Folk interviews Rosa Park & Rich Stapleton of Cereal Magazine
We recently went on a trip to Bath to visit Rosa Park and Rich Stapleton, founders of travel and style magazine Cereal. The biannual magazine, celebrated for its understated, minimal aesthetic and quality writing, is in its third year running and has just seen the launch of Volume 10. Rosa and Rich kindly invited us into their beautiful home where we discussed how they started an independent magazine from scratch, what it is like to work so closely together and of course what we can expect from their latest issue.
Thanks so much for having us and showing us around Bath today! The Cereal office is actually based in Bristol, so why did you decide to live here?
Rosa: We actually started Cereal in Bath back in December 2012, but ended up moving to Bristol for practical business reasons and lived there for a while. But I prefer Bath to Bristol in terms of where I’d like to call home, so we decided to move back. As I get older, I find myself more drawn to places that exude serenity and Bath is very much that kind of city. I’m all about open green spaces and tree-lined avenues these days! Most importantly, it’s very easy to commute into Bristol from Bath – it’s just a 10 minute train ride – so it made sense to make the move.
Rich: I travelled around a lot as a kid and lived in Belgium, Germany, Scotland and Italy. My dad was in the forces so we moved every two years. I would actually say that Bath is what I consider home just because I have spent the longest amount of time here; I have been between here and Bristol for about eight years now. I feel very at ease and calm in Bath.
Didn’t you both move around a lot growing up?
Rosa: I’ve never spent more than three to five years in one place. I was born in Seoul, Korea and then moved to Vancouver, Canada when I was 6, and went back and forth between the two cities until high school. I then moved to Boston for university and after graduating, moved to New York where I worked in fashion and beauty marketing for five and a half years until I realised that wasn’t what I was passionate about. After having a bit of a quarter life crisis slash soul-searching session, I very dramatically quit my job in New York and decided to move to England. Because I wanted to experience something I had never encountered before, I ended up choosing to come to university in Bristol for my MA in English Literature.
Is that where you two met?
Rosa: Yeah, we actually met at a café. It turns out that the month I moved to Bristol for my MA was the same month that Rich also moved to Bristol. He moved for the same reasons as me – because he wanted to change his career. His background is in engineering and product design and he wanted to pursue graphic design and photography. And I moved because I wanted to become an editor and writer. I think we met at an ideal time, because we were going through the same thing in wanting to change careers so was able to support one another well.
Rich: We came from completely different paths of life, especially from a work perspective. When we met we both wanted the same thing but from different angles. It was great because when we started the magazine, we found ourselves with the right mix of skills needed.
How did the idea to set up your own magazine come about?
Rosa: After I graduated from my MA programme, I ended up working as an editor for a local magazine in Bath. At the same time, Rich was working as a graphic designer for a creative agency. During this period, we were both doing freelance projects outside of our day jobs where we were frequently collaborating, and in this creative process an idea for our own magazine came into being. Rich has always been entrepreneurial in spirit, which gave me the confidence I needed to start something on our own. The love for magazines has always been there for both of us, which is why we wanted to start Cereal. As for the subject matter, it was clear as day that it would be travel because it was the one topic that we were both most familiar with and passionate about, given our respective upbringing and backgrounds.
Has it exceeded your expectations?
Rosa: Definitely. When we started Cereal we had no expectations whatsoever. We just wanted to put something together that represented our point of view in the world of travel, and well, make a magazine. Even if no one bought the magazine, the process of creating was incredibly fulfilling and exciting, and in the beginning, that’s all that mattered to us. Looking back, I think our mindset was very pure. Of course after this initial stage, you must work towards making the magazine into a sustainable business, but at the root of Cereal is a great love for editorial and travel and that’s what drives us to this day.
What did those early days look like?
Rosa: We printed 1500 copies of Cereal Volume 1. At the time I was living at the Royal Crescent here in Bath and my living room was our office. It was full of magazines and boxes, and we packed every single order ourselves and shipped them to our stockists around the world. It was a great, humbling process to go through. We actually ended up selling out of that inaugural issue within a month, so we reprinted which resulted in a print run of 3000 copies for Volume 1. That was three years ago, and now we are printing over 30,000 units here in the UK and also have two foreign language editions of Cereal in Korean and Chinese. It has been a rewarding three years because the magazine has grown organically.
How have things evolved since then?
Rosa: We now have printed city guidebooks. We’ve published London and New York so far and will be releasing the Paris guidebook in early December, with the view to release more cities next year. And we also work as a creative consultancy where we work with a variety of brands on content creation. We collaborate with artists and brands to create products and series exclusive to Cereal, which is sold on our online shop as well as pop up shops. So the business has become multifaceted. It started as a magazine and then over the years, we’ve seized opportunities that came our way and we currently have three main components to Cereal: magazine, guidebook and agency.
But it’s more or less just you guys who run all of this?
Rosa: Yeah, we’re still the only two full-time employees of Cereal. We have four part-time employees who each do several days a week. It’s a tiny team but we make it work!
What is the work dynamic between the two of you?
Rich: I am very visually orientated so I handle all of the creative direction for Cereal – that includes my own photography that appears in the magazine and guidebooks, as well as briefing and art directing the contributing photographers and illustrators. I also do all of the editorial and web design. And Rosa basically does everything else. She steers the direction of our business and I execute it visually.
Rosa: I think a good way to describe my dynamic with Rich is that he is micro and I’m macro. He is a very meticulous, detail-oriented person. That is key for Cereal because we’re very visual. So for him to take care of every detail in branding and/or photography is of great value to the company. I’m a much more big picture kind of person. I manage which direction we’re heading editorially, what partnerships and projects we take on, etc.
Sounds like a clear division of roles?
Rich: Yes, and it’s great that we take on such different roles.
Rosa: I’m sure that if we switched jobs for a while, everything would fall to pieces!
It must be difficult to leave work behind?
Rich: That’s one of the reasons why we have our office in Bristol and we live in Bath. It enables us to get on that train and leave work behind. Of course we can’t help but discuss Cereal matters at most times of the day and night in this early stage of our business, but having that physical separation between our home and office has helped us manage the work life balance a bit better. There’s still room for improvement. Maybe 2016 is where we get it right…
What about the rest of the Cereal team?
Rosa: Everyone we work with brings something different to the table and it’s all these overlapping layers, our common interests, which then become the magazine.
How important has your online presence been for you guys?
Rosa: Very important. It’s a completely different proposition to print. I actually find it tough to compare the two entities because it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Some people think we only care about print because of our identity as an independent print magazine, but that would be an incorrect assumption. It’s 2015 and I don’t believe that you can ignore digital completely and only focus on print, because then you’re neglecting what’s really going on in media. I am a firm believer in providing our readership with equally strong and considered print and digital content.
Rich: Our digital content is incredibly important and it makes up for a lot of our brand identity. We create a lot of content specifically for online, and it sometimes creates confusion with our readership because they think that what’s online is what also appears in print. We do share 3-4 articles from our magazine on our website so people can get a feeling for our title but that exists on the “magazine” page of our site. As for the rest of the content on it, that is exclusive to readcereal.com.
Rosa: What’s important is that more people see our online content than our print content – it has a much higher traffic. Our print run is currently at about 30.000 worldwide, whereas our monthly unique visitor count is at about 60K. If you look at that, you realise your website has to be of the same standard as the magazine because that is your shop window to the world.
What about the role of social media?
Rich: I think that it all connects together. Social media allows us to share our online content and it can be a powerful tool. It has helped us document our travels when we’re on the road and allowed people to get a glimpse of our behind the scenes and feel more connected to us.
Rosa: It’s an interesting phenomenon. We started our social media account back in the day because we felt that we should as an independent magazine, and our following just kind of grew over time. People ask us how we have almost half a million followers on Instagram and I don’t know the answer to that if I’m being honest. I suppose we are a visual title so that translates quite nicely to things like Instagram and Pinterest.
Rich: In all honesty, as we grow as a magazine and as a business, I find myself placing less and less importance on social media. I think it’s a helpful tool in allowing you to develop and to spread the word, but once you achieve a certain reach I think it steadies out. At the end of the day, our main focus is on creating great features for the magazine and for online, and social media is simply a way for us to share that with our readership, so it is ultimately secondary. I actually do envy people who aren’t on social media because you can feel very tied to your phone all the time.
Rosa: But if you’re going to do it, don’t do it half-assed. We try to be as active as possible because otherwise what’s the point of having an account? But I dream of the day we shut everything down. I think we will.
Can you tell us a little bit about the new volume that has just launched?
Rosa: It’s Volume 10, so it feels special and momentous. We celebrate our three years in business while this issue is out (this December), so I think we took extra care to make sure it was an evolved version of what we were doing. I don’t know if you have noticed, but we redesigned our cover very subtly three times. We also changed our strap three times; it went from food & travel to travel & lifestyle to travel & style. It’s about making small adjustments, but I think we’re in a place now where we’re content with our brand identity for the foreseeable future. I don’t want us to be seen as fickle.
Which destinations did you choose to feature this time?
Rosa: There are three travel chapters in this issue. The opening chapter is on Northern California: San Francisco, Oakland, Yosemite, Big Sur and Sonoma county. We worked with the Californian tourism board on this, so it was good fun. We also did a chapter on Antwerp, which is now my favourite city. It was our first time out there and we were blown away by the design and the culture. In this section, you’ll find Dries Van Noten’s top 10 places in the city, and we also interviewed Axel Vervoordt and featured a building designed by architect Vincent van Duysen. The closing chapter is on Panama City.
What was it about Antwerp that made it feel so special?
Rosa: There was a lot of design in Antwerp that felt new to us. I do love Scandinavian and Japanese design but at this point in time, I don’t think I can look at another Scandinavian chair or Japanese bowl. It’s everything that I love, but it’s just the oversaturation of it. In Antwerp we were exposed to a lot of furniture and fashion design that didn’t feel ubiquitous. That’s what made it stand out.
For your final destination you went to Panama City?
Rosa: Yes, our third chapter was our first foray into Central America. Panama City is a growing capital that is getting a lot of tourist attention. We shot rainforests aerially and did a substantial piece on the canal, amongst others. I think this chapter provides fantastic visual drama.
What about the rest of the magazine?
Rich: The interlude in this issue has very interesting features. We looked at the work of Agnes Martin – Rosa’s favourite artist – with the curator of the exhibition at Tate Modern, and have made a limited edition Agnes Martin cover that comes in an archive box that will be sold exclusively at Tate Modern. Then there’s a fashion editorial on timepieces, which I’m very excited about, and an interiors editorial where we styled different kinds of reading rooms.
Rosa: We also interviewed Mark Adams, the managing director of Vitsoe, as well as the wonderful people behind Norm Architects. We also visited the headquarters of watchmakers Audemars Piguet in the beautiful Swiss alps.
Rich: Another new thing is that we have made our literary supplement separate from the magazine. You can pull it out now, so it’s not so difficult to read. This issue’s supplement is on the theme of ego.
Why did you decide to go biannual?
Rich: I think we were almost getting into a routine. Four issues might not seem like a lot, but it is a lot of work for a team of our size. To produce a magazine every three months means that as soon as one has gone to print you’re already creating content for the next one – it was nonstop. It has actually been nice to have this time period between issues. It has allowed us to be more creative and innovative for the next issue as well as pursue other Cereal-related projects.
Rosa: I hope people can tell the difference between this issue and the one before because of the time we have spent on it – it’s the first issue where we’ve had six months. I believe it has made the title better but that’s not for me to say! Our readers need to think that. So fingers crossed.
Looking back at the last couple of years, what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?
Rosa: We have learned many a lesson. I always say this, and it doesn’t sound romantic, but you need money to have and grow a business. You can have all the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t have money to execute them someone else is going to do it before you. For any start-up business I would advise to really do your homework and accurately project how much money you’re going to need.
Rich: Planning is important but you also have to trust your instinct. Sometimes we had to find this out the hard way. For instance, on Cereal Volume 2 we actually ended up switching the cover on the day of print, which was crazy but it was just a gut feeling. I think we have learned more and more to rely on that.
Rosa: Something that we now always do before starting a creative project is to not look at anyone else’s work. Because it will get in your head and even though you think it’s not influencing you, it’s there and it’s affecting your decisions without you even consciously registering it. Rich and I make a huge effort to be insular and just concentrate on what we want to do, regardless of what’s out there.
What future plans are you working on?
Rosa: We already have some very exciting destinations and partnerships confirmed for next year’s issues: 11 and 12. The literary supplement will continue and I hope that one day I can make it its own entity – not next year, but maybe the year after. We also want to continue our guidebooks to major cities, but I think we will cap the number at the six most visited cities and keep updating them every year. I think we are now at a place where we have found our footing and know how to balance our time between, magazine, guidebooks and agency. We want to cultivate that and keep it moving forwards.
Thank you so much Rosa and Rich for inviting us into your lovely home and showing us around the beautiful city of Bath.
Cereal Volume 10 is out now. The new London guidebook will also feature the Folk Soho store.
Photography: Anton Rodriguez
Interview & text: Femke Schoonus