how to start your own publishing business by… ditto’s ben freeman
Want to get into fashion, but not sure which path to take? From designers and stylists, to writers and directors, we asked a few i-D friends and family how they made their fashion dreams a reality.
FUN Magazine Issue 6
Ever since Ben Freeman and Lynsey Atkin set up Ditto in early 2009, they have published some of the industry's most exciting publications. From Stuart Griffiths' Pigs' Disco, about a group of Belfast soldiers who were involved in the 90s rave scene, to Toby Mott's Skinhead: An Archive, a collection of skinhead fanzines and posters, Ditto's publications make you stop, look and think. Over the years they've worked with everyone from Nike to the V&A, and five years ago they embarked on their first venture into the literary world, publishing Duncan Fallowell's novel How to Disappear. Whilst working on cutting edge designer Dilara Findikoglu's next presentation and lookbook, a shoot and film for Gut Magazine with Saskia Dixie, issue 9 of Mushpit, of which he is Art Director, and a book with Vinca Petersen, Ben invites us into his world to shed light on what the world of publishing is all about.
What I do and why I do it
"I'm a publisher and an art director/creative director. I do it because those were the things that made me happiest when I was younger: weird magazines and subcultures. I started making zines in 1989 when I was 12. I was obsessed with making films too, and dressing up in weird clothes.
I had no idea what an art director was back then, so that role scratches a lot of creative itches. I was always inspired by 80s trash horror films, DIY culture, Answer Me! Magazine, Feral House, industrial subculture and basically anything good that people just got on with without waiting for someone to come along and subsidise. I guess I knew I was following the right path at the point when I stopped wondering what to do with my life and started being basically content with what I do. I'm really not very conflicted about my work or what to do with my life any more."
A day in my life...
"My days seem to consist of endless meetings and conversations, and answering emails in between. I like working in teams and collaborating. Even though I'm maybe not the world's biggest people person, I don't like working alone. Predictably, I'm not a massive fan of boring responsibility, like book keeping, accountancy and so forth, but I just had to get used to it. I really love just going in to Ditto, and getting on with stuff in relative peace and quiet with the people I like working with.
The absolute best feeling for me is when someone writes to us from some town I've never been to and says they found a copy of a book or magazine and they loved it, because I know how much that sort of thing meant to me when I was younger. The events we host at Ditto are really important to me as they make publishing tangible; we meet the people who are buying our products, and we always get the best crowds. I'm not sure anyone knows or cares much what a publisher does, so I doubt there are many misconceptions about the role. I guess the main misconception is the difference between publishing and printing. Printing is putting ink on paper. Publishing is putting work out into the world."
The moment that made me.
"I have had far too many bits of help to single one out. The most useful thing has been being receptive to the help that people offer or that situations can teach you. Maybe the most useful things have been when I didn't get what I want, and it made me up my game. I've had so many career highlights that it's hard to pick one, but FUNMagazine that I made with Deano from Real Gold, Skinhead: An Archive, and all the fun I have had on photo shoots and journalism projects, breaking into places, setting fire to stuff, meeting weirdos and having a laugh with colleagues."
To degree or not to degree, that is the question....
"I left school when I was 16 and went back when I was 25. I don't have A levels or anything like that but I went on to do a degree in Graphics at Camberwell and then Communication Design at the Royal College. It definitely helped; I spent six years grafting and probably worked extra hard because I had that experience of being in the workplace, working in kitchens and on building sites. College was great for me, but I don't get the point in going if you don't work hard.
I learnt as much from work experience as I did from college. I think it's very useful. My personal advice to anyone applying for placements would be that I just want to see what people are really into, that they are original and driven. Even then, it's down to personal taste so there are lots of talented people who just wouldn't be right for us, but that doesn't mean they won't be perfect for a different placement. It also really helps if the applicant knows and cares about what we do. I know a lot of very successful people, and what they all have in common is they work extremely hard, they are curious about the world around them and they try to do something new."
What I wish I knew then that I know now...
"You're much better than you think you are. There is no substitute for curiosity about the world around you, building relationships, hard work, and originality. I wish there was some other magical secret I could share but that's pretty much it.
In terms of publishing itself, a real awareness of the exciting landscape we operate in these days is crucial; I have never been a print fetishist and I am just as excited by tech as I am about books, hence my other company, Future Artefacts, which I run with Deano Jo from Real Gold."
I'm excited by tomorrow because…
"I'm currently working on Dilara Findikoglu's next presentation and lookbook, a shoot and film for Gut Magazinewith Saskia Dixie, Mushpit 9 art direction, a book with Vinca Petersen, a new Ditto website and showroom. At the moment I am excited about making more film, and shooting more myself, but longer term I am just excited by the possibilities that have opened up through the last 8 years of work.
I'm basically a neophiliac so I'm always on the lookout for anything jarring and original. London is really blessed with talent at the moment, particularly in terms of young fashion designers, and I feel very lucky to get to work with them.
I think Ditto will carry on as a concept; where and how is totally open. Ditto has become the embodiment of my tastes and aesthetic, but it's flexible enough that I can easily change up where we are based or what we produce. I know I will be working with people who inspire me and releasing products I'm proud of."
Text Ben Freeman