France, 2008: The Internet is booming, free, new online media is being created, traditional newspapers and magazines are struggling to keep up…
It’s no wonder that when XXI Magazine (roman numerals for the 21st century) was launched in January that same year, very few people bet on its survival. Imagine: a print quarterly, dedicated to long-form journalism and reportage, showcasing photos and comics, and text and illustrations, with no advertising, sold exclusively in libraries (or ordered online) at a price of 15 Euros ($20) a magazine.
XXI is the brainchild of journalist Patrick de Saint-Exupery, founding and current editor-in-chief, and publisher Laurent Beccaria, who felt that the acceleration of news came at the expense of their understanding. “We wanted to create some distance with the events,” explains Patrick de Saint-Exupery in a phone interview. “We felt it became harder to understand the news and the world. We wanted to continue the tradition of ‘grand reportage’ that was disappearing in the press.”
Narrative is the main goal of XXI, in all of its print forms: long-form texts, “Bande Dessinee” reportages (comics), drawings, photos, and other work. The magazine is visually rich, with a pop-culture edge. It takes around 70 people to create one issue: authors, journalists, graphic designers and editors.
XXI has a simple online presence, but it’s not what you would expect from an online publication today: you won’t find the content of the magazine online; there are no videos, very few photos and comics. Instead, you will find interviews with the authors, explanations of photos or drawings by the photographers and designers, and the online store, where you can buy the magazine and get it delivered.
“The question we ask ourselves with our website, is: ‘What can it add to our paper?’” explains de Saint-Exupery. “This is why you won’t find our texts and reportages online. But you will find some of our long-form texts read by actors, because it reaches people we could not reach before.”
These audio-texts don’t come for free. Listeners can download them for 1 Euro ($1.34) each.
This initiative is quite recent, but de Saint-Exupery says that the first download numbers are encouraging. The long term objective is to be able to provide listeners with a decent-size audio library.
In 2014, six years after its launch, XXI is solidly anchored in the French media landscape with an audience of more than 45,000 readers located throughout the French territory and abroad. It even gave birth, three years later, to a bi-annual publication dedicated to photojournalism, called ‘6 Mois’ (‘6 Months’).
“We had the feeling that photo could have its own space- a more important one- in another dedicated publication,” explains de Saint-Exupery.
6 Mois is almost a book, showcasing photo-reportage from journalists all over the world.
“We realized that contrary to what people think, the reader cannot read text and photo at the same time; he or she either reads the text, or watches the image, but he or she cannot do both at the same time,” explains de Saint-Exupery. “So we created a product centered around photo-reading.”
Three years down the line, 6 Mois reaches an audience of 30,000 readers, despite being more expensive than a new book: 25.5 Euros ($34.2) an issue. Its website, like XXI’s, complements the print publication with interviews and commentary with photographers.
The founders are considering developing international editions of 6 Mois and have already contacted some publishers. “Photo is a universal language, we just need to translate a few texts,” explains de Saint-Exupery.
XXI and 6 Mois share a common goal: to reflect today’s world. “When we get a pitch from an author or a photographer, we look for two criterias,” says de Saint-Exupery. “The narration and story, and the relevance: does it say something about today’s world?” He adds: “It’s easy to say it, it’s harder to execute it.”
Photos by Abbey Adkison and MJ Daoud.