Sunday, March 29, 2009

Famous Monsters' Famous Mashup

Publisher Ray Ferry, who licensed the rights to produce new issues of famed horror film magazine Famous Monsters from original publisher Jim Warren (following the bankruptcy of Warren's firm in 1982), has lost rights to the title.

Robert Greenberger, writing in ComicMix, reports that the District Court judge issued a pretty clear-cut ruling enjoining Ferry from doing any business with the Famous Monsters moniker, and even issued some pretty tart language ordering Ferry not to, well, bother the court with ridiculous claims.

You can six-degrees-of-separation all you want, but with genre magazines, pretty much everything ends up back at FM: For example, Greenberger was the founding editor of one of my favorite -- albeit long defunct -- magazines, Comics Scene. CS was published by Starlog -- several times; it's a long story -- and Starlog and its sister mag Fangoria have long openly named Famous Monsters as the magazine that created the market niche they later took over and improved.

Is that complicated enough? Well, wait until you get into the mind of Ferry, who, according to Wikipedia (and, well, it is, after all, the changed-by-the-whim-of-the-day Wikipedia) has made odd claims about being persecuted by the legendary FM editor Forry Ackerman and al Qaida.

Ferry lost the case to Phil Kim, who created a new Famous Monsters web site last year and who sounds refreshingly, um, not loopy. I don't know if he plans on ever relaunching the brand as a print publication, but the web site offers nice daily reports on the horror news of the day. (As a more family-friendly horror news outlet than the harder-core –– and more popular –– Fangoria, FM might have created a void that I wonder if Fango itself is planning on filling with its new Monster Times franchise.)

Nothing, it seems, is clear-cut and simple about Famous Monsters these days. Rather odd, for a magazine that was always rather simple in its presentation.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Magazine News: Twilight of the Lad Magazines?

The recession claimed another casualty recently, taking down music magazine Blender, part of the lad-magazine stable of Alpha Media Group.

In the same report, it was announced that Alpha's Maxim magazine would be merging editorial staffs with, an increasingly common practice these days.

I know this doesn't mean the end of the British-inspired lad-magazine trend, but it does help highlight that it's no longer the "lad-magazine phenomenon." The laddie books have been on hard times in recent years, a far cry from when they exploded on the American newsstand scene and gave Playboy a run for its money.

But lad-book FHM ceased print publication in the United States two years ago, and it's been tough times for a number of these mags, which try to be salacious and tasteless but not pornographic. (Also see here.) For a good look at what these magazines hath wrought: Jon Zobenica wrote a great piece for Atlantic Monthly two years ago, noting the depressing difference between Playboy and the lad books when it came to treatment of women. People may love to criticize Playboy for its nudity, but Zobenica says it's a far healthier attitude than what transpires among the pages of the laddie books.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leonard Nimoy at 78

My phone rings. A coworker -- a dedicated Star Trek fan -- tells me: "I just thought you'd want to know. It's Leonard Nimoy's birthday today. He's 78." I thought, okay, that's nice. I said, "Okay, that's nice."

He said, "So he really is living long and prospering."


Anyway, happy birthday, Mr. Nimoy.

The New Proletariat at Condé Nast

As noted in an earlier post here, the lifestyles of the rich and famous editors and publishers at Condé Nast are taking a bit of a hit as the company tightens its belt and puts the stop to some well-loved perks.

Now Keith Kelly writes at the New York Post that some Condé Nast executives are riding the subway instead of taking their royal rights of having a car driven for them. This is, supposedly, a big sign of sacrifice by them.

But, having ridden the Manhattan subway every day for nearly two years in the early part of this decade, I can report that it's hardly a place to go slumming. It's the only subway I've ridden that typically fills up its cars with the poor and the middle class and the rich alike, of all races. I suppose if I knew then that I could bump into a Condé Nast editor on my morning commute, I might have kept a packet of resumes in my bookbag.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Magazine News: Playboy Opens up Free Digital Archive

Playboy has opened up a digital archive of more than 50 issues of its magazine, chosen from its 1953-present-day run, for free online viewing (ala its Bondi-made "Cover to Cover" digital editions on disk). According to Folio:, users will have to download some Microsoft software to use the feature.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Condé Nast Tightens Its Belt

As I arrived at my desk this morning, I slowly opened up my Coke Zero (had to be careful that it didn't explode, because I had dropped it minutes earlier) and took out my Balance bar for my scrumptious, executive breakfast. Then I poured out a small handful of mixed nuts, but a couple rolled onto the floor. I looked around for the button to summon an underling -- a butler, maid, vice president of editorial peanut cleanup, anything -- until I remembered there was no such thing. Sighing, I reached down and picked up the nuts myself.

Such is the life of an editorial director at a major nonprofit. A subway ride to work, bring my own lunch, perform editing and writing and planning and managing chores, write blogs, take meetings, and pick up my own breakfast off the floor.

I'm sure Anna Wintour feels my pain.
But word has it that Condé Nast is reportedly cutting back on its famed perks for the editors of its magazines, as it reacts to a severe downturn in the luxury goods advertising market. Keith J. Kelly writes in today's New York Post that there have already been cutbacks in lunch expenses, tuition reimbursement, and pension contributions. And worse may yet come at a company where top publishers and editors get to zoom around town in their company-provided towncars.

The publisher of Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, and a slew of others is being hit even harder by the recession than many other publishers. Those $5,000 wristwatches apparently can be advertised in other magazines for less money, which makes the Swiss happy as they keep a tight fist on their Swiss francs. (Yes, that was a stretch, but you get the point.)

Condé Nast is famous (and envied) in the magazine world for not discounting off its rate card. I won't pretend to know enough about this successful company's history or business plan, nor do I think I am an expert on the luxury goods market (my watch is a $55 Skagen bought on, to qualify me as being able to predict their next move. But I will be interested to learn who has the most pull when it comes to seriously depleted budgets: Advertisers with tempting wallets, or spoiled editors with high expenses.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go check my 401(k) to see if I'll be able to retire before I'm 90.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Magazine News: Genre Claimed by Recession

Owners have reportedly "suspended" publication of gay lifestyle magazine Genre. As a magazine that survived in the gay men's marketplace without being a "skin" magazine, it managed to do the near impossible and survive for about 16 years.

Who knows how temporary this suspension will be. Though Obama administration officials are projecting a rebound later this year, most economists remain deeply skeptical, and many are predicting at least another year or two of economic sickness. And with Genre's owners reportedly in serious financial troubles, it would be hard to see how that magazine could come back any time soon.

Of all the magazines I've ever thought of creating, a gay lifestyle magazine never got past the initial fancy stage. Because, frankly, there's not a great need for such magazines. Most of them are either pretty cheap pornography books or they skip the skin and try to offer lifestyle tips for a very specific (and marketable) segement of the gay population. So we get the same tired old views on sex, relationships, and politics that every other gay lifestyle magazine puts out. The only problem is that gay men are not monolithic in their views, neither politically, sexually, spiritually, or culturally. And there's not a counter-market for a magazine to serve, because many of the other potential gay readers don't think they need to be told how to be gay. So if you are going to launch a gay magazine, you have to keep going after the same core market with the same old stuff.

Anyway, another magazine, RIP.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ellie Award Nominations Announced

Also see May 1, 2009, update: Ellie winners announced.

The list of nominees for the American Society of Magazine Editors' Ellie Awards reads a bit like the nominating committee walked up Park Avenue South or Broadway and picked candidates by location. GQ. Esquire. The New Yorker. New York. Vogue.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. There are folks from the provinces, as well. San Francisco's Mother Jones.Texas Monthly (which calls itself "the national magazine of Texas," and one wonders why no one likes Texans). And so on. But it's still dominated by the Gotham crowd, who also hold records for the most Ellie nominations and wins in the past, as well as the most multiple-nominations this year.

Is GQ really one of the greatest magazines around? I live and work in San Francisco with educated, media-savvy people (many of them veterans of the magazine, newspaper, internet, or TV industries). Not once have I heard anyone cite a GQ article. Never have I heard a young J-school graduate list working for GQ as one of their goals (and I meet a lot of J-school grads in my line of work). I do hear such things about Esquire and The Atlantic, and there's often talk about New Yorker articles.

But I'm not picking on GQ. It's a fine magazine, for what it is. I frankly don't know what its aspirations are beyond hitting the revenue marks for its publisher, but there are worse crimes than putting out a successful magazine. My only point is: Really? That's the magazine that ASME nominated for 8 awards this year? New York has some of the best newsstands and magazine shops in the country (one of my favorite things about living in Manhattan was walking the four miles between my apartment on 82 and Second and my office on Park Ave. South and stopping at numerous shops full of magazines from around the country and all over the world). Surely they could have gotten some nominations a bit farther afield?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The SyFy Fun Continues

The blogosphere is being quite harsh on the Sci Fi Channel's plans to rebrand itself as Syfy. As one site, io9, put it in a headline: Sci Fi Channel Changes Its Name to a Typo

But there are others. Bloggers tend to be an outspoken (and often profane) group to begin with, but when they're actually on the side of angels, their brutality can be at least amusing. "WTF" "stupid" and "waste of time" seems to crop up in a number of these commentaries.

Here's a roundup of a few:

Scyence Fyction: Because Geeks Are Inhuman (Keith McDuffee)

Question of the Day: WTF Is up with Sci Fi Channel Changing Its Name to SyFy? (Flick Filosopher)

What the Hell Is a SyFy? (Crunch Gear)

More on that SciFi/SyFy Channel Thing (Starlog)

WTF: Sci Fi Channel Renamed SyFy (/film)

Editorial: SciFi Channel Rebranding to Syfy; "Skiffy" No More? (Firefox News)

That's a Little Iffy (The Star Online)

Sci Fy to SyFy? Houston, We've Got no Problem (Chris Matyszczyk on CNET)

Sci Fi Channel "Geeks" Blast Network's Decision to Change Name to SyFy (Chicago Tribune)

Even Sci Fi Channel Embarrassed to Admit It Watches Sci Fi Channel: Changes Name to SyFy (

Sci Fi Rebrand: Fans React (Broadcasting and Cable)

Sci Fi Channel to Suffer Makeover (ENews 2.0)

And, of course, my own previous post: Sci Fi Channel Doesn't Like Sci Fi (Weimar World Service Blog)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sci Fi Channel Doesn't Like "Sci Fi"

NBC Universal's popular (and growing) Sci Fi Channel has decided it's embarrassed by its name, and by its audience. Deciding that "sci fi" gives people images of "geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements" (in the words of one consultant) the cable channel is changing its name to Syfy, according to TV Week.

Their reasoning that "sci fi" turned off people who might otherwise like the content is ridiculous, considering the continued major gains in audiences and in critical accolades (just witness much of the critical laurels being thrown out for the reimagined Battlestar Galactica).

An interesting sidenote: There already was a, but that's changed its name to the difficult to market

All of this brings to mind a column I wrote for Internet World in 2000. In it, I mused about (and mocked, deservedly) the companies that changed their names from perfectly good ones to stupid ones. And the silliness continues. TV Week cites Sci Fi Channel President Dave Howe:

Mr. Howe said Sci Fi looks at its branding every couple of years. He added that when new executives join the network, they usually ask if it has ever thought about changing the name.

Seriously? What kind of person goes to apply for a job at Bank One, and then suggests that they change their name to something a little less "banky"? Does Sports Illustrated hire many editors who are embarrassed about the bad image of sports fans and suggest they change the name to Sprites Illuminated?

Just where do you hire these people?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Best Life Dies

Rodale has killed Best Life magazine, a spinoff of Men's Health. (Really.)

Personally, I never saw the point to Best Life, beyond filling a business need by the publisher. But it did fill that niche for a few years, and last year it racked up impressive advertising increases. But for me -- eh. The magazine never seemed to do much on the newsstands. What does it have that Esquire, GQ, Playboy, and others don't already do?

And the cover lines? For heaven's sake. "Be a (Much) Better Father" and "Be a (Much) Better Man" and "Elegance Made Easy" and "The Best Drink in the World" -- this looks like the most conference-roomed editorial lineup around. Prepackaged and designed to hit the right newsstand sales tropes. All of which means it might have been a well-designed and written magazine (I dunno; was never interested enough to buy what looked like a personality-less magazine), but it's a second buy, not a must-buy for readers. Who identifies with a catalog?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Magazine News: Update Roundup

A roundup of notes and some updates on previous posts here:

Old New Republic: If they can bring back George Clooney to ER, then why can't Martin Peretz buy back his magazine? Yep, Marty Peretz has bought back control of his baby, The New Republic magazine. As previously reported here (and here), Peretz used to own the li'l political magazine before selling it (in phases) to Canadian firm Canwest Global Communications.

In or out, in or out: Folio: reports that Penton is in the midst of layoffs and changing some print mags to online-only. But it is finding resources to launch one new print magazine, Chief Marketer.

Daily dilemma: The San Francisco Chronicle might not be killed off or sold after all. But I suspect I'm correct, as I wrote here earlier, that it'll be too weak to be a great newspaper, after it cuts hours, wages, and staff.

Last man standing: Magazine distributor Source Interlink continues to mop up its legal mess with competitors and competition, again according to Folio:. Background on this ridiculous battle here and here, and info on why traditional print distributors are whistling in the dark here.

We spit in the general direction of so-called bankruptcy: Mastehead Online reports that Reader's Digest Association President/CEO Mary Berner says phooey to speculation that the company was planning a bankruptcy, just because it had hired a law firm that is known for its work on bankruptcy cases. Still, it can't be good.

Logo tastes: In my notice about the new web site by science fiction media magazine Starlog, I asked whether the site's use of the magazine's old logo instead of the new one unveiled a few months ago was a mistake, just a placeholder, or a sign that they were abandoning the new logo. My source tells me it was none of the above. Just the preference of the web page creator.

And that's all the news that is, um, news of updated news. I'll have to work on a new closing line...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Deal Imminent on New Republic (re)Purchase?

The New York Observer reports that former owner and current editor Martin Peretz was very close to sealing a deal to repurchase political journal The New Republic. Peretz is reportedly teaming up with financial exec Larry Grafstein.

More news likely anyday now.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Economics of Periodicals Publishing: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

For six decades, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) has published short fiction, and is well regarded as one of the finest of the SF publications. So, how does one react to the news that, starting with the April/May 2009 issue currently out, F&SF has reduced its frequency to bimonthly?

One reaction certainly is sadness at seeing a great old magazine come out less often. It's a treat for the reader to have a favorite magazine hit the mailbox or the newsstands every month, so any cutback leaves a feeling of emptiness.

Another reaction might well be happiness and relief that the magazine is still around; it hasn't given up the ghost; it's just reduced frequency and added pages. Yes, the digest-sized magazine now boasts 260 pages (including covers -- I always count covers; why not?). That's a lot of pages for its short stories, book reviews, contests, editorials, cartoons, and more.

A third reaction is probably a mix of the above two, and that's where I am.

In addition to its high-quality fiction, F&SF features occasional editorials by its perceptive publisher and editor, Gordon Van Gelder. In the current issue, he notes that print magazines offer something that the internet does not: the ability to present long-form articles and fiction.

...[W]hat (if anything) is lost in the switch from print to electronic media? Well, some might argue that the internet is not friendly to the long, thoughtful, carefully considered piece. In fact, I'm one who would make just such an argument. I find it hard to read anything online that's longer than 800 words or so. And when I'm communicating online, I rarely have the patience to write a long piece when I can dash off something and then get feedback for it almost immediately.

Good point. It's one I've more or less made here (and here and, with Hugh Hefner's help, here).

The technology that is moving readers and publishers to the internet and undercutting the business model of publishers is not all one-way, with only bad news for print magazine lovers. I've said before and I'll say again: The technology is already developing (and, with printer-makers' help, already in use in exciting ways) that will make it easier, not harder, for print publishers to launch new titles, revive dormant ones, and thrive in this world. It's the technology for printing and digitally distributing that are the newest game-changers, and it might just prove to be a savior for small magazines.

Whether those publishers put out their new online/print/digital hybrid magazines weekly, monthly, or bimonthly will increasingly be a matter of talent and timing, not postage and distributors costs.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Old New Republic Redux?

The New Republic magazine, the nearly century-old liberal (and occasionally conservative) political journal from Washington, D.C., may be getting another new owner, just a few years after being acquired by its current, er, new owner. And the new owner might turn out to be an old owner, reports Folio:.

Martin Peretz was the owner when I became a disciple of the magazine in the early 1980s. A friend of the family gave me a subscription (first issue featured the Soviet downing of the Korean airliner), and I remained a loyal subscriber for most of the decade. My devotion waned when the magazine went through some journalism problems (i.e., accusations of bad reporting practices by some of its younger reporters) and the magazine seemed to shrug them off. TNR has always been a little bit too nice to the people it's pals with (friends, former students, etc.). But I still kept up with it from time to time, finally giving up when an editor was reportedly let go because he didn't support the presidential candidacy of Peretz pal Al Gore. (That was the story at the time.)

Wrote Robin Pogrebin in The New York Times in Sept. 6, 1997, when editor Michael Kelly was fired (the "TRB" to which Kelly refers is the magazine's Washington political column):

Mr. Peretz has a well-known friendship with Vice President Gore, who was a student of his at Harvard University. In light of that, Mr. Kelly said, Mr. Peretz was concerned that the magazine's continued negative coverage would hurt Mr. Gore's Presidential prospects.

''I think that he probably saw that I was going to continue writing TRB's on the soft-money scandals, since I had made something of a cause out of it,'' Mr. Kelly said. ''And he made it clear to me that he didn't like that, and that is a subject area that is obviously increasingly involving Al Gore.''

Mr. Peretz, however, said Mr. Gore was not his primary concern. ''I anticipated having differences with Kelly about Gore,'' he said. ''But that wasn't the reason I asked him to leave.''

Kelly, of course, went on to revitalize The Atlantic Monthly before he was killed while covering the Iraq War.

So if the story about Peretz's intentions to repurchase his old magazine come true, what can we expect? Probably not much. He has remained editor-in-chief of the publication under its current owners. But we'll probably continue to get some juicy journalistic melodrama from the magazine, if the past is any indication.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reader's Digest Brouhaha

While the Reader's Digest Association considers bankruptcy, it's also getting flack from some disgruntled emotional freelancers over two of its magazines that use "repurposed" content. Folio: reports here on the freelancin' controversy. (Seems to me that reuse of the material would or would not be clearly covered in any freelance contract they signed, no? If it wasn't in the contract, then the freelancers have a beef. If it was in the contract, then they have nothing to complain about.)

For more on the possible bankruptcy filing (and its tiny $2.1 billion in debt!), see this New York Post report.

My Favorite Magazines: Fliegende Blätter

Produced for a century stretching from 1844 to 1944, Fliegende Blätter was a weekly satirical magazine published in Munich. If you don't read German, you can nonetheless get a sense of the magazine's style, attitude and quality by looking at these images (click on the image to see it enlarged). What Punch was to Britain, Fliegende Blätter was to Germany.

"Fliegende Blätter" is German for "flying sheets" or "flying papers." The initial thing that I noticed when I saw my first Fliegende Blätter was the gorgeous logo across the top of the first page. Ornate, over-the-top, fanciful, that logo adorned every cover until almost the end of its run, when it was replaced by a boring, non-fanciful, standard typeset logo (just one of the millions of things that the Nazis ruined).

The second thing to attract the reader's attention is the artwork. There is a lot of it, on every page of the publication, and the cartoons and other illustrations were drawn by some of the leading artists of the day.

The third thing is the typeface of the copy. Unusually fancy and overdone for modern tastes, it was once common for entire magazines and books to be published with that typeface. It may look like it'd be too difficult to read, but after a couple sentences, the modern reader (assuming he or she reads German) gets the hang of the two or three confusing letters and can read it as well as boring old Helvetica or Times New Roman. Personally, I love it. I think the more we strip down text and design, the more our magazines and books look like there was no attention paid to them and they were just done as economically as possible. That's obviously my own odd personal bias, but I do think the typeface used in Fliegende Blätter, along with the fantastic artwork, makes it look like every page had a great deal of care and talent poured into it. (Though, for all I know, they were slapped together on deadline by a small staff half-drunk on local Munich beer. If so, they worked well drunk.)

These days when venerable (and not-so-much) magazines are closing up shop left and right, it's nice to discover a great magazine that lasted a century, and even then only died because of a world war and a totalitarian dictator. And that's the way a proud satirical publication should die.

The pages illustrating this blog posting are from copies of the magazine that I own. But a great many complete copies of Fliegende Blätter are digitized and available for free online viewing from the University of Heidelberg.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

As I said: What Distributors Should Fear

The shift is already happening. I've written here and elsewhere before that I believe the biggest losers in the technological tsunami washing over the periodicals business will be distributors, not publishers. The publishers will still be able to make their magazines and distribute them digitally; the distributors are having their expensive business model fall apart around them. And now I've found a company that's making this shift happen.

It's called MagCloud, and it's a great first step. It's a service used by publishers (many of them small publishers who couldn't even dream of having the capital to publish a print magazine and get it distributed the traditional way) who upload their magazines in PDF format. MagCloud then does a print-on-demand service, printing the magazines and mailing them to readers as requested.

The per-issue cost is high (20 cents per page plus postage, plus whatever income the publisher would like to earn), but other than that, this is exactly what I have been talking about. It actually increases the ability of people to publish, to publish what they want in their own voice and design, and it drastically cuts production costs (which makes me wonder if some small publications that actually do have budgets might be able to take a portion of the money they're saving by not printing and mailing and/or going through the newsstand and use that savings to subsidize the mag's purchase price on MagCloud; they might still come out ahead of where they are now, financially).

Any of you using MagCloud? What are your experiences and feedback?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Magazine Death Pool

For lively coverage of the steady drumbeat of little magazine hearts being crushed by economics (and sometimes stupid business plans), check out this blog: Magazine Death Pool. It includes pretty much every magazine you can think of that has kicked the bucket, including those (such as Radar) which have done so multiple times.

Magazines that Go Bump in the Night

Here's a funny song about the death match known as the magazine publishing industry. Love it.

Mr. Magazine to Launch Magazine Think Tank

Samir Husni, the outgoing chair of the journalism school at the University of Mississippi, is demonstrating his continued interest in and support for the magazine medium by launching what he's calling the Magazine Innovation Center. He's looking for money for the project and gathering support from industry professionals.

To learn more about the center, read his description on his Mr. Magazine blog.