Saturday, May 30, 2009

Maybe, Maybe Not

I've decided not to keep posting every possible twist in the is-it-for-sale-or-isn't-it saga of Playboy Enterprises. After Virgin owner Richard Branson was rumored (since he's British, he must have been rumoured) to be interested in buying the venerable media company, Virgin Group issued a statement saying it was not interested in the purchase. Just too many things going on to keep up with it here. And since everyone's denying everything, and since new companies are regularly mentioned as purchasers/investors, we probably won't know anything until Magna is announced as the winning bidder.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Special 200th Blog Post: '77 Movie Trailer

This is the 200th post I've written for this blog, so to celebrate, I'm embedding this video courtesy of the folks at It's a trailer for an upcoming movie that looks like it's fun, inspiring, funny, touching -- and a reminder of the joys and pains of teenage science fiction geekhood.

You also might want to check out James Zahn's article providing background to the movie and a including a short Q&A with '77 creator Patrick Read Johnson.

Resurrected Magazines

Jason Fell blogs over at Folio: about magazines that died, only to be brought back to life. No, this resurrection story is not an update on my post yesterday about Christian magazines. It's about some mostly small magazines that scrounged up new financing and relaunched their print editions.

Longtime reader(s) of this blog know my favored candidate for resurrection, and my not-favored candidates. But none of that really matters. I'm sure we'll just see another %$@* revival of Radar: The Magazine the Marketplace Could not Kill.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Christianity Today Ends Four Publications

Christianity Today International, a nonprofit religious publisher based in the Chicago suburbs, announced the cancellation of four titles, Folio: reports.

Referring to a "perfect publishing storm," CTI's president and publisher Harold B. Smith announced the closure of Today’s Christian Woman, the Church Office Today newsletter, the Campus Life College Guide, and Glimpses. This follows the closure of two other CTI publications, Ignite Your Faith and Marriage Partnership, in January. Thirty people will be laid off as a result of the latest cancellations.

Smith had kind words for the people being laid off: "The impact on employees who are truly gifted — and the impact on the church as a whole — is a sobering reality for me and the entire CTI team that remains." That might be taken as required corporate-speak coming from most publishers, but I can attest from experience that it's heart-felt coming from CTI. (I had a one-year internship at CTI in the early 1990s, during which I learned that, first of all, I'm not an evangelical, but second, CTI treats its employees -- including interns -- better than any other company for which I've worked; it doesn't pay very well, but it's open, irenic in disagreements, professional in all dealings, encouraging to young staffers, and I think it deserves a lot of publishing respect even from folks who don't agree with its expressed faith.)

CTI was founded in 1956 by Billy Graham and is generally regarded as the leading publisher of mainstream evangelical Christianity in the United States. Its flagship magazine, Christianity Today, has a circulation of about 150,000. In his announcement, Smith noted the continuing strengths of Christianity Today and Leadership (a magazine for church leaders). "These iconic brands, along with the myriad web properties tied to them, will once again point the way for this ministry in the days, months, and years to come," he predicted.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Playboy for Sale? For $300 Million, Perhaps

The New York Post's magazine columnist Keith Kelly reports that the Playboy empire "is quietly being shopped around for $300 million," but there haven't yet been any takers. If Kelly's report (based on his industry sources) is true, then earlier suggestions that all that sale talk wasn't real was itself not real.

Playboy Enterprises Inc. interim Chair/CEO Jerome Kern hasn't, of course, contacted me to buy the company (an oversight, I'm sure) (though, come to think of it, he also didn't contact me about the search for a permanent replacement for former Chair/CEO Christie Hefner; hmmmm...), but there's got to be a buyer out there somewhere for this. (Remember all the interest in acquiring Penthouse from bankruptcy, and that company was a basket case? Playboy's not.) My guess is that the challenge will be finding a buyer or investor who can work the ownership and editorial needs of Hugh Hefner, who still owns most of the voting shares (and whom Kelly says recently lamented taking his company public in the 1970s as his biggest regret).

Update: Playboy spokesperson denies the company's being shopped around, according to Crain's Chicago Business. So are Keith Kelly's sources full of hot air or is Playboy trying to keep it ultra-quiet?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Samir Husni on Old and New Newsweek

Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine," gives some interesting perspective to the newly redesigned Newsweek magazine. In his blog, he compares the redesigned magazine with the original magazine back in 1933, noting similarities in sections, treatment of news, and other things.

BTW, his blog is a great source of expert opinions on the periodicals business. He's the very respected chair of the University of Mississippi's Journalism Department.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Portfolio Reborn Online

Following the death of Condé Nast Portfolio magazine, the company has shifted operations at the former mag's web site and will relaunch it from a separate division, the American City Business Journals. John Koblin reports from the New York Observer that there will be five editorial staffers on the site, at least initially, and the "Condé Nast" will disappear from the name.

The New Newsweek

The redesigned (and redefined?) Newsweek magazine debuted this week, and there are many welcome developments in it.

No longer a Time clone, the revamped magazine also avoids making the mistake of being an Economist clone. That had been one of my big worries when I heard that the magazine was going for a smaller audience and refocusing on being a thought leader, like The Economist. We've already got an Economist; we don't need two of them. Newsweek's traditional strength is as a trusted new source with high standards that gets the inside story. I think they've built on that strength in the redesign, for the most part.

There are a lot of columns -- a bit of overkill, in my opinion, but not fatal. (Let's not bicker about whether "overkill" isn't inherently "fatal," okay?) There are the expected voices of Fareed Zakaria (the man who's single-handedly dedicated to calmly reminding Americans that the rest of the world exists and that it's okay) and George Will (the man who's single-handedly dyspeptic). There's also a religion column that features public relations specialists telling the pope how to improve his street cred; it's a weak article that misses the point of organized religion, as does most religion reporting (and no, I'm not Catholic). More interesting to me was, opposite the religion column, a full-page advertisement from the United Methodist Church. That raises the important question: The Methodist Church has money?

I could have done without four pages devoted to inane chatter with American Idol contestants. Leave that to People or In Touch Weekly. But more welcome (and more useful and important) are a lengthy article on futurist Ray Kurtweil, a profile of a man with Asperger syndrome, and a report on an African warlord. Add to that the expected newsweekly content (a report on George W. Bush returning home after leaving office, an interview with President Barack Obama, in which we learn that he can do the Vulcan hand salute), and you get a magazine worth reading while you put your feet up and dig in.

The editors and publishers of Newsweek have understood the most important thing about revamping a magazine for the internet age: A print publication needs to be wordy; designed for readers, not lookers; provide in-depth material that people are unlikely to read online; be high-value, not cheapened low-value.

I used to do weekly counts on this blog of the numbers of pages in Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, and Focus, as a way of noting how few pages and how little substantive content American news magazines were delivering, compared to the thick and substantive German newsweeklies. The new Newsweek doesn't come in at a table-thumping 170-something pages, like Der Spiegel (which is actually a relatively thin issue of Der Spiegel), but at 96 pages (including covers), the May 25, 2009, Newsweek is worth a look.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Latest Shopping Spree

My stack of partially read periodicals grows, weighted down by my latest trips to the bookstores. At this rate, reading my magazines will become a full-time occupation. Or maybe I just need to start reading thinner magazines ...

Monocle number 23: Everything from kindergarten design to how the Danish navy (they have one?) is busy fighting pirates. Plus a report on terrorist funding methods, some manga, and -- shocker! -- Switzerland has efficient railroads.

The Advocate June/July 2009: Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) is the coverboy for an issue featuring a profile of him. There's also an extended special section profiling gay leaders under the age of 40. Not to mention lots of travel and some food info, reports on gay pride celebrations around the world, and a look at American Idol's maybe-gay finalist.

Der Spiegel Geschichte: A stunningly beautiful history magazine ("geschichte" is German for "history"), this issue is entirely devoted to the story of the end of the Roman empire and the not-too-minor role played by the Germans in wrapping up that chapter of history. The magazine's written completely in German, but it's almost worth the cover price just for all of the great photos and illustrations for those who don't understand German. Or it's a good incentive to brush up on your high school foreign language. It's published by Der Spiegel, the giant German newsweekly that is a favorite of mine for its high quality, in-depth reports, and lack of cover stories on Britney Spears.

Analog July/August 2009: A special double issue (which is part of its normal print schedule -- Analog publishes two double issues each year -- not a recession-induced doubling of summer issues, about which I wrote earlier), featuring tons of short stories (by Barry B. Longyear, Daniel Hatch, etc.) I hope I have the time to actually read.

Timeto hit the books.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When Is a Magazine not a Magazine?

Setting aside for the moment all of the blowhard arguments about whether and how print magazines should adapt to the internet, the Wall Street Journal today has an interesting article about magazines that seem just a wee bit un-magaziney. For example: A magazine that comes in a sealed can each month, filled with various objects related to that month's topic. Or T-Post, a "multimedia magazine" that is really a t-shirt that bears a true story on the inside and an artist's interpretation of that story on the outside.

And so on. The Journal's story wasn't necessarily an exhortation for all print magazines to follow those, er, leaders. It was more a report on some fringe artists who are stretching the boundaries of what can be called a magazine.

I won't try to play semanticist here. You can call a Ford Thunderbird a magazine if you want and it won't bother me. And while none of the magazines profiled in the Journal article in the least bit interest me as a potential reader (because, frankly, there doesn't seem to be much to read; it's art, not publishing), I do appreciate their willingness to rethink what can be done on an established model.

In less grandiose ways, smart magazines have long done things that went beyond the expectations of their readers. Anyone remember science fiction magazine Starlog including a pull-out modular kit to build a 3-D structure? British magazines, such as music mag Mojo, throw in lots of extras with magazines, including CDs and books. With magazines I've bought on newsstands or received via subscriptions over the years, I've received trading cards, VHS cassettes (for a British science fiction program, so it won't work on my old VCR), DVDs, posters, maps, blueprints, model kits, little action figures, free copies of other magazines, and of course books and CDs.

In general, these things are included to boost newsstand sales or to keep subscribers loyal. That's not quite the same as reinventing or reimagining the very concept of a magazine. But hey, it enlivens the sometimes mundane cycle of producing or consuming a periodical.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Special Best-of Edition: Oscar the Deadly Cat

I don't get it. I mean, it's a funny cartoon, playing off the news that a cat at a nursing home was always able to figure out which resident was next to die and it would spend time with them, presumably comforting them. (Then again, it's a cat, so it might have been awaiting dinner.)

But this is why I am so gobsmacked: This cartoon (first published here on August 3, 2007) is the single most-viewed item on this blog. It's also the single most-viewed image from my main web site, which hosts cartoonist Lyle Lahey's political cartoons (see it here).

Over the past couple years, tens of thousands of people have accessed this cartoon and viewed it. That makes it far and away the most popular cartoon or post or article I've ever posted on any of my web sites or blogs.

Just thought I'd establish that.

Finding Something to Read: The Summer of Double Issues

The Advocate, a gay news and features magazine that switched from semi-monthly frequency to monthly not long ago, has combined its June and July issues into a double issue. It's part of a trend, of course. Playboy is combining its July and August issues (with, reportedly, two centerfolds just to keep up the annual total). My own magazine is combining July and August issues, though without a centerfold. Others have already done so or will in the near term, as advertisers decide whether to return to their pages.

This is all part of the urgent need by publishers to cut costs. Printing and mailing each issue of a magazine is terrifically expensive, so merging two into one can help plug large budget holes, even if the "double issue" has more pages than a normal issue of the magazine. It'll be interesting to find out if newsstand magazines get overall higher per-issue sales figures, because the issue will be on the stands longer. I'm also curious whether all of the magazines that are combining issues and calling them "double issues" will actually have more pages in them than their typical issues. (Yes, my mag will be doing that, and the double Advocate is a satisfying 124 pages, including covers; we'll wait to see about Playboy.) Usually, there are extra pages, but almost never are they double the normal page count. (See a short note on the subject from FAT magazine.) It may not matter; readers don't always understand what a double issue is anyway.

In these days of Kate Moss-thin magazines, I'm looking forward to a few that are thicker than normal and filled with stuff that takes more than 10 minutes to read. But if this recession deepens, maybe we'll see triple issues in the not-too-distant future ...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

David Geffen and The New York Times

Film industry billionaire David Geffen wants to buy The New York Times. Not a copy here or there; not subscribe so it’ll be delivered to his doorstep every morning. No, Geffen wants to buy The New York Times Company.

That may seem like an odd thing for a successful businessman to desire. With print news organizations suffering from a mix of economic crisis, the loss of their cash-cow classified advertising business, and some poor decision-making, we’ve already seen some major changes in the newspaper landscape in this country, and we can expect to see some more. The Tribune Company, owners of the Chicago Tribune and more recently (and controversially) of the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy after it was bought in a debt-laden deal by real estate billionaire Sam Zell. The San Francisco Chronicle reportedly just barely escaped being closed or sold for parts, and the Boston Globe is losing more than $80 million a year.

Huge debt overloads, depressed advertising revenue, and still largely unproven online revenue models have driven a number of papers to the brink of insolvency. Newspapers were traditionally very profitable ventures, and in turn they play crucial roles in informing, uncovering, entertaining, and occasionally provoking citizens. Is the for-profit life of papers over? Can citizens get the news and critical information they need from the new wave of journalism ventures?

One such is the brand new East Bay Citizen, a news blog created and just launched by Steven Tavares. It takes its inspiration from the idea that hyperlocal news is not covered well by the aging and money-losing giant news organizations. Tavares predicts the growth of many very localized news sources to fill in the gap.

But Times is a different animal, a local newspaper that has become a national and even international news brand. What can be done with it?

Geffen is planning to turn The New York Times into a nonprofit news organization, according to a report in Newsweek. The idea has been implemented elsewhere, such as the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, which has been run by a nonprofit for decades. Newsweek says that its sources tell it that Geffen "envisions himself as the next Nelson Poynter, the late proprietor of the St. Petersburg Times and a legend in journalistic circles for his fierce independence. The Florida newspaper ... is the widely recognized prototype of the nonprofit structure that is now generating growing interest in some quarters of an industry facing an existential crisis. Poynter, who died in 1978, willed his control to the nonprofit and highly influential Poynter Institute, viewing the mechanism as the optimal way of preserving the St. Petersburg Times' independence and local ownership. Today, under the complex ownership structure, the St. Petersburg Times operates in many respects like a for-profit newspaper."

Would it work for The New York Times? First of all, Geffen's not even assured of gaining control. He failed in a bid to buy a minority interest in the company. And The Financial Times' John Gapper urges The New York Times' Ochs-Sulzberger family, which controls ownership of the firm, not to sell until they've returned it to profitability. A May 16 profile in Financial Times suggests that Geffen's outlook and unlikely success just might make the Ochs-Sulzberger clan look kindly upon him.

But the effort is likely to be watched intently, including by northern Californians.

"Here in the Bay Area, a group led by investor Warren Hellman and attorney Bill Coblentz has been discussing how to preserve the Chronicle by changing its business model," Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy wrote in her May 2009 InSight column in The Commonwealth magazine. "Active consideration has been taking place in the philanthropic community about what donors can do to help preserve media capabilities to inform the public about important societal issues."

"I would make an appeal, to every philanthropy at all levels, and lay it all on the line," journalism legend Jim Lehrer told Duffy during an April 5, 2009, Commonwealth Club program in Lafayette. "This is important. And I would try to figure out a way to create a serious nonprofit major news-gathering organization for everybody. In other words, you would do the Walter Reed [Army Hospital] story, but you wouldn't do it just for the Washington Post -- anybody could run it." He went on to describe a news service that would be available to everybody at no cost. It would have to be constructed in a way that "it has the trust of everybody. But it would have to be serious; you'd have to be willing to break some china every once in a while. Or otherwise, forget it."

Perhaps Geffen and Lehrer will sit down together to discuss the future of news. In the meantime, you can watch the entire Lehrer-Duffy conversation here:

This is a slightly reworked post I originally wrote on the Commonwealth Club of California's blog.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Magazine News Updates

Phil Kim is clarifying earlier reports that he won a "summary judgement" in his -- let's just say "interesting" -- legal battle with Ray Ferry over the rights to the legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland title. On his web site, he writes that the judge handed out a "temporary injunction," not a summary judgement.

He adds that he, Ferry, and Connie Beane came up with their own mutual agreement to settle the matter. Kim writes that "at the request of all parties involved," he is clarifying the earlier report. Sounds like legal hell to me, but hey, a clarification's a clarification.

This updates a previous post here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Times Are Tough, Get Bigger, not Smaller

Good Housekeeping is going to increase the physical dimensions of its magazine (its trim size, in industry lingo) and increase its cover price, reports Folio:. Its January 2010 issue will be the first to sport a size of 8.25 x 10.875 inches (up from its current 7.875 x 10.5 inches). Cover price will increase 99 cents from $2.50 to $3.49 (still very cheap by magazine standards).

Bravo! I think one of the worst things magazines do is reduce, reduce, reduce in attempts to save money and cut costs. (ahem, Rolling Stone.) Magazines become thinner, smaller, print on cheaper paper, and include less content, and their costs still usually increase.

It's like the 1970s all over again. That was a decade in which everything got more expensive, smaller, and worse. Candy bars (okay, I was a child in the 1970s, so my perspective wasn't really on Rolling Stone and Good Housekeeping) got smaller and they cost more and there were fewer types of them.

Let's see innovation and growth instead. If I'm paying money for a magazine, I'll pay another dollar or two for one I want, if I get more for it. Since Playboy is reportedly considering raising prices, which I think is a good move, they should also consider increasing the trim size of the mag. After all, even many foreign editions of Playboy sport larger sizes (see the German edition, for example). Make the magazine stand out on the newsstands, and send the message that the magazine -- whatever magazine it is -- is confident enough in what it has to sell that it's willing to be bold, demand fair payment from customers, and escape from the path of ever-smaller, ever -thinner, ever-worse.

Good is better than worse.

Condé Nast Cleans up at SPD Awards

Wired and GQ magazines both were handsomely rewarded last week for being handsome at the Society of Publication Designers awards ceremony. Blogger Stephanie reports on MediaBistro's Unbeige blog that GQ took home 11 awards, Wired eight.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Updates: Mavety, Playboy, Condé Nast

The Chicago Tribune follows up its report on upcoming major changes at Playboy magazine with some comments from PEI interim CEO/Chairman Jerome Kern: "I envision having a magazine. ... I don’t want a magazine that’s ... in intensive care. I want a magazine that stands for the brand [and] is out with the public, but isn't going to eat us alive. That's what we're trying to figure out." So that could be good; that could mean they're looking for a path to producing a quality magazine without busting the budget. My broken-record advice is to focus on great articles; the photos aren't going to sell long-time readers.

By the time you read this, PEI might have already appointed a permanent CEO. I'm figuring it'll be someone hispanic and female. Oh, wait, that's the Supreme Court justice...

And, just for the hell of it, former Partridge Family star Shirley Jones is being touted (by her husband) as a Playboy model. I don't makes them up; I just reports them.

The news that publisher Mavety Media Group is putting to sleep its entire line of gay skin mags has rocketed around the blogosphere. Tim1965 provides a rundown of the state of the genre publishing field.

Meanwhile, offers an elegy for Mavety's titles.

Made in Brazil thinks Conde Nast's Men's Vogue is a waste.

Big Dumb Object -- which I think is just a damn great title for a blog or a band -- has some thoughts on Wired mag, and a reader even mentions one of my favorite oldies: Future Life magazine.

More later. Good night.

Fangoria Shows How It's Done

Roger Corman!

It's not often that a magazine really impresses me with big name after big name in its pages. I think you'd have to go back to the old Playboys of the late 1960s, early 1970s when sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices would write articles in the same issues where you'd find also find contributions from the biggest authors, entertainers, U.S. senators, and even philosophers and clergy in the country. So let me put forth the latest magazine that really impressed me: The 30th anniversary issue of horror film bible Fangoria.

As I paged through the 100-page special issue, I kept getting surprised by each new name I saw, either someone interviewed or even the authors of articles. There's director Joe Dante writing a tribute to Italian film master Mario Bava. John Landis (John Landis!) writing an appreciation of Jamie Lee Curtis. Director Mick Garris does the honors for Stephen King, Roger Corman does Vincent Price, Virginia Madsen does Christopher Walken, and on and on and on. And then there are the people who were either interviewed about themselves or who wrote about themselves for the magazine: Bill Paxton, Udo Kier, Tobe Hooper, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg, Bruce Campbell, and of course on and on. There are also personal anecdotes by or about the people who have built the magazine over the years, including former publisher Kerry O'Quinn, former editor Ed Naha (also a former editor of the long-defunct Future Life from the same publishing house), former editors Bob Martin and David McDonnell (who's also the longtime editor of Starlog), and others. Oh, heck, there's even an original cover painting by Clive Barker.

When I've written on this blog before about my impatience with magazines that don't appear to even be trying, this is the antidote. Fangoria ("Fango" to the faithful) has really flexed its muscles with this issue, showing why horror fans need to pay attention to it. That's a successful effort. Congrats -- on the anniversary issue and on the three decades.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More on the Playboy Situation

Folio: has more background info on the expected cuts in circulation, frequency, and rate base at Playboy magazine. I'm pleased to see that, as I implored here yesterday, price increases are considered for part of the solution.

It still remains to be seen if the content of the magazine will be gutted or debased. One is seldom optimistic when it's being determined by corporate board types. But interim Chairman and CEO Jerome Kern comes across as a bit more positive in the Folio: article than he did in the Chicago Tribune article I quoted yesterday. Folio: quotes him saying, "Despite a first quarter that was weaker than last year … we believe the magazine's bottom line will improve in 2009 versus last year. This performance is still not acceptable, however, and we expect to continue making changes that will lead to further improvements in the magazine's financial results."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mavety Puts Gay Mags out of Their Misery

Can't say I am surprised. Can't say it'll make much difference in the publishing world. Can't say they'll be much missed, probably even by their regular readers. But Matthew Rettenmund blogs that Mavety Media Group canceled all of its gay magazine titles earlier today. And "gay magazine titles" here means magazines that were made up of nude pictures of men, erotic fiction, and porn ads ad nauseum. And that's it.

So the publishing world has lost such venerable titles as Mandate, Inches, Playguy, Honcho, and Torso. But before you sit shiva for these magazines, just think that they didn't really have anything to offer. As nothing more than porn mags, they really lacked anything with which to combat all of the free online porn out there.

Rettenmund, who besides being a very readable blogger and the author of Boy Culture and Blind Items: A Novel is also a veteran of the Mavety publishing world. He provides interesting background both on life inside the Mavety publishing family (such as the Christian ad sales rep) and on the gay magazine industry. It's almost enough to make one sorry to see these magazines go ... but no. They were a disappointment for anyone who's interested in what magazines can be when they really try.

But now everyone can trade up and subscribe to Winq, so there's an upside.

Playboy to Cut Issues, Circulation, Ad Rates?

Look for Playboy magazine to combine two issues into one this year to save printing and postage costs. That's just one of several "radical" changes the 55-year-old periodical is considering as it reacts to the vicious downturn in the economy (amidst a continuing slump in circulation, though still at about 2.5 million), according to a report in today's Chicago Tribune:
Playboy plans to combine its July and August issues into a single edition to reduce printing and distribution costs, and it is looking at trimming its circulation and reducing its advertising rates, officials said. Playboy is also planning to roll out a redesign in its June edition aimed at bringing a "younger and fresher look to the magazine," [interim chairman Jerome] Kern said.
Leaving aside the fact that the magazine did a redesign starting with its January issue, does anyone really think the problem is the magazine's design? Furthermore, must we really take seriously this "younger and fresher" silliness? Didn't we learn from the days earlier this decade when the magazine was rumored to be trying to ditch its readers who were over the age of 25?

If they want to cut circulation, might I suggest they raise prices? Stop selling subscriptions at such cheap rates. Raise the cover price. That'll naturally deter some readers, which is apparently the new goal. And it'll also bring in more revenue. Make it a reader's magazine again. Beef up the content; don't kill it.

Oh, and for the hundredth time: Do something about the advertising situation. With 2.5 million in circ, the mag should certainly get more ads than GQ or Esquire, both of which are well south of a million.

500th Mad: The Next 500 Will Come VERY SLOOOWWWLYY

While surfing over the magazine covers at my local Borders yesterday, I noticed the current issue of Mad magazine. It was, according to the giant text on the cover (well, you can see it for yourself at left), the 500th issue of the magazine.

I've never been a Mad reader, even when I was in its target readership group (which is, what, anyway? grade school? junior high?) I kind of skipped it and its ilk (Crazy, Cracked, etc.) and went right to National Lampoon. Nevertheless, I was saddened to see that Mad is now published only quarterly (with another quarterly made up of best-of material). Does anyone actually subscribe to a quarterly magazine? Don't you forget you've subscribed during the time it takes for the next issue to arrive in your mailbox?

Anyway, at this pace, it'll be a looooong time before it publishes another 500 issues.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Favorite Issues: Starlog, National Lampoon, Playboy, Comics Scene

... in which our intrepid blogger wastes your time by telling you about significant issues of magazines he's liked. The first in a series.

National Lampoon, June 1972: A decade before I would begin to read the magazine (in what turned out to be its twilight period of creativity), National Lampoon's June 1972 issue featured a science fiction theme. A short, bad-taste story by Theodore Sturgeon. A surprisingly touching Martian visit with twisted cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Some sharply written fake news. A fun (and yes, very juvenile) look at the last days of Star Trek. Lots of comics. And much, much more in this 100-page magazine. Oh, wait -- I didn't even mention the incredible alien crucifixion cover painting by the incredible Frank Frazetta.

Starlog #24, July 1979: Regular readers (er, "reader"?) of this blog know my affection for this magazine. I also have great affection for its old annual July anniversary issues, 100-page specials chock full of special features. The July 1979 issue actually was published more than a year before I became a reader of Starlog, but it includes everything that I think made the magazine great. When it was great, it was very great. We have special anniversary features: a two-page editorial by co-publisher Kerry O'Quinn giving a lot of the background to the magazine and the people who put it together; a full-color special section reviewing the previous year's important science fiction films, television programs, special effects, and space art; congratulatory notes from famous people; an index to the mag's first three years. We have the usual strengths of the magazine: interviews, previews of television programs and films. And, of course, there's the extra-special touches that told me, the reader, that I was reading something of note: a special cover design; a two-page contents page (featuring a rare photo collage by the editor, Howard Zimmerman). And more, more, more. These days when the British SF magazines regularly publish issues with 132, 148, and even 180 pages, it may be hard to understand how a 100-pager could be noteworthy. But it was, and it was the kind of annual that readers anticipated for a couple months each year. And it delivered.

Playboy, June 1983: Why would a gay man have a favorite issue of Playboy? Try this: A big interview with Stephen King. A preview of a new movie from a group I was just beginning to discover, Monty Python. Fiction by SF great Robert Silverberg. An article by George Burns. A humorous look at the future of Star Wars. A pull-no-punches critique of President Ronald Reagan's conduct in office. Not a bad mix, especially when added to tons of info on books, movies, politics (an expose on the Pulitzer clan), profiles, comics, and so much more, all in a 270-page magazine. When people today express impatience with the idea of print magazines because everyone can read bite-sized pieces of info online, this issue of Playboy is one good counter to their delusions. It was from a time when a magazine could count on readers having intelligence and attention spans longer than five minutes. It was a magazine for readers. And this wasn't even one of the annual 300-plus-page holiday or anniversary issues.

Comics Scene #3, September 2000: This was the third incarnation of Comics Scene, and each incarnation had issues that stood out. But this 100-page magazine had everthing. An interview with the legendary Will Eisner (plus a portfolio of his artwork). Columns, editorials, previews of comics-related (and/or animated) films, interviews with comics creators, and fold-outs with extended illustrations and photos. A magazine you could really sink your teeth into. One of my favorite bits of any of the Comics Scenes is the interviews with creators of lesser-known comics. I've never been a superhero comics fan, nor did I grow up reading comics. I got into comics when I was in my early teens, discovering Marvel's Epic Illustrated and National Lampoon's Heavy Metal, so I guess my tastes were more adult and independent than the kiddie stuff. (I'll have to cover HM and Epic in future installments of "My Favorite Issues.") No problem. Comics Scene catered to everyone, and I discovered a lot of interesting cartoonists in its pages. In this issue, I learned about Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which featured an interview plus a four-page foldout of his work. Fun and informative. What more could I ask?

Future installments coming.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Star Trek Conquers the Newsstand, Part II

And more. Also read the review of the new movie from David McDonnell, longtime Starlog magazine editor.

Star Trek Film Conquers the Newsstand

The movie that's impossible to ignore (not that I'm trying) is J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, which opens this week. The movie's PR crew should be getting a big bonus this year, regardless of how the film does at the box office, because the photos of the new James Kirk and Spock and Uhura and others are plastered on the covers of many magazines, including some unexpected places.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The [James] Warren Report

The latest Huffington Post magazine roundup column by James Warren. This week: The Economist, Sports Illustrated, The Nation, The New Yorker, Newsweek, the New York Review of Books, and more.

Which mag will you buy this week?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Winq: New Magazine Covering Global Gay Culture

I thought its title was "wing," but that didn't matter much. The real title is "winq," and that makes as much sense for an international gay magazine as "wing." So I bought the magazine, and have been impressed so far. It's been a long time since I've found a new magazine that actually impresses me with its quality and originality.

Yes, it's a new magazine. The issue I purchased was actually the second (spring 2009) American edition of a magazine from the Netherlands. The Dutch edition has been around for twenty-something issues, so it's a new/old magazine, but nonetheless it's a print magazine launch in the recession-rocked United States. It's new to us, as they say.

This is a magazine that could teach American magazines a thing or two. At $7.95 and 148 pages (including covers), it's a good value and it also sports some solid advertising support (but not overpowering; it's ad-edit ratio must be very low): Lufthansa, Dsquared, Dirk Bikkembergs, Adidas, Giorgio Armani, Wrangler, and others. The next thing you notice about Winq is that its interior pages are high-quality, uncoated, full-color paper. The layout, design, and production seem to be top-quality, and the articles are an interesting collection that range from the political (a look at Obama and equal rights) to the surprising (a profile of a gay prince in India) to the expected (an overview of famous rich gays around the world) to the juvenile (a look at how people use sex talk around the world).

There are also a couple photo spreads of lightly clad men, but there's no nudity. This is a magazine that can be left on the coffee table, unless you are having Miss California over for dinner.

Overall, its quality and originality caught my eye. It is doing something that other gay magazines are not doing, either by choice or lack of vision and abilities. American gay periodicals are either all-sex-and-nudity, or they're aimed at a very small portion of the gay audience, which takes narrow-casting to an extreme. Any time you take a small enough audience (gay men, classical music afficionados, comics readers, Catholic social workers), there's the danger that the publication will be overly narrow in viewpoint. The topics aren't narrow; the viewpoints expressed in articles usually are, because there simply isn't a large enough pool of writing talent on staff. So Winq solves that by being the magazine of "global queer culture," and it's an approach that can probably be used by other magazines, gay or straight. In fact, it is being used by a monthly news-and-business magazine called Monocle, which brings to American audiences ideas and news and culture from around the globe.

There are other attempts at bringing American gay readers something different, but distribution seems to be a challenge to them. Mate magazine is a German gay publication that also produces an English-language edition. It's high quality and features a lot of good coverage of style and travel, but the magazine is hard to find. And British publications such as Gay Times aren't really global magazines; they are thoroughly British in outlook, they just have distribution in the United States.

So, welcome to Winq. I don't know how long it'll survive in the United States, but while it does, I hope it encourages other publishers in niche markets to aim high in quality and higher in originality.

UPDATE 3/27/11: Winq and Mate magazines team up.

The Living Dead

There is no elephant grave yard for periodicals, no place magazines go when they prepare to die. As a recent visit to a San Francisco bookstore showed, magazines don't go away, even after cancellation. Some of them, at least, keep getting sold, and sold, and sold.

(Magazines in question: Best Life, Anime Insider, Starlog, and Portfolio.) They still live among us ...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ellie Awards -- Esquire Beats GQ

So, after all of the attention to the large number of Ellie award (magazine industry awards) nominations that went to GQ, it turns out that GQ won a total of one (for photography), while competitor (and supposed death-bedder) Esquire won three. Both magazines earned numerous finalist positions in various categories.

Other magazines large (Reader's Digest) and small (Print) also won, including the storied New Yorker. Read the full list from the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Folio: reports that the ceremony was more subdued this year, in the wake of massive magazine cancellations, layoffs, and pay cuts. But there was still room for an edge, Folio: writes: "Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith delivered the best acceptance speech of the night, thanking everyone from George W. Bush and Karl Rove to 'chainsaw-wielding murderers' and Willie Nelson, for making the job of covering the state of Texas an 'easy' one. (Texas Monthly won for general excellence, 250,000 to 500,000 circulation.)"

By "chainsaw wielding murderers," I assume he meant Dick Cheney.

Anywho, to put the final damper on the evening, The New York Times reports that winning Ellies doesn't matter much anyway: They don't necessarily result in ad-page growth. Now I don't feel bad about not winning.