Now that Bauer owns 120 per cent of the nation's newsstand magazines, do we have any independent periodicals left? I went to Mag Nation to check.
I was looking for titles on culture, design, ideas or society. But most covers sported a distinctive green air freight sticker. "They're mostly Australian," said the shop assistant. They looked Murdoch-less and enviably pretty.
Culture magazines are all desperate to seem globally cosmopolitan. Read these puppies and voila, you're an instant jetsetter, as up-to-date as a Manhattanite about happenings in, um, Riga and Taipei. Local mags have joined this amazing race; you're better off looking for local content in international titles that think New Zealand is exotic.
I could have bought Aortica, a German "road trip": their second issue was all about Auckland. But it was $39.90, and why would I pay $39.90 to read an interview with Shane Bosher from a year ago, when I can read one in Bauer's current Metro for 10 bucks?
From Aotearoa, I could have bought Remix or Idealog or Good (font-tacular but cluttered) but in the end, I went obscure. The first two buys were Common (vol 1), a biannual from Wellington that showcases creative work and processes ($9.90, reduced from $18 as it came out in 2012); and Threaded, an international design showcase produced in Auckland ($20 - ouch! and for a back copy, too).
Both looked comely, clean and spare, but both were carriers of the dreaded Q&A interview. Unless judiciously edited, transcripts are like raw broccoli - why make me chew through unprocessed streams of consciousness?
Still, the designers I know don't care - they want pictorial inspiration. Words are superfluous. Threaded seems to know this: one sly text was an interview between designers panicked about what should go in the text.
Another purchase was the near-wordless "Untitled" issue of Freerange, from Unity bookshop ($14). Freerange is an "Aotearoa, Atlantis, Australia" collaboration, about "the city, design, politics and pirates". It's alt-smart; I like it. "Untitled" includes a drawing by Kerry Lennon entitled Liberty Riot, of the Statue of Liberty in the sort of balaclava favoured by a certain Russian punk outfit. I later downloaded the wordy "Commons" issue from the Freerange website for free.
More oddly, I also enjoyed my last buy: Flint & Steel (vol 1, $13.95). The theme "belonging and national identity" was a bit naff but I was relieved to find a magazine unfashionably targeting a local audience.
In spite of the cold, hard name, I didn't realise it was an annual from conservative thinktank the Maxim Institute until I got home. It gave me a good exercise in critical reading. Surprisingly, many deeply considered pieces gave me food for thought, and one contributor was a Green Party worker. But there was no Maori point of view, and slipped in near the back was a piece by a British neo-liberal who used "integration" like it meant "assimilation".
There were also, groan, two large photos of fish 'n' chips. Couldn't designers and writers join forces? Threaded Flint & Steel has a certain ring.