I have a confession to make! I’m nearly 50 and hardly ever read a woman’s magazine! Why is that I wonder? Oh, I know…there are barley any good and intelligent woman’s magazines out there. That is until I accidentally stumbled upon Libertine last Autumn. Ecstatic, fascinated and completely mesmerized I immediately wanted to know who is behind this great venture. I got in touch with Debbi Evans, editor and founder of Libertine and we decided to wait with this interview until the latest issue hit the shelves. I’m pleased we did as this issue celebrates Libertine’s 1st Birthday.
Tell us a little about Debbi growing up and some early influences that formed you in adulthood I was a very sociable child and liked to be around adults, engaging in adult conversation, from an early age. I was always aware that helping and pleasing people was a good thing to do (although now, with my feminist hat on, am wondering what that says about the way we raise our daughters). I remember marching into a restaurant kitchen on holiday in France and offering to help wait tables! I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight. I lost all confidence aged 17 or 18 after a bad drugs experience turned into a several-hour-long panic attack, followed by persistent anxiety which lasted almost ten years. I’m over the worst of it now and can appreciate the positive aspects of being constantly self-aware and analytical, as well as the resilience it has taught me – but at the time it was bloody awful. I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone about it, I was so ashamed. I also had a great role model in my mother, who went through a divorce and the death of two immediate family members in the space of two years, and raised both my sister and I pretty much single-handedly – including during our monstrous teenage years, which she really didn’t deserve. She was – and still is – so determined and energetic, always pushing for us to get the best out of ourselves. In spite of her capabilities, I’ve also seen her struggle with hugely negative self image – something which plagues many women and which I resolved to challenge if I possibly could.
Many people struggle with knowing what they want to be (do). You seem resolute. Any tips and tricks?
Hmmm, not sure. Read a lot – it was the glamour of journalism, conveyed in a trashy chick lit novel when I was 11, that made me decide I wanted a media empire! Clearly, I’m a long way off. But i’ve always wanted to write.
You started Libertine exactly one year ago. What trigger made you decide to take the plunge and step into the media arena where most women’s magazines are “synonymous with vacuous celebrity and mindless consumption”? Sheer bloody-mindedness. The more people tell me something won’t work the more I want to prove them wrong! I had the idea for almost a decade – i’d always wanted to be a journo but when it came to doing work experience there just wasn’t a magazine out there that I really cared about or identified with, and that feeling of alienation only got more pronounced as the years progressed. I also spent a few years in trend research, keeping a close eye on which business models weren’t working and which were, particularly in digital media and publishing. With the help of Kate Mew, my friend and former colleague who’s just joined the project, we devised a plan for something that was much bigger than a magazine and would incorporate lots of different revenue streams, from retail to events. What we’re trying to do is build a global lifestyle brand and network for thinking women. On a shoestring. Should be easy! (I am kidding. It will definitely not be easy. But it’s definitely worth a try.)
Is Libertine seen as a niche magazine? I suppose it is at the moment, from the perspective that we only print 1,500 copies of each issue and have not yet properly launched our digital presence. But everyone I’ve spoken to recognises how huge the market is, both in the UK and abroad.
What can one expect from an issue of Libertine? We try to strike a balance between premium lifestyle content and intellectual (but crucially, accessible – I can’t stand jargon!) content – particularly tech, science, business and any other ‘serious’ subjects that are traditionally mostly marketed to a male audience. Our anniversary issue was Comedy-themed and had an eight page food and drink shoot alongside a think piece on the power of parody and an essay on the social media superstars of Vine (a network which allows you to share 6-second video clips with followers). The previous issue was Cities and Power-themed, and had a few analytical pieces around smart cities, invisible networks of power and living architecture, as well as a ‘Power dressing’ shoot starring the fabulous Caryn Franklin.
What’s the average age of your readership? What’s the feedback been so far? We target women over 35 – and particularly women in their 40s and 50s – and they are doubly marginalised in the media. The most fun, interesting and inspiring women I know are in their 40s and 50s – they’re reinventing themselves constantly and don’t care what anyone thinks, but this is certainly not how they’re portrayed in the media. We also have a lot of younger readers (mid-20s and up) who share a lot of their values – ambitious, curious – who are more active on Twitter and have bought into the community that way. We’ve just completed our first reader survey and feedback has been wonderful – so many echoes of “Thank god someone has finally done this!”. We’re releasing the results in our newsletter this weekend, in case anyone is interested! You can sign up on our homepage.
Congratulations on your latest issue that just hit the shelves. You’ve changed the goalpost and are now offering a tiered membership scheme. Can you expand? As you’ve pointed out, Libertine is breaching unknown territory – we’ve always been adamant that our advertising would reflect our values (and the values of our audience) and so we need to be constantly innovating around the business model; we need to be able to say no to ads that promote negative gender stereotypes. Early feedback has been that readers want more digital content, and more from the network and community, particularly around events. So we’ve introduced a tiered scheme which will still allow people to have access to print and digital content, with a slightly higher tier to incorporate events access. We’ll also incorporate a digital only tier for overseas subscribers when the new site launches – we’ve had a lot of interest from the US.
It would be inspiring to meet fellow Libertine readers. Will we be able to do so at your forthcoming events? Definitely! The last event we had, for the Cities & Power issue, was very successful but the one piece of feedback was that people would have liked to socialise with each other rather than just listening to speakers. We’ll be doing more of these this year – watch this space!
You are a young and very inspiring entrepreneur. What would you say are the most important elements for female entrepreneurship? That’s very kind. I’ll only consider myself an entrepreneur when we’ve existed successfully! I don’t see female entrepreneurship being different to male entrepreneurship; perhaps women doubt themselves more but I think this caution is a good thing in the long run. Having said that, the team would probably say i’m quite impulsive – I like to get things done quickly and don’t think there’s time for being too meticulous about planning on a start-up. As long as you’re transparent about the fact you’re a work in progress, people are incredibly supportive – particularly when there’s a social mission underlying what you do (ours is to change the way women are represented in the media).
I can’t wait to see how Libertine progresses, goes from strength to strength and makes a real dent in mainstream media for the intelligent and interested woman. Any final thoughts? The only thing I would ask is that people support our forthcoming crowdfunding campaign to help us make that dent a bit more noticeable – if you sign up to the newsletter I’ll let you know as soon as it launches. Thanks so much.
Thank you Debbi for your time and your wise words! I love your ‘can-do’ attitude and have no doubt that you’ll succeed in every way! I certainly will support you in any way I can and hope that any ‘interested’ women out there will do so too.
I hope you all feel as inspired as I do. I’m fortunate to own all 4 issues.. you won’t be able to find the first 3 issues on Libertine’s website any longer as they’ve all sold out. Maybe try some of their stockists for issue 3.
I’m very excited about the new development of tiered membership. I think it’s a fabulous idea. I’m particularly looking forward to the Libertine’s events and can’t wait to meet more like-minded women.
This post will stay live until Thursday 20th March. Have a good week!