Is a New Print Magazine a Bad Idea? - Sandra Knauf
Contributor
Written by
Elisabeth Kinsey
March 2012
Contributor
Written by
Elisabeth Kinsey
March 2012

My guest today is Sandra Knauf, creator and editor of Greenwoman Magazine.  Please see information and bio at the end!

 

I came across a two-page ad in More magazine the other day–an ad for magazines. The heading read:

Will the Internet kill magazines? Did instant coffee kill coffee? 

On the adjacent page is a photo of a warehouse full of coffee bean bags, stacked to about 15 feet high, courtesy of National Geographic.

The ad goes on to say that magazine readership has actually increased over the past five years, and that even the 18-to-34 age group segment continues to grow. Most surprisingly, young adults now read more issues per month than their parents. Furthermore, magazines, not “obsessed with immediacy nor trapped by the daily news cycle . . . promote deeper connections. They create relationships. They engage us in ways distinct from digital media.”

While it’s just plain wrong to imply that engaging relationships aren’t created through online reading experiences (She Writes, for one example, is excellent proof of the contrary), magazines, like books, are  words of another feather. Reading print is a tactile and usually relaxing experience. It’s about making time for yourself and indulging in discoveries in slow time. The digital, no matter what I am reading, always seems hurried–maybe it’s being in close proximity to all the electrical equipment, staring at a lighted screen, or sitting upright (as many of us prefer to recline, feet up, when reading–and some go for the ultimate experience, bathtub reading), or maybe it’s the speed of it all. Reading online is exciting, not relaxing. It’s always an “amped up” experience; one that ultimately tires us in ways we don’t understand yet.

Although I blog, read blogs, shop online,  am very fond of Facebook, keep up with the news and read many important and wonderful things online, it will never be my preference for reading. A necessity, now, but never a preference.

Wanting to publish a print magazine has not been without its worries. Instinctively I felt it was a good move, and certainly the right one for me, but always, there’s the nagging doubt. Imagine my thrill, about a month ago, reading some very good news in the 40th anniversary issue of Mother Earth News.  In their “News From Mother” column, it was reported that in a 2009 survey of the 212 largest national magazines, readers of their publication spent an average of more than 70 minutes reading each issue (for comparison, readers of The Atlantic averaged 67,  Reader’s Digest, 63 and O: The Oprah Magazine, 46). But more than that, the circulation of Mother Earth News has increased dramatically. They quoted that sales and subscriptions are up 38 percent since 2005 “a period when most magazines’ audiences have been shrinking, rather than growing.” They estimate their total circulation to now be 3 million (here I thought, “WOW”) and wrote they have seen an 80% increase, yes, eighty percent, in single copy sales over the last five years.

To what do they attribute these increases? Growing interest in the environment, gardening, in living thoughtfully, trying to make a connection with the outside world, slowing down. It makes sense to me.  And these are interests are not going away anytime soon.

Many of my Facebook friends (and non-Facebook friends) are in the gardening industry. Many are bloggers or writers for newspapers, magazines. Some are authors of books. A few are publishers. What is interesting to me is that, before I read all this, I felt that we were entering a “boom” time, not only in the garden industry (some parts booming, some suffering mightily) but especially in garden writing. Gardening is America’s #1 “hobby,”  but it’s more than that. It’s not all about the economy and people wanting to save on their food bills. It is, as Mother Earth News pinpoints, more about living thoughtfully. Multitudes of Americans including, very notably, the younger generation, are now taking great interest in the broad spectrum of life (our environment, safe and healthy food, slow living) that includes gardening.

Independent writers on the Internet, as well as those who already self-publish in print–those are the very people poised to be the next generation of print publishers. Successful print publishers.

It’s been a long time coming. As far as magazines go, for years many have been getting increasingly boring, predictable, transparently produced with a one-size-fits-all-thinking multi-national publishing corporation mentality. I had been a big magazine consumer for years. I’d always loved them.  Over the last two decades our family subscribed to dozens, mainly big national ones:  The New Yorker, Country Living, Smithsonian, Country Gardens, Horticulture, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, House & Garden, House Beautiful, Garden Design, Vogue and others; but also specialty magazines, such as Herb Quarterly, Poets & Writers, The Sun, GreenPrints, Car & Driver.  Now I subscribe to only a few; though that may soon change, if what I suspect will happen happens.   

My love affair with magazines cooled for several reasons. The economy figured in (I can check out many at the library and save a lot of money) as did concerns about the environment. I no longer take the use of trees and oil for the production of print media lightly. I have to say, though, that the biggest change of heart came about because of quality of content. Many magazines simply stopped speaking to me. Not only have I become increasingly disgusted with the amount of pharmaceutical ads and ads for over-the-top luxury items in the most popular ones, but there seems to be less great writing . To name one example; for many years, as a person interested in antiques, decorating and gardening, I was a faithful subscriber to Country Living. While my aesthetic tastes changed over the years, I ultimately stopped subscribing because of the big-pharma advertising and the content. Around the time Mrs. Greenthumbs’ last page column ended (due to her demise, a tragic loss) and that always-delightful column was replaced not by another brilliant columnist but by a monthly photograph and some forgettable quote, I said, “That’s it.”  I still buy a few issues a year, and there are still some great articles and columns, but overall the thrill is gone. 

In this new era of publishing there is no sure thing and no easy road. Still, starting a new print magazine, while certainly a high-risk and daring venture, is hardly a terrible idea. There will always be power in print. What I believe we need to champion is a new breed. I want to support creative magazines that speak to what is important to us in this new era. I want to see more independent ventures–magazines with small print runs and high quality content that connect in a very deep way with the reader. Magazines that truly merge the art of printing with the art of writing.

 

Sandra Knauf is a gardener and writer who started out in self-publishing with six issues of a zine called Greenwoman before making the jump to a full-fledged, biannual magazine last year. She works as publisher, editor, designer and ad saleswoman—with the help of her daughter Zora (a full-time student at CU Boulder) and copy editor Cheri Colburn. Greenwoman Magazine features poetry, fiction and non-fiction, editorials, interviews, art and comics. Subscriptions and digital downloads are available at her website http://www.greenwomanmagazine.com . Sandra would like to add that the interior pages of the magazine are printed on 100% compostable newsprint.

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Comments
  • Elisabeth Kinsey

    That's so good to hear, Marcia!  Thanks for sharing!

  • Marcia Passos Duffy

    Here here. We also started a print (quarterly) magazine ... about gardening, food, and farms in our region. We've grown in a down economy (started 2 years ago). www.monadnocktable.com.