Canım Istanbul – the Newsletter for the Istanbul in Bloom
I always say that it’s better to visit Istanbul than to live in it. It’s not an easy city. It’s vast, complex, multi-layered. Unpredictable in the best and the worst possible ways. When you visit, it’s like an exciting love affair. Everything feels new. It presents you with its best characteristics. You turn a blind eye to its flaws that might otherwise bother you. You are wrapped up in its exoticism and overwhelmed by its variety in culture, style and architecture. It’s mysterious and just as you want more, you leave to dream about it.
When you live in Istanbul, it can be like a tired old marriage. The city becomes a spouse you just can’t tolerate anymore. Things that you found charming in the beginning are now the things that annoy you the most. You are tired all the time. Your routine is painfully set. You end up living in a bubble of your own making, going to the same places, doing the same things with the same people. You complain, “We don’t do anything new anymore!”
That’s when Canım Istanbul comes to your aid! Created by my dear friend Joseph Donyo, it’s a newsletter about what’s going on in Istanbul. Twice a week, you get an email about various things that are blooming outside of your realm. A new restaurant opening, a mani/pedi service that comes to your office, a new art exhibition that’s coming your way…
The newsletter revives your relationship with the city. It’s like a quick wake-up call to shake you out of your trance. A reminder that you don’t have be to stuck in your routine. A little note – they are only a paragraph long – saying, “There are more possibilities out there that you can experience.”
As I struggle with my relationship to this city, receiving emails from Canım Istanbul has given me hope and joy. So I want to share that with you in a pleasant chat I’ve had with Joseph over coffee, on the first day of the year that felt like summer.
B: So how did you meet Istanbul?
J: My family is from Izmir, so I spent a lot of time in Turkey, but mostly in Izmir. Then I started to come to Istanbul a lot in 2004 when I got involved in my father’s textile business. From then on, I always had a foot in İstanbul. I started coming once a month, then moved here early 2012. I went back to Paris at the end of 2013 after I decided to quit textile but I’m here once a month… So that’s my relationship with Istanbul.
B: Why Istanbul? What in particular about it inspired you to create a newsletter for it?
J: The energy. I started to see Istanbul as a major city like Paris or New York with the density of stuff that is happening out there. The restaurants opening, the cool bars, the concerts, the exhibitions… Maybe not as much as Paris or New York, but heading in that direction. There was material, and I noticed a lot of my friends going to the same places all the time.
B: That’s a trap a lot of people who live in Istanbul very easily fall into.
J: It’s not only in Istanbul. We all fall into a routine at some point. But seeing all the things that were happening here, I thought that was a shame! I was having a conversation with one of my best friends and we said, “We have to get our asses out of the same meyhanes in Asmalı Mescit, and the same…
B: … to be seen bars…”
J: Yeah! There is more stuff! I said, “Once a week, let’s say that we’re going to go to a new restaurant or a new bar,” and that’s what we started to do. Then when I was in that “I’m going to quit textile and find something else to do” mindset, I was looking for things I wanted to do. I began to think of: What do I really want? What do I like? What do I enjoy as a reader? I saw that there was no local newsletter that I would want to sign up to inform me of what was going on in the city. I mean there was stuff, but nothing that I really liked. So that’s why I decided to create something like this.
B: I think you have an advantage. Sometimes when I’m frustrated with the city, I pretend to be a tourist to change that bitter perspective about Istanbul. That way you start noticing and seeing things quite differently. Once you have that mindset, the city itself becomes such a great source of exploration and discovery.
J: Yes, I do have that outsider’s thing. It is an advantage. I came here a lot for the past ten years, but I was always staying at hotels in Yeşilköy, working in Güneşli, Halkalı, Yenibosna and all these lovely places… So I didn’t really know İstanbul until I moved here in 2012. I got an apartment in Cihangir and I started to go out a lot, in Beyoğlu mostly, and then really live it. I knew the language and the culture, but the city was a completely new playing field for me.
B: Your target audience is the ladies of Istanbul, right? How did you make that decision?
J: When I looked at the handful of lifestyle newsletters that existed, I saw they were aiming for young professionals, but I thought if I’m going to make something new, it might as well be on a segment that’s not currently being catered to and one that I’m familiar with, having worked in fashion/textile for 10 years.
I asked all my female friends here if they read an online equivalent of Vogue or Elle. And nobody had an answer. No one was able to say “There is this great woman’s blog” or this beauty site…
B: No specific source.
J: Nope! So I thought I would give Canım Istanbul a girly twist. It’s not just for the ladies because we talk a lot about restaurants / bars / concerts / exhibitions / yoga, and they’re obviously for everybody! But I still wanted to position it as something feminine with the right look and tone in order to differentiate Canım Istanbul. The audience right now is about 5000 people and 90% of them are women.
B: The illustrations that compliment each post really capture this easy going, well informed, smart tone that I think contributes an element of fun and playfulness to the Newsletter. They’re quite unique.
J: And maybe they’re too girly for a guy. Even if the content would apply to them, they’re going to dismiss it because it’s a girl character.
J: And maybe they’re too girly for a guy. Even if the content would apply to them, they’re gonna dismiss it cause it’s a girl character.
B: See, a smart guy would actually check it out in order to see what….
J & B: … the girls are reading!
J: Hey I mean I read Vogue! If I come across Cosmo or Elle, I’ll read it to get a little bit of insight into the woman’s mind… IF that’s representative of it!
B: Inside information… That gives you an edge!
B: So the illustrator designs for each individual post.
B: And the places that are being featured, I’m sure they really appreciate that kind of attention to detail.
J: Oh they love it! Some places featured in the newsletter have begun to ask for posters. They want to frame them and hang them up on their walls. So I began to give them as a gift and I think it would be very cool if every place we feature has their own Canım illustration poster up on their walls.
B: That’s a great idea!
J: Good for them because it’s something unique. Good for me because new people can hear about Canım Istanbul.
B: Speaking of posters, as we were talking earlier, let’s do a recap of all the future possibilities that you are currently meditating on.
J: This year I had a few new things I wanted to do with Canım Istanbul. First I wanted to do stuff around music. We started that in May, partnering with Cizenbayan, who is very knowledgeable and has an eclectic taste in music so I’m very happy that we’re working together. She is sharing her concert selection each month with Canım Istanbul’s readers. We also started a SoundCloud account where we put one or two tracks from each band that we talk about, so people can sample the music we recommend. I hope in time this grows not only to being a monthly concert playlist but also other mixes and discoveries, so people who want to find out about new music can go to Canım Istanbul’s SoundCloud. That’d be nice.
In June, we are going to start doing some video. I have a friend coming from Paris who does video production work. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do yet, but we’re just going to walk around and explore Istanbul and I’m sure something good will come out of it!
B: Leave room for spontaneity.
J: So we talked about the music, video… I’ve also started working on a website. The focus will still be the newsletter though. I really love this medium. The fact that it’s short; it’s twice a week; it comes to you directly. People talk a lot about “Email is dead, now it’s social media, now it’s this, now it’s that…” But you still have email. You still need an email account to sign up for Instagram or Facebook. I don’t think email is going anywhere. Maybe it changes a little bit, the tools and the usage change. But everybody still has email.
B: Of course! But I think a website in addition to the newsletter is a good idea only because there are so many great pieces that sometimes one may not have enough time to explore them all. The website would function as an Archive.
J: That’s exactly why we need it. The website would be an archive for the newsletter subscribers only for now. An archive of all the restaurants, bars, shops, yoga centers, etc. that were featured in Canım Istanbul.
B: Divided into categories.
J: Yes. Actually quite often, people will reply to the newsletter – and of course I get these emails, not some robot or some customer service department, it’s just me! – and they say, “Hey, I love this news. Where can I find all the stuff you wrote about last month?” So I tell them, “The website is coming soon, but tell me what you’re interested in and I’ll send you a selection myself.” Let’s say someone is interested in restaurants, I send them the last 10 restaurant pieces that we featured. Or someone says, “I need to buy something for my girlfriend’s birthday,” and I send them the best shops we wrote about. I love connecting with the readers like that. They generally say something nice, like “I love the illustrations” or “This post was perfect for me”. And I always reply. I got to meet some very nice people this way.
I remember when there was the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, I was in Paris and I was crushed the day it happened… The next day I was going to send out the newsletter as planned. But I could not get my thoughts together and talk about a bar or whatever the post was going to be that day. I tried and I just couldn’t. So I grabbed one of the “Je Suis Charlie” illustrations that were going around that day and I just sent that, without thinking too much about how the readers would take it. Well, it was so nice to see a few people reply and say “Thank you for this.” One of them was a French girl and we started writing back and forth and now we’re friends and helping each other with our projects.
So don’t hesitate to hit “reply” if you have anything to say!
B: Who writes the pieces?
J: We have a small team of writers. Sometimes I pick the topics, sometimes it’s the writer’s idea. When that’s the case, I’ll always try the place before we publish the newsletter about it.
B: That was going to be my next question.
J: Sure. Because I’m trying to do something personal with Canım Istanbul, even though it’s not “Joseph’s Newsletter” or “Joseph’s Istanbul”, I still want it to be something that I would want to receive… I want it to feature places that I would go to. It’s still a reflection of my taste in a way.
B: Great to know that you do try them yourself. Any favorites?
J: Oh wow! We’ve had 75 newsletters so far so it’s hard to choose. But yeah, I do have some favorites. Antiochia in Tünel is one of my favorite restaurants. South eastern cuisine. Great food! I love the concept store Mae Zae and LiT, the yoga and health food place, both in Karaköy . Kozmonot in Topağacı is a cool place. Good vibe. And they have cider (I don’t drink beer)!
B: Safe to say that Karaköy is your favorite neighborhood?
J: I definitely have a Beyoğlu bias. Since Taksim and İstiklal are way too touristy now, I prefer to hang out in Karaköy. Then again, there are now so many places in Karaköy that the quality is going down there as well.
B: Do you think there is ever going to be a point where you’ve consumed it all? When you’ll be like, “I’ve reported everything!”
J: Ha! “There is no more in İstanbul!”
B: No more!
J: I really don’t think so. That’s why from the beginning I thought this was a good idea. It’s such a vibrant city that there is an opening all the time. Every month there are two or three places opening just in Karaköy! When you think how big the city is – Beyoğlu, Besiktas, Bebek, the Asian side… – there is no shortage of places.
But that’s also why I chose to have 2-3 newsletters per week and not one every day. With two per week, you can be selective. I can always have two good things per week. But if it was on a daily pace, then I would have to compromise on content at some point and start reporting anything that’s going on in the city. I don’t want to talk about just anything, I want to talk about the good things.
B: I’m sure you’ve noticed that rather than having the confidence to produce something on their own, people tend to imitate here instead. If you create a product and put it out there, a short while later you’ll notice something identical to your original idea. Copyrights are culturally disrespected here. Is that a concern of yours at all?
J: It could happen. But hey, I was inspired by certain newsletters in France and in the US…
B: Inspiration and imitation are not the same thing though.
J: Well, when I started researching this idea in Istanbul, I didn’t want to talk about it too much before the launch because I didn’t see anything that looked like it here…
B: There still isn’t…
J: …but talking about it also helped me to meet the people who are helping me make it happen now. And anyway, once it’s out, obviously anybody can copy it. Then we just have to be better! I have all these other ideas for future developments. One thing at a time. Things have to settle down and get into a routine, and also generate some money so that I can invest in new projects. My goal is to start collaborating with certain brands towards the end of the year.
B: Is there anything you’d like to say to your current and future subscribers?
J: To the current subscribers… I didn’t make an announcement of this and I hope they noticed but in case they didn’t, I’ll say that we redesigned our newsletter a little bit about a month ago. Two things:
In each newsletter, we now include the links to the last three pieces. If you were busy last week and missed one or two, now you can easily catch up.
Most importantly, it’s been redesigned for mobile. More than 50% of our subscribers read the newsletter on their mobile devices. I’ve learnt that it’s really hard to make a newsletter look good on every device and mail client. I think it looks better and I hope people like it.
To the current and future subscribers, we’re planning to do a giveaway every month on social media or through the newsletter.
B: I bet people’s ears perked when you said “giveaway.”
J: We started this month with a cute tea box from Melez Tea. It was encouraging because a lot of people participated on Facebook and Instagram. Now I’d like to do one new giveaway every month and I think we found a fun way to engage the readers on social media. Follow us on Instagram and we’ll announce it soon, at the beginning of June. Let’s just say that we’re going to ask people to be creative in order to win! Oh also, we’re working on our tote bags.
B: Tote bags? I want one!
J: Yeah! Canım bags!
B: That’s something I’ll be looking forward to other than the fabulous posts obviously. Thank you Joseph!
J: Thank you!