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Kinfolk: An Exquisite Guide to Small Gatherings

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h1 It’s hard to pull back on the reins when there are exciting opportunities...

Nathan Williams, Kinfolk

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Kinfolk is a new kind of venture, one that showcases the various ways a publishing team can make the most of a range of platforms. It's at once a magazine, a blog, a dinner series, and an iPad app – and that's just what they've accomplished in the first year. The whole project is the labor of love of a group of photographers, designers, painters, and stylists who live to celebrate small gatherings. Amanda Hesser of Food52 described Kinfolk this way: "The colors, the tone - well, imagine The Royal Tenenbaums picnicking on a fjord." Of course we were hooked.

The autumn issue of the magazine explores "how refining our senses - taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell - enriches the experiences we have with each other. The pages also delve into practical ideas and recipes for entertaining as the leaves begin to fall: herb drying at home, fall camping, meals to take surfing and new seasonal traditions. Over 50 artists contribute personal essays, photographs, paintings, and films." And as you'd expect, the results are stunning. Each issue of the magazine/app is better and richer than the last.

A recent addition to the Say 100 food channel, we caught up with Kinfolk founder Nathan Williams between his travels to find out what the big surprises of building a world-class magazine and app have brought, how he likes to work with brands in a meaningful and elegant way, and what's next in 2013 for his upstart food and travel venture.

You've built a beautiful magazine and app with an avid following in a short amount of time. What are some of the biggest things you've learned through the process of creating Kinfolk? We’ve learned to not spread ourselves too thin with projects, and to focus on doing just a few things well. We have a very small team but we get excited about a lot of collaborations and ideas. It’s important that we stay focused on our priorities and that we’re realistic about what we can handle while still maintaining a high level of quality on everything we send out the door. It’s hard to pull back on the reins when there are exciting opportunities, but we risk producing a bunch of mediocre stories and events if we don’t edit the tasks we take on.

What have been the biggest surprises? I did not have publishing experience before starting Kinfolk, and it was surprising how far in advance we needed to start planning seasonal stories. Our photographers are shooting winter stories in the heat of summer, and then are forcing their friends to wear T-shirts in the middle of winter so it looks like spring. We’re now planning and assigning stories seven to eight months in advance, and when a new issue releases we already have the next issue completed and off to the printers. This will sound familiar to anyone in the print publishing industry, but it was new to me.

What’s the opportunity for brands and advertisers to work with Kinfolk in a meaningful and elegant way? How do you or would you like to partner with advertisers? We have partnered with companies and small businesses for our dinner series this year, and we’ve worked closely with a larger brand to develop and launch a campaign as somewhat of a creative consultant—conceptualizing, storyboarding, and helping on set with the styling and production. We’re looking to explore creative partnerships with brands to offer our readers interesting and valuable stories, films, and experiences like workshops, dinners, and other events. We won’t have traditional print advertising in Kinfolk for a while, but there will still be opportunities for us to co-brand features and to work together on digital projects.

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It looks like you're growing quickly—can you share some numbers about your visitors or subscribers and your growth? We’re now selling over 20,000 copies of each issue with 85,000 unique visitors and 450,000 monthly page views on our website.

What have been your most popular stories – and what do you think that says about what people are hungry for? We received a lot of positive feedback on an essay Rebecca Parker Payne wrote for our summer issue, titled “Undocumented Hours.” The essay explored the instinct a lot of us have to pull out our phones at every meal and activity to capture the moment and broadcast it to our friends. Rebecca shared a reminder that it’s nice to set aside the phone sometimes and enjoy the moment.

“The past few years have levied a strange burden of proof upon our backs, a burden to account for our hours and days, to prove to all who care to watch from the screens of their phones and computers, that we are doing something worthy with our lives. In the meantime, we have forgotten how to be content in being present. We have not been transfixed and swayed since we first caught the lie that all of our experience must be shared.“

Close to 50 percent of our readers are 25–35 years old, which is a fairly connected crowd, so I think the idea of temporarily disconnecting is refreshing and encouraging. We’re far from luddites over here within our Kinfolk team—we’re all very connected and work online—but we’re trying to find a balance.

What other sites or magazines are Kinfolk's soulmates in some way? Who else is doing interesting things you admire? We follow and continue to enjoy the work from Australia-based Frankie Magazine, as well as Smith Journal. The two share the same publisher and speak to a similar demographic, and their editorial scope and voice feels casual, honest, and independent. Each issue seems to come from a whimsical clubhouse of talented creatives somewhere on that Australian island, not from a corporate high-rise office.

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You've also added short films and events (your dinner series) to the mix – what other extensions are you considering for Kinfolk? (ie; commerce/a shop?) What's next? We’re working on an exciting online platform where we can share stories and keep in touch with readers more often. We have focused on our quarterly print issues for our first year, and we’ll now be dabbling in more digital projects during 2013. We’re also planning a series of new workshops and events so we can meet readers and get involved with different communities.

Follow Nathan and Kinfolk on Twitter @kinfolkmag. You can also visit his gorgeous behind-the-scenes personal site here.

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