Nestled among glossy celeb mags and television guides is a growing wave of book-like independent magazines, covering every niche from Alpine mountain biking to rare dog breeds. For part two of The Power of Words blog series, we catch up with Alex Smith, self-confessed bibliophile and owner of Nottingham indie mag shop Ideas on Paper.
Magazines are like a trapdoor into another world. When you think of a magazine as being just a magazine, that’s quite a traditional and narrow definition of what it is.
Working in the hustle and bustle of Harrod’s and Harvey Nichols back in 1989, Alex was driven by the dream of owning his own shop. But a keen interest in the world of indie literature held him back from opening a clothes store.
“I listen to Monocle Radio’s programme The Stack, where people chat about indie books and magazines. But nobody was focused on selling. They spoke about how hard it was to do business with the big established players in the magazine market. There needed to be a different type of shop to sell these products. And I thought: that’s the shop I can open.”
A world apart from major bookshop chains, Alex wanted his shop to focus on what matters: the words. Fuelled by his lifelong love of reading, he created a space that feels like a welcoming haven.
“The shop is an extension of who I am, and I like to think it’s not that much like coming into a shop – it’s more like coming into somebody’s world.”
Deciding on what literature to stock is an organic process – Alex takes inspiration from radio shows, blogs and snippets of conversation. And with stacks of colourful magazines from floor to ceiling, it’s evident there’s something for even the most specific interests.
More than just words on paper?
Despite Ideas on Paper being primarily a magazine shop, Alex says the modern mag is a doorway to a community. More people are embracing the art of slow reading – the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, to increase comprehension or pleasure.
Alex's monthly event Raw Print invites magazine makers in to share insights into their creative process and engage in discussion. Through hosting these informal presentations and book launches, Alex ensures the readers meet the people behind the words.
When you create a magazine, don’t think of it as simply a magazine. It’s a multidimensional thing. There should be multiple elements: magazines are only part of the story. When the readers meet the creators, it makes it more real. It has more value than reading or watching something on Youtube. Meeting the people behind the magazines allows readers to dig deeper into a different world.”
Alex follows this philosophy in his daily life at Ideas on Paper, ensuring that his customers’ experience is as personal as possible. He doesn’t sell his magazines online, instead favouring face-to-face interactions.
I don’t sell online because that would eat into my reading time. Also, if I was hunched over my laptop and someone came into the shop, I wouldn’t appear to be ready to help them and it could have a negative impact on business.
"When people can’t make it to the shop, I do Facetime appointments, talking them through a selection of stock and giving them a virtual tour of the shop. I want people to know, if they come into Ideas on Paper, they’re getting me.”
Open till 7pm - come and enjoy the sun with a glass of wine... #indiansummer #latesummer #wine #ideas #ideasonpapernottingham #ideasonpaper #creativequarter #hockley #lacemarket #indinotts #independentNottm #hiddennottm #lovenotts #creativequarternottingham #creativequarter #wiredcafe #wiredcafe @wiredcafebar #independentnottm #magazineshop #bookshop
Going with the flow
What’s next for Ideas on Paper? Alex is vague about his future plans – because he doesn’t want to make any.
“I don’t really believe in business plans, I think they are works of poetry. It’s better just to start out on a journey and see how it goes. That doesn’t mean to say you should go up Everest without any equipment: you obviously set out with a rucksack full of stuff. My plans for the shop follow that metaphor really. Just hanging out, having fun. I don’t really want to build an empire.”
If there’s a space paying worthy tribute to the power of words, it’s Ideas on Paper. Filled with a staggering variety of indie mags, books and journals, it’s every booklovers’ dream.
“If I had millions of pounds in the bank and I could do anything I wanted, I would just sit around all day reading, listening to music, chatting to interesting people and talking about books. So I do that anyway.”
Have a secret passion for cats, mountain biking or avocados?
Ideas on Paper has a magazine for even the most random hobbies and interests. Pop over to the website for more details, or even better, head down to Cobden Chambers and have a coffee with Alex in person.