An iconic print magazine 'put to bed'

In publishing parlance, ‘putting to bed’ meant that the magazine had gone into production and signified no more changes.

When I heard that the beloved IKEA print catalogue was being retired, I was aghast! The last printed edition in 2021 may well go on to become a collector’s item.

My first impressions

My first impression of IKEA was in the form of a shiny magazine by the roadside. I had no idea what the words meant, nor even the language! The year: 1985.

From the magazine offices where I worked in Nariman Point, Bombay (now Mumbai), it was a long walk to Victoria Terminus (VT). As a bachelor in a foreign place, with only roommates to go back to, the sights and spectacles along the half-hour walk swayed me. Sometimes it rooted me in place for a lingering look.

The bookstall in front of Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was one such place. Books displayed along the paved footpath in front of the Victorian building jostled for space with people scurrying home. There were fiction, non-fiction, and magazines of all genres.

Cash cow!

At the beginning of the month, I was usually flush with cash. Pay for the long workdays was handed out in a white unsealed envelope with the name handwritten in black ink. The accountant expected you to count it in front of him and sign off in the giant ledger.

Banks did exist in those days, but such meagre amounts never saw the insides of those stern buildings. From top down, everyone in the workforce received cash as payment on the last day of the month.

I would then split my ‘cash burden’ (in the words of my debtors) into four. My rental house leader, the Shylock, had first dibs – advance payment for the rent and groceries mixed with my sweat, blood, and tears. By the middle of the second week, the second quarter of the stash went to finance some of my colleagues’ crippling debts.

I got back my cash advances towards the end of the month; presumably other creditors financed this payment. And that practice continued. In those circles, I was known as the RBI (Reserve Bank of India)!

The third quarter of the stash took care of sundry items, including cheap liquor and filterless cigarettes.

In India, I collected 10 old IKEA catalogues in a foreign language. Later when I went to the IKEA store in Dubai, I discovered that it was given away free of charge! And found out that the language was Swedish.

On ‘buying’ my first IKEA magazine

The bookstand owner had claims to the last quarter of my pay check. He had his regular customers. By the time I reached there, he’d have prominently displayed some of my favourite authors and comic books; he knew my interests. MAD, Asterix, Tintin, and Sad Sack comics were prized possessions. If they were available, there was always a dance of negotiation at the end of the month. Even five rupees made a big difference.

I would stop by the bookstand at least once a week. One Saturday afternoon, I saw this shiny catalogue in a strange language in the middle of the month. I picked it up as design was something I was always interested in, no matter the industry. I leafed through the pages. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rahim, the stand owner sidling over without directly looking at me.

“How much is this?”

“Rs 10.00, sir.”

“What, for this? I don’t even understand the language!”

“People buy it, sir. I guarantee that you will not find the same magazine next week.”

I leafed through it again and again and then placed it back.
The following week it was still there. In the third week, Rahim reduced it to Rs. 7.50. I drove a ‘hard bargain’ and got it for Rs. 5.00.

In India, I had since collected 10 old IKEA catalogues in a foreign language. Later when I went to the IKEA store in Dubai, I discovered that it was given away free of charge! And found out that the language was Swedish.

My second home!

In Canada, I collected the English IKEA catalogues every year. The habit continued for more than two decades. I did not waste any opportunity to go to IKEA. As I meandered through all the departments and their aisles and ran my fingers over granite, quartz, wood, metal, glass, and plastic, my heart swelled with joy.

When the store replaced plastic TVs with actual ones, arrangements of all the rooms, particularly the living rooms, felt right at home. I have lingered in the cafeteria and worked on my MacBook many times. I would stand in line for the $1 ice cream, even when my wife corrected me, saying it was not natural ice cream. Before Starbucks came up with the concept of a second home, IKEA was my place to be.

When IKEA came up with an app to visualize their products, I downloaded the app. But I had no room to fit in any more of their products. I went to IKEA to see what would work. I came away with a few sundry things that I did not need or want!

I cooked up excuses to go to IKEA. I helped my friends transport their furniture. We have stuffed sofas, bookcases, tables, and more into our van. I think, when purchasing the van, the idea of transporting IKEA products was a significant factor!

Recently I saw a documentary of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. The commentator also talked about how the name IKEA came about. Name of the founder (Ingvar Kamprad) + name of the farm (Elmtaryd) + and the name of the village (Agunnaryd) where he grew up.

What’s next for IKEA?

I think it may be too soon for IKEA to bury its print catalogue. It will come back within a couple of years. The feeling of holding a magazine in your hand and leafing through it back and forth gives a different experience. To have it on your coffee table throughout the whole year to pick up and get inspired, especially in these times of isolation, will become a missing piece.

The beauty of a printed magazine with its set design and layout is a thing of excellence created by passionate creatives. It does not matter where the magazine gets circulated or who is leafing through it. You know the readers are getting what you had designed for them.

The 2021 IKEA Catalogue had a print circulation of 70 million copies (from more than 200 million annually). But I say that the printed form will come back with a far lesser circulation figure to complement the visual and audio experiences.

And then I heard about the audio catalogue. IKEA is engaging the senses! From an accessibility perspective, this is an incredible experience.

At their latest store opening in Egypt (378th), IKEA executives appeared as holograms. Imagine yourself in different IKEA settings reading a book, watching TV, having dinner, sleeping…

Magazines of the future will have a combination of all these. Some of the varieties are already there. Trendsetters such as New Yorker have already added audio versions to some of the articles, particularly fiction. Videos in portrait format are one of the highest consumed mediums for corporate storytelling.

If you plan to start a magazine or digitize your print offerings, think about repackaging static text to other mediums.

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Editor-in-Chief: Ritika Chandhok | Published by: KONE Elevator India Private Limited | Editorial Office: Ideascape Communications Pvt. Ltd.