I'm still not over the demise of Might. Although it folded just three years ago, the hip, edgy and funny bimonthly magazine founded by Dave Eggers was the best thing to come out of San Francisco since Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. Eggers and crew crafted a witty, subversive read that I looked forward to with almost codependent zeal, driving magazine purveyors everywhere mad with my roving eye and constant refrain of "Is the new Might in yet?"
Although the issues that dealt with racism, selling out and marriage were all really good, I have to admit my favorite was the one where they faked the death of Eight is Enough youngest child Adam Rich. While Rich found the joke hilarious, Might's backers backed out six months later and the publication had to close shop. As Eggers went on to find literary fame with his first novel, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I found myself searching magazine racks for something half as good as Might.
I think I've found it. It's not your mama's feminism, but Bust is quirky, witty, political and fun. The question is, will Bust -- something I've come to depend on like my favorite cheap Chilean wine -- still be around in six months? Even for those who get their daily bread from selling magazines, it's a tough call.
"Small magazines have a tough row to hoe," says Craig Larsen, owner of Jimmy'Z Magazines in downtown Spokane. "It's really expensive to publish a magazine, and it's a tough racket to be in for a lot of companies."
Still, the industry now sports a number of thick, glossy magazines that were once smaller, plainer and fairly obscure.
"A good example is Maxim. At first, we only carried a few at a time, and not too many people asked about it," says Larsen. "Now it's one of the top selling magazines in the country."
Conversely, some of the biggest and glossiest don't carry the numbers they once boasted.
"When Talk first came out, it was the first time anybody had interviewed Hillary Clinton, and the press just couldn't get enough, so it was a really big deal for a few months," says Kenna Morgan, manager of the magazine section at Auntie's. "Now we barely sell three copies a month. George has trickled off, too, but it still holds its own."
So once a magazine makes it to the magazine rack, how does it establish a presence? While extensive marketing budgets and proficient sales reps make an admittedly huge difference when it comes to getting a magazine visibility, the other, slower route is by word-of-mouth.
"Sometimes I end up picking out things I think might sell, but what I think is great sometimes doesn't end up doing much," says Larsen. "But some of the things I started carrying based on customer recommendations end up doing really well."
Knowing all too well that what often stands between a new magazine and its ultimate demise are just a few thousand readers, what follows is a list of some of our faves for your summertime perusal:
Okay, Martha Stewart's Living doesn't count, as it's well over five years old, but several of this year's newest magazines follow her successful formula of making the rituals and myriad tedious details of everyday life an art form. I admit, I really like O, Oprah's huge, eponymous and rather self-referential magazine. Even if she's all over every cover and makes numerous appearances throughout the magazine, the articles are inspiring to even a cynic like myself and the design is graceful and lush.
Real Simple and SimplyCity follow the simplicity movement, which ironically gained most of its popularity from Oprah's show. While Real Simple is nothing if not sincere, with tips on selecting comfortable-yet-sexy-shoes and buying in multiples, SimplyCity is the same thing for younger, more design-conscious readers.
The Tragically Hip
The fresh hipness of Wallpaper, Flaunt and Surface is delightful to see, even if the models seldom smile and the furnishings are slick but austere. Wallpaper, a magazine of "The Stuff that Surrounds You," devotes the matte pages of its current issue to articles on "Constructing Your Own Adult Creche" and "Hot Hoods" -- in Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona and Beirut.
Flaunt's cover, a striking homage to Dawson Creek's James Van Der Beek, is no Tiger Beat homage to the hunk du jour. Instead, it's a clever way to get you into a magazine that offers features on Stellan Skarsgaard, fashion shoots at Will Rogers State Beach in Southern California and a cool little punch out model of an Eames recliner.
Surface is similarly avant garde, with a higher premium, pages wise, placed on high fashion and eclectic design.
Finally, Tokyo Pop, with its features on Asian snacks (Pocky, not sushi), anime and panda girls, is a kitschy, clever little magazine primer on Asian pop culture for suburban American kids.
Reading for Riot Grrls
There are few things more mind-numbing than American magazines targeted at women. New Woman, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Vogue and Mademoiselle are all virtually indistinguishable from one other, apart from their covers, with tips on better orgasms (for him!), how to lose five pounds in five days and how to raise your self esteem by making over your makeup bag. And previously, our only alternative was the very earnest, but not always fun to read Ms.
Enter Madison and Bust. Madison has some of the most engaging, well-written articles in modern magazine publishing, combined with arresting visuals. The current issue has an exploration of the Irish novel, interviews with Vincent D'Onofrio, Richard Gere and up-and-coming actress Kim Davis. And there's photography by Sebastiao Salgado and an article on Walt Stillman's decision to publish a novelization of The Last Days of Disco two years after the film's release.
Bust is one of the best things I've seen since Might. Billed as feminism for "the new girl order," I might be on the twilight side of their target readership, but I know a good thing when I see it. The current issue has an interview with Margaret Cho, a review of vibrators (I don't remember ever seeing that in Ms.) and some extensive pieces on travel for those who -- unlike the readers of some of the most popular travel magazines --have to work very hard at their retail or temp jobs to afford it.
The most exciting trend in magazines are those that cater to people who traffic in all things digital, dot.com and interactive. NV, a "new vision in business," endeavors to bring people together while staying on the cutting edge of technology. The cover story, "The Digital Divide," explores the issues of racism, opportunity and technology in unusual depth.
Shift has the best layout for browsing, with a large print table of contents (for screen-baked eyes?) and short-attention-span friendly bits on privacy on the net, voting online and articles on indie high tech companies like Indiewire, Epitonic and Wild Brain.
Red Herring is a sturdy monthly on "the business of technology," which delves into bringing IPOs to the masses, the dilemma of trying to smarten up TV and mentoring "smart young capitalists."
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