Most magazine founders, upon hearing that many of their subscribers enjoy getting the magazine in the mail but not necessarily reading it, would probably die a little inside. But Zach Frechette, cofounder of GOOD, used that faint praise as inspiration for an intriguing startup called Quarterly.co, which offers paid "subscriptions" to physical objects handpicked by "influential contributors" (many of whom are designers or design commentators), mailed to your doorstep four times a year. It’s like having an awesome pen pal who sends you cool presents instead of boring letters about their pets.
"Think of it like a magazine, but instead of receiving stories on paper, you get products and objects curated by interesting people," Frechette tells Co.Design. "Four times a year you’ll get a care package from them that reflects their interests and obsessions, so there’s a narrative component to it, which is important to us. Magazines will end up immediately in the recycling bin, but we hope that these mailings will be things that you want to keep around for a while."
The inaugural class of contributors is certainly tempting—aren’t you curious what Maria Popova, the polymath blogger behind Brain Pickings, will pick out for you if you subscribe to her secret surprise list? Or what about BLDGBLOG author Geoff Manaugh, or Swiss Miss proprietor Tina Roth Eisenberg? Granted, Frechette says he doesn’t intend Quarterly.co to only cater to design-ey types—"mommy bloggers could use this, political enthusiasts, anyone with a following," he says—but admits that "implicit in good taste is an interest in design, so the mailings will probably always be flecked with 'design dust.'"
More important than subject matter, though, is Quarterly.co’s focus on the physical over the digital. "We’re living in this moment where we’re stepping back and assessing how much of our lives we’ve brought online, and realizing that some sort of correction or rebalancing is needed," Frechette says. "We hope Quarterly.co can be a bridge between the digital and the tangible. We purposely used the subscription metaphor because we don’t want it to feel like shopping. It’s a content experience: Each package comes with a personal letter."
If you feel like taking part in Frechette’s goods-as-narrative-content experiment, head over to Quarterly.co ASAP — they’re taking on new subscribers for the rest of today before closing the doors again.