It's been almost five years since Tyler Brule resigned from Time Warner over a reported creative dispute and gave up any involvement with Wallpaper*, the influential title he launched a decade ago.
But Brule is back, and just as Wallpaper* captured the zeitgeist of the 90s, with its elitist, intellectual views on fashion and design, his new project, Monocle (a global title) is aiming to do the same when it launches in February 2007.
By combining global affairs, business, culture and design, Brule is hoping to reflect a world more concerned with global issues, such as terrorism, climate change and poverty. But the world of print is embroiled in its own crisis, with a poor advertising climate and the rise of digital media making the launch of a global title counterintuitive.
Or so you would think. But Brule is drawing inspiration from Asia, which he says holds clues to the future of publishing.
"If you look at Asia, and in particular markets such as South Korea and Japan, they are 36 to 48 months ahead of us in the digital revolution," he says. "But they've taken the decision to celebrate being in publishing by producing confident, robust, tactile products. The quality of print on newsstands in both markets is so high."
Brule's observations come from his globetrotting lifestyle in recent years. He cites regular visits to magazine stands in airports around the world, where well-heeled travellers buy The Economist, Conde Nast Traveller and BusinessWeek.
"I thought: 'Why not combine all of them?'" he explains.
Monocle will have one global edition with an initial print run of 150,000 copies. It will be aimed at international travellers seeking a global view. Priced at £5 and expected to run to 240 pages, it will be distributed in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Although yet to launch, advertising executives are excited about the prospect of a large, niche global magazine that combines the elements Brule describes, but also by another foray into publishing by one of its most-admired mavericks.
For Brand Couture's managing director, Kirsten McNally, whose agency specialises in the luxury sector, it is the reach promised by Monocle into the affluent global market that will be its strength in appealing to luxury brands.
"People want to read intellectually stimulating content, which Monocle sounds like it is aiming to offer. For brands looking for access to emerging markets, this would be a fabulous one-stop shop," she says. "Luxury brands in particular have a smaller audience, but on a larger scale. The alternative would be an ad in GQ in the UK and the US, but getting global reach is hard."
Brule confirms he plans to offer advertisers the one-stop shop McNally describes, as well as a look and feel unique in Western publishing.
Printed on matte paper, Brule says the magazine will follow in the footsteps of the Asian "mook" publishing trend, where a combination of "magazine" and "book" describes the production values and depth and quality of relationship Asian magazines share with their readers. It is this, he believes, which could save Western publishing.
"When they see Monocle, advertisers say it feels like a giant book," Brule says. Although untried in the West, the "mook" model has potential, agency executives say.
The MindShare managing partner Vanessa Clifford believes that the quality of the relationship between the reader and the brand will be important in establishing a viable publication. She also thinks Brule's plan to make Monocle's online presence the "broadcasting" arm of the brand is essential.
Brule says: "We'll use the internet for broadcasting and for great stories appearing in the magazine. But most importantly, we want people to return to the Monocle brand. We want them to say things like: 'Did you see that great mini-documentary on Monocle?' or 'Did you hear that great music on Monocle?' or 'Did you read that great cultural essay in Monocle?'."
Clifford says: "Brule is being smart when he talks about launching it as a multiplatform brand. If he can create this new brand in different shapes and forms, especially given his track record of creating great products with beautiful designs - which is absolutely essential when going after this audience - there is no reason why people won't follow that brand."
The head of press planning at Carat, Jo Blake, agrees, and adds that advertisers could potentially be very supportive: "There is certainly room for something like this. There is such an explosion of luxury brand spending untapped even by agencies, that a well thought-out launch in this sector could work."
In order to tap into that spending, however, McNally argues Monocle should be open to custom-made advertising that breaks away from a simple page ad, in favour of a tailored, creative approach for specific brands. "I think there is much more to be achieved with advertiser content that is created with a bespoke feel," she says.
But with one global edition, McNally points out that some luxury brand advertisers - fashion brands, in particular - may face obstacles given the cyclical nature of fashion in different markets. She says: "Europe is very much about discreet luxury, it's no longer about having lots of possessions, whereas emerging markets are very much in the 'bling' phase, which could pose problems for a luxury brand."
The combination of intellectually stimulating editorial on a variety of subjects in a beautifully produced magazine will certainly be unique in Western publishing. Whether or not it will be enough to save the sector will be tested when Monocle hits global newsstands.