• A fresh start for Northern Living, one of many titles Ledesma revived under Hinge Inquirer  
  • The maiden issue of the relaunched Southern Living featuring a clean aesthetic and photography by young guns like Ralph Mendoza  
  • An issue of the revamped Northern Living featuring NOUS Maker Tinay Villamiel  
  • In Ledesma's home, well-designed independent magazines from around the world serve as inspiration    
  • Shelves in Ledesma's home office display the breadth of good publishing that she dips into  
  • Required reading on Ledesma's desk  
  • Surrounded by art, Ledesma is adamant about executing compelling visuals in her titles  
  • In Ledesma's home office, one of NOUS Maker Lilianna Manahan's "creatures"              

01/29/15 Hinge Inquirer Publisher Bea Ledesma

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

Every so often, grand old lifestyle publications need new life breathed into them. But when Hinge Inquirer decided to revive several of its titles, they realized they needed more than a breath of fresh air–it was due time for a tempest.

This windy storm of change came in the form of longtime newspaper editor Bea Ledesma. With her wit and sharp eye, Ledesma is a brilliant force to be reckoned with: after just one year at Hinge, the group’s new publisher has shaken things up for its various titles. Hinge’s stable of free magazines, once ignored in cafes and clinics, is steadily gaining a serious readership. And with more titles either rebranded or introduced, Ledesma’s work is far from finished.

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Dropping by her Makati apartment, NOUS talks to the renowned publisher about changing the game, staying ahead, and how an A+ in geography doesn’t really matter.

Hi, Bea. You’ve obviously got a lot on your publishing plate. Could you tell us what you’ve dealt with since you joined Hinge Inquirer?

As group publisher, I rebranded around 10 titles in the first year and launched two new titles. So we rebranded the likes of Northern [Living] and Southern Living. Before, the Living titles were very “mommy magazine” and like, “sad mom” or “sad moms with no taste.” (Laughs) And so when I came in, I was so confused like, “What is this thing?”

So with the Living titles, we wanted to focus on lifestyle and a way of living that makes you better; makes you know your neighbor or what’s happening, which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with what other magazines are doing. We wanted to do something else that nobody was doing at the moment. So if you go through our pages, you will find everything from super esoteric gardening, to mulching, to Chinese natural medication to battle the flu, to local fashion and natural beauty products.

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We even shifted to recycled paper. Our cover is not recycled but it’s FSC-certified. That means when the paper mill produces the paper, they cut down a tree and plant another one in exchange. And even our ink is biodegradable; it’s a linseed oil. So since we transitioned Northern and Southern Living last year, we’ve saved around 100,000 metric tons of paper. That’s a big deal.

We launched Cebu Living, which is a big deal for us because we’re going regional this year. We also launched Scout, which is a millennial mag. So it was a really busy year for me.

Besides the substance in these titles, form is half the battle. How did you decide on the feel of these magazines? 

I basically cut pieces of paper and said, “What felt the most organic in my hand?” It’s a vessel for content, but even the vessel matters. I was like, “How should the paper feel? What kind of person would read it?” So I wanted it to be more like a book, like a journal. You can tuck it in your bag. It’s smaller right? It feels more intimate. The experience of sitting down with it feels more intimate. And because it targets communities and content is geographical, it should speak directly to you so you will find stuff in Northern Living that you will not find in Southern Living.

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When you joined Hinge, what would you say was the biggest challenge that you had to tackle?

I think it’s the way people approach content. At the end of the day, our business model is that we’re “freezines”, so we are content creators first. We’re not magazine sellers, right? So the biggest challenge was that in the office, our teams are actually quite young. The median age is 24. So you have people 21 to 27, 28. And for people that are so young, their way of thinking was very old media. Strange, right? Which goes to show, even if your daily digital digest is large, that doesn’t necessarily affect the way you think of content. When I started, I was really trying to reframe the way people think of news that matters.

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As group publisher handling a whole lot of different titles, how do you stay on the pulse of what’s happening under all these themes? 

It’s part forecasting and part being in touch with what’s happening now. I guess I go out, I see… I try to see what people are doing, I read a lot. But I also try to think of things that people aren’t doing yet.

Which title do you enjoy working on the most?

Well, right now we’re in the midst of rebranding a small title. We have consumer titles like the Living titles and Scout, but we also have trade titles for industry people. So we have this title called F&B, and we’re rebranding it this year. I had a mock-up made so I could feel it. I wanted it to feel like a prestigious newspaper. We shifted to book paper, we changed the size so it’s taller, so it feels more authoritative. It’s really exciting.

Are you looking into launching anytime soon? 

Yes. We are launching a third and fourth title that’s regional this year.

Is this going to go northern or southern?

It will go—good question. My geography is shit. I’ll let you know.