We are market leader, right, but only in the field of magazine and customer media. Three bigger players fight about audience and advertising with their dailies, weeklies, radio stations and TVs. Luxembourg is a very international market with a very, very strong business community. It’s a wonderful place to work and to experiment. And many international big players don’t care about the small market.


Lloyd: Well, sooner or later they will have to. We will wait and see.

Steckbrief: Mike Koedinger
Zur Person

What is

the best part of your work? Brainstorming for new ideas.

the most annoying part of your work?  Knowing a project will not come true.

your favorite occupation? Starting a new project.

Art or design? Why choose …

72 ppi or 300 dpi? Not at the same time…



love … some recently acquired artworks by Tina Gillen, Sumo, Boris Hoppek and Massinon.

hate… loosing my time

believe in … creative thinking as a force of change

admire … creative minds

I am interested in … new ideas

influenced by … my daily life


I'd like

to meet … unexpected people

to eat … some spicy Indian food

to possess … the Ship painting by Ed Rusha

to kick the ass of … some politiciansto

give all my money to … why would I do that?

to ban … laws allowing environmental criminality

to thank … you for your interest


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