Thursday, April 30, 2009


Tauntaun Press has eliminated the position of publisher in its magazines, according to a report in Folio:. That might sound like a drastic move, but if you read the entire article, you see that there's been a lot of re-titling and duty distribution at the company.

The fact is, titles are kind of science fiction in the publishing industry. They mean what one wants them to mean. For example, at some magazines, the managing editor is the person who assigns and rides shotgun on each issue of the magazine, under the guidance of a far-away editor-in-chief who's mostly out meeting with advertisers and journalists. At other magazines, the managing editor is largely a production person nursing along each issue. At still others, the managing editor is basically the sole content editor.

In some places, the publisher is negotiating printing contracts and helping set the tone of the magazine. At others, the publisher is basically the ad sales director.

A title means what an employee and employer agree that it means. (I'm an editorial director, with duties that in many places mix editor-in-chief and publisher roles. So what?)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is Everyone Really Nervous at Condé Nast?

Keith Kelly in today's New York Post suggests that it's nail-biting time at Condé Nast, just two days after the big-ticket failure of Portfolio magazine. Kelly writes, "One insider said that many staffers are nervously watching for what might come in July, when Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Glamour and others that have largely escaped the 5 percent reduction in staff will be shipping their September issues."

Those September issues are the ones you always marvel at on the newsstand. Huge, with cover lines such as, "Our Biggest Issue Ever," or, "730 pages of fashion." They mean big, big money. So if those perform poorly, then CN chiefs are expected to be cutting expenses further. Then again, mail carriers might be relieved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Counting Time at Penton

Penton Media, a major business-to-business publisher, announced that it is cutting its employees' pay and reducing the workweek from five days to four for the summer. Folio: magazine posted the text of a memo Penton CEO Sharon Rowlands wrote to staff announcing the change. Here's an excerpt:
From the week before Memorial Day through the week before Labor Day, the Company will reduce its operations from a 5-day work week to a 4-day work week. For many of our businesses this will involve closing our offices on Friday. Other businesses may need to take the reduction in blocks of days. The end result will be the same for every employee at every level however - it will equate to a four day work week and a corresponding reduction in pay to reflect this reduced work schedule. Whilst the reduction in work week will be contained only to the summer months outlined above, we will spread the pay reduction in smaller increments throughout the end of the year to reduce the immediate financial stress on you and your families.
That brings up the burning question: "whilst"?

Practically anyone who's in management at any company these days has had to make awful decisions like this. If you've escaped that responsibility, then lucky you.

I am reminded of the end of my own employment with Penton's late, great Internet World magazine back in mid-2003. The company was just about to begin what was called "summer hours," which meant that people could knock off early (3:30 pm, I think) on Fridays during summer months. But then Penton had to pull the plug on the long-suffering IW magazine. In a Wednesday conference call, the staff was informed, and we were invited to stay through Friday to wrap up loose ends. "Summer hours!" someone on the staff conference call joked.

And so it was.

Arlen Specter Switches Parties

The New York Times is reporting a huge breaking news story: Republican Sen. Arlen Specter is going to switch parties and become a Democrat. That, together with Al Franken's win in the Minnesota race, would give the Democrats their filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.

More here.

Checking Your Portfolio

A day after the announcement that Portfolio magazine has been canceled, the blog and news worlds are filling up with people who are suddenly noticing the magazine.

BusinesWeek has an extended description of the big money behind this ambitious failure.

The Daily Beast's Tina Brown at least shares my view that the magazine's demise is a loss, not a reason for anti-print people to gloat.

The New York Observer reports that under different economic circumstances, the magazine might have survived; earlier, it at least had until 2010 to live or die, according to one source.

Blogger Erick Schonfeld get it wrong, I think. He says no one was reading the magazine and that long-form journalism is useless in an age when "business is about speed." Well, no, business is not primarily about speed. Certain aspects of it, perhaps; but if no one is reading in-depth examinations about the ways companies fail or survive or how regulation and markets work together, then that's a very sad (and disturbing and, frankly, three-alarm danger), because we're seeing very clearly these days the disastrous results of short-term-only thinking. Portfolio's different view on the matter was why I liked it. And nearly 450,000 readers is not a small amount. Big magazines typically take three or four years to reach a level of success; we'll never know what Portfolio could have done in a different economic cycle. Or how our economic cycle might have been better these days had more people paid attention to Portfolio.

David Kaplan at offers some news in the form of a slim chance that might somehow survive the print mag's demise. That would probably make Schonfeld happy.

And James Ledbetter at The Big Money ponders how the magazine might have survived.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Portfolio Closed

Just yesterday in a bookstore, I looked at the cover of the current issue of Condé Nast Portfolio, which showed a close-up photo of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and the big headline, "Lead Us. Please." I thought, That looks interesting; I should buy a copy. I knew that inside the magazine would be some good long-form business journalism, some interesting short columns, and some stuff that would be useless. Actually, that's a very good mix for a magazine; if there are two good articles that interest me in a magazine, it's worth buying.

But not enough people thought so, and advertisers have fled the young magazine in droves. So today comes news that Portfolio has been canceled. At just under 450,000 in circulation, the magazine wasn't big enough to get the attention apparently needed in the marketplace, despite Condé Nast sinking a reported $100 milllion into the title. (And do we even need to note that its survival was made even harder by the economic collapse? Can't we just add that sentence to the end of practically every article we write these days?)

I'm sorry to see Portfolio go. In a world in which journalism has gotten dumber and dumber, in which business journalism has tended to be cheerleaders for the businesses with the strongest marketing pitches and the least ethics, in which financial writers have had a long-term memory of about three months, Portfolio was a refreshingly original and high-quality magazine that deserved a bigger audience. It did solid long-form journalism while all the marketing lemmings say that long-form is dead ("nobody reads anymore anyway!"), and it took some healthy whacks at businesses that lied, cheated, or at least deserved more scrutiny.

There are still some financial publications that have not guzzled down the kool-aid (I'll tighten my grip on my thin Financial Times and refuse to let go). But Portfolio is truly a loss of an independent source of news.

On Warren on Magazines

Reading Huffington Post's James Warren writing about the latest issues of magazines is almost more interesting and satisfying than reading the magazines. In his latest post, Warren includes an overview of the magazines climbing on the bandwagon of assessing President Obama's first 100 days in office, a journalistic device he correctly labels "lame."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Parodic Interruption

A legal threat from a major newspaper publisher can kill a career in comedy.

That's what we found out in the late 1980s. I was the editorial pages editor of The Badger Herald, the independent daily student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and we had to come up with an idea for our April 1 issue, the annual April Fool's edition. We hit upon the idea of doing a parody of USA Today, mimicking its design, colors, and -- most important -- its editorial tone of "we're all happier today."

The parody we produced was, if I many say so myself, quite good. We got lots of great feedback from readers, including someone at USA Today who wrote to let us know they loved the parody so much they'd like us to send them some extra copies, which we did. Feeling on a roll, the next April 1 issue was planned as a follow-up USA Today parody; in preparation, one of our editors contacted that paper to ask for the exact colors of the logo and the name of the typeface, so we could better mimic it on our end. The word came back from the East Coast that parodies are all fine and good, but if we did it again they'd sue us.

So, no follow up.

But I've always been a fan of good parodies. Magazines and newspapers are perfect targets for parodies, because readers have spent a lot of time with them, and the editors and publishers have spent years designing the magazine so that it's memorable in tone, design, and quality. It lets a (hopefully talented) humorist play in a world made by someone else, tweaking them, bringing them down to earth, and playing with their ego.

There are a couple masters of the magazine parody: Harvard Lampoon and National Lampoon. Both have published books with compilations of their magazine parodies: 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (Harvard Lampoon, 1976) and National Lampoon Magazine Rack (National Lampoon Press, 2006). The older of the two, Harvard Lampoon, is the granddaddy of the genre, and it keeps active with last year's National Geographic parody (pictured). The USA Today parody picture on this page, by the way, is from the Harvard Lampoon, not the Badger Herald. I don't know where our Herald copies are.

But parodies have been done by many, many others. Playboy once published a parody of competitor Men's Health. Mad and Cracked did many parodies over the years. Mole magazine, a short-lived humor magazine in the early 1980s, included a New Republic parody in its first issue (not exactly reaching for a wide audience with that one, I'm afraid).

Playboy itself has, naturally, been the target of many lampooners over the decades, going all the way back to the 1950s. Harvard Lampoon produced one of its most popular parodies with its 1966 parody, PL*YB*Y (which featured, among many other treasures, an interview with the Magic Eight Ball). You've got to love a magazine that lists in its next-issue section a featured interview with Christopher Robin. Very early in its run in the 1970s, National Lampoon published its Playdead parody. But it was the 1980s when the leading men's magazine faced an onslaught of parodies, including Playboy The Parody (which featured "The Girls of Penthouse" -- cute joke, that) and Playbore (whose editors seemed to rather dislike Hugh Hefner quite a bit, judging from his portrayal in the magazine).

Harvard Lampoon's still at it, of course, even well into its second decade of ruling-class humor. Last year it published its National Geographic parody (which I neglected to pick up, and have been kicking myself since), and its five-times-a-year magazine continues to be published out of the Lampoon castle near Harvard U.

And parodies are international. In the mid-1980s, there was a German-language parody of Playboy published, Playbock, which included translations of articles and photos from the English-language Playboy The Parody and Playbore, as well as original material specific to readers of the long-running German edition of Playboy. The same German parodists produced take-downs of venerable German news magazine Der Spiegel and Stern (pictured). If you don't read German, it might just be wasted paper to you, but for those who do know the language, it's proof that Germans do, after all, have a sense of humor.

What all this (and more; there've been parodies of Sports Illustrated, Time, The Economist, Fangoria, Newsweek, and tons of others) means is that a lot of other snarky writers and editors didn't let a little thing like the threat of legal action deter them from having fun in someone else's playground.

Does anyone know where I can get a copy of the Badger Herald USA Today parody?

7/27/09 UPDATE: Yes, someone does.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Esquire Whirl

William J. McGee writes an excellent review of Esquire magazine on MediaPost. He does a good job pointing out the downsides of some of the content (does anyone really need to be told how to be a man?) but also the title's strengths.

Also, Gawker jumped on the Esquire-is-in-trouble bandwagon, passing along supposed inside tips that the magazine was on its last legs and the staff was getting come-to-Jesus talks from corporate and advertisers. But at the bottom of the post, you'll find a number of updates which seem to amount to a "oh, nevermind." Rumor-mongering: live by the sword, die by the sword.

Subscribing Like It's Going out of Style

In most ways, I assume I'm behaving in this economic downturn (nice euphemism for a cataclysmic global financial panic, eh?) like everyone else. I've trimmed back expenses, held off on nonessential major purchases (thank goodness I didn't buy a new car last year when I was contemplating it) (but I can still dream), and in general tried to make sure I didn't do stupid things with my money.

But I realized today that I have increased activity in one economic area: subscriptions. Just in the past couple months, I have sent in new subscriptions to Esquire, the Financial Times, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Chicago magazine, and New Scientist. That's in addition to the magazines for which I already have subscriptions, and it brings my total subscriptions to 13.

Some of those are publications I'll read no matter what the cost is, but others have made the math irresistible. Esquire, for example, practically pays me to receive the magazine. I haven't lived in Chicago for a decade, but I still buy an issue now and then of Chicago magazine; I finally realized that a $12 annual subscription is easily paid for if I buy just three copies a year at the $4.99 cover price. Financial Times is a great newspaper that gives me news and views that is usually lacking in U.S. media. I was buying a copy or two a week, then I saw the subscription offer of 52 weeks for $99. Paying nearly $100 for a newspaper sounds like a lot of money, but it comes out to a savings if I bought just one copy a week of the paper (it does have a high cover price). So, another no-brainer decision.

So my subscription count has increased in the midst of this little economic fluster, and the biggest help has been to those publications of which I was an occasional but regular purchaser. Again, the publications I've read for decades and to which I'm particularly attached will always be on my must-buy/subscribe list as long as I'm alive and they're publishing. For the others, though, my financial considerations coincide with their circulation needs (and thus their advertising goals).

I just wanted someone to know I'm doing this for you. For the economy. For the children. Cuz I'm cheap.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

24/7 Wall Street to Esquire: Drop Dead

Once upon a time -- well, four years ago, to be exact -- I worked with a woman who had previously worked at Esquire magazine. She noted proudly how that title had come back from a near-death experience the previous decade, when it had gotten dangerously thin and was largely ignored. But she pointed to its resurgence in ad pages (and for all I know in readers, too) in recent years.

It's always nice to see a magazine return to the front lines after being written off by all and sundry. And, though I have my qualms about the current Esquire's direction, it remains a powerful and historic magazine brand, and I wish it many decades of continued life.

But I don't think Douglas A. McIntyre agrees. McIntyre writes on 24/7 Wall Street that Esquire is one of 12 major brands that will disappear. He even calls his article "Twelve Major Brands that Will Disappear."

Many of the other brands are not in publishing: Chrysler, Palm, and he goes really out on a limb and lists AIG. But he does include Architectural Digest and Borders. Borders would be a shame to lose.

But Esquire? Frankly, I don't know what Hearst will use to decide its live-or-die choices, but killing a 76-year-old magazine because of a once-in-76-years economic collapse doesn't seem smart. And I don't think Hearst got stinking rich by being stupid. At the very least, wouldn't they sell the brand? Go online-only?

McIntyre notes the magazine's more than 25 percent drop in ad pages early this year, but that's actually not out of line from recent industry-wide numbers. If he's picked up a copy of Esquire's competitors such as GQ or Playboy recently, he's noticed that they're a lot thinner, too. And the "lad magazine" competitors aren't in much better shape, those that are still around. It's called the Great Recession for a reason.

Will Esquire die? Unlikely. Will Douglas McIntyre think of a meatier subject to write about for his next article? Hopefully.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Magazines Looking for a Pony

When Ronald Reagan was in the White House, he used to tell a story about a boy who was so optimistic that when confronted with a pile of manure, he began digging enthusiastically. Asked by concerned onlookers what the heck he was doing, he replied, "With all that manure, there must be a pony in there somewhere!"

Soooooooooooo, magazine publishers took whopping big hits to their advertising revenue over the last year. According to the Publishers Information Bureau on April 14, magazine advertising revenue for 2009 Q1 was down 20.2 percent compared to the 2008 Q1. And ad pages dropped 25.9 percent during the same time frame. Some magazines were down more than 50 percent, according to Min magazine.

But if it's been so bad, then things will have to get better, right?

Well, maybe not, but hope springs eternal. Folio: reports that magazine publishers are looking for an uptick in their advertising pages -- based mostly on the belief that things have been so bad, they've got to get better. A Hearst publisher is cited saying that "there have been a lot of [advertisers'] budgets that have been held back" waiting for the right time to jump back in. "We’re beginning now to see that open up for the second half."

Hey, I hope she's right. But I suspect more than a few publishers have stopped digging.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Please Excuse This Geek-Out Moment

So, not to belabor the news about Starlog's print hiatus, but news comes from Fangoria (via a posting on Sci Fi Wire) that there will be special editions of the magazine: "Don't get too sad, friends. ... [W]e will still be publishing STARLOG special issues during the year. This is really more of a retooling then an ending."

For this and other responses (the vast majority of which are very sad and supportive, as have been most of those I've seen on other sites commenting on the change; that must warm the hearts of the Starlog folks), see Sci Fi Wire.

I promise: A non-Starlog post here soon enough.

Priced Out

It may sound counterintuitive to be able to increase a magazine's circulation after it raises prices -- even in the best of times, not to mention in a deep recession. But some magazines have found that they are able to do just that, according to an article today in The New York Times.

Titles such as People and The Economist experienced increases in readers even after hiking prices. Meanwhile, I've written here before about the dirt-cheap subscription price for Esquire, which is now cheaper on a per-copy subscription rate than the original cover price of the magazine's first issue more than 75 years ago.

In the Times article, there are some ideas expressed about why raising prices works for some titles and not others. Personally, I suspect it has to do with two things: the readers' income levels (sort of a "duh" answer, but worth noting nonetheless); and whether the magazine in question is a must-buy/first-buy or a secondary title for the reader. Magazines that I read faithfully and that have wormed their way into my heart are largely price-immune to me. But other magazines, the ones I pick up at Borders when I'm just looking for another magazine to purchase, are very price-dependent.

That second point will, I think, also determine which magazines survive this hellish recession.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reaction to Living in a Starlog-less World (print at least)

The recent news that Starlog was going online-only, at least for the moment, has naturally been commented upon pretty widely. After all, more than three decades worth of issues (and the spawning of a mini-magazine empire that included everything from baseball magazines to African-American women's magazines to car magazines and beyond) means a lot of people had contact with the title over the years. (which, if I'm reading that site correctly, is written by Mark Evanier) has what I think is a pretty solid insight into Starlog's longevity: "I was struck by generally smart, well-researched reporting that didn't pander. ... [T]here's a temptation to cater to the geeky element that such enterprises usually focus, as one of my friends once put it, on the Spock ears and not on the actor wearing them. Starlog sold to that crowd without, I'd like to think, insulting or losing those who like their journalism with a few more ounces of dignity. I always especially liked their habit of focusing on the so-called "little people" on a film or program..." itself includes links to a number of folks commenting on the change. And though this is kind of the epitome of an internet feedback loop (because the article links to my previous post on this topic), I include it here because it also has a number of other folks, such as:

Lee Goldberg's A Writer's Life blog; and

Robert Greenberger's blog. Greenberger is a former editorial staffer of Starlog and its sister publications in the early 1980s, and he was founding editor of one of my favorites, Comics Scene (which was also the magazine that first snagged the talents of longtime Starlog editor David McDonnell, if I'm not losing my memory). Anyway, read his blog post to see his views of why Starlog is going print-less while British SF magazines colonize our newsstands. (You already know my views on the subject.)

Michael Alan Dorman chimes in.

Some comments on the bulletin board of the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival and Marathon. You might have to scroll down to find where the Starlog part of the thread picks up or do a search.

The incredibly named Tombs of Kobol forum has a long line of reactions from former Starloggers.

And, finally, has this great video of a 1984 commercial for Starlog magazine. I've never seen the commercial, so it was a treat:

April 11, 2009, update: Tom Mason has written a very nice post about Starlog that's worth reading.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Last Print Starlog? reports today that the April 2009 issue of Starlog magazine (#374, pictured) will be the last, at least for now. The magazine announced "the temporary cessation of the current run of Starlog as a print magazine. After 33 years, and considering the present state of the economy, we feel its time for a major revamp and will be temporarily discontinuing publication while the model and redesign of the magazine are contemplated and executed."

I know it's probably too early to get answers, and in this economic climate, answers might not mean much because conditions change constantly in the marketplace. But since they're floating around in my head, I'll just write out my questions here: My assumption is that when a magazine "temporarily" ceases publication, it's usually permanent. So is this planned as a permanent print shutdown, or is it really a re-tooling? Also, I'm naturally excited about a revamping of the venerable magazine -- I've written here before what I thought needed doing, though I'm not so delusional that I think that's coming to fruition -- but what type of revamping is contemplated is something to wonder about. And will there be a staff changeover? Are longtime editor David McDonnell, managing editor Alan Dart, and art director Heiner Feil out of the picture?

For those of you not in publishing, you might feel tempted to be skeptical about the allusion to the state of the economy and think it's only an excuse, but the economy is very bad for publishing, and the printing and distribution infrastructure in this country for periodicals has -- in my humble opinion -- basically broken down. Even my own magazine has combined issues for this next year to bring our frequency down from 12 to 10 times, saving a lot of money in the process.

The report does state that the final issue in this run of Starlog will be available on its web site in digital format, which is a good move. It is a "modern" thing to do for a magazine that once called itself "the magazine of the future." But on a selfish angle, it's also what I've always wanted from magazines I've liked that have closed up shop (er, temporarily). In addition, the entire run of the magazine will be digitally available on the site at some point in the future, and that's also exciting news.

With the recent relaunch of, there's reason to hope that the outcome for the magazine/brand will be positive and bright, and I'm looking forward to it. There are many ways to launch/relaunch/continue a print magazine today, including one of my personal favorites, the HP-run MagCloud (basically a print-on-demand magazine that's no cost to the publisher). There are also magazines that are distributing only digitally (or digitally in addition to print). Publishers will have to decide whether the persistence of a print magazine on a person's coffee table or bedside can be replicated by an online-only product (and hence I think MagCloud may offer a good future, especially if they can bring down their high per-page costs). But that's their calculation to make.

As for me, I'll just keep anticipating the future.

April 10, 2009: Update.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Reason

James Warren writes a regular roundup of magazines for Huffington Post. I've read his magazine roundups for years (for many years), going back to my time in Chicago in the 1990s. So I'm glad to see him marry the new media of HuffPo with old media: print magazines!

Anyway, Warren writes that the current issue of The New Republic includes an article about "Why Did New York Stop Growing Basketball Stars?"

And that's pretty much all you need to read to remember why you no longer read The New Republic. Even if I followed basketball, which I don't, I can't imagine why I'd care what the answer is to that question.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Magazine news: Help! I'm Shrinking!

Like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, the magazine industry is getting smaller and smaller.

Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it is shrinking, and I really wanted to get the Wicked Witch thing in there. (Go ahead, click on the link above; it's worth it.)

Anyway, the New York Post's Keith J. Kelly says the magazine industry is becoming like Germany or other advanced Euro economies, whose populations are declining because births and immigration are outnumbered by deaths. (Okay, he didn't use the Europe-as-magazine-industry analogy, I did. But I'm trying to offer something for the people who didn't climb aboard for the Wicked Witch thing.)

The point is, as Kelly writes, "For the first time in memory, the magazine death rate has surpassed the magazine birth rate." He's referring to the vicious slaughterhouse that was the publishing economy of the first quarter of this year, in which the number of magazines that died just slightly outnumbered the new-birth rate.

It's sort of like ...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Twilight of the Lad Magazines, Part II

After 14 years, the UK edition of lad magazine Maxim is discontinuing its print existence and will become an online-only operation, reports The Guardian. The U.S. edition will expand its newsstand coverage to include the UK.

According to The Guardian's report, Maxim's circulation has been sliding for years, but it took a hit of more than 41 percent in the second half of 2008.

Also see "Twilight of the Lad Magazines" part I.