Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama's Birth Certificate, Even if the Lunatics Ignore It

Courtesy of the LA Times, here's a link to President Obama's birth certificate. Just figured as many bloggers as possible should post this, so the wingnuts have fewer and fewer excuses to say they've never seen proof.

The so-called "birthers" movement is so crazed and ridiculous, what does this say about GOP congressional members who can't bring themselves to denounce the movement? They're all such products of the power-by-any-means school of Republican tricks that none of them have the guts to simply challenge the wingnuts in their town hall meetings and tell them that they're lunatics, they're flat our wrong, and they should return to reality and stop wasting our time. In those words -- not nicely, not respecting their "intelligence"; be brave and let 'em have it.

After all, any GOP congressperson who doesn't realize that every time a "birther" erupts on the public stage the Democrats cement thousands more votes -- well, that GOPer is too ignorant to survive long.

More Ridley, More Alien passes along word that Ridley Scott, the director of the staggeringly good science fiction/horror movie Alien, is going to direct a prequel to that movie.

With all due respect to James Cameron, who really established the series' popularity with his Aliens sequel, the Scott original remains one of the few movies to successfully get across real alien-ness. So I've got high expectations for his prequel.

Larry Flynt on Obama

Hustler publisher Larry Flynt writes a short item on today's Daily Beast urging Obama to toughen up and, er, "bitch-slap" the Republicans to "put them in their place."

When I interned one summer in the vice president's office back in 1990 (oh, leave me alone), one of my more-interesting regular tasks was to compile a collection of articles from newspapers and magazines for the vice president to read. In one of those compilations, I included an article Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote for the New York Review of Books, in which he called for the end of the national security state in the wake of the Cold War's demise.

You can assume, even without reading the two pieces, that Moynihan's was the better written piece of prose.

The VP didn't take Moynihan's advice then, and I doubt, even if some intern puts Flynt's article in Obama's daily news briefer, that the president will take Flynt's advice today.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Magazines on Screen

Let's see, just as an exercise: What television programs have been set in or around magazines?

Suddenly Susan (San Francisco-based magazine The Gate)

Ugly Betty (New York-based magazine Mode)

Just Shoot Me (Blush)

That's not a very long list. I must be missing a bunch of them. What are they?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Playing Taps for Music Magazines blogs about the difficulties that music magazines are having surviving (or not), and the author -- a veteran of defunct music rag Blender -- offers his three reasons for their demise:

  • Too few superstars, and all the magazines cover the same ones.
  • Music magazines have lost their access to the top stars and previews of music, so there's less reason for fans to read them.
  • Social networking has stolen the audiences.

I personally think his first and third reasons are minor and uninteresting. After all, music magazines that want to be mass market best sellers have to prostitute themselves to the flavor of the month to make sure they eet their rate base; but what makes a music magazine -- or any other genre-specific magazine, such as science fiction films or politics -- a must-buy for readers is when it helps find the up-and-coming or overlooked artist/film/book/thinker and puts that person on the cover. So stop whining.

But the second reason probably indicates more of what's wrong with the music magazines and how they've stopped knowing how to serve their audiences. They are not the only publishers who have lost their niche exclusivity; back in the 1970s and early 1980s, science fiction films and television programs were almost completely the purview of SF magazines, which could get all kinds of access to filmmakers and authors that fans could not find elsewhere. But as SF became more of a mainstream success and as traditional media chased pop culture to lure audiences, even mainstream publications were putting out special Star Trek issues and featuring Battlestar Galactica on their covers. That's great news for the fan; but it obviously created a big challenge to the niche publications that were selling their access and now had to start selling their unique outlook and any value-added content related to the media.

The same, I think, is true of music magazines. Rolling Stone has always mixed politics in heavy doses, as did Spin from its early years. But politics and artist interviews and concert photos and all the rest aren't enough to keep feeding big audiences.

Music magazines, in my humble opinion, are niche magazines and should be operated like such. The MBAs running them don't want to hear that their natural market probably limits them to 100,000 or 200,000 circulation ceilings, but, as I keep saying on this blog, that's a great opportunity for smaller, entrepreneurial publishers and investors to come in and play where the big guys no longer can.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Update: A New Parodic Interruption

Back in April, I wrote about magazine and newspaper parodies, and noted my own brief involvement in the trade when I worked on the USA Today parody put out by my college daily, The Badger Herald, in the mid-80s. In the blog post, I noted that I didn't have a copy of the parody any longer, and I asked if anyone did.

And the internet gods did provide, in the form of the Herald's editor, Jason Smathers, who pointed me to a scanned copy of the entire issue on the Herald's web site. It also links to some of their other April Fools issues, which are definitely worth checking out.

Many thanks to the current denizens of the Herald Tower.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama and Buehrle

Chicago Tribune reports that Obama was notified of White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle's perfect game today via e-mail; he then called the pitcher to congratulate 'im.

Mark Buehrle, Jim Parque: A White Sox Day

White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle pitched a perfect game this afternoon, retiring all 27 consecutive batters from the Tampa Bay Whatevers. Great news, and the Sox are just one-half game behind the Tigers for the lead in the AL Central.

It is nice to see the news of the perfect game splashed all over the major media (well, most of them; didn't see it on the home page of the Washington Post). Then again, if a pitcher from the Yankees or Red Sox had done this, we'd be suffering through Michael Jackson-level of media overkill.

Less known but still worth noting here is another White Sox pitcher-related story today. Former Sox pitcher Jim Parque wrote an article for the Chicago Sun-Times explaining how and why he used human growth hormone years ago, in an attempt to resurrect a career following an injury (and after leaving the White Sox).

He explains feeling worried about supporting his family, worrying that he didn't have the skills or experience to work outside baseball, and focusing desperately on making his game better. (He only used the HGH for a short time before abandoning it.

He writes:

I want everyone to know that I fully understood what I was doing, the ramifications of the unethical decisions I made and how it potentially could cast a dark shadow over my career. For that, I truly feel sorry. Although I did not truly know if the drug I took was, in fact, HGH (although I am confident it was because of the way my body felt after the injections and my Internet research), I still chose to inject it, and I am fully responsible for my actions.

I have to admit finding his article very interesting, partly because it reads like a pretty personal and honest explanation of his thought processes, and because it puts a human face on the controversy. (He does say that the HGH he took was not illegal at the time that he ordered it.) I'm no fan of drugs, but I thought he did a good job of explaining himself.

That also gives me pleasure because when Parque was with the Sox, he was my favorite player. I remember going to Sox games early, sitting out in the cheap seats, and watching him warm up, and I liked the intensity he brought to it. He seemed smart and focused, and I guess I like that more in an athlete than dumb and driven.

So it's a weird day for us White Sox fans today. Both news stories, I think, show why baseball is a game that encompasses so much more of its fans lives than just what they see on the field. It's a game of people doing stupid stuff and great stuff and making you think.

Mr. Magazine Does It Again

On his excellent blog, Samir Husni (a.k.a., Mr. Magazine) busts some myths about young people being dumber than posts and not reading. Fears that young people can only view digitized content have terrified publishers of every sort, especially since the UK decided to turn over all research in the country to a 15-year-old intern. But then, when I was a teenager in the 1980s, people thought we didn't read, either, and we did.

Anyway, Husni's blog is a regular must-read. He is one of the seemingly rare people today who hasn't drunk the kool-aid that the Anything But Print crowd is peddling. He knows that print is a different medium from digital; therefore it has a different role, different strengths, and different weaknesses. Trying to do the same thing online and in print is ridiculous. It's time for smart publishers and editors to recognize that and do in print what print does well, and do online what digital does well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Kindle Book: Now You Have It, Now You Don't

Over at, Farhad Manjoo writes about Amazon's demonstrated ability to delete books from users' Kindle digital book holding thingies. The company reportedly went into people's Kindles, without permission, and removed the book files.

Now, if they were deleting the book files of everyone who bought a copy of Glenn Beck's Commons Sense or The Secret, then no one would really complain and, in fact, they'd be doing the world a service. But they were deleting books by George Orwell and Ayn Rand.

"The worst thing about this story isn't Amazon's conduct; it's the company's technical capabilities," Manjoo writes. Whether or not Amazon promises not to do it again, the point is that the company can; I think, with the various security and protocol breaches that take place all across the internet on a daily basis, you should figure that if Amazon doesn't do it to your hand-held electronic fake book, someone else will, sooner or later. The Justice Department, your prospective employer, any of a number of crackpot groups, publishers, your parents, your kids, that annoying person you dissed at the coffee shop. Whoever. It'll happen.

Maybe it's time to invest in a hard copy paper version of every "book" you put on Kindle. It's the only way to make sure you have it forever. (Until you lose it in a flood, of course ...)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rating Web Sites of Science Fiction, Horror, Satire Magazines

Over on 24/7 Wall Street, they've got an article rating the web sites of such major magazines as Readers Digest, Better Homes & Gardens, National Geographic, Playboy, and Game Informer, and others. They were rated on things such as strength of content, ease of use, use of multimedia and forums and such, design, advertising support, etc. The highest grade was A-, for TV Guide; lowest score was a D-, which was given to Good Housekeeping's web site.

But enough of the muggles' magazines. Let's do our own ratings for the web sites of magazines covering science fiction, horror, and satire. In no particular order:

National Lampoon: This site is an underachiever. Though visitors can read short, somewhat humorous articles (nothing like what made the magazine great), view videos, and, well, buy NatLamp products, there's nothing here that makes you think you're at a great web site, much less one with a great print legacy. Grade C-.

Harvard Lampoon: Uneven. What little content is available on this site tends to be better than on the other humor sites on this list. But there's not much of it, so this site is mostly a mix between a placeholder and an advertisement for the Harvard Lampoon organization's products. The content would rate an A- or B+, but the other factors weigh down the site to a Grade C+.

Starlog: Incomplete. What is on the site is quite good, so if the future entails mostly "more of the same" (plus, please, a return to the print world) that won't be so bad. The site is nicely designed, easy to navigate, and contains science fiction and fantasy news, reviews, short videos, a (mostly dormant) forum, lengthy interviews, and more. I'm glad that they're still giving space to the occasional little-known SF effort, such as '77. So it's a grade C+ now, mostly because it's clearly a work in progress; at present, it's nowhere near as chock-full of content as sister site Fangoria.

SFX: Should be better. The design is very weak, and it takes a while to realize that there really is quite a bit of good content here; you have to dig. Click on the "features" button on the left side of the page, and what you get -- or at least what I got when I just tried it -- was mostly stuff about how to write a letter to the magazine, some weird multi-part thing on tattoos (really?), advertisements for SFX products masquerading as feature articles (a problem with the magazine, too, BTW). With a different design and better organization -- and a more professional treatment of the ad/edit break -- this could be a Grade B+; but it's so user-unfriendly right now, it merits a Grade C.

Cinefantastique: Who knew? The little magazine published out of suburban Chicago that was eventually bought by another publisher (after the tragic death of its original founder) which eventually stopped publishing the magazine ... and it's still around as an online-only service. Articles, videos, news, etc. Like the original magazine from which it takes its inspiration (and name and logo and some staff), this site is not flashy but is a welcome independent voice on the SF media scene. Grade B-.

Fangoria: Wow. With seemingly all of its owner's resources going to the horror genre (instead of the SF genre of its sister franchise, Starlog), Fango's web site had better have something to show for itself, and it does. Extensive and very lively forums (including participation by the publication's staff), videos, news, reviews, blogs, podcasts, comics, and so much more, this is the complete deal. Grade A.

Cracked: Odd. My first reaction when I discovered this site a few months ago was that its articles tended to be, in fact, funnier than what was on the National Lampoon's web site. Point in its favor. But the more I checked back at Cracked's site, the more annoyed (and disappointed) I became that almost every single article was "The 10 Most Disgusting Real Bathroom Cleaners" or "Five Stupid but True Political Quotes" or "The Seven Sex Myths that Are Actually True" or ... well, you get the point. There are other ways of formulating an article, but that's a lesson lost on this site. Grade C.

Titanic: This German satire magazine looks to be more current-issues oriented than most of its American cousins, but it's full of the usual attacks on politicians, celebrities, and human failings. The web site's biggest weakness is design -- it's nothing exciting to look at, but it has quite a bit of text, videos, postcards, etc., to keep the visitor amused. Grade C.

Mad: Not much available on this mag's site, which is mostly a storefront. A plus is that it has some games to play. A minus is that there's just not much content available, which is kind of odd for a magazine that's something like 4,500 years old. And wouldn't most people come to a Mad web site looking for some of its famous cartoon artwork? Yes, they would; and that's why they'll quickly leave this site, cuz it ain't here. Grade D+.

Space View: A well-done if unspectacular web site for the long-running German science fiction magazine. The site is marred by some annoying popups (including one that, even after you kill it, makes you click on another popup to confirm that you want to leave the page; that's enough to make you leave the site entirely; it shows a lot of disrespect to the visitor). But there is pretty deep content and a fairly good navigation (though I received an error when clicking the Forum link). And if you want a science-fiction calendar showing you the birthdates of actor Jeffrey Combs or every actor from every Trek series ever, this is your site, and you don't even need to know German to understand the calendar. Grade B-.

Scraping by on $92K

Glossed Over (whose motto is the wonderful "I have magazine issues"), does a beautiful job lampooning the only people in the world you wouldn't feel sorry for when they become unemployed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Satire Magazines on the Ropes

As a coda to my recent National Lampoon and Mad magazines coverage, blogger Paul Hooson says it's dire times for satirical and humorous magazines such as Mad (which has gone to a quarterly publishing schedule) and ... is there anything else even in that field these days?

Lampoon, of course, went to online-only more than a decade ago. And it's been a long time since we've seen the likes of International Insanity, Mole, Harpoon, and others, with only a quasi-qualifier, The Onion, still around. Obviously, there's no Fliegende Blätter or Punch being published.

Time for more satire in print, I say!

Der Orchideengarten: First Fantasy Magazine?

Thanks to blogger I09 for a look at the first fantasy magazine. This magazine, started in 1919, demonstrates the incredible creativity and talent of the magazine, and it shows that science fiction and fantasy are not something owned by Americans.

The artwork is at once very identifiably inter-war central European, and at the same time it could be created by a 22-year-old New York or San Francisco cartoonist today. Great stuff. I'd love to get my hands on a copy.

For more great covers of Der Orchideengarten, see IO9's blog.

Front Magazine RIP?

I know, you don't understand the German language. But, if you read this report (hey, use Google Language Tools to translate it), you'll find out about the death of a short-lived German gay magazine, Front.

Front made some news when it had professional footballer (i.e., soccer player) and member of the German national team Philip Lahm on the cover. Inside, he said he thought any gay professional player coming out would have a difficult time and be at the center of a media circus, but that he wouldn't treat a gay team member any differently from his straight teammates.

Anyway, the mag is now kaputt. Auf wiedersehen.

Bombay Dost -- Will It Thrive in India Now that Homosexuality Is Legal?

With the recent decision by India's highest court that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality was unconstitutional, one hopes (well, one hopes in the context of my magazine-centric blog) that Indian gay magazines such as Bombay Dost will find a place to thrive.

Bombay Dost apparently has about 1,000 copies in circulation, no doubt kept down in numbers by the need to distribute through roadside stands and be wrapped in brown paper. (This is in fact a rebirth of Bombay Dost; its previous incarnation ceased publication in 2002 due to a lack of advertising and financing.)

BTW, in the Spring 2009 issue of Winq, there was a feature profile of an openly gay Indian prince.

Starlog Fan Video Tribute

"SonOfSpork" has posted a little video in tribute to Starlog magazine. Nice job.

For the uninitiated, Starlog, first published in 1976, was put on print hiatus earlier this year and is, at least for now, an online-only publication.

See SonofSpork's other videos.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Office from Hell: National Lampoon in the 1970s

In the autumn of 1980, a wide array of writers, editors, and actors from National Lampoon's 10-year existence gathered for a somber purpose: The funeral of their colleague Doug Kenney, one of the magazine's founders and a rising star in Hollywood. Almost all of the editors who showed up had waged office battles or were still nursing grudges against the other editors. It was not a reunion to warm the heart. It was more a gathering of people who had argued and feuded and stumbled through a seminal magazine's first decade, doing as much damage as creative good.

Soon after the funeral, the magazine's editor-in-chief, P.J. O'Rourke, would quit his post, saying he was a bad editor anyway -- a verdict that likely met with agreement by some of his former colleagues, many of whom looked back on the magazine's first few years under Kenney and Henry Beard as the golden age, followed ever since with a steady descent.

The story of Kenney's life and death, and the tumultuous and creative experience at the nation's most successful humor publication, is told in Josh Karp's A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever (Chicago Review Press, 2006). It's a fascinating look at how the magazine was created, rode the wave of a generation's self-absorption and political awakening, and suffered the effects of immature, unprofessional editors with outsized egos who were nevertheless over-endowed with talent. Though its founders hoped to meld a left-wing sensibility to an irreverent and even anarchic satire publication, such attitudes occasionally brought readers but also much trouble. By 1980, Karp writes, the magazine's circulation was between 600,000 and 700,000 and it was dealing with about $10 million in lawsuits annually. The magazine would continue on throughout the 1980s, finally dying a protracted death in the 1990s under new owners and eventually replaced by its current online incarnation.

For those of us who are obsessed with magazines, Karp's book gives lots of good inside looks at how creative and business talents can come together to produce a successful periodical. Matty Simmons married his advertising and deal-making savvy to Kenney's and Beard's Harvard-bred talents. But there's one place Simmons' deal-making savvy failed him, and that was when he made the original agreement with the editors, agreeing to a buyout in five years at an inflated price. From the point at which Simmons had to pay out millions of dollars to the founding editors, the National Lampoon magazine and company were lurching from one crisis to another, occasionally interrupted by successes such as Animal House, Vacation, and the Sunday Newspaper Parody.

We learn about the creation of such publishing wonders as National Lampoon's 1964 High School Yearbook, which was the single best-selling one-shot magazine in history.
"O'Rourke was the magazine's most junior contributor, and was making a name for himself through sheer tenacity and a willingness to shepherd projects that ranged from the extraordinary ... to the ridiculous.... Everybody said that they'd help [with the Yearbook]. Almost no one did. Doug [Kenney] and O'Rourke prepared for the project by sitting around the Bank Street apartment, smoking dope and talking about high school."

Such was life at the Lampoon. For Kenney, it was a place he spent a lot of time (and sometimes not, as he took unexpected leaves of absence) and created some great humor writing. A regular theme of his was small-town America, the dysfunctional family life and class divisions that would produce his own inner conflicts and would provide fuel for much satire.

The book is, of course, a tribute to Kenney, a talented but uncontrolled (and ultimately uncontrollable) comic talent, who created a great deal of well-received humor in his time (including co-creating National Lampoon's Animal House and Caddyshack) but ended his years in a sad cocaine-fueled slide through paranoia and excess.

If there's a problem with the book, it's probably a problem that would be expected of a book that tries to lionize an individual and an institution: the individual's contributions are greatly exaggerated, while others -- such as P.J. O'Rourke -- are diminished.

As someone who has appreciated O'Rourke's writing for decades, I admit to feeling a need to defend him as I read about the constant sniping about him: he had sold out to the business side of the magazine (my reaction was that O'Rourke seemed to be the only editor who was mature enough to know they were running a business); he lacked the talent -- his own and his staff's -- that Kenney and Beard had (as a long-time contributor during the mag's "golden age" and as a co-creator of the yearbook and newspaper parodies, among many contributions, O'Rourke didn't need to apologize for any talent deficit of his own; also, he brought in John Hughes, who would write prodigiously for the magazine and spawn the company's wildly successful Vacation movie franchise); he was a turncoat, trading in his previous Maoist allegiances for a conservative-libertarian ideology (thank god; going pretty much anywhere from Maoism is an improvement); he replaced the magazine's freewheeling creative ethos with a top-down, dictatorial management style (some of that freewheeling style wasn't really creative bliss; it was often selfish and self-destructive, unconcerned about who else at the magazine was hurt by their actions).

And so on. But Karp's quote from O'Rourke after Doug Kenney's funeral and his decision to quit as editor shows that O'Rourke realized the criticisms weren't all off the mark: "I realized after leaving what a s---ball editor I was. ... People skills weren't in huge supply."

And so O'Rourke and the magazine's other surviving editors and publishers went on to other things in books, magazines, parodies, movies and television.

Those of us who grew up after National Lampoon's heyday -- I didn't start reading the magazine until late in junior high school, something like 1983 -- have had to live with being told by baby boomer codgers that we missed the good stuff, the early years of the magazine. I happen to think that there was still "good stuff" in the magazine in those first few years that I was reading the magazine (though I won't try to defend the magazine's later years).

But we did have the pleasure of enjoying all of the comedy greats that followed that era. We got Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Onion, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report. And through the magic of digitized magazines, we can now read the magazine's entire run in the form of the CD collection (GIT Corp., 2004 -- from which the magazine covers in this blog post are gratefully taken).

Though we lack a print Lampoon of our own today (I think one could still be successfully produced, but it would have to be up-to-date and it would never approach the 1 million circulation of National Lampoon's single most successful issue -- which, BTW, was edited by P.J. O'Rourke), we got the pleasure of the world of humor and satire that was heavily shaped by Kenney, Beard, O'Rourke, Sean Kelly, and the rest.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

News in the Age of Instant Feedback

Cute video from The Onion, in which talking heads on a news program react to instant feedback from viewers, who vote whether they like what the person is saying.

New Live Poll Allows Pundits To Pander To Viewers In Real Time

The Onion for Sale?

A long time ago in a city far, far away, a young cartoonist named Scott Dikkers drew a comic strip for a college paper. The comic strip was a bare-bones, stick-figure affair, and it was occasionally funny. Then Dikkers got involved in another enterprise at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: The Onion, which started out in the mid-1980s as a coupon-supported humor newspaper on campus.

Dikkers drew his comic for The Daily Cardinal, a left-wing campus daily that competed with my own centrist/center-right daily campus paper, The Badger Herald. (Madison was a great city for student newspaper wars and competition.) In those early years of The Onion's life, the targets of its satire were local, including the Herald and the Cardinal. I remember walking into our offices one afternoon while our news editors were moaning about some Onion lampoon of the campus dailies. I didn't moan; the Onion's satirization of us was usually dead-on, hitting us at our obvious weak points, which for us included some fairly weak copy editing.

One such satire was a one-column box that sought to explain the difference between the Cardinal and the Herald. One of the bullet points for the leftist Cardinal was that its staff supported the El Salvadoran marxist rebel group FMLN; as for the Herald, it would misspell FMLN.

That's good. A better bullet point was that the Cardinal editors were all rich kids from the north shore of Milwaukee; the Badger Herald's editors all wanted to be rich kids from the north shore of Milwaukee. Perfect! There was truth to it, and it played up to the stereotypes of the two papers.

Anyway, The Onion began to widen its circulation and broaden its sights. No longer was it mainly supported by coupons for local pizza joints running along the bottoms of the pages. And a few years later, it was sold to a New York firm, which has continued to expand the company over the years.

Gawker reports that The Onion is for sale, and the New York-based owners are negotiating with a large media company to buy it. Please, please, please, don't let it be News Corp.

I was sorry to see The Onion lose its Madison base in its first sale, and I'm sure it won't regain it in this sale (there being no "large media company" in Madison). But it was another great midwestern humor creation, like Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which also included some UW-Madison alumni, plus Green Bay native Joel Hodgson) in the Twin Cities, and it went on to conquer the humor world almost as much as National Lampoon did in the 1970s.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

23 Quadrillion Bucks

This is one way to pay for health care reform: Raise the cigarette tax.

Niche Magazine Markets Rule

In a statement that should give hope to small magazine publishers, Ben Greenman, a novelist and an editor at The New Yorker, tells a Media Bistro podcast that people will be willing to pay for niche content. He cited New Yorker editor David Remnick's belief that niche audiences – and they consider New Yorker's literate audience to be a large niche audience – "seek out content, and they are willing to spend time on it, and — despite what the 15-year-old says — when they have money, they are willing to spend money on [your content]."

The "15-year-old" to whom he refers is an intern at a UK financial institution who was asked to provide a report on the consumption habits of teens. He surveyed his friends and reported back that teenagers don't read newspapers (duh), don't use Twitter (if true, it's to their credit), don't use the phone (exceedingly doubtful), and use their game consoles to communicate. This sent a shock though the business community (or, for a non-Rupert Murdoch-owned source, see here), which apparently is still just getting up to speed on how to spell Twitter -- and now they're being told it's old hat. (The term "old hat" is old hat, BTW.)

Other thoughts that come out of this:
* They have a 15-year-old intern? Isn't that too young and kind of creepy?
* If teenagers aren't reading, can we please stop gearing all content toward them?
* If teenagers aren't using phones, then someone should tell the junior high school teachers I know who deal with their students calling and texting all day long. If they're not communicating with their friends and family, what are they doing? Trading stocks and bonds?
* Are UK business people so out of touch that they're really amazed at all this?

But, to bring this back to Mr. Greenman, it is at least a (probably unreliable) indicator that publishers who are relying on mass market media products to reach the young and easily distracted are probably wasting a lot of money. What they need to do is use the niche markets where the young and easily distracted are spending their time and where they have invested some trust, and that's where they should advertise the hell out of their products or services. This, again, is good news to small magazines and web site and online services that cater to relatively narrow markets and do it well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ultimate Popular Blog Post

Okay, so a blog dedicated to writing mostly about the magazine industry isn't going to get me millions of readers each day. Some days my traffic is fine, but far too many days it's very low. So, in the interests of getting people to come to my blog based on their keyword searches, I've decided to write the Ultimate Popular Blog Post.

It can be difficult to find time to write exciting blog posts, because, as my celebrity friend Paris Hilton would certainly tell you if she was indeed my friend and I don't care that she's not because now I can put "Paris Hilton" as one of my keywords, there are many distractions on the web. You know, all that sex (keyword!) and violence (and so on!) can be very difficult to ignore.

I am, of course, trying to learn from President Barack Obama, who, like Nelson Mandela, is a serious man and a popular keyword devoted to constitutional law. I sometimes think that our president, if he were here with me, would say, "John, do you think the White Sox will win the AL Central this year?" Yes, strange words from the most powerful man in the world, but I decide he might be worth an answer. I mean, he's no Anna Kournikova or Pamela Anderson (did you see her in the Borat movie? Was she a great keyword or what?!?), but he is from one of my favorite cities, Chicago (you know, Rod Blagojevich's old stomping grounds), where there is much sex and other keywords taking place EVERY DAY.

Sarah Palin would not like my mention of sex, of course. She recently resigned from her office as governor of some third world land, but she still wants to have an impact on hot national issues such as abortion, gay marriage, Sen. Larry Craig. Okay, Craig's made up (such a man could not really exist, could he? Wonder what he'd think if he was on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing the nomination pleas of Sonia Sotomayor....) She's no American Idol, but plenty of Christian home schoolers think she's the cat's pajamas, so she'll be a major player for years. Like Bill Clinton.

That was kind of nude -- I mean rude of me, wasn't it? Politicians, after all, get a bum rap, because they have to be somewhat boring so we trust them with running the world. They can't party it up like Hugh Hefner or any number of young playmates he must party with. (We'll assume there are no drugs at the parties, which gives me at least one more keyword.)

In the end, listening to famous people give me advice on my blog is probably silly. George Clooney knows Darfur, not bloggin'. I'm sure Matt Damon feels the same way. (Did you ever wonder if Clooney and Damon are pals in real life, just like the movies where they chum around with Julia Roberts and other huge Hollywood stars?)

Okay, I'm outta ideas. I'll stick to magazines in the future. Didja all know that BusinessWeek is for sale? Oh, you did? Hell.

Locus Magazine Founder Dies

Charles N. Brown, founder of science fiction news magazine Locus, died July 12. He was 71.

Locus is a densely packed periodical with author interviews, previews of book releases, fiction magazine reports, industry news, and more. It was originally founded as a one-sheet fanzine, but grew into the full-scale magazine because of Brown's love for the publication and his enjoyment editing it, notes Locus.

One last note: The Oakland, California-based magazine uses the same printing company -- Alonzo Printing -- as my San Francisco-based magazine, and I decided to add color to my non-coated pages as a result of seeing how successfully it worked with Locus' similar paper stock. Just a little tidbit to chuck into the back of your mind.

R.I.P. Charles N. Brown. You made your mark on the science fiction publishing world.

Monday, July 13, 2009

ESPN Says Lambeau Field's the Best

ESPN magazine says that my hometown stadium, Green Bay's Lambeau Field, is the best place to take in a game. The claim comes in a report on the results of a poll of professional sports fans.

Frankly, I don't know if that's true or not, but I'm glad to see my old hometown get the credit. Despite having spent something like 10 years of my youth in Green Bay, I've never been inside Lambeau Field. I did, however, attend the same church as Bart Starr, live in the same apartment complex as a Packer player, and once accidentally short-change a couple players who ordered food at the Burger King where I worked. So, you know, I'm an insider.

I'm not a fan of top-ten lists or polls in magazines. I think they're basically space-fillers and a replacement for a reported article. Ultimately, like this poll, they're also useless. So what if Lambeau Field is believed by many to be the best place to take in a game? The place I most enjoyed watching a professional game was Comiskey Park in Chicago, and that stadium has all the charm of a suburban strip mall.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bruno Makes Magazines Market His Movie

Well, actually actor Sacha Baron Cohen makes the mags do his marketing for him, and most magazines seem more than happy to oblige.

GQ recently tried to drum up newsstand support (or at least newsstand buzz) by putting a nude (but carefully concealed) Cohen on the cover of its special comedy issue.

Out, a long-running gay lifestyle title, is the latest periodical to slap Cohen's Bruno on the cover and interview the actor in the guise of his character, an outrageously flamboyant gay Austrian fashionista. Frankly, I'm undecided on this. The movie's funniest bits were not the gay humor, but rather the off-hand comments (for example, about his desire to be the most famous Austrian celebrity since Adolf Hitler).

I have no idea if this is good or bad for improved acceptance of gays. There's a scene in the movie that takes place in a sort of ultimate-fighting ring in Arkansas (I think), the auditorium filled with rednecks given cheap tickets to a brutal fight game supposedly sponsored by a flamboyantly straight guy. When the action turns decidedly gay, the audience turns very ugly, throwing food and furniture at the stage and hurling all kinds of abuse at Bruno and his assistant. My take on this movie is that the type of person who filled that stadium thinking they'd see some good ol' heterosexual brutal violence is not the type of person who will fill the multiplex to see this movie, so the fears of this film fanning the flames (oops) of intolerance are probably overwrought.

Then again, I found myself curiously unmoved by this film. I think I laughed out loud only twice. It certainly isn't because I don't appreciate sharp-edged humor. As readers of this blog know, I think National Lampoon was a gem of a magazine for championing take-no-prisoners, nothing's-sacred humor. But Cohen's humor seems to be less about taking a taboo subject and eviscerating it than it is about making people feel uncomfortable and then making people laugh at them. It's a step down in terms of humor, and probably civilization.

That said, look for my upcoming review of Josh Karp's biography of Lampoon founder Doug Kenney, A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever.

Better off Without Ads?

The Wall Street Journal reports that ad pages dropped a terrible 30 percent in the second quarter from a year ago.

Makes me wonder if the magazines that get most of their revenue from newsstands and subscriptions actually pick up market share during such downturns. (Has anyone done a study?) After all, advertising is an addiction; magazines that live by that sword, die by that sword.

Gruner + Jahr Seeks to Sell Two Mags

As I've noted before, now's a great time to have a magazine-acquisition fund.

German publishing giant Gruner + Jahr is looking to sell two of its titles, Emotion and Healthy Living. (Why a German magazine publisher names a magazine with an English title is beyond me ... oh, wait, the magazine I'm planning has a German title. Never mind.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Got It

Okay, I finally found it.

Dykstra's Magazine Problem, and not Yours

Former baseball star Lenny Dykstra's currently anywhere between $10 million and $50 million in debt, apparently mostly due to the failure of a magazine for professional athletes, of which he was part owner. Though he might deserve some credit for at least trying something a little different, this might be one of those rare times when I'd agree with the pessimists who say print magazines are dead. In this specific istance. Because magazines are certainly not high on the list of things to which professional athletes pay attention. Too many words, not enough moving pictures. And why have a magazine telling you how wonderful and special you are, when you can have your paid flunkies telling it to you all day long?

Anyway, sorry to hear it bankrupted the guy, but Motley Fool seems to think he'd have hit the wall sooner or later from one of his get-rich-quick schemes. So let's not blame this one on "the death of magazines," okay?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Magazine-Training Sarah Palin

During her famous (some would call it infamous, most would call it shocking) performance in an interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric last fall, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was asked what newspapers and magazines she read to stay informed about the world:

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

"All of them"? "Any of them?" I think we all drew the same and probably the correct conclusion: She doesn't read, or if she reads, she doesn't read enough. And she didn't answer with the bratty response of the Web 2.0 generation that she doesn't read magazines because she gets all the information she needs from Twitter and blogs, so I think we can assume that's not her answer.

I have thought she'd have been better off making up the names of a half-dozen publications, and if Couric claimed ignorance of those titles, just mention that they're regional Alaskan public affairs periodicals or some such. If you can't lie successfully to a TV anchor, how can we expect you to negotiate with Putin and Berlusconi? Her staff would have found that easier to spin than the answer she actually gave to Couric.

Now that Palin has decided her time is too precious to waste by serving the remainder of her one term in the governor's office, we can assume she'll have a lot of time to catch up on her reading. Therefore, I present a list of magazines to which the politician with national aspirations might do well to subscribe. Note: These are not necessarily magazines I endorse -- in fact, some of them I can't stand -- but they are each here for a real reason.

The Economist: This fast-growing libertarian newsweekly will not only keep her informed about the world with bite-sized reports, but it will also introduce her to the fact that people can have conservative, pro-business views while still letting other people live their lives the way they want.

Christianity Today: What, you can be a conservative Christian and be more thoughtful than the retail anti-intellectual version we're shown day-in and day-out in this country? Turns out that, Yes, you can.

The Financial Times: It's a thin paper, so it won't take long to read. But it'll give her a good sense of world politics and business from a perspective you rarely get in the United States. Rupert Murdoch is not the source of all information ...

BBC Focus: This nice big colorful magazine reports on science in an exciting (and did I say "colorful"?) fashion that will teach her all kinds of cool things about this world.

Reason: Where have the Ayn Randians been for the past few decades? Putting out this brash political journal. She'll read some refreshingly different ways to make her points other than winking and slandering opponents.

The New York Review of Books: I know, even if by some weird chance Palin picked up the other magazines on this list, there's no way she'd pick up this bastion of the Big Apple's liberal intelligentsia. But if she really wants to learn what the smart folks are thinking, she should read a few issues; she'll find they're much deeper and less left-wing than she might have thought.

That should be enough for now. In short, governor, head for your nearest Borders -- the bookstore kind, not the national kind.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Quittin' Time

With Vanity Fair's devasting article on the poor political and ethical judgments of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin still not only on the newsstands but still the talk of the nation, the neophyte state executive has decided to use this weekend as her moment to announce her early resignation from the governor's office. This is leaving nearly everyone bewildered, because it's not exactly the best way to refute accusations of poor judgement and bad communication, and it's also leaving many people to suspect there's another shoe about to drop concerning some ethical scandal or somesuch.

Here's just one example of the weirdness: According to The New York Times article on the announcement that took even Republicans by surprise: "[S]he said she had decided not to seek re-election when her term expires, and that she thought it would be unfair to her constituents to remain in office as a lame duck."

That doesn't make sense. Especially because the ostensible reason that people offer in an attempt to make her look not unstable is that she's leaving early so she can focus on running for president in 2012 (about which, forget it; if she thinks people will pick her over Obama even if his approval ratings dive by two-thirds, she's in a fantasy world). But if that's the real reason she's leaving, then this: Why the heck would Americans put her in the White House? Because sooner or later a president also becomes a lame duck, and we don't expect them to say auf wiedersehen once they've been elected to their second term, and wander back to Alaska to shoot innocent moose (meese? mice?).

So, as with so many times concerning this politician, whichever is the truth -- a big scandal about to hit the fan or she wants to concentrate on losing the next presidential race -- the truth still makes her look bad.

Yesterday on this blog, I quoted conservative/libertarian satirist P.J. O'Rourke on his views regarding the future of media. But at the same event, O'Rourke was asked whether the Republicans have any great national leaders about to become their heroes (and possible victors in 2012). His response was that they had basically two: Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin -- but Gingrich had a freakish ego like the blowfish in "Finding Nemo" and Sarah Palin was, at best, kinda whacky. His suggestion for his party was that they basically go away on a retreat for however many years it took them to grow up and become sane again.

Maybe if the GOP ran P.J. O'Rourke in 2012, they might at least not be a laughingstock -- or at least it'd be intentional. But for now, we're mostly all just joining betting pools to guess the Palin scandal that's the real reason she's quitting:

* Todd Palin's really her son?
* She's converting to Scientology?
* She can't see Russia from her house, but she can crank call them, and the bill's been charged to the state?

Who knows? But the comedy show that is the Sarah Palin story (and the GOP leadership story) goes on.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

P.J. O'Rourke on Magazines and Media

During a June 11, 2009, appearance at The Commonwealth Club of California in Silicon Valley, author, satirist, and former National Lampoon editor P.J. O'Rourke was asked about his views of the publishing industry.

Asked about the severe troubles of print and other traditional media and the rise of bloggers and other new-media thingies, he cracked, "If I wanted to hear what some cranky old guy in his underwear had to say, I'd ask myself."

But he noted that things are unlikely to go back to what they were, such as when he was toiling away at National Lampoon in New York City in the 1970s. "We are obviously in some sort of transition period. I assume we'll come out on the other side of it pretty nicely, in some way. Something will emerge. But I haven't got the slightest idea what it's going to be. And the transition's going to be ugly; all change is painful, and this is particularly painful. Let's hope that the pain we're feeling here is the pain of childbirth and not the pain of being run over by a bus. At the moment, it's very hard to tell. I'm certainly glad I'm not starting out in this business.

"The long trend that worries me is [that] the easier it gets to communicate -- it's just totally counter-intuitive -- but the easier it is to communicate, the stupider the things that get communicated. When you had to carve something into rock with a chisel and a hammer -- [you got the] 10 commandments! Pretty good. Brief, to the point. [Then] you got parchment and a quill pen and you had to chase the goose down, and make the ink yourself, stretch the sheep and get the parchment -- [you got] Shakespeare! Come along, you get the fountain pen, you get Henry James. You get the typewriter -- you get Kerouac. You get the computer -- you get Matt Drudge. So I think maybe we should go back to the chisel and the hammer and a big piece of stone."

Re-Selling Michael Jackson

Just a few months after Barack Obama's newsstand drawing power induced endless (and some unlikely) publishers to put him on the cover and even produce special issues celebrating his election (and, later, his inauguration), now we're clearly in the Michael Jackson magazine era.

Nearly every magazine is finding ways to produce special issues or to slap Jackson's photo on the cover of their regular issues. Samir Husni notes that Time's special edition devoted to Jackson (with a bumped-up cover price) was produced in just 24 hours; Newsweek put the late entertainer and questionable child-supervisor on the cover of its regular edition and also boosted its price. gives a preview of the Time "special commemorative edition."

Of course, had Jackson not died at the same time as actress Farrah Fawcett, then she would be dominating the newsstands these days. At least In Touch Weekly did a quick split cover, featuring both recently deceased celebrities. Competitor People had the better cover photo of Jackson, but it relegated Farrah to a corner box.

Jackson probably will sell better, so in that important way, there are probably few dry eyes in mass magazine publishers' offices these days. Few would be able to resist.