The joke goes that on the internet no one knows you’re a dog. In publishing, likewise, no one knows you’ve no office and a minimal budget. Many magazines like to give the impression of being a bigger operation than they really are, but Meat takes this to a new level. The whole thing is run out of one desk in a rented house in Kilburn. The desk belongs to James Pallister, co-founder of Meat, recent Cambridge graduate and self-taught graphic designer and publisher. The desk is cluttered with sketches and printed submissions, scrap books documenting the first mock-up issues, and on the wall, thumb-tacked samples of the gorgeous, varied illustrations that will make it into future editions. Pallister skims through a scrapbook of plans and layouts for the first issue. “We wanted a four or five-letter word for the name, something one-syllable and memorable. ‘Baby’ was one we played around with. And it was called ‘ARSE’ for ages.”

Before they had even settled on a name and image, Pallister and co-founder Nick Hayes took their project to the pavements on the Sidgwick Site, handing out fliers and looking for submissions, in revolt against what they saw as a dearth of creative writing in Cambridge. “There wasn’t any business  plan as such, we hadn’t even though that far ahead. A lot of the stuff I just learned as we went along.” With the first issue assembled by the following term, Pallister and Hayes threw a launch party and set about selling it to their friends. The next step, naturally, was to sell their student magazine in Borders. “As long as there’s proof that people actually buy it, then stockists will take it. We’d sold out all our issues and ended up printing a further hundred due to demand. You just have to persevere and be pushy.”  After this came two Guardian student media awards: Small Budget Publication of the Year and runner up in Design, for which they had to whip up a third, retrospectively-assembled ‘pilot issue’ to fulfil the competition conditions.

With so much achieved after only two issues, the project had too much potential to abandon after leaving Cambridge. “I moved down to London, and the two of us decided we would give ourselves a year to get the project off the ground. We had to do shitty jobs to support ourselves, we tried to get Arts Council funding but didn’t have much luck. Essentially we were trying to launch a start-up business, and it’s quite a hard thing to do.”

Through their Borders connections Pallister and Hayes slowly began to break into a scene of upcoming writers and artists in London. “There was this network of independent magazines in the city, I think it was a very good time for independent media.”  Pallister describes himself as having been an outsider at Cambridge; did he not find himself up against a yet more pretentious art-media clique on arriving in the city? “I suppose that at some point you have to embrace what you’ve become part of, and not be quick to disparage things you’re intimidated by. From the get-go we’ve always tried not to take ourselves too seriously. I don’t want it to be some poncy art magazine. They’re shite, I’m not interested in that!”

Rather than live up to the detractors’ views of a pretentious ex-Oxbridge magazine (“there are people who’ll think you’re just a bunch of stuck up little pricks, even if that just isn’t true”), Meat stuck to its founding aims of promoting new creative writing and art. “One of the original ideas behind Meat was that it would serve as a springboard for young artists”, says Pallister. “Many of our illustrators are only just out of college; I go around the country looking for new work at Grad shows.”

I ask Pallister if he worries about the future, or if the fall in commercial publishing might actually bring about a rise in hand-crafted zines and indie media?

‘We definitely do have our own niche audience, and niche magazine sales are still doing well by comparison. They’re a bit more bespoke and handcrafted, and there’ll always be a market for this’. There is something endearingly lo-fi and collectable about Meat, with its unusual print-size, wood-block graphics and grainy brown paper. For a recent launch party, held in a friend’s gallery, Pallister even gift-wrapped 200 copies and tied them up with twine.

Issue Four of Meat took ‘Publish or Perish’ as its motto, but it’s hard for a small-scale publication to keep going to press without a few concessions to commercial printing. Pallister is under no illusions about the realities of keeping his dream alive. He explains “it already is commercial, really, in that we have a distributor who takes fifty percent of our costs. We’re not scared of making money. But because of the way it’s set up, as a sideline, there’s no time to do ad sales.” He’d like to work towards a similar project, but slightly more commercially viable. “Right now I’m researching different business models. I’d like to be able to make a living out of this, maybe not with Meat, but with something like it.”

I ask what his advice would be for aspiring writers and illustrators, whether they should put their time into web-based projects, or try to keep print media alive. “We’re keen to get new blood into the magazine. Ideally I’d like our website to work as a community hub, but still keep this really beautifully produced print edition to go with it.” He’s sceptical of forming false friendships at university for the sake of networking, but is adamant that everyone should pursue their creative interests.  “One thing I took from Cambridge was that there were loads of creative people who were motivated to do side projects. If you can get involved with them, they’re the kind of people who, provided they don’t get jobs in the City, will continue to do creative things. Find something specific that you’re interested in, and just WRITE, keep at it and persevere!” Enthusiasm and dedication can amount to something great, and Pallister’s own story serves as proof. ‘Publish or perish’. And for any aspiring magazine publishers, the name ‘Arse’ remains untaken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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