Building a Stage for New Talent
Papercut magazine’s Shomari Miller discusses providing a voice for the emerging artists that deserve their own platform
28th April, 2015
My video call with Shomari Miller, Publisher and Marketing Director for Papercut magazine, begins with a couple of hiccups that include an accidental hang-up—a journalist’s nightmare for remote interviews. However, Miller remains completely unperturbed by the technological slip. “It’s fine, no worries! Plenty of times I’ve tried a Google Hangout and it’s failed completely,” he assures me with a laugh, and the miscommunication is quickly forgotten as we turn to the topic at hand.
Papercut is a sleek digital and print-on-demand publication that oozes style, with a mission to “chronicle the global creative eco-system.” The magazine’s articles—which appear both within themed issues and as “webitorials” on their website—cover every aspect of the art world, from fashion designers to music to photography, all from emerging artists. “We stick with our niche…and try to promote the hell out of that,” Miller explains. “You’re not going to see Gucci or Fendi, or Jay-Z or Beyonce.” Throughout the interview it remains clear that at Papercut the goal is just as much about endorsing their contributing artists as it is about publicizing the magazine as a brand.
“So how did you get started with the magazine?” I ask. It turns out his connection began back when he was straight out of college graduated from Northeastern University, and had started his own business with peer and friend, Jamall Oluokun (now Papercut’s COO.) “Myself and Jamall had this company called Couturium,” Miller explains, which he describes as “a fashion-based marketplace where emerging artists can sell their clothes.” While they were at school in Boston the two of them had also met Hayley Maybury, editor-in-chief at Papercut. When the magazine turned digital, they ended up merging the businesses as partners, and transferred Couturium’s service base to Papercut.
Today Miller’s role includes coordinating timings between advertisers and the magazine’s editors to ensure content is ready on time, as well as working with artists to help them find the best way to market their own brands. “I’m also involved with the social marketing, as well,” he adds, reeling off a list of the social networks Papercut uses to promote itself, where updates reach in the region of 150-200,000 followers.
Advertisements in Papercut occur less frequently than those that typically appear in other magazines, but Miller explains how he works with emerging brands to create native advertising that will showcase their talents in a more productive manner than a full-page spread. For a fashion designer producing a new collection, for example, he might offer them the chance to have their clothes featured in a photo editorial as sponsored content. “We also are very image-based. It’s easy to post images, and it’s very social-friendly,” he adds, and explains how this makes it possible to promote brands beyond the magazine itself by posting sponsored material onto the magazine’s social networking channels.
Despite the magazine being a professional affair, it is still very much a passion project. “I don’t do the magazine full-time—no one, as far as the partners concerned, do,” Miller reveals, describing how the staff will do business late into the evenings and weekends—whenever they can snatch some time to work around their regular 9 to 5 jobs. “It’s kind of a hustler’s mentality.” Their endeavors appear as even more of a challenge when you realise there is no central office that anchors the magazine and its staff. “Three of the members are in New York; the editor-in-chief is in Boston...sometimes there’s a communication gap. One thing that helps are Google Hangouts like this.” It becomes clear why Miller was so unconcerned by our initial issues with the video calling software—this is just par for the course when collaborating in a digital sphere.
However, there are a couple of aspects of Papercut’s unique operation that makes life a little easier. One is their system of using print-on-demand services for their print distribution, which eradicates the costs of warehousing and unsold issues. Another is their basis for receiving content. “We curate our work. We generally don’t write original pieces ourselves—we give people a theme, and on a global scale they submit their content,” Miller says, and his enthusiasm is clear as he explains how the aim of Papercut magazine is to provide a platform for artists who may not have other opportunities to get their work seen by a wider audience. This may seem like a noble cause, but Miller sees it a different way: to him, he says, there’s a certain humility involved in acting as a mouthpiece for these undiscovered contributors.
Papercut’s staff clearly have a discerning eye, and their artists often don’t stay under the radar for long. “The biggest artist that we featured before he blew up was in our September 2012 issue, that was Macklemore,” Miller announces. Keeping up with their contributors is also key. “It’s about being knowledgeable and following up with the artists you feature.” On the subject of where his magazine stands in the trajectory of these artists’ careers he also has this to say: “We are the precipice for showcasing emerging talent on a global scale right before they blow up. It’s young, it’s involved, it’s very niche, but it’s exciting too. We want to focus on the new stories.”
When looking to how the magazine will grow, scale is understandably an issue when the staff are already holding down independent jobs of their own. “If we were doing this full time, I would think that we would be able to increase productivity across the board—releasing more issues, posting more content, being more socially engaged, hosting more events,” Miller admits, though he hints that this could change going into the future. “I can’t explain fully, but there’s an opportunity that may allow us...to accelerate the magazine and propagate the business further.”
I ask what aspect of the magazine makes him especially proud. “I would say our sustainability within a very competitive marketplace—there’s a million magazines out there that focus on the same industries. Knowing that we’re not doing it full time but that we have sustainability within our community is very humbling.”
With the magazine featuring work from such a diverse set of creatives, I can’t help but wonder which artists Miller believes are doing some exciting work in the industry right now. Just like Papercut’s content, his list runs the gamut from photographers Alvin Nguyen and Laura Jade to music artists Ronnie James and FKA Twigs. “There’s a lot of talent out there,” he declares—a sentiment anyone perusing an issue of Papercut magazine would find it difficult to disagree with.