On the road to success – catapult magazine polarizes with maps

Scientifically accurate, at times cheeky and uncomfortable: With illustrative maps to dry data from the social sciences, the magazine from Greifswald has shaken up the magazine market.

Benjamin Fredrich is the founder and managing director of the magazine, which was conceived and produced in Greifswald, Germany'Katapult'.

In the 88 square meters of office space in Greifswald’s Biotechnikum, creativity must be literally steaming out of the walls. Anyone who produces maps that describe the six true prejudices of all the German states, the recipients of German arms exports or distributes the names of German punk rockers and metal bands according to their place of origin in Germany must be driven by a desire for provocation and contradiction, childlike playfulness and a serious claim to scientific exactness.

Still, the space occupied by the makers of Katapult magazine exudes a rather sober, matter-of-fact flair: with layouters and editors sitting shoulder to shoulder at pine desks, gazing intently at computer screens. Only a nostalgic-looking popcorn machine standing in the corner of the office, still holding crumbs from the night before, hints that there are guys and gals having a thieving good time at work here.

More Insta-followers than the TAZ

The reader of the sociocartographic magazine conceived and produced in Greifswald, which now has 58,000 followers on Instagram, as many fans as "Stern" and twice as many as "Taz," wonders how the editors come up with all the illuminating, sometimes bizarre ideas. The makers of "Katapult" draw their data primarily from sober statistics and studies in the social sciences. "In the beginning, we had to beg scientists for the studies, but now the path has reversed," says company founder and editor-in-chief Benjamin Fredrich. For both sides, he says, it’s a win-win situation. In turn, the researchers used the maps in their lectures to visualize their data. Some suggestions – especially the ironically tongue-in-cheek ones – come from editors or, in the meantime, from readers as well.

The Katapult team structures the volume of data and builds graphics from it that boil down a complex problem to its crucial core – just as a top chef reduces the roast fund to a delicate sauce. The fact that Katapult polarizes with its political maps, such as on anti-Semitic crimes or refugee flows, is shown by the vicious and insulting comments on the net. Dealing with this is difficult, especially since these critics find other maps "cool". "But we have a strong problem with AfD and Pegida," Fredrich draws a red line. Harsh racism will not be tolerated, they say.

The concept, which was unique throughout Germany in 2015 and has taken over from Instagram and Co. The magazine, which picks up on the trend toward visualizing topics, also works in the print market, which has been dead for years. With its first issue in March 2016, Katapult disproved the thesis that print was at an end. The magazine appeared in December 2018 in the 12. Edition. Since its launch, circulation has quadrupled to 40,000 per issue. Currently 15,000 readers subscribe to the magazine. The best 100 cards were published in a book at the beginning of the year. And that is already out of print.

Up to 200 new subscribers per day

"We currently have a luxury problem," says Fredrich. The magazine makers currently take out up to 200 subscriptions a day. An explosive development. What does this sudden success do to people? "One wishes that. But when it works in concrete terms, you’re surprised.Fredrich’s response to the current hype is sober: "You now have to build a professional subscription management team," he says. This development is not scary.

As the business grows, the initial financial worries fade away. But in return, the now ten-member team has to grapple with new questions. The office in the Biotechnikum is bursting at the seams. The printed copies of the latest issue are stored in the foyer, the storage capacities on site are exhausted, he says. "We are urgently looking for dry storage space in Greifswald."Fredrich hopes that the conversion of the old refectory into a start-up center for creative people will begin soon, so that they can then move in with their bags. "An old factory building would also be nice."Aha, there it flashes at once: the cliche of the cool magazine maker in a sprawling factory loft.

Doers remain loyal to Greifswald

Moving with Katapult to one of the trendy cities like Berlin or Hamburg is not an option for Fredrich, even with his increasing success. "In Berlin, we would be just one of the many creative companies," he says modestly in northern Germany. The magazine makers in Greifswald do not know of a problem with skilled workers. Applications now come from all over Germany. Svenja Teitge, a native of Lower Saxony, last worked in Cologne. "As a communication designer, I didn’t want to sell stuff in advertising agencies, but work on content," says the 28-year-old, who has been part of the Katapult team since the beginning of the year. And the young woman is obviously also slowly warming up to Greifswald. "I had jitters at the beginning. But Greifswald is a student town with a lot of young people."The proximity to the sea finally convinced them.

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