NEW YORK — “Tokion” is a made-up word that means “the sound of now” in Japanese. It’s also a magazine with sterling hipster credentials, an emporium of cool stuff on the Lower East Side and this weekend it will be a conference dubbed “Creativity Now,” which will collect A-list artists, filmmakers, designers and savvy marketers like Matthew Barney, Neil LaBute, Peter Saville and John Jay of Wieden + Kennedy (the ad agency of conference co-sponsor Nike).
It costs $75 to attend both days of the event, which should whet the appetite of every brand manager hungry to know what the cool kids are up to these days. And for Tokion, which has featured many of the speakers in its pages, it could be a license to mint money: more conferences, consulting, cool hunting…all those things Tyler Brülé at Wallpaper somehow managed to spin. There’s one difference, though: The guy in charge of Tokion thinks it’s all a little too commercial.
“Other people have suggested we do that, but it’s hard for me to visualize,” said publisher and founder Adam Glickman, calling from a closet in Tokyo while a friend’s party raged outside. “People said we should do it monthly and make it smaller — a discussion-group kind of thing. A lot of people are now calling me saying, ‘Let’s get down together and make it monthly or something.’”
Glickman is a reluctant synergist, convinced that obvious chasing after money is inherently uncool but not wanting to fret about where the next page is coming from, either. A few of Tokion’s peers, like Surface and Vice, have responded to the pressure by desperately trying to outgrow their publishing skins. Surface is building a hotel and plans to discover and broker design talent; Vice has a record label and is trying to break into TV.
That’s capital-s Synergy. Glickman and publishers of other magazines like City or Flaunt are trying to figure out whether it’s possible to make a go of it as a niche publisher (Tokion’s unaudited circulation is just 140,000) with the lowercase-s kind — maybe a boutique, maybe a low-budget movie and, of course, the conference this weekend. Their dilemma is even on the conference schedule — Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi and Visionaire co-founder Cecilia Dean are set to square off on “Independent Publishing” on Saturday afternoon.
“People aren’t so restrained by boundaries anymore,” said Dean. A publishing house wanting to open up a hotel sounds rather doable, whereas before, it would have been a really weird idea. Tokion giving a conference like this seems like a natural thing.”
Hopefully, it’s also a sign that the flock of downtown style-fashion-design books has to evolve — however reluctantly — from their current state of sameness if they want to survive. “When I started the magazine, I quickly realized I had to understand marketing to pay the bills,” said Glickman. “And I learned that when you’re a magazine, you have to do events. But I was tired of throwing parties and having whoever the hip DJ of the moment was play and have hipsters attend,” hence this weekend’s conference.
“With the Internet and other mediums, I think there’s room for niche companies to make themselves into niche multimedia companies and be around 15 years from now,” he added. “What bugs me are people who make a magazine in order to just sell advertising, and you can more or less tell the difference.”