Monday, August 31, 2009

Just won a Starlog drawing for Smallville DVDs. Next stop: Mega-Millions!

I was just notified that I won a copy of Smallville Season 8 on DVD from a free drawing on

In previous years, I've won from Starlog or its scream sister Fangoria the following: A Fangoria mousepad, a Terminator poster, a Farscape DVD, a Charles Band DVD collection, and now the Smallville DVD.

Seriously, folks, you've got to start entering these drawings: Starlog. Fangoria.

SF Examiner Saves Money, Cancels Spell-Check

The front page of this morning's San Francisco Examiner, the Left Coast's own little right-wing tabloid, gives us a preview of what journalism will be like in the next year or two, as newspapers lay off more and more of their staff. See the cover above to witness their spell-check problems. Or perhaps it's a result of California's education system. I don't know; the mind boggles at all of the snarky comments I could make.

And yet ... I have sympathy. When I was an editor at my independent college daily, The Badger Herald, we once ended up in a journalism magazine's department displaying embarrassing headlines and bad prose. And The Onion, when it was only a University of Wisconsin-Madison coupon-supported humor rag, made great sport of the Herald's copy editing challenges.

But, enjoy a print newspaper while you can.

Why Is Disney Buying Marvel Comics? has a short note that media giant Disney has purchased Marvel Comics for about $4 billion.

The New York Times reports that "Isaac Perlmutter, Marvel’s chief executive, will continue to oversee his company’s properties, including more than 5,000 characters that also include Iron Man and the X-Men." So who knows what Disney has in store for the creation of new characters or the print side of the Marvel comics universe, but it will certainly put it in a great position to exploit the characters in film and television. In the past decade, there have been numerous wildly successful Marvel movies, including the X-Men and Spiderman series and the first Ironman.

So it'll be great for business. Time will tell if it will be great for readers and other audiences.

UPDATE at 7:15 am: The Wall Street Journal posted the official press release. Read it here. In it, Walt Disney chief Robert Iger says those magic words that make fans' hearts go pitter-patter: "We believe that adding Marvel to Disney's unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation." Which means, they'll get richer. But hey, if it gives a sound financial backing to a major comics publisher, who's really going to complain?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Reviews: District 9 and Julie & Julia

See my main web site for the reviews of District 9 and Julie & Julia.

Wayback Machine: Bad Astonomy on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me

Sometimes I get to put a bunch of favorite topics into one blog post. Earlier today, I managed to include in one posting the topics of magazines, gays, Playboy, and anti-discrimination. How many can I put in this one? Well:

Blogger Phil Plait writes in his Bad Astronomy blog on Discover magazine's web site about his experience on the NPR news quiz radio program Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me. This is from the Wayback Machine, because Plait wrote it in 2007. But I still found it interesting (and, as they say, it was news to me, because I hadn't read it before), so if you want to read a cute short article about how Plait was called by the program's host to supply a funny story about NASA, check out his blog posting. He wasn't able to do so, so he called his pal James Oberg (a former contributor to Future Life magazine, BTW) to get the scoop.

So you don't care? Well, then you're not a NASA geek like I am. But anyway, here are the favorite topics of mine that I squeezed into one blog post: Future Life magazine, James Oberg, Bad Astronomy blog, Discover, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, public radio, NASA, radio quiz shows. Sigh.

New Documentary on Gay Rights and Hugh Hefner

Just one more social movement in which Hugh Hefner and Playboy were ahead of the times: gay rights. A new documentary, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, opens in September and includes details on his public stance for gay inclusiveness and against discrimination. For more, read the Advocate report.

The Advocate focuses on an incident early in the magazine's history, in the mid-1950s, when Hefner published a short story that had been rejected by (his former employer) Esquire about anti-gay discrimination. But if one reads editorial comments in Playboy over the decades, one can see that he was at the cutting edge of realizing homosexuality wasn't a mental illness, that gay love is no less worthy than straight love, and that discrimination was stupid in either case. Hefner's company has also put its money where its mouthpiece is in support of gay causes. (And Hefner continues to be vocal about supporting gay marriage.)

Matthew Hays, writing on The Daily Beast, focuses on Hef's gay rights pioneering work, but he also notes that the publisher was a vocal -- and courageous -- opponent of other types of discrimination:

He commissioned articles for Playboy from writers who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era, including screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of the infamous “Hollywood Ten.” “I received a letter from Ronald Reagan at that time, requesting that I stop using writers who'd been identified by HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee],” he says. His late-'50s TV variety show, Playboy's Penthouse, featured acts “that couldn't get on network television because they'd been blacklisted.”

Similarly, his television shows and his string of Playboy Clubs brought prominent African-American entertainers into the lives of many Americans who might not follow them otherwise.

And, to end by returning to the gay-rights theme, here's more from the Daily Beast article, and it says more about Hefner than his vocal critics either know or care to acknowledge:

“Without question, love in its various permutations is what we need more of in this world,” says the twice-married Hefner, who, unlike most of his peers, favors legalizing same-sex marriage. “The idea that the concept of marriage will be sullied by same-sex marriage is ridiculous. Heterosexuals haven't been doing that well at it on their own.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vietnam Journalist Fired Over Blog Post Criticizing Berlin Wall

Yes, reform in some communist countries only goes so far. Deutsche Welle (aka Deutsche World, basically the German BBC) reports that Vietnamese journalist Huy Duc was fired from his newspaper job for writing a blog post in which he said good things about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Calling it a "wall of shame" and said the former Soviet Union was a force for depriving people of freedom. Kind of hard to argue with that, I think, but his bosses didn't like his dabbling in politics, so they fired him.

Read more here.

Battle of the Burger Pics: Chicago vs The Commonwealth

The new edition of Chicago magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday, sporting a closeup cover photo of a giant juicy hamburger. It immediately reminded me of the December 2008 cover we put together for The Commonwealth magazine.

For our cover, we went to the nearest bistro here in San Francisco's financial district, and we bought two sandwiches. One was a turkey club, and the other was some vegetarian concoction. We combined them to form the sandwich with the height we needed for the cover. You can see the result in the photo. (No food was injured in the making of this cover shoot; all sandwich material was eagerly swallowed up by young staffers following the photo session.)

Chicago, of course, is owned by Tribune Company, so God only knows what sort of budget they had to make their burger. They probably had it prepared in orbit -- because a low-gravity environment makes the cheese melt more uniformly, as I'm sure you know -- and beamed it directly to their expensive Michigan Avenue studios, where a team of fashion experts and eunuchs spent days making it look just right.

Both covers are shown here. Which burger would you rather eat? Do we need Bobby Flay to do a throwdown?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Anna Wintour Documentarian and the Professional Editor

Over at The Daily Beast, Kim Masters gives us a peek at the man who made the documentary that gives us a peek at Vogue and its iconic leader, Anna Wintour. R.J. Cutler directed the new movie The September Issue, the story of the creation of that annual mega-thick issue of Vogue, and he tells Masters his thoughts on Wintour and her myth. (Just a hint: He seems to be impressed with her.)

When I watched this trailer below, I didn't see anything in it that makes her look like the dragon lady she's supposed to be. She doesn't snap, she doesn't bite off any heads, and she is decisive. I will have to see the movie to get a better sense, but I also have now watched her on 60 Minutes and Letterman, and my general impression is that she's in an industry filled with people who have very large insecurities -- so their complaints about her might not be the most objective. When she says she doesn't like something they did, they take it as a personal insult. When she questions something her staff is trying to put into the magazine, they think they've been slapped in the face. But her job is to have the highest standards. An editor should question everything from the typeface on the cover to the various impressions that a model in a photo might give to readers.

I once worked with a woman who was a former U.S. News journalist. As she edited a newsletter I'd created, she noted that the phrasing of one headline created an unintended double entendre. Said she, "Editors have to have dirty minds." What she meant, of course, is that editors and writers need to be able to look at what they create through the eyes of their readers and to spot possible unintended impressions the readers might have. It doesn't necessarily mean you avoid using that photo or wording or design that might be troublesome, but you are aware of it and address it, if need be.

Watch the trailer. Wintour is looking at everything that goes into that magazine. That's what she's paid to do. The fact that she must do it very well is the reason why she has been at the top of the magazine profession for two decades.

Now, I don't know Wintour. I've never purchased or read a copy of Vogue. And I'm well-aware that my exposure to her is confined to her chosen public campaign. But if we understand that The September Issue is a documentary and The Devil Wears Prada was not, then shouldn't we be filled with more respect for all that she has accomplished and not imagine that she attacks dull-witted models with machetes?

If Print Is Dead, Why Did MLB Launch a Magazine?

I received an e-mail from Major League Baseball with an offer (pictured) for their new publication, MLB Insiders Club Magazine.

Though I'm a White Sox fan, I don't plan to subscribe (far too many magazines already clogging up my mailbox). But I find it interesting that MLB, which specializes in delivering a live, in-person experience or in delivering a streaming or archived video and audio experience (TV, online streaming, etc.), is putting out a print product.

I think it's great. It might be an example of print not being dead, or it might be an example of the print sports world being so moribund that MLB has to create its own print media properties to promote itself. Or, of course, it might be a mixture of the two: MLB has to pay for the production of the magazine, but it gets all of the revenue from it, so it shows that print is still an effective revenue medium and it helps the organization get its message out without relying on Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and ESPN.

(See also my July 2002 Internet World cover story interview with Bob Bowman, who headed up MLB Advanced Media. Bowman's work was on the flip side of this equation: Building MLB's ahead-of-the-curve online strategy for disseminating content.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Afar mag reviews are coming in

Afar, the newly launched experiential travel magazine, has finally hit the store shelves. I picked up my copy on my last magazine shopping spree, but I haven't read it yet; I'm way behind in my magazine reading.

But MediaPost has a review that might interest Afar aficionados. Some of it sounds promising: I'm glad to see the magazine includes long-form journalism (really, why else buy a print publication these days? It's one of the things print does much better than online). I'm not sure about some of the review's references: What does Glenn Beck have to do with this? Is he in the magazine? And where the hell does the Joe Lieberman reference come from?

Ah, well. Until I read the magazine myself, I'll just have to glean what I can from others.

I Won't Say Utne Reader Takes My Advice, but ...

Folio: reports that Utne Reader, the lefty journal of "independent media," is increasing its cover and subscription prices, and it is also increasing the physical trim size of the magazine to 8.5" x 10". Paper quality will also improve.

I've been arguing that magazines should be doing just that -- increasing their prices to pay for a bigger, better product, instead of following the lemmings who shrink trim size (I'm talking to you, Rolling Stone and German edition of Playboy) and cut, cut, cut content and quality.

Good Housekeeping is going the other way -- let's just call it the John Zipperer Way, not because I have an ego but simply because there is no other appropriate description for it. Utne Reader has also jumped on the John Zipperer Way bandwagon (that's awkward; will have to come up with new nomenclature). I hope others take notice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Anna Wintour's Letterman Tour

Vogue editor Anna Wintour appeared on David Letterman's Late Show and did a good job of dealing with the criticism she's received, and the perception that she's not a cuddly softie.

Monday, August 24, 2009

RFK -- Yes, Robert F. Kennedy -- in Playboy

So, while all the straight boys would probably pick up an ancient July 1967 copy of Playboy and first look at the "Girls of Paris" pictorial, leave it to a gay man like me to notice that in the letters to the editor, there are some amazing historic letters, including the first letter in the letters section, from a certain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

RFK writes in response to an article about tax reform, and he lets the editors know "that your thoughts and the problems pointed out in the Playboy article ... will be most helpful to me as I continue my study of this whole area of tax reform."

Lest you think his letter was an aberration, directly below Kennedy's letter is a letter on the same subject from Sen. Charles H. Percy, and nearby are also letters from U.S. Rep. Bob Sikes, an Unitarian minister, more ministers and senators and representatives, and even Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore (father of the future vice president of the same name).

Yes, that is the magazine that the United States federal government under Atty. Gen. Ed Meese tried to run out of business in the 1980s -- and, I argue, contributed mightily to that effort by working with right-wing moralists to boycott Playboy's advertisers. Considering the intelligent and largely progressive discussions going on among America's leading political, cultural, and religious figures within its pages, I do not think that the Religious Right's fundamental problem with Playboy was its (relatively mild) sexual content; it was its intelligence and progressiveness.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SF Zine Fest in Pictures

I spent part of my afternoon today at SF Zine Fest, an expo in San Francisco for independent publishers of comics and magazines (and a few arts and crafts). It's a smaller event than the Alternative Press Expo, but it also was cheaper to get in. The event was held at the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park August 22-23.

It's always nice to see people publishing their works on their own, not being held back by lack of funding or a big publishing organization behind them. It's also interesting to chat with people who are learning the hard way how to sell, how to talk customers into buying three for the price of two, and how to get people to pick up a comic book and look inside.

I bought a small selection of six comics, including several from Indrind Press (aka Andy Warner and Steven Foundling). Anything I missed, I will most likely be able to find at Alternative Press Expo in October.

Andy Warner (below), one half of Indrind Press and all of Andysaurus.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tony Timpone's Elegy for Starlog

Elegy, indeed.

For months now, former readers of Starlog's print magazine have been told that it was on print hiatus, not "dead forever." Readers of surviving sister mag Fangoria might assume otherwise, because not a word about print revival appears in Fango Editor Tony Timpone's "Elegy" column in the September issue of that magazine.

In a column titled "Starlog Lives!" and giving brief history of the genre media market, Timpone does a nice job of giving props to his publishing elders. Most likely, the article was intended to remind people that Starlog lives -- online, at a good but still-developing web site. But after reading the piece, I'm left with the impression that the lack of any mention of print tells us something. No hope.

Which means that those of us who like to have a print science fiction magazine to relax with on the couch will have to continue our search elsewhere. Newsstand trollers will probably have already spotted the first couple issues of the Fantastique, the new English-language edition of L'Ecran Fantastique, a 40-year-old French fantasy and SF mag. Among its contributors is Keith Olexa, a former Starlog managing editor. I'll do a full-blown review of it in the future; for now, I'll just say it's worth watching because it is something different from the British lad SF mags (SFX, Sci Fi Now, DeathRay, etc.), which all seem to have the same attitudes and busy layouts. Too bad its own design is dark and unpleasing.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Future Life Answer Man

A while ago, I created a page on my main web site to highlight a long-discontinued magazine I like, Future Life.

It gets a very low but steady stream of visitors, but lately I've been hearing from more and more visitors -- former writers for the magazine, readers with questions (in which issue did such-and-such appear? or, Where can I find this-or-that that appeared in Future Life?).

I think this makes me the Official Future Life Answer Man. So, come on, lemme hear all of your questions.

Oh, I know, most of you are wondering, What the heck was Future Life?

Video Ads in Entertainment Weekly

The news is all over the place, so I'll keep this brief: CBS and Pepsi teamed up for an ad in a small number of Entertainment Weekly copies next month that will feature actual video on the page.

Well, there will be an ultra-thin video player on the page, and it will operate much as those musical greeting cards do, with the video activated when the reader turns to that page.

Last year, Esquire had its "e-ink" text on the cover of its 75th anniversary issue. As a stunt, it was fine, but it really wasn't "e-ink"; it was clearly a thick wafer inserted within the cover, and it served no great or useful purpose. As usual, my suggestion to Esquire is that they focus on improving the editorial product; but at the same time, it's good to see people experiment.

As for this video ad, I have no problem with it whatsoever. It's an ad; it doesn't affect the editorial at all, and it will be interesting to see how it develops if we see more of them. It's very expensive, but if more and more advertisers use it, some magazines will start adapting it to their own use on editorial pages (and covers).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barney Is Frank with the Right

This video has gone very viral, which is probably a sign that liberals and others who support health-care reform are extremely eager to find a champion amidst the weak Democractic response to the planned wingnut protests at the town halls.

Honest Scrap -- Honest!

My despair over being rejected for an Emmy Award (again!) has been lightened by the news that Fangoria blogger and head of new media James Zahn has bestowed an Honest Scrap Award on this lowly blog.

You ask, What's an Honest Scrap Award? And is it supposed to be a pun on "honest crap"? No one seems to know; when I did a Google search on the award, I just found other recipients who began their announcements with something along the lines of, "I've never heard of the Honest Scrap Awards, but I've just been awarded one ..."

Anyway, there are rules to being an HS recipient: write 10 honest things about yourself; bestow the award on seven other bloggers.

So, second things first, I'm proud to bestow this mysterious-but-esteemed award on the following bloggers:

Paul Soglin's Waxing America: Soglin is a former mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, where I attended the UW. Soglin was a student radical who became mayor, left to work in the business world, returned in the late 1980s to become mayor again (while I was in school), and was a darn good mayor. There are lots of political blogs on the Left from people with more anger and attitude than brains. Soglin has brains, experience, and guts, so when he pulls no punches in a critique of something or someone, it means something.

Aaron Barnhart's TVBarn: Barnhart's an original internet success story. I still remember walking along a downtown Chicago street one lunch hour with him more than 15 years ago while he talked about "the well" and toyed with his Apple handheld. Later, while working in a real estate firm, he started Late Show News, an e-newsletter about the Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, etc. programs. That grew into a wider television e-newsletter, for which I wrote a weekly science fiction TV column for a couple years. Aaron eventually became the Kansas City Star's TV critic, a role he has now held for many years.

Tony Palmeri's Talk to Tony: Palmeri is an Oshkosh, Wisconsin, academic and local government official who has been a local fixture there for longer than I know. Outspoken, intelligent, and a good sense of humor -- he's one of the good guys. (Oh, and he keeps saying nice things in [online] print about my political-cartoonist stepfather, Lyle Lahey, so the world is, indeed, small.)

Howard Cruse's Loose Cruse: Cruse is an icon in the cartooning industry (his work has appeared everywhere from Gay Comix to Playboy to Fangoria to The Advocate to -- I'm pleased to say -- the cover of the magazine I edit). Underground or overground, his art is instantly recognizable, and you get nice dollops of it in his blog.

Samir Husni's Mr. Magazine: Husni is a magazine-industry legend, and he probably knows more about magazine publishing, ideas, mistakes, secrets, and possibilities than any other 100 magazine professionals put together. His blog shows his deep involvement in the debates of the industry; it's intelligent and full of good ideas for publishing geeks like me.

Andy Warner's Andysaurus: Warner's a hugely talented artist and cartoonist, and I was lucky enough to have him design my magazine for a couple years before he jumped ship to be able to do more freelance cartooning. His blog has lots of works-in-progress, as well as examples of his sharp humor.

Matthew Rettenmund's Boy Culture: The blog's title comes from the novel Rettenmund wrote some years back, and I enjoyed reading the book's descriptions of Chicago scenes. I also enjoyed the story. Rettenmund, now a pop magazine editor in New York City, writes a blog on politics, gay issues, music, and more -- including lots about Madonna, the subject of another book he once wrote.

Second, 10 honest things about me:

1. After interviewing Alphaville lead singer Marian Gold one winter day in 2001, we returned to his SUV only to find a parking ticket. He gave it to me.

2. I kept the parking ticket taped to my desk in my Internet World cubicle in New York for several months before deciding there really wasn't anything all that special about it.

3. Dan Quayle once complimented my tie.

4. I've shaken the hands of two former U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

5. In high school, a fundamentalist teacher accused me of being a Marxist after I criticized evangelist Jerry Falwell in my student newspaper column.

6. One of my high points as a 'tweener was realizing I could read an entire novel in one day. That's when I confirmed how much I loved books.

7. I nearly flunked economics my first year at university. I passed, but just barely -- and swore that whatever I do with my life, it won't be math-centric.

8. I have, at one point or another in my life, wanted to be a tv newscaster, the president, a novelist, fireman, magazine editor, magazine publisher, pastor, scientist, or soccer player.

9. I can read German fairly well, but when I take on the occasional German-language novel, it takes me weeks to finish.

10. I once argued with then-Senator William Proxmire in the letters page of the Green Bay News-Chronicle about the U.S. space program. I was (and am) for it; him -- not so much.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BBC Says Zombies vs. Humans: We Win!!!

I know, I know: Who's "we"?

Well, I continue to assume the readers of this blog are consistently human, so I was pleased to read a BBC report on a Canadian scientific study (I'm not making this up) that concluded that a zombie attack on humans could be defeated, if it was dealt with quickly and effectively. That means decapitate them.

The scientists modeled their zombies on classic film versions of the undead. That puts them squarely in the George Romero school of slow zombies; no fast, intelligent zombies here.

Reports the BBC:

[T]heir analysis revealed that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies would only put off the inevitable. In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often".

They added: "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."

So that's what Canadian scientists are doing. I'm sorry to hear that the Swedish study on how to turn back a massive Abominable Snowman attack has been indefinitely shelved, due to global warming.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Study: 40% of Twitter Posts "Pointless Babble." Well, duh!

Despite what USA Today reports about the uselessness of Twitter tweets -- as if we didn't know that already -- I recently connected this blog with my Twitter account, and my web traffic analytics tell me that I've picked up some new blog readers as a result.

So go ahead and start following me on Twitter: I'm there as jzipperer

I pledge to make my Twitter pointless babble better than at least 39 percent of the rest of the pointless babble.

The International Insanity of Swine Flu ... Magazines

I'm wondering how the wacky health-care reform debate in this country will change when swine flu makes its predicted return in more-virulent form this fall and infects hundreds of millions more people.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I vaguely remember the swine flu epidemic of the mid-1970s. I was but a wee lad at the time, but I remember one important thing from that health-care crisis: It turned out that the swine flu vaccine was, um, er, making some people get sick and die. Don't worry, I'm not going to go all Jenny McCarthy on you; I think parents should get their kids vaccinated. The science is pretty strong on the side of, well, science. But nonetheless, when it comes to flu, I never get vaccinated, and it's all because I remember the failure of that first swine flu vaccine campaign.

On a related note, in the mid-1970s, there was a short-lived competitor to National Lampoon called International Insanity. Like the Lampoon, it parodied other media, had fumetti, fake news, comics, and more. Unlike Lampoon, it wasn't particularly good. But before it died, it did offer up the cover reproduced here, with a new take on swine flu.

International Insanity was designed by Cloud Studio, a famed NYC design house that also designed National Lampoon in its first year of publication (1970). Now, I'm not sure about this next connection, but a Michael Sullivan was a leading member of Cloud Studio, and many of Future Life magazine's great covers in the late-1970s, early-1980s were photographed by Michael Sullivan. The same man? I can't find confirmation, but I kind of assume it is the same person.

Anyway, National Lampoon no longer exists in print form, and International Insanity no longer exists. So if swine flu should return with a vengeance this fall, we'll have to look to The Onion to provide us with comic relief.

Angry Readers, Birthers, and Mr. Peabody

On a recent self-appointed mission to find some of my long-presumed-lost science fiction TV columns that I wrote for my friend Aaron Barnhart's TVBarn e-newsletter a decade ago, I ended up playing with the web archive (which is powered by something called the Wayback Machine). The archive is a place that has copies of nearly endless numbers of web sites' original versions. You can go to the archive, type in a URL, and you'll get links to a ton of older versions of that web site.

The Wayback Machine delivers those old web versions without images. It's text only; but that's perfect for my needs of collecting my old columns. Anyway, I still haven't found the column I was seeking (from 1999, I think, in which I interviewed Kerry O'Quinn, co-founder of the Starlog/Fangoria publishing house and now a Hollywood producer, about religion and science fiction), but it did spawn a lot of web searching for columns I've written for various places. (I've written columns for almost every place I've worked, going back to my high school newspaper).

Anyway, to make a short story long, I ended up looking all over the web. I found a June 1, 2002, column that included an excerpt from my favorite reader-response letter, which I wanted to share:

"This was a bitter, resentful screed. Obviously Mr. Zipperer has an axe to grind when it comes to white people, men, the successful, the wealthy, the well-educated, etc."
-An Internet World reader responding to my critical review of a video celebrating the party-and-networking ethos of the dot-com companies

For the record, I was (and am) a white people, a men, and reasonably well-educated. I'm definitely "etc." I assume success and wealth will flow from that. Nonetheless, as I watch people go bat-s*** crazy at artificial protests at health-care town halls, I'm reminded of the incredibly thin skin and over-reactions of a certain segment of our population. They feel continuously put out and repressed, even when they're banking millions of dollars.

So, on this fine Monday morning, I leave you with that nugget of not-quite-wisdom. And if that didn't do it for you, then at least I told you about the web archive, which really is nifty.

And if you're interested or sufficiently bored, you can check out some of my old SF TV columns here; more will be added as I attack the wayback machine some more. Let's go, Sherman!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Magazine Person of the Year: Tyler Brûlé

I don't know how to pronounce his last name, but Monocle founder Tyler Brûlé is right on the money when it comes to building a global magazine brand. I've enjoyed his Financial Times columns for years (just one of the many pleasures of the weekend edition of the FT), and though I've never read his earlier periodical claim to fame -- Wallpaper -- I've been very impressed with his current hit, Monocle.

In the UK's Independent newspaper, Brûlé is feted with a nice article pointing out the success of Monocle in print, in podcasts, and now in retail. Laughed at by many for his ambitious plans for this hybrid global monthly (10 times annually) magazine covering business, culture, and design, Brûlé can enjoy its success. The magazine currently has a circulation of about 150,000, and subscriptions are low (12,000) but growing -- and subscribers pay more than the cover price.

But here's what I really like about the Independent article:

Then there is the magazine itself, the very core of the business and a wonder to touch as well as to behold thanks to its five different paper stocks. Worth every penny, says Brûlé. “Media owners around the world are scratching their heads, asking why magazines and newspapers aren’t selling anymore. Why? Because you’ve downgraded the experience. When you are competing against digital, which can zoom in and animate, then your print experience needs to be tactile and exciting and, for magazines, a bit collectable.”

Exactly. He understands that reading a print magazine is an experience. It can compete very well with online media products if its creators know what magazines can do best and they don't try to do what online does better. Print magazines can do long, richly illustrated articles better than the Web, and when they do a high-quality tactile presentation (as does Monocle) -- it's great.

I've said it before on this blog, but what use is the internet if not for repeating oneself: Magazines need to be upgrading their experience for the reader, not cutting paper quality, trim size, and frequency. Give people something better to pay for, and they will.

Today, I almost bought a magazine at Borders because a friend and former colleague writes for it. Standing there in the store, I paged through the magazine, looking for bylined articles by my friend. I found many, but I didn't find any article longer than a page -- and most were sidebar-length. I didn't buy it. The magazine seems to be trying to compete with the web by being short and sweet, but that's a competition it can't win. If I want 400-word synopses of someone or something, I'll get that from the web at no cost. But I look to magazines to give me 4,000 words or more on a topic, with reporters on the ground, aided by photographers and illustrators and professional editing.

Monocle knows that. So hats off to Tyler Brûlé. However the hell you pronounce his last name.

Publishing Western Fashion Magazines in Conservative Middle Eastern States

Interesting story from AFP about the tribulations of publishing foreign editions of Western fashion magazines in ultra-conservative Middle Eastern countries. France-based Elle and Marie Claire both publish foreign editions in the Middle East, but the biggest challenge seems to be their Saudi Arabian editions. Short of coming out with editions aimed at the autonomous mountain regions of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, I can't imagine a tougher sell.

"We are very careful not to provoke uselessly, we don't want to be banned. It would neither help social progress nor the status of women," said Jean de Boisdeffre, who heads the international media arm of Elle owner company, Lagardere Active.

Good luck.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Magazine History: A Penthouse Editor in the 1960s

[Note: Bob Guccione obituary is here.]

The August 2009 UK edition of Esquire magazine features two noteworthy articles, each probably aimed at different audiences. The cover story is about cute Harry Potter film star Daniel Radcliffe, and later in the magazine is "A Star Is Porn," the unoriginally titled article by writer Lynn Barber recounting her years as an editor at the original Penthouse magazine in the UK in the 1960s. There's not much titillation in the article -- sorry, boys -- but for magazine geeks, it's a great behind-the-scenes look at how magazines start, growing from shoestring organizations to large staffs, big offices, expense accounts, and world fame.

People who are not in the magazine industry probably labor under the illusion that magazines are published by big companies in skyscrapers and run by normal corporate drones. Some are. But Playboy was started on Hugh Hefner's apartment table, Starlog began as a one-time publication by two publishers who paid the bills by winning at poker and holding private film screenings, and -- Barber tells us -- Penthouse began in a "a tiny terraced house on Ifield Road" in London.

The front room contained a dolly bird receptionist called Maureen and piles and piles of cardboard boxes -- these, I was to learn, were the Penteez Panties "erotic gifts" [the magazine sold to pay the bills in its early days] -- with another room housing the Penthouse Book Club at the back. Upstairs, the back bedroom was Bob [Guccione] and Kathy [Keeton]'s office, and the front was "editorial," a largish room containing the art director Joe Brooks and a very small cubbyhole containing [editor] Harry Fieldhouse.

Barber stumbled upon her job at Penthouse after interviewing the controversial Guccione, during which he off-handedly suggested she come to work for him. Soon, she did, and she became one of the first employees of that young magazine, seeing it through its early years in the UK and helping to launch its U.S. edition, which is where Guccione would really hit the jackpot (at one point amassing a fortune of about a half-billion dollars -- all of it would be frittered away and the company eventually sold in bankruptcy). Along the way, she did a little bit of everything:

I also had to attend some of the Pet shoots, not with Bob [Guccione], but with an American photographer called Philip O. Stearns. My duties at the shoots included putting music on the stereo, squirting scent round the room, and powdering the girls' bottoms. In between, I did The Times crossword.

Her Penthouse editorial duties would also include, at one time or another, begging local shops to let her borrow clothing items (or diving suits) for nude Pet photo shoots, editing sections of the magazine, and smuggling material into the United States to get it to the Milwaukee-based printers of the new American edition of Penthouse. This was definitely not a cubicle job.

Barber doesn't say it in the article, but it sounds like it was a lot of fun to be on the ground floor of a rapidly growing magazine, seeing it add staff, circulation, advertising, spinoffs, and more. She doesn't say how long she stayed at the job or why she left, but the magazine and Guccione would go on to huge success in the United States, spawning a magazine empire (including Omni, a science/science-fiction magazine that reached a circulation of more than a million in the early 1980s, before declining and being canceled in the mid-1990s), only to founder under the intense pressures of the internet and the religious right. Guccione pushed his flagship magazine into hardcore pornography for a few years, but that not only didn't save the title, it reportedly lost him a huge number of distribution outlets. The fact that he kept on with that approach, nonetheless, tells you something about his poor business sense.

When I was in high school in the 1980s, pretty much every boy read Playboy or Penthouse. Yes, even gay folkses like me read one or the other, because, I think, it was a way of getting to know what adults were talking about, what was really going on, what was really happening. (And, for the straight kids, the nekkid folks, of course.) But we Playboy readers thought the Penthouse readers were weird. That's probably because Penthouse itself was weird; almost every article was a conspiracy about some deal or another, and there was an unshakable devotion in that magazine to fetishes and oddities. Nonetheless, both magazines were a part of growing up for millions and millions of American boys, and if most of those readers read their copies because they featured scantily clad (or unclad) women and stories of (as-yet) unexperienced pleasures, they also were probably the first place most of those readers were exposed to the articles and ideas of William F. Buckley Jr., John Updike, and Ayn Rand, or where they actually read articles about politics. That's often used as sort of a punchline, but I think it's true, too.

Barber's article makes the August UK Esquire a must-read for anyone interested in the history of a once-powerful men's magazine, and it's a great look for all of us who are in the magazine industry at just how some magazines are launched and how they grow. None of it's "by the book," because there is no book.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tribune Reorg to Include Widescale Selloffs?

The Chicago Sun-Times reports on possible outcomes of the Tribune Company bankruptcy reorganization drama in Chicago. Real Estate investor Sam Zell bought Tribune and took it private two years ago in a heavily leveraged deal. Though the core properties in the group -- including the Trib and the LA Times -- were profitable, there was billions of dollars in debt, and the company was then double-whacked by the current economic crisis.

Creditors are losing patience with Zell, according to the Sun-Times, and Zell could be forced out if they come up with their own reorganization plan. If that happens, the creditors would take control and could do a widescale sell-off of Tribune Company papers and other properties. (The Chicago Cubs are already for sale.) Besides the Tribune, Cubs, and Los Angeles Times, the company owns Chicago magazine, WGN tv and radio ("WGN," by the way, stands for "world's greatest newspaper," which actually once was the boast of the Tribune), Tribune Entertainment, and more -- oh, just let Wikipedia tell you.

Very sad to see a once-great media firm go through such tribulations. I frankly don't know if they're better off with Zell or the creditors in charge; it looks like either way, the company will be chopped up.

Magazines: New Scandinavian Architecture & Urbanism Magazine Launched: Conditions

It's cold over there in Scandinavia. While they're sitting around in their quaint cabins dressed vaguely like elves, the Scandinavians spend their time designing and creating things. Usually good things. Modernist furniture, Saabs, mobile phones.

Now they've put all of their IKEA stock dividends to good use and launched Conditions, a "magazine for architecture and urbanism." Visit the web site; if you click on the link for "current issue" and scroll down, you can see some (small) sample spreads from the magazine's first issue.

Another magazine to watch for, assuming it gets much distribution here.

You can check out the mag's blog here.

It's funny; I've never thought of Scandinavia as a magazine powerhouse -- and it isn't. Nonetheless, there's also a men's fashion magazine from that region called DVMan, which also publishes an English-language edition I've seen at Borders and other U.S. booksellers. Also, not a bad magazine.

Magazine News: Because We Need More of Us

Spinoffs have given the world some good things: Heavy Metal spun off from National Lampoon; Fangoria spun off from Starlog; Sports Illustrated spun off from Time; Lou Grant spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

On the other hand, spinoffs have also given the world some bad things: Happy Days begat Joanie Loves Chachi.

So it's probably a toss-up whether one should be worried about the end of civilization because Us Weekly is putting out a spinoff called Us Hair, which will focus on ... * can't type ... this ... sentence * ack * ... focus on -- celebrity hair styles. It is going to be something called a "bookazine," reports WWD. That means it's a one-shot, no-ads publication sold on magazine stands, destroying America's moral fiber copy by copy.

Us Weekly King Jann Wenner apparently also wants to spin off a magazine called Us Style, adds WWD, but that has been delayed by either the current bad economy or an attack of common sense.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Afar Launches with a Party -- a far, far away

The New York Times is all agog that there is actually a launch party for a magazine in these bad economic times. In this case, the new periodical is a pretty cool-looking "experiential" travel magazine called Afar. The Times spends way too much time telling us what food was at the party, and not nearly enough about the magazine, its prospects, or its team.

Anywho. The magazine does sound very interesting. I just wish I could find it at a local bookstore or magazine shop. So far, nada.

Newsweek: The Good News about Magazines Isn't That Good

Big whoopidy do. Newsweek reports that, despite an industry-wide drop in ad pages of 28 percent for the first half of 2009 (compared to the first half of 2008), some magazines have actually increased their ad pages.

Well, one would assume some magazines would. It's pretty unlikely that, of the thousands and thousands of magazines published regularly in the United States, absolutely none of them would have experienced an increase even in these dire times.

The article looks at a handful of these lucky publications and explains how they did it -- such as luck, or increased visibility from a redesign, or being in a hot niche market (such as organic gardening), or some such. In other words, not much there that can be applied widely ("Rule number one: Be lucky. Okay, now, get out there and be lucky!").

I think what bothered me about the article, which really is rather harmless, is the headline deck: "Magazines aren't dead ... at least not all of them. A look at publishing's page turners." It just oversells -- pardon the wording -- what is really an unspectacular article. Reading the article will tell you nothing about what's really going on in the magazine world, whether magazines are really dead, how much of the industry's problems is cyclical and how much of it's long-term, who screwed up, how to get things going, or whether basing your magazine's income mostly on ad sales instead of cover price and subscriptions is really the only or best way to go for every publisher.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Maybe You'll Get that Next Issue, Maybe You Won't

The ever-snarky Magazine Death Pool reports today that Seed magazine has informed subscribers that the August issue hadn't mailed yet and they didn't know when it would be mailed. I'm not a subscriber, so I can't confirm that, but it doesn't sound good.

Seed always struck me as a magazine with good content that was totally undercut by an inexplicably bad design. Nonetheless, if the MDP report is true, I'd be sorry to see the death of a science magazine. Let's face it: Our world is not suffering from a surfeit of rational thought and actions.

But it does remind me of my brief sojourn at a small tech magazine half a dozen years ago. I basically relaunched the magazine under a new title and only stayed for a few issues before moving to a better job, but I never saw any of the issues on which I worked. That's right: We never got them back from the printer, because the publishing company was so far behind in its bills.

Presumably they eventually paid some of their bills, because the magazine limped along for another year or two before going to that great magazine rack in the sky. But I've never found a copy of any of those issues that I put together (and for which I wrote a lot of articles, pleaded with a lot of writers to write articles -- because we were so far behind in paying writers -- and edited a lot of articles).

Has any publisher ever missed mailing two or three issues of a magazine and then had a recovery that led to them publishing the title for another decade or so? I doubt it, and I really doubt it today, when advertising is scarce and investor or bank credit is difficult to get.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

James Warren Loses Famous Monsters Court Case

Abandoned. That's the ruling of a recent Philadelphia court hearing the case from legendary publisher James Warren, seeking to assert copyright over images of his former monster movie magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Famous Monsters ceased publication in 1983 when Warren's publishing mini-empire went out of business. Later, the title was revived by publisher Ray Ferry, who published it for a number of years before ending in a legal free-for-all. At issue in the court case was whether a book, Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos, had violated Warren's copyrights on the cover paintings by the famed Gogos by reprinting images of the covers in the book.

The court said no. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

[The federal judge ruled] that James Warren - the publisher who created Famous Monsters of Filmland - had effectively abandoned any claim to the title of the magazine that began the horror-fan magazine genre 51 years ago.

Warren's association with the magazine ended in 1983, wrote U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson, and since then, "Warren has taken virtually no action to retain his common-law ownership of the mark. Indeed, for almost 25 years, he has not published another issue of the magazine, and has not engaged in a substantial attempt to sell memorabilia or anything else with the Famous Monsters name."

The Legal Intelligencer notes:

Baylson also rejected Warren's contention that publication of the book interfered with Warren's plans for a coffee-table book on his magazines, noting that Warren had taken no significant steps to produce a book until after Spurlock's book was published, and that witnesses had testified that Spurlock's book would not adversely affect the market for Warren's book if it were published.

Frankly, I hope Warren does plan such a book, especially if it only focuses on Famous Monsters. That could be quite a book. On a different track, other Warren titles -- the comics magazines Creepy and Eerie -- are being collected and republished by Dark Horse in a series of deluxe coffee table editions. Could Warren also (or instead) publish a collection of reprints of Famous Monsters? I think they'd have a good chance at finding an appreciative audience.

All of which does suggest I just might have been correct when I wondered on this blog many moons ago whether Starlog was keeping its claim alive to discontinued print titles (Comics Scene, Future Life, Cinemagic, Fantasy Worlds) by using them as headers for special sections of that magazine. Just wanted you to know how darned perceptive this blog is ...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dollar Store Magazines

With the purchase of TV Guide for $1 by OpenGate and the talk about McGraw Hill selling BusinessWeek for $1, one naturally asks: What other media company would I pay $1 to buy?

Chicago Tribune: It shrinks and shrinks, and the city of Chicago's once-great panoply of news options shrinks, too.

Starlog: It shrunk and shrunk, and now is no more, at least in print. I might even double the price for this one.

Playboy: Domestically in print, it's severely challenged; online and internationally, it's doing great. Too bad what I care about most is the print.

Esquire: Its leaders seem bored by the very idea of putting out a magazine, but it remains one of the great brands in men's publishing.

Boston Globe: Well, it is for sale. But then, I'd probably have to pretend to be a Red Sox fan, so $1 is way too much.

Discover: We have got to change the design of this magazine. Generally good content is lost in a world of san-serif madness.

InStyle: Okay, I admit, I'd only buy this one so I could close it down. Pure snobbery on my part, but I apologize not.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Imitation Is the Best Flattery: A Tale of Starlog, Famous Monsters, Playboy, & Esquire

Learn from your elders. That's not a bad idea, and it's an idea I heard long ago from a magazine and newspaper editor to whom I may or may not be closely related.

What it means in practice in the publishing arena is to not be afraid to see what works in other publications and adapt those ideas to your publication.

This did not become clear to me until I visited a little bookstore in San Francisco called Kayo Books, which focuses on (and sort of fetishizes) the 1950s and '60s. I saw some inexpensive copies of '50s-era Playboy magazines, and I bought some.

It was fascinating to see the early years of a magazine that became a behemoth of the periodicals industry (and several other industries). Reading the editorials and subscription ads and the text that referenced its readership made it very clear that the magazine had pretensions -- pretentions it had not yet met; but issue after issue, it improved and got closer to that manufactured self-image.

In short, Playboy was aping Esquire in many ways, even while it was clearly going beyond and above it in terms of quality and success. Playboy has a long history of award-winning and stunning cover treatments, but it was only when I saw those early issues of Playboy and then -- wow -- saw contemporary issues of Esquire that I realized that Playboy's (and, by that, I assume I mean Hugh Hefner, the former Esquire employee who started his magazine after being denied a raise; but it might also include his art staff) view of its audience and itself owed an immense debt to Esquire.

It's not just the cover designs that were clearly done with an eye to the market leader. Those '50s issues of Playboy were almost painfully earnest in their attempt to reach the ivy league young professional, the educated "gentleman" (oh, if only either magazine tried to reach educated gentlement today, the world would be a better place) seeking to learn what it takes to be independent and successful in the post-war world. That was Esquire's market.

I saw something similar when I spent more time looking into Famous Monsters, the Jim Warren-published movie monster magazine that paved the way for such competitors as Fantastic Films, Starlog, Fangoria, and others. Like Playboy, Starlog was known for years as a creative and confident powerhouse in its publishing market. In its first half-dozen years, in addition to its monthly magazine and its many spinoffs, it published poster magazines, best-of collections, LP albums of movie music, high-quality paperback books, photo collections, foreign editions, a children's book by Boris Vallejo, calendars, t-shirts, licensed movie magazines, and more, and would soon launch live conventions. It was a great time to be a science-fiction geek.

But Famous Monsters had done a number of those things first (such as best-of "yearbook" collections, licensed movie mags, and conventions), and that realization has only fairly recently come to me. After all, I was too young to appreciate Famous Monsters; I found it to be juvenile and low-quality; as a 'tweener in the late '70s, early '80s, I much preferred the Starlog approach that inspired me to play with ideas and controversies, and that also gave me lots of color pages and professional-quality features.

But Starlog-partisan that I am, I have to admit now that the magazine would have been radically different had FM not existed. That's not to take anything away from all of the people who worked hard on Starlog -- or, for that matter, on Famous Monsters or Playboy or Esquire. It's just a recognition of when a great title is more an evolution than a revolution.

What interested me about it is that both Playboy and Starlog came to dominate the markets created by the magazines from which they were drawing ideas. And noticing their creative debt to other magazines is both disconcerting and a little endearing.

Playboy borrowed a lot of ideas from Esquire; Starlog borrowed a lot from Famous Monsters. It's not just a matter of taking from what came before. Starlog wasn't stealing very many ideas from Cinefantastique, another pre-existing competitor. Playboy certainly was avoiding the men's adventure mags that also flourished before it came to dominate the market.

And that is the point, and I think the lesson for magazine creators today: Starlog and Playboy borrowed from the leading publications in their fields, not just any publications in their fields, because both Hugh Hefner and Starlog's Norman Jacobs and Kerry O'Quinn had expectations of great success and of leading their respective fields. So why not learn from, and imitate, the best?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Esquire, Enough Already with the Covers

I like actor Daniel Craig, but I do have to blame him, in a way. His September 2006 cover of the American edition of Esquire magazine was the first of what has become a tiresome image/text treatment for the magazine. There, in the center of the cover, stands the handsome Bond actor, with giant text filling up every available space on the cover behind him, even running behind him.

Once, that treatment is nice and bold. Twice, it's too much. But this is now September 2009, and the Esquire that showed up in my mailbox this week features the umpteenth consecutive iteration of this design. Just six such covers are shown in the image above, but check out the (otherwise really nifty) Esquire Cover Archive and see a zillion more from the past three years: almost every single issue.

Esquire was once known for its great covers. I still remember one of my UW-Madison journalism professors dissecting a 1960s-era Esquire cover, pointing out the genius of the design, the text, the actual words used and how they conveyed what the mag thought of its readers and the high level of subject matter inside. I know, it's not the same magazine today. No magazine is the same today as it was 45 years ago, and it's almost always a change for the worse.

But cover design is often the single most enjoyable part of putting together an issue of a magazine. Coming up with the right image and text, trying something new, getting it to reflect (and, let's be frank, oversell) the interior content, eagerly awaiting its appearance on the newsstand so you can smugly note how much it stands out from its competitors. Looking at a good cover is also one of the most enjoyable parts of reading a magazine. So why the heck does Esquire stick with a cover design treatment that makes each issue look so much like the previous issue that newsstand browsers are likely to mistake the new issue for last month's?

There are other, smarter ways to give a magazine a distinctive look on the magazine racks. Let's hope the highly paid staff at Esquire can think up some of them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This Is Why MSM's Death Might not Be All Bad

This was CNN's idea of the most important breaking news today:

UPDATE: Maggwire's Partners

Three days ago, I wrote a short notice here about Maggwire, an aggregator of magazine article links in an easy-to-maneuver format. I noted that it was an interesting site but still had room to grow, and I pointed out that the Comics and Sci Fi category only included three magazines and was in fact dominated by the British title Sci Fi Now.

Maggwire co-founder Jian Chai left a comment on that post, in which he noted "... we are working hard on making this category better. Soon we will have articles from Starlog and Fangoria. We will also look into The Comics Journal and Cinefantastique soon."

"Soon" is right! Just a few days later, and the Comics and Sci Fi section includes quite a number of articles from Fangoria, and Total Film and Empire are also represented. It's nice to see that Maggwire is developing so rapidly -- not just in my geeky science-fiction category, either. I didn't see links to foreign-language publications, but that may not be part of their plan (you gotta start with one language, after all); however, that might be a natural way to expand further once they've established themselves.

Anyway, nice work.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Going the Wrong Way

There's a new online men's magazine that, unfortunately, is not a joke, though it thinks it has a sense of humor. It's called Real Man Magazine,

A press release announcing the digital magazine declares:
Real Man Magazine was founded as an alternative to other general interest men's magazines which often include less than manly content. Real Man Magazine focuses on articles and information that they believe real men care about; namely women, jokes, sports, drinking, smoking, gambling, guns, outdoors, movies, and more. Their articles are often humorous, but at the same time, thought provoking.

That probably tells you all you need to know. But if you do visit the site, you'll get such gems of below-80 IQ entertainment as "How to Avoid a DUI: Things you must do before you leave your house," or "Can Girlie Men (or Women) Review Movies for Real Men? Sure they can - and the tooth fairy leaves quarters under my pillow." In other words, stuff that grade school boys might find funny. Junior high school boys wouldn't; they're already reading Playboy.

With articles as poorly written as the press release, Real Man Magazine is basically a one-joke concept, and I guess we can't blame the publishers for trying to make of it what they can. But after years of lad magazines debasing men's magazines, I'm just not sure that Real Man Magazine has a market. I mean, you dumb down this crap any further, and you get to the men who can't read. I suspect so far, they're just going to get to the men who don't like to read. Same self-defeating difference.