October 6, 2009
SOMA Publisher Ali Ghanbarian was recently featured by KTVU Channel 2 News in regards to current state of magazine publishing. Why is it that SOMA blossoms while so many other magazines are in decline? Click the link and find out.
May 21, 2009
You may have never heard of it (and neither had I), but SOMA has time on its side. The West Coast-based magazine first published 22 years ago claims to be the longest-running independent arts and culture magazine in the country.
The magazine is named for the South of Market area of San Francisco. In the early ’80s, the region was revitalized in part by publisher Ali Ghanbarian, who says he started several restaurants and clubs after falling in love with the arts community there. He launched the magazine to support that community, which housed hundreds of photography, indie music and film studios.
Today, the magazine is distributed nationwide as well as in Canada, Britain and Japan and has little to do with South of Market or San Francisco, but rather strives to be a cultural voice for 18- to 38-year-old creative industry types.
Besides a subscription base and distribution in most major cities, SOMA has a controlled circulation with placements of thousands of copies in boutique hotel rooms, cool spas, hair salons and boutiques in major cities. Thousands of copies are also placed in gift bags on a monthly basis and passed out to target guests at the numerous special events the magazine hosts.
One of the mag’s objectives is identifying talented people. Hundreds of iconic talents (fashion photographers, writers, stylists, architects and designers, like fashion designer Alexander Wang and model Alek Wek) have had their careers launched by the mag, according to SOMA Executive Editor Felicia McCrossin.
While SOMA targets the creative community, its readership extends beyond that community. As Ghanbarian says, “Artists are like pest control — they clean up, yuppies follow.”
Each issue has a theme; the current “The Street Issue” focuses on fashion and street culture. Besides fashion spreads (some of which I, with my conservative tastes, find downright bizarre), the magazine features profiles of people in film and music. I really enjoyed the piece on Wyatt Cenac, a correspondent on “The Daily Show.” The content page promises that in the piece Cenac “divines the humor in race, identity and ultra-weathy jackasses.” He does, and it’s a good read.
SOMA claims to have pioneered the “person on the street” picture page with Street Pulse. The subject’s name, age and occupation are listed along with answers to a few short questions like “Which city’s street fashion inspires you?” It’s fun to scope out the people and read their quick takes on things.
Another section, which I doubt you will see in any other magazine, is Hand Signals. It’s a palm reading of a creative type, who is also profiled. Past subjects have included David Bowie, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Richard Branson and Rich Silverstein (“Got Milk?” creative director). The current issue features Band of Outsiders fashion designer Scott Sternberg.
The Urbanite section is very cool, with reviews of nightclubs and restaurants around the world and a recipe for a trendy cocktail. I’m going to test bartenders everywhere I go and see if any of them knows how to set me up with an “Andiamo.”
If I read this mag regularly, I think I could raise my hipster quotient considerably. I hadn’t heard of any of the bands featured in the music section, and I pride myself on being ahead of the curve in new music (at least for a 40-year-old.)
June 4, 2009
Searching for a little insight on the current magazine industry? Look no further. Get the view of our ever-changing magazine world through the minds of the editors and publishers themselves.
Publisher and Editor in Chief, SOMA Magazine
There is no question on who came first, Ali Ghanbarian or SOMA magazine. It was Ali who saw the need in the San Francisco marketplace 20 years ago. He quickly moved to create a magazine that filled that need and beyond. His cup overflowed and the magazine spread its wings from the west coast to the east coast, and for that matter to the international marketplace too. The legacy that SOMA is leaving, and will continue to leave, on the arts, culture and fashion category will ensure a place for Ali among those visionnaires who followed their gut-feeling analysis rather than their statistical spread-sheets analysis. Who can blame him and he is the one that opted in all of his business ventures to be in the two riskiest types of business: launching a magazine and opening a restaurant. Well, Ali did both and in both he continues to beat the odds.
I had the opportunity to ask Ali seven questions regarding SOMA’s past, present and future. However you will not find any questions about his other successful ventures, i.e., the restaurants. This is, after all, the Mr. Magazine Interview™. Enjoy.
Samir Husni: As you look back at the first issue of SOMA, what are the differences and similarities of the first issue and the most current issue?
Ali Ghanbarian: The first issue was totally in your face, edgy-magazine, with a sole purpose of supporting the creative community and the artsy-warehouse district of San Francisco, which was similar to SoHo in the ’60s. Now, 20 years later, the magazine does not have much to do with SoMa or San Francisco for that matter. It has evolved to a respected, high-visual, sought-after arts, culture, and fashion magazine with extensive followers in every metropolitan area and beyond, all over the world. Its unique content, innovative design, creative subjects is sought-after, respected, and looked for by 18-38 year olds throughout the world, with special emphasis and appeal to the creative community.
How would you explain SOMA to a prospective reader and to a prospective advertiser?
SOMA is the longest running, independent, avant-guard, arts and culture magazine, with an organic bond and appeal to the most sought-after demographics in the world, 18-38 year old, who are creative, innovative, trend-setting, social warriors, at the forefront of every trend in music, film, fashion, electronics, etc. all over the world.
SOMA has been a breeding ground to editors, designers and other staffers in other major magazines…do you feel that SOMA is stuck in its role as a candle that burns to light other publications?
As for SOMA being a breeding ground for editors, designers, and staffers for other magazines, I can easily add that it has also launched the careers of PR directors for some of the biggest fashion houses, fashion editors, art directors of numerous high-end magazines, good number of creative directors and photographers as well. This is one of the three main pillars of the existence of SOMA Magazine, and not contradictory to our purpose, as we try to accomplish three things with the magazine. (A) Identify the most talented creative young people all over the world and offer them a platform to launch their careers. Hundreds of iconic talents (fashion photographers, writers, stylists, architects, designers, i.e. Alexander Wang, Alek Wek, etc.) have had their careers launched by SOMA. (B) Covering the best of emerging arts, cultural trends, fashion, music, design, and providing our readers with refreshingly new ideas and perspectives. (C) Last but not least, SOMA’s most important mission, which also keeps myself energized, is providing kids out of school a great training ground to learn every aspect of the magazine and help them to find their niche with different aspects of the creative world, and in a short time they move to bigger environments and continue their endeavors to reach the pinnacle of their careers.
With the media pundits focusing more on digital and anything electronic, what are the plans at SOMA and what role do you think the PRINT edition of the magazine can play?
Because SOMA is primarily a visual magazine, it is more like an art book that people collect, keep on their coffee table, and go through it for enjoyment, relaxation, and appreciation of great arts and cultural ideas with simple, gracious, and elegant presentation. Unlike newspapers and trade publications or mainstream magazine, the digital revolution will not necessarily impact SOMA’s appeal. However, we are not naïve and most our readers being technology-savvy themselves, we have a very innovative website that provides our readers with access to our magazine online. Millions of SOMA fans all over the world would not possibly have access to a hard copy, but they can go online and check out the issue and enjoy it. Furthermore, because we run numerous competitions among young graphic designers, fashion designers, architects, etc. we continuously improve our website to be able to accommodate these campaigns and utilize the latest technology to make it as extensive and efficient as possible. In fact, we are in the middle of drastically expanding our online presence.
In a sentence or two, how do you define Ali Ghanbarian? Who are you? What makes you tick?
For this, I leave the judgment to you. However, I will describe myself as hyperactive, visionary, luckily with an abundance of energy and determination to push boundaries of my imagination 18 hours a day, and at the end of the day looking back, being content with all that I have accomplished on a daily basis. My background has involved a range of different fields. I started as an engineer, to a marketer, to being credited with some of the most innovative concepts in restaurants, clubs, and lounges throughout the west coast, producing some of the most innovative cultural and consumer events, to launching more than half of the premiere spirits throughout the west coast, etc. But to summarize in one sentence what I am most proud of, it would simply be the mentor-ship.
If you are to forecast the future, where will SOMA be five years from now?
After all these years, I think of SOMA as not just a magazine but a brand. We are in the process of launching numerous SOMA-related ideas, i.e., apparel, products, beverages. We are also launching a series of specially-designed venues in major cities called SOMA Racks, to be an absolute destination point for the creative communities across the world. As you know, most arts and culture magazine like SOMA would not be able to get proper exposure in chain stores, i.e., Walgreen’s, Safeway, Wal-Mart, etc., so I have decided to create SOMA Racks to provide an exclusive and innovative place for hundreds of these titles from all over the world, with some additional concepts which would make it a compelling case for all the creative people throughout each city to frequent. This concept will be started in San Francisco very soon, then LA, New York, and so on.
What is your favorite magazine (SOMA not included) and what is the magazine that you can’t stand to see or read? Why?
This is a tough one as I have many favorite magazines. Numero, i-D, The New Yorker, Dazed, Purple, etc. As for the one magazine that I cannot stand. I absolutely hate all the trashy club throwaways and celebrity magazines.