Monday, April 05, 2010

Some people out there in happy book land still have HOPE.

Bad news is all around us in the publishing world. Even though it might seem like Brian and I are always bringing you the next closing this (today it was the closing of HarperStudio because they hate Brian) or the most recent fired that, we actually do still have some sense that the publishing industry will make it through all the upheavals and settle into a nice, comfortable niche of our collective culture. However, the lean times haven't stopped some enterprising people from giving it a go with three new ventures you, the 54 of you who check in on a regular basis, oughta know about. Survival of the Book is delighted to let you know about Vintage Magazine, Remedy Quarterly, and Writer 2.0. Since self-discovery is the best part of the interweb, I am not going to go on and on about each of these ventures. You, dear reader, should surf on over to each of them and take a looksie. I would, though, like to say a little bit about all three to prepare you for your experience.

First, Vintage Magazine.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;

Indeed. From the first second you touch Vintage Magazine you know something is different about it. It doesn't feel like any magazine you've ever held before. The magazine looks like a watercolor painting that you read instead of look at. It is hard to explain because we are so used to the glossy, thin ultra-vivid color magazines that currently populate the newsstand racks. In our world where everything is always "the newest, the coolest, the hottest, the shiniest," this magazine feels like an anachronism and with good reason: the overall design and feel is an homage to the famous post-war magazine Flair (do a Google search).

As for the rest of the physical presentation, I'll let our friends at Cool Hunting describe it:

For all of us out there who still love turning the printed page, the premier issue of Vintage Magazine, printed on various card stocks and boasting an open spine bound with red ribbon, is a joy to hold and explore.
The title Vintage hints at an era when we still read magazines, but also at a future when gorgeous magazines and art books will become rarities to treasure. Founder Ivy Baer Sherman Sherman explains, "the magazine uses the term 'vintage' in its broadest sense--focusing on the excellence of, the finest of things...aiming to do so both in content and in presentation."
Vintage Magazine was modeled on the legendary Flair Magazine (1950-51), a publication that the New York Times called "one of the most extravagant and innovative magazines ever published." Flair featured die-cut covers, fabulous foldouts and illustrations, and contributions from the likes of Salvador Dali and Tennessee Williams.

Uh oh. There was one little thing in that quote above that makes me dread for the future ofVintage Magazine. The publisher and founder Ivy Baer Sherman Sherman explains, "the magazine uses the term 'vintage' in its broadest sense--focusing on the excellence of, the finest of things...aiming to do so both in content and in presentation." The "excellence of, the finest of things" is a bit troublesome for this reader. If I remember back to my Radcliffe Publishing Course training some 10 years ago (I am still waiting for Ann Godoff to christen me an "editor" by the way), I would say that this new magazine falls into the "General Interest" category which, at least when I attended the course, was the kiss of death for any fledgling magazine. Specificity was the thing and, I think, it still is in the magazine business. Here is my problem: a quick look at the table of contents reveals an essay by Gary Giddens about the jacket art of the 78, 45, and the 33 1/3 record. You know the sleeve work, etc... A few pages later is an essay titled "Barbie Complex" about one woman's reckoning with the iconic doll and few pages after that is an essay on "sugar refining in 19th century New York." (I'm not kidding about that one.) The sugar piece is proceeded by a fluff piece on the "rise of the wedge." A wedge being a woman's shoe of some type. If that weren't schizophrenic enough, smack in the middle of the magazine is a photo of SS officers loading Poles and Jews into a cattle boxcar. The photo accompanies some poetry on a preceeding page by the delightful poet Esther Schor but is badly out of place here-both the poetry and the photograph. Turn the next page after that photo and there is a one page photo/essay about the "story of the floating barn" whatever that is.

(Deep breath)

At this point you may wonder just what the hell is going on in this magazine? You'd be right to be confused. Who is the audience here? Who is seriously interested in record art, barbie dolls, the wedge shoe, sugar refining, poetry of the holocaust, and floating barns? At the risk of the folks at Vintage Magazine taking Survival of the Book off their mailing list (oh, I guess I am duty bound these days to say that they sent us-at my request-a copy for review) I must say that there is just too much "stuff" here. I simply don't believe that they will get someone to subscribe for $32 for a year's subscription of two issues when the subject matter jumps around like a drunken grasshopper. I wish them all the best and I sincerely hope it works but in my experience when something is trying to be all things to all people, it ends up being nothing to anyone. That written, it is the most beautifully designed magazine to come along in decades. Truly. It is visually stunning.

Which brings me to the great and good folks of the new food journal, Remedy Quarterly. Now here is a group that understands the importance of focus and specificity. The first issue of the journal is out now ($7.50) and it is just lovely. The tagline for the journal is "stories of food, recipes for feeling good." Within that, they play with all the possibilities that such a focus provides. The editors, Jillian, Ari, Kelly, and Aaron, set up the table of contents to read like a menu and their perceptive choices for the first issue are a breath of fresh air in a field which can get too...too...Gastronomica on us (or at least me). Gayle Rana draws us in with a piece about her grandfather's black bean soup. We all have a recipe like this in our family history and Gayle's short piece (with the actual recipe) is a perfect welcoming entry to the whole journal. It is followed by an essay about "food as reward," then with an interview with up-and-coming chef Will Gilson of Cambridge's Garden at the Cellar restaurant, and much later a piece about author Stacy Slate's grandmother's "funeral cake." The writing in this journal is spry and clever and the editorial focus of the first issue is on the intersection of food and human interaction. A real delight to read. Here's hoping the make it, too. If you'd like to support them, they are on Kickstarter...just tell 'em that the old losers at Survival of the Book sent ya. Too many words? Check out their video about the magazine:

Last but certainly not least is Pagan Kennedy's new web magazine Writer 2.0. Ignoring for a moment that they may be direct competition for the hearts and minds of the Survival of the Book readers, Pagan has created a new space to explore:

[T]he death and rebirth of the publishing industry.

What will the word "book" mean in five years? Who will pay for newspapers? Can long-form literary journalism survive? How will writers make a living in the new economy?

Sounds interesting, right? I know that Brian is seriously thinking of doing a longer post on Pagan's new venture so I am not going to step on his toes here (that and one of my clients is a close friend of Pagan's and I don't wanna say anything that might get my ass in trouble). A quick look tells me that it is going to be a website to watch and hopefully down the road Writer 2.0 and Survival of the Book will together move to the fore in the fight to keep "a thing with pages and a cover from electronic destruction."

Ok, that is it for now...consider yourself part of the in-crowd.

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