• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Starting a New Black & Brown Publishing Empire

It takes more than guts to start a new magazine. It takes a great idea. It takes content. It takes money. Umber publisher Mike Nicholls (previously seen in The Daily Heller here) has announced a new crowdfunding campaign to take Umber from a single publication to a full publishing house, Umber Publishing. He will be launching two new print magazines this year, expanding his editorial team and creating a content studio. The new publications:

  • Tone, a print magazine for the forward-thinking Black man

  • Slumber, a print publication about sexual expression from the Black and Brown perspective.

Here's a link to the campaign.

I asked Nicholls via email about the editorial message (this year's theme for Umber is Wealth, and next year's is Typography!) and his personal goals for this important venture.

Photo: Damien Jelaine
Photo: Kevin Allen

Photo: Jon Crisp

Your magazines have a Black audience. Do you believe these areas for Tone and Slumber are under-represented?

I would actually say our audience is a little more diverse in that. Umber highlights the perspectives of Black people, Indigenous people, Latinx and marginalized people of color from around the world. It may lean towards Black, because we're a Black-owned publishing house, but we're intentional about having a diverse representation of people of color. In terms of our readership, yes, we have a lot of Black and Brown people interested in Umber, but there's also a huge swath of design enthusiasts and folks in the tech industry, from all backgrounds, really loving what we are doing. Slumber is a direct extension of Umber, meaning that it was a section in three of our issues. So it will still be from the Black and Brown perspectives. Now, Tone is definitely targeted to Black men, and we're very intentional in showing the perspective of Black men. But I'm sure folks from all walks of life will want to read them both. And you know I gotta come correct with the design, so we'll be feeding the design nerds too, haha. These two areas are not particularly under-represented, but the nuance of Black men and Black and Brown sexual expression can definitely get more shine in a way that's authentic and from the people with the same lived experience.

Photo: Kevin Allen
Photo: Kevin Allen

What is your business plan? Will these be advertising or subscription models? Or do you have something new up your sleeve? Yes, advertising and subscription plays a part, plus, Charles Brack, our strategic partnership lead, is helping on the brand partnership side of things. And next year will start to curate and create online content. Unintentionally, Umber became my portfolio. I started getting a lot of client work when folks realized I was doing all the design. LOL. With this crowdfunding, we'll be able to build out our content studio and creative services.

The titles for both are elegant—how did you come up with just the right words? Did you try anything else?

Slumber is just a sexy version of Umber. :) For Tone, we had at least 12 words we were looking at. One of them was Chauncey, which was a favorite for personal reasons, but folks were like, "I don't get it." But with Tone it just resonated, and there's so many ways to interpret it.

Photo: Kevin Allen

Tell me what you call your "IONS" represent: passion, vision and mission?

Passion is what you geek out on—it just gives you a feeling like no other. Where first you're a fan, but then you actually want to participate and understand the history behind it. Vision is giving that passion a sense of purpose, making something out of it that's tangible and real. Then mission is how do you make that vision viable and sustainable? Let's give that vision some legs and something to stand on. Those IONs became present in my 16-year journey of creating Umber. What is you ultimate aim? Philosophical, commercial, joyful …?

My personal ultimate aim is to be an artist. You can't tell me that design is not art. Layout is an artform. So through Umber Publishing I'm personally one step closer to being a full-time artist. Haha. But for my community and folks who share my values and lived experiences, my commercial aim is for us to be seen by us and create a viable platform to thrive and be authentic. And along the way show the world our joy, brilliance, perspective and resilience.