Man of Culture: Purveyr’s Marvin Conanan

PURVEYR’s Marvin Conanan ruminates on the beginnings and trajectory of the media brand he self-started, and the reads that keep his creative juices flowing

Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Images Marvin Conanan

Conanan’s home library

Hello Marvin! What’s one book you couldn’t put down lately?

The most recent one I finished is Factfulness by Hans Rosling. It really moved and inspired me to look at the world and life from a different perspective. I’m particularly excited to get to The Monocle Book of Entrepreneurs. I’ve always been a fan of their work and learned heaps from them about business, media, branding, and a lot more. I’m really curious to learn about new entrepreneurial ideas from that book.

You are the founder of the renowned culture magazine PURVEYR. How has it been for the title in the new normal we live in? What were some of the major changes you initiated to keep the title alive and relevant?

First and foremost, I’m very grateful that we are given the opportunity to pursue, for almost 10 years now, a fun, purposeful, and independent project like PURVEYR. It’s not an easy task to run a media concept/company, most especially an independent one at that. Even before the pandemic, running a niche media concept comes with many challenges, but with its manageable scale and our strong commitment to our mission, it was somehow less complicated to adjust quickly and sensibly to the new normal. The pandemic and the emergence of a new normal mainly obliged us to examine our core as a media concept — it made us rethink how we tell and distribute stories.

One of the changes we have done is the reconfiguration of how we look at PURVEYR as a brand and as a media channel internally. While what we have been doing in the past worked well in how our audience and community perceived and understood us, we discovered that we needed to strengthen our voice, reimagine our purpose as a brand, and realign all our efforts to one vision if we wanted to continue to grow. As a small and niche media concept, we must find a way that will carve a unique voice and vision that’s authentic to us as a team. Although we are still in the process of truly finding that, I believe that this consistent introspection, inquiry, and improvement are what keeps us alive as a title.

As a curator of content, how has your view of what stories, issues, and themes to cover changed within the past two years?

While I believe that the curatorial eye is bounded by one’s own experiences, knowledge, values, and taste, when I curate for PURVEYR, or any brand/organization, I need to put on their lens to see life, content, and moments through their perspective. Personally, it has changed a lot because of all the experiences and learnings I’ve had in the past two years, but professionally, through PURVEYR, I was also able to sharpen its lens through reimagining the brand’s purpose and its vision.

I’ve also recently learned that to be successful and authentic in curating content, the eye should match the lens — either you train the eye to fit it, or find the lens that’s suitable to the eye.

You like to keep busy. Aside from your magazine, you have several businesses that include streetwear brand Café City Club and your latest conquest, Convenience Coffee. How do you keep track of all these interests and find time to nourish and flourish in each of them?

I think compartmentalizing is a big part of how I’m able to work on several projects at a time. Compartmentalizing my energy and effort, and compartmentalizing the fulfillment I want from the endeavors. I consider PURVEYR my day job and the most significant pursuit I’m doing right now, so most of my energy and most of the fulfillment — may it be creative, career, or financial — should come from there. While for Café City Club, I view it as more of a personal expression and creative output that is far from the lens of PURVEYR. And since I only look at it now as such, I don’t put too much pressure on myself to develop it as a fully-functioning business, so I get to save that energy for PURVEYR by accepting that I will only attain minimal creative fulfillment through it. For Convenience Coffee Shop, I work with my wife and sisters, so in terms of work commitment, I’m limited to the creative and branding side of things. Fulfillment-wise, since we have built it for a different type of consumer and audience; I get to practice another lens as a creative and editor.

Essentially, these different endeavors contribute to the new experiences, knowledge, values, and tastes that I receive and encounter — in turn helping me to further hone my eye as a creative, editor, and entrepreneur.

The pandemic has reminded us of all the value of rest and pause. How do you unwind and disconnect especially as a person of multiple interests? Do you have any tips for tired creatives on how to set aside time for rest?

Last year, when I became very interested in computer games, I realized that when I was playing that it made me detached from the stresses of the day-to-day. So I think that letting yourself wander into different interests and hobbies is important. Creatives have very active minds, so to turn them off is as taxing as the daily work. What I recommend is finding other endeavors or activities that will reenergize you and disconnect you from your day-to-day. It could be a new creative project, games, movies, reading, cooking, etc.

In addition, creatives should also be strict with sleep. I believe that good sleep is essential to all of us. If that’s what you’re lacking, maybe disregard all the things I’ve said above and just focus on how to get a good sleep or rest.

The role of books as a refuge for truth and knowledge cannot be stressed further in this age of widespread misinformation. What qualities would you say enable books to be ideal receptacles for ideas and effective mediums for spreading them?

I wholeheartedly agree that the role of books cannot be stressed more at this time. The institution of books and book culture is the most significant quality in my opinion. There are proper checks and balances in books that younger mediums currently struggle with. The difficulty to publish one is also a good deterrent for those who want to use it to misinform.

However, these same qualities are what make books less universal than shorter and less regulated online content. I think the challenge right now is not how we make non-readers read books but for bookmakers, publishers, and institutions to bring that same spirit of proper information, good ideas, and regulation to more types of content that people consume nowadays.

How do you encourage yourself to read more, a feat nowadays with how much shorter our attention spans have become?

For a late bloomer like me in reading, and a slow reader as well, I needed to create a few systems in place to make sure that I read more. One thing I do is that I post the books I’ve finished reading to keep track of my progress on my Instagram — you can see this through my highlights on @marvinconanan. This has been helpful to me by seeing how little or how much I’ve read in the past month depending on how many I’ve posted. And on top of that subtle pressure, I also try to spend 30 minutes to 1 hour of my day reading — maybe with my morning coffee or during an afternoon break. It’s still a challenge to follow every day, but being conscious of my reading habits and my progress, I get to push myself more into opening a book as much as I can.

What’s one book that’s left a major impression on you? Have you read a book that had you dropping it midway?

There’s a lot, one that’s most recent is Factfulness but since I mentioned it above already, another is Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point because it was the one that started me to really enjoy reading more. It opened up my eyes to a new kind of thinking and taught me that there’s so much more to learn. It’s a good starter book for building a new outlook on the world around us. Other notable books I’ve read are Contagious by Jonah Berger, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, Aesthetic Intelligence by Pauline Brown, and The Small-Mart Revolution by Michael Shuman.

I think I’ve dropped a few books midway due to slow progression or because it’s a topic that does not appeal to me as much. But I really try to finish all books that I start outside of those few exceptions — I may even go back to the said books now that we’ve talked about it. Haha!

How do you find new books to read?

Most of the books I’ve read and found are due to happenstance, by stumbling upon them in bookstores. In the past, I was more interested in magazines like Monocle, Fantastic Man, Apartamento, Riposte, and more. For them, I would always try to visit magazine shops and bookstores when I travel. 

Your go-to bookstore or library or any place where you get books?

Locally it’s really just Fully Booked because they’re the only one that’s very accessible. Some notable ones I’ve visited and liked a lot outside the Philippines are Tsutaya Books in Japan and McNally Jackson in New York.

Our libraries are no longer exclusively physical. They can be just as expansive and diverse within our mobile devices and tablets. However, how would you describe your relationship with these two ‘libraries’? What are their pros and cons for you?

I’m ashamed to say that I’m genuinely more engaged in online than physical libraries. There is romance and beauty in physical libraries but like books and other analog mediums, there are more obstacles to overcome to commit to them. This reminds me of the quote “convenience beats free” (from the New York Times article, The Tyranny of Convenience) where humans, consumers, nowadays are wired to pay for the most convenient and easiest way to do things rather than get them for free but experience a bit of a challenge along the way.

But on another note, I think we also lack libraries in the Philippines, which makes it difficult to grow library culture in the country. I can’t say much about the pros and cons since I don’t have much experience in utilizing libraries, but I hope we can figure out a way to integrate this even more into life in the Philippines.

Why should we all read more?

Reading is the most effective way to learn about life and the world. Much can be said about how reading is integral to knowledge, learning, language, history, and more — a true and important part of the human condition. So essentially, why shouldn’t we take advantage of a tool that can make us better humans? •

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