Publisher Spotlight: Plant Society Magazine

From 20/30-something hipsters with first-time plots in big city community gardens to lifelong rare plant collectors and members of the most esoteric of gardening societies, anyone with a desire to dig around in dirt will find Matt Mattus’ newest venture, Plant Society Magazine, not just educational, but inspirational.

Mattus, an author, designer, brand creative, adventurer, naturalist and plant expert, is well known among green thumb types. His popular gardening blog,growingwithplants.com, attracts plant enthusiasts from around the world who are fans of his near-daily diary entries and enjoy the stunning photographs from his many gardens.

When Mattus learned about MagCloud’s print on demand service last year, he began thinking a print magazine would be a perfect extension of his blog — a way to provide yet more in-depth knowledge and greater detail about connoisseur and collectable plants, with a bit of food, travel, design and home and garden décor mixed in for good measure.

“These days, mainstream gardening magazines are too commercial and ordinary,” Mattus says. “Plant collectors and rare plant enthusiasts want something unique and original. They’re curious about discovering new things.”

And Mattus is just the one to uncover anything exciting and unusual. As a creative director at Hasbro, it’s Mattus’ job to discover new trends in the making — and to keep the company a few steps ahead. He has even written a book on the subject: Beyond Trend – How to Innovate in an Over Designed World.

It’s a mission that has become his personal passion, especially when it comes to gardening. A self-described “hortigeek,” Mattus lives on his family’s 100-year-old farm in Worcester, Mass., where for the past 40 years he has collected and grown rare plants and actively participated in obscure plant societies — Androsace Society, anyone? He planted his first seeds on the farm at the age of 5 and remembers when the zinnias were taller than he was.

His own experiences are a sharp contrast to the modern science efficiencies so common in the gardening world today.

“With the rise of mass-produced micro-propagated plants that are all the same at every home center around the world, I can see dumbing-down happening everywhere,” Mattus says. “They’re selling ‘supertunias’ and sheep-sized Chrysanthemums. Gardening has morphed into a pastime that feels more like disposable decorating. But I know there’s still a huge population of gardeners out there who still honor the art and science of it all.”

It’s this population that Mattus reaches with his blog and now with Plant Society Magazine. He writes all the content, focusing only on plants that he, himself, has grown. And he pulls images from his vast collection of more than 10,000 photographs he has taken of plants from his greenhouses and gardens. He organizes his photographs by species and time of year.

“I have so much content, it’s a little overwhelming,” Mattus says. “I’m obsessive when it comes to plants. I photograph every step of the growing process, from planting the seeds to tending to them — even how I display them in pots and vases. With MagCloud, I don’t have to design something six months in advance. I can shoot my cover the same day that I upload my files to the MagCloud website.”

Mattus published his first issue, High Summer, in 2009, featuring 75 pages of in-depth information about, and photographs of, exhibition chrysanthemums, dahlias, pelargonium, nerines and crocosmia.

His Autumn issue focuses on cultivating miniature species Narcissus for cold greenhouses and alpine beds, odd and rare winter blooming bulbs, Cyclamen species in pots and winter shrubs for color.

Mattus promotes the magazine, which also will include Spring, featuring the genus Primula, seed growing, Corydalis and rare Japanese orchids, and mid-Winter editions, on his blog and through his Twitter account.

“I love being my own editor and art director,” he says. “I also appreciate being in charge of my own advertising. You’ll never see me writing about organic gardening and then running an ad for fertilizer on the next page.”

Mattus still recalls the day his first issue arrived in his mailbox. “It came in a plastic bag, and it looked like a real magazine,” he says. “I work with printers all the time. The quality I get from MagCloud is as good as anything out there. I would recommend MagCloud to even the pickiest of designers.” Mattus also appreciates the ease with which MagCloud handles all the order processing and distribution. “Anyone in the US, Canada or UK can order issues direct from the MagCloud website, and can even pay directly with a credit card or Paypal,” he notes. “MagCloud prints to order, and in five days or fewer, the magazine is printed, bound and mailed directly to the reader.”

Without MagCloud’s self-publishing service, Mattus says a magazine like his, with its relatively smaller run and niche market and lack of a traditional distribution channel, wouldn’t be possible.

“I understand the need for big publishers to remain profitable,” Mattus says. “But the publishing business is changing so fast. Self-publishing is now much more accepted in our new digital world of blogs, Twitter and Facebook. For me and for the readers I want to reach, MagCloud is the perfect solution.

“Frankly, I had no idea how the magazine would be received,” he adds. “I expected both positive and critical comments, just as I get on my blog. And that’s terrific. My favorite comments are from readers who tell me that Plant Society Magazine is better than the fancy British gardening magazines. One reader said, ‘Finally, a well-designed and informative magazine that not only shows me step-by-step tasks, but that actually teaches me how to grow something out of the ordinary.’

“That’s exactly what I’m striving for.”

Check out the latest issue!

Publisher Spotlight: Fotoblur Magazine

After struggling to get his work published in print, software developer and photography enthusiast Lance Ramoth set up a little spot on the Internet where he and a few photographer friends could easily post their fine art images. Through the site, Ramoth reckoned, they could encourage one another, vote for their “community favorites” to be featured on the home page and enjoy some great talent that might otherwise go unnoticed.

He dubbed the site fotoblur.com, and before long, with word of mouth and the magic of the Internet, itself, his small group in early 2007 blossomed into an international community of 2,500 members today and counting.

“I was surprised by how well it worked,” Ramoth says. “The images that the community selected as their favorites were among some of the best photographs I had seen. Launching our own magazine just seemed like the next step given that we had a pool of great photographers who would provide the content.”

And photographers who appreciate the reproduction quality of print. “It’s just dramatically better than what you see online,” Ramoth says. “Plus, Web sites come and go, but magazines can last decades. And for those of us chronically attached to our computers, it’s nice to be able to enjoy a magazine anywhere besides on our screens.”

Ramoth’s instincts were spot on. The first issue of Fotoblur Magazine drew 600 submissions from the fotoblur.com community. Issue 2 brought in 800. By the time Issue 3 (the most recent issue) came around, Ramoth was overwhelmed with 1,400 images.

Just as the fotoblur.com community votes for favorite images to be featured on the site’s home page, members also vote on which images should appear in the magazine. Ramoth and a small group of editors review the top 10 percent of the vote-getters, selecting 40 or so black-and-white and color images per issue that represent a diverse cross-section of subjects and a range of photographers, themselves.

Ramoth then designs the issues, usually devoting a full page to each image with very limited text and no advertising.

“There are already a lot of photo magazines out there with articles and ads,” he says. “But our philosophy is all about the image and the celebration of it. Each image contains a story in itself and requires a full page for it to be fully processed and appreciated by the viewer.”

The decision to bypass advertising meant, of course, that Ramoth needed a way to print the magazine without incurring any expenses. He heard about MagCloud from a colleague and decided to give it a try.

“I’ll admit that I was skeptical about the print quality,” he says. “But when I held the first issue in my hand, I was simply blown away — it truly exceeded my expectations. The color of the images was spot on. There was little to no color cast on the black-and-white images, which was one of my major concerns. I just remember thinking, I really did it!”

Since Ramoth runs fotoblur.com and manages the magazine almost singlehandedly, he appreciates that MagCloud handles all the printing, shipping and order processing details. He looked into working with a few newsstand magazine distributors, but found that the upfront costs and the need for advertising to support the distribution would have threatened his creative vision. “MagCloud allows me the freedom to concentrate on the results I desire creatively,” he says.

As each issue is published, Ramoth spreads the word via fotoblur.com, as well as through Twitter (@fotoblur) and digital publication sharing services like Issuu (issuu.com) and Scribd (scribd.com) and various file sharing services. Contributors to the issues also help publicize the magazine’s availability.

Ramoth makes the issues free to download and view online and supplies links to MagCloud for those who’d like to purchase the print version, $15.40.

Ramoth hasn’t given up on his hope to turn Fotoblur into a newsstand magazine if he can attract enough purchasers. He’s also considering combining all four of this year’s issues into a hardcover book.

His advice for other potential magazine publishers? Purchase a good software package, create the content and do it. “When I told people that I wanted to start a photography magazine, they thought I was crazy,” Ramoth says. “But I just didn’t listen — I just did it anyway.

“Be creative, publish, then promote,” he adds. “It’s an amazing experience in itself, and you’ll feel something special when you turn that idea in to something tangible.”

Check out the latest issue!