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Planet Monocle

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Three years after its launch, Monocle reaches roughly 150,000 people. Subscriptions are up 35 percent from last year. Its 16,000 subscribers pay Ł75 a year whether they live in Paramus or Paraguay. “We didn’t think you should be penalized because of where you live,” he says. One of its mainstay features is the urban survey: A hunk of Monocle’s staff will decamp to a foreign city, hire freelancers, and set about the task of documenting life there. As for their news coverage, “we wanted to focus on two things: either be there first or be in pockets of the world that people aren’t in today. If you want to read a story by an embedded journalist, you’ll go somewhere else, but we had a story on narcotecture in Afghanistan,” a tour of McMansions built for the new rich. In 2007, the magazine sent David Usborne to Alaska on a hunch. He’d seen Sarah Palin and thought she was odd enough to merit an interview.

A magazine must know its reader. But does anyone other than Brûlé actually live this life? It sometimes feels as if he has gone to extensive, even comic lengths to brand himself. In addition to his work at Monocle, he writes a column called “Fast Lane” for the Financial Times in which he documents various aspects of his existence. The tone can be so over the top (a column about self-improvement included this sentence: “With a little more work, we were able to get my trainer Vivi over from Switzerland for early mornings at a private gym in Fitzrovia, and some calls to friends at the Foreign Office helped us track down an Arabic teacher who could do private classes straight after the gym”) that a reader once semi-facetiously wondered if the whole thing was just a put-on.

But fantasy has long been a component of great magazines. And one of Monocle’s enduring fantasies is that the world is still, despite it all, a rich and exciting place.

Several months later and Brûlé is back at the Crosby. He’s particularly jazzed this time because he’s just been to Germany, where he visited the editorial board of the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. The meeting took place at its office in Hamburg. Recalling the experience, Brûlé’s as fizzy as the bubbly water he’s drinking once again: He’d once had Der Spiegel’s Verner Panton dining room photographed for Wallpaper, and there he was in the very building, holding forth on his favorite topics. Paper stock! Fact-checkers! (“They have 80!”) Foreign bureaus! There was scarcely a mention of that horribly little half-word: app. (Brûlé admits that Monocle will, eventually, launch an app of its own, but the benefit of being a tiny company is that he can first learn from the technological mistakes of others.)

“They have 36 bureaus and they’re expanding!” he says of Der Spiegel. “It was so exciting to sit down and say, ‘You can make it work.’ Big companies will say, ‘You need to be on the iPad because the future is micropayments and everyone’s going to spend 99 cents for the sports page,’ but it was great being with a powerful media company and saying, ‘We’re a small media company and we think it’s bullshit,’ and they say, ‘We’re a big media company and we think it’s a crock.’ ” Brûlé smiles. “I’m still on a buzz about it.”

“Look,” he says, further elaborating on the media landscape of our age, “there’s a funny elite who do want to be tuned to CNBC all day long, but I don’t think that’s the narrative for everyone. It’s stunning to me what, even among mature adults, counts as news today. There’s so much focus on that woman who grew up in a backyard in California. But I think it just provides more of an opportunity for us to engage with people who want to know if now is the time to buy a large tract of land in Madagascar in order to grow vegetables for the Koreans.”


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