The New York Review of Magazines » Reviews The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 The American Conservative Wed, 12 May 2010 17:02:10 +0000 Ali Gharib The American Conservative]]> By Ali Gharib

Circulation: 12,000
Date of Birth: 2002
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $3.95

The American Conservative is a politics magazine with something to love or to hate for both conservatives and liberals. Founded in 2002 by right-wing iconoclast Pat Buchanan, journalist Scott McConnell and Greek-shipping-heir-turned-writer Taki Theodoracopulos, the magazine took aim at George W. Bush’s peculiar brand of conservatism — his rampant foreign adventurism and massive spending. Its attack on what mainstream conservatism had become established TAC immediately as an outlier on the right, tending toward Buchanan’s “paleoconservatism” (more traditionalist than today’s conservative movement) and the libertarian right.

That’s not all there is to TAC, though. In fact, there’s even something for your average paleocon to hate: A trickle of progressive journalists have been publishing articles in TAC, including Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald; former New York Observer writer Philip Weiss, now blogging on his Mondoweiss website; and Robert Dreyfuss, who writes for The Nation. Most of their coverage does, however, revolve around themes of the founding ideology of the magazine, such as criticisms of U.S. policy in the Middle East — particularly of Israel and its U.S. supporters — and government infringements on First Amendment and privacy rights.

TAC is onto something with its principled but eclectic stable of writers. McConnell, who remains the editor (though executive editor Kara Hopkins runs the magazine day-to-day), explains its unique positioning: “We take a beating from all sides, but I’ve always thought — it’s almost a cliché to say so — the left-right dichotomy doesn’t necessarily explain the way actual readers are or the way America is.”

That is something I, too, have found in my days in Washington writing about foreign policy. The neoconservative architects of the Iraq War have more in common with the Democratic liberal interventionists who were their enablers — Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry, to name just a few major liberals who voted to authorize the war — than they do with either midcentury Republican isolationists (some now paleocons) or militaristic Republican realists. Likewise, progressives can find common cause with libertarians on privacy issues and with noninterventionists on issues of war and peace.

The magazine’s focus on the U.S.’s involvement in the world is not an accident. “I’m kind of a believer that there is one issue that defines an era,” McConnell says. Right now, he thinks it’s terrorism and U.S. dealings in the Middle East — Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, at the center of it all, U.S. policy toward Israel. TAC doesn’t shy away from issues involving Israel, a subject that often, despite robust discussion in Europe and even in Israel itself, gets short shrift in the U.S.

“When you write on Israel-Palestine, it’s always loaded,” says Phillip Weiss, who lost his job at The New York Observer because he wanted to focus on that one issue — especially how it’s tied up in Jewish American identity and politics. In March of last year, Weiss wrote a cover story for TAC on the torpedoing of Charles Freeman’s nomination to head Obama’s National Intelligence Council, expounding on the so-called Israel lobby’s role in the affair. “There’s stuff I don’t like in TAC, but big deal,” Weiss told me, noting his trouble getting pieces on his subject of choice published elsewhere. “TAC wanted my stuff and I said ‘great’ and worked for them. And I didn’t care about the labels.”

The labels are legion, and they come from the right as well as the left. David Frum, an arch-neocon and former Bush speechwriter, attacked paleocons in general, and specifically TAC’s editors and adherents, as “unpatriotic conservatives” in a 2003 National Review article, accusing them of “apologetics for the enemy and wishful defeatism” in the so-called War on Terror. Buchanan, who writes editorials for TAC, is a particular lightning rod. He has been called a racist for decades. During Buchanan’s presidential run in 1991, William Buckley wrote a 40,000-word article, again in National Review, declaring him an anti-Semite. Famously a drinking buddy of Hunter S. Thompson in the 1960s and now a frequent guest on the liberal-leaning cable channel MSNBC, Buchanan is unapologetic for his controversial views. To him, the labels are nothing but overwrought distortions intended to silence him.

After some financial trouble last year, much like everyone else, TAC is back on solid footing (a relative term in the magazine world — especially in the small-circulation, low-revenue sphere of political magazines) after reducing its staff through attrition, moving to a cheaper office and cutting the publication frequency in half. Although progressives like Weiss (and me) might not agree with everything The American Conservative says, there is no doubt that it is a unique voice in American political life.

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Blurt Wed, 12 May 2010 17:01:54 +0000 Susie Poppick Blurt]]> By Susie Poppick

Circulation: 30,000
Date of Birth: 2009
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $4.95

The very existence of year-old Blurt magazine is bold, and not just because of the recession.

Blurt dares, in the age of the Internet, to represent the ineffable auditory experience of music through words and photos, without any handy play buttons offering MP3 samples or video clips. The quarterly flips the traditional print-to-web formula — it is the new offspring of an existing website, — and eschews top 40 pop hits in favor of the “indie”-prefixed genres. If those weren’t warning signs enough, founder Scott Crawford’s last print music magazine, Harp, folded in 2008.

These red flags suggest a novel challenge, to which Blurt’s response is surprisingly traditional. The magazine’s spirit (and most of its word count) is devoted to good old-fashioned music journalism, with intimate articles on rising artists and vivid curatorial music reviews that would seem right at home on the pages of Rolling Stone, were the artists less obscure. The writing is perceptive and often beautiful; a reviewer in the winter 2009 issue remarks that the electronic group Fuck Buttons’ newest album, Tarot Sport, “was gulped down by the press with a wince and a lemon slice; it had harsh waves of treble, oily swamp-hiccups of bass. … It is quite nearly the inverse of the former album, with the same shape, the same cracked teeth percussion … and the same cawing jungles of multilayered synth, but everything now bright as a body turned inside out, bleeding colour.” With descriptions like that, who needs streaming audio?

Features and interviews round out the content, providing indie music junkies — those who subsist on albums by Heartless Bastards, Of Montreal, Grizzly Bear, Deerhoof, My Morning Jacket, Lykki Li, Conor Oberst and TV on the Radio — with a feast of information that blurs the lines between the obscure, fascinating and trivial (e.g., did you know a groupie once stole Kings of Leon vocalist-guitarist Caleb Followill’s $1,200 jacket?).

But Blurt, for all its wordplay and insight, misses the mark when it comes to presentation. Many photos, including a centerfold spread of the Avett Brothers in the winter 2009 issue, are dimly lit and low-resolution. Some are even recycled from issue to issue. And writers of ransom letters may as well put down their scissors; Blurt’s text is often so tiny it has me reaching for the bifocals I don’t own and shouldn’t need.

In an interview with The Washington Post last year, founder Crawford explained that in order to limit overhead costs, the magazine is produced virtually, by staffers who e-mail each other from around the country and work out of their apartments. While such frugality is to be admired, it is no excuse for sloppy editing and poor photography, particularly at a time when print magazines must offer some added value beyond what online publications can provide. If Blurt is to graduate beyond the status of recycled web companion, it needs to push its production values up a notch.

To be fair, some sections of the magazine already have that needed gleam of professionalism. Chris Eichenseer’s photos from Lollapalooza 2009 are sassy and polished, skillfully framing musicians against the grass, trees and ambient sunlight. A clever fall fashion spread shot by Edward Smith shows various indie artists lounging in colorful vintage attire. Blurt would benefit greatly if such attention to aesthetics were more consistent throughout its pages.

Another area that is strong but could use more consistency is Blurt’s front section, which features short articles and columns. Inventive imaginings such as “Cover Songs We’d Like to See” (e.g., Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covering M.I.A.’s “Bamboo Banga”) and “What a Pair” (e.g., Quentin Tarantino directing a Katy Perry music video) are entertaining and show that Blurt writers know the industry well enough to lampoon it successfully. Articles like “Near-Life Experience,” in which a writer describes playing music for tips and working up to paid gigs in the online virtual world Second Life, offer an unusual perspective on the tactics aspiring rock stars must sometimes employ to get their names out. These pieces are all well executed but do not seem to fit into predictable slots at the magazine’s front. As Blurt matures, it would benefit from some regularity in this area, so that readers can grow attached to specific columns.

With a bit more consistency and attention to presentation, Blurt would be well positioned to stay in the print game. At its core, it is a solid, well-written magazine, with interviewers who ask the right questions and writers who find the right words to translate the verve of music into prose.

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5280 Wed, 12 May 2010 17:01:51 +0000 Spencer Bailey 5280]]> By Spencer Bailey

Circulation: 77,027
Date of Birth: 1993
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $4.99

The city of Denver brings to mind many things — the Rocky Mountains, John Elway, microbreweries — but journalism is not one of them. Sure, Beat Generation scribes like Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg spent some time in the Mile High City. Yes, there are mass-circulation local newspapers, like The Denver Post (which has won a few Pulitzers in its time) and the alt-weekly Westword. And there was, of course, The Rocky Mountain News — until it shuttered in 2009.

But let’s face it: Denver is not known for its reportorial chops.

5280 magazine, however, may be changing that. Like Colorado itself — which, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, has grown at the rapid rate of 16.8 percent annually since 2000 — Denver’s top-selling magazine, too, has seen increases over the last decade: A larger staff, a bigger budget, a greater circulation.

Launched in 1993 from editor and publisher Dan Brogan’s bedroom, with savings, loans and credit cards, 5280 — named for Denver’s mile-high elevation — started with a print run of 20,000 and a $250,000 budget. Today, the magazine has a downtown office, a circulation of more than 77,000 and, according to Folio, a budget of about $8 million.

Such growth has allowed the publication to enhance its editorial content. “We really focused on service journalism initially, and, over the years, we became more successful and were able to invest the profits in a new way,” says Brogan.

Those investments included hiring Maximillian Potter, a former staff writer at Premiere, Philadelphia and GQ, as executive editor in 2004. This coincided with 5280 publishing “Conduct Unbecoming,” a breakthrough feature story by Potter, which Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal had previously rejected. The piece, about an Air Force Academy cadet accused of rape, went on to become a National Magazine Award finalist and was the focus of a TV segment on ABC’s 20/20.

The magazine has experienced its share of troubles in recent years, too — mostly a result of the Great Recession. 5280’s advertising dollars have remained low throughout the downturn, Brogan says. And there have been cost-cutting measures, such as the laying off of two editorial employees in December 2008.

The good news: 5280 saw its number of paid subscribers grow by 10 percent in 2008. Then, last year, the City and Regional Magazine Association ranked it one of the top five city magazines in America, alongside AtlantaLos Angeles, Philadelphia and Texas Monthly.

Much of 5280’s success is attributable to its focus on in-depth feature stories. Consider “Rebound,” staff writer Robert Sanchez’s profile, in the March 2009 issue, of the famously cantankerous Denver Nuggets coach George Karl — “the guy who once booted a ball into the stands during a game; who angrily challenged a player to a game of Jeopardy! to prove who was smarter; who ripped a toupée off someone during an on-court fight.” Sanchez’s prose is clear, concise and candid, right up there with similar pieces published last year in big-name magazines (such as Mike Sager’s “Big Balls Pete Carroll” in Esquire or S. C. Gwynne’s “Mike Leach is Thinking…” in Texas Monthly).

Another factor in the magazine’s progress: slick design. 5280’s style mimics well-polished national glossies, while rivaling other top regional publications. It is colorful, full of illustrations and graphs and topnotch photography. And its primary font is eye-catching and easy to read. “People, despite all the technological changes, still like sitting down — with coffee, a drink, a beer — and a magazine with really good design,” says Brogan.

Then there are 5280’s service features to consider, such as “The Future of Denver,” in the December 2009 issue, by senior associate editor Patrick Doyle. The piece lays out a proposal for how to preserve the city’s “treasured lifestyle” over the next 25 years, during which 1.5 million people are expected to move to the Front Range. Some of the suggestions: Clean up the 16th Street Mall, add a downtown shuttle route, complete the city’s costly rail system, bolster education spending. Both practical and insightful, this kind of local journalism has kept 5280 in business for 17 years.

All of which helps explain why Brogan is confident the magazine will maintain its steady-growing status in the steady-growing city. “Whether it’s in a digital form or paper form,” he says, “people are still going to want what we do.”

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Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Tue, 11 May 2010 19:45:52 +0000 Marvin Anderson Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]]> By Marvin Anderson

Circulation: 900 subscriptions
for institutions, 17,000 e-newsletter subscriptions
Date of Birth: 1945

Destruction, dismal forecasts and a doomsday clock are components of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which for 65 years has been like a vagabond in the street warning passersby that the end of the world is near. But instead of rags, the Bulletin wears a suit appropriate to the mature handling of its content. And instead of a cardboard sign, it holds up the equivalent of an iPad — it is now exclusively an online magazine, a vivid, well-organized digital publication.

The magazine mushroomed into being in 1945 after members of the scientific community who collaborated in creating the atomic bomb realized the dangers of their creation and saw the threat that evolving weaponry technology posed to humankind. Some of them joined together to create a magazine that would sound an alarm about these dangers. And in 1947, the Bulletin created its Doomsday Clock, a countdown to nuclear holocaust that has become the signature of the magazine. It currently reads six minutes to midnight, which symbolizes “how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction.”

Any magazine that can inform its readers and at the same time stir their emotions is an effective media product. And the Bulletin excels at doing this, providing detailed analyses of political, nuclear and biological issues and trends.

Many online science publications are landfills with cluttered piles of data and information. The Bulletin’s metamorphosis from print magazine to online publication has resulted in a crisp design that is a step ahead of its competitors and its own former on-paper makeup. The text is easily readable, with burgundy accents, photographs and plenty of white space. According to Kennette Benedict, the Bulletin’s executive director and publisher, they have been experimenting with live video streams. One this past January was a broadcast of the adjustment of the Doomsday Clock. Viewers were invited to send questions and receive a live response, and, said Benedict, more than 150 people participated.

When Benedict arrived at the Bulletin in 2005, 25 percent of the organization’s revenue came from single-copy sales and subscriptions, with the remaining 75 percent derived from a combination of donor support and grants. The magazine was developing its online identity while trying to increase its subscriber base. “We essentially had a magazine with a website,” she said.

The staff continued to produce articles ranging from governmental policy effects on nuclear energy to climate change to weaponry. This formula was enough to maintain the quality content that readers like me expect to find when we visit the Bulletin, but not enough to sustain a strong flow of subscription revenues. Even with its nonprofit model, Benedict said, the Bulletin is not different from other magazines that have been experiencing subscription declines. She said that by fall 2008, subscriptions for the niche publication had declined to 5,000 for individuals and 1,000 for institutions, and sales in bookstores weren’t substantial either.

The Bulletin’s staff and its board concluded that the best way to assure their survival was to fully transition into the digital realm. “We decided that with a robust digital site and with our audience, the paper publication was a luxury we couldn’t afford,” said Benedict. The transition was difficult — people were reluctant to relinquish their ties to the paper product — but it was necessary, and the new, online-only Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists emerged in 2009.

Some news items and articles on the site are available to all readers, but much of the material is accessible by subscription only. Subscriptions have decreased since the Bulletin went digital, said Benedict, but the site has an average of 50,000 unique visitors a month, and more than 17,000 people subscribe to a free e-newsletter. When the Doomsday Clock was adjusted in January, more than 352,000 visitors frequented the site that week.

Inevitably, there have been complaints from longtime readers who felt alienated by the move to a strictly digital publication. Among the phone calls and other messages Benedict received from unhappy subscribers, one postcard in particular sticks out in her mind. This reader said she felt as though the magazine had died.

“Of course we haven’t died,” Benedict says today. “We’ve gone online. I love print, but in the end I don’t think it’s the way for the future. There’s so much more you can do and so much more you can provide on a digital platform.”

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Modern Drunkard Mon, 10 May 2010 19:51:28 +0000 Frederick Dreier Modern Drunkard]]> By Fred Dreier

Circulation: 50,000
Date of Birth: 1996
Frequency: Six times a year
Price: $4.50

I first picked up an issue of Modern Drunkard Magazine during a pub crawl in my hometown of Denver back in 2002. The lightweight, staple-bound book sat in a stack, free for anyone requiring some reading material at the bar.

The magazine’s pages were covered with a retro 1950s design built around Americana-style black-and-white illustrations, the kind you might find in an Edsel ad in a Korean War-era issue of Life. It was a style reflected in the retro culture sweeping through the Denver scene at that time. The city’s unending supply of sports bars was slowly yielding to hip drinking establishments with names like Bender’s Tavern, the Old Curtis Street Bar and the Hi-dive, where pompadoured Greasers outnumbered Broncos fans.

Flash forward eight years and Denver’s transition to a retro heaven is nearly complete. The Drunkard, as it is commonly called, has also evolved. The magazine is printed in color now; it has spread from Denver to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia; and its circulation is around 50,000. The magazine’s chief scribe, Frank Kelly Rich, works alongside a co-writer, Richard English. It sells ad space to local bars and liquor companies to pay the bills.

The magazine has kept its retro ’50s image, including the illustrations-only design. It prints six issues a year, and has a comprehensive archive on its website.

The Drunkard has also maintained its focus, which is to glorify drinking, the lifestyle of bars and pubs and the culture of “the functional alcoholic.” It does this with a satirical voice that requires a cocktail or two to fully appreciate.

It’s not that the Drunkard’s stories lack humor — the pieces are extremely funny. But the magazine’s promotion of drinking is so extreme, so against the grain of America’s “only in moderation” stance on booze, that it’s best read with sufficiently loosened morals.

For example, the 2009 feature story “The 10 Best Things About Booze” offers an intellectual justification for alcohol consumption, arguing that it “lends you the energy and excuse to exercise the full gamut of human emotion, from righteous Moses-coming-down-the-mountain rage to deepest, purest romantic love.”

The Drunkard’s format is similar to mainstream magazines, with short news bits from the alcohol world up front (“UK Nixes Scheme to Overcharge Drinkers,” “Oregon Mulls 1900 Percent Tax Hike on Beer”) alongside infographics that review bars and drinks. Each issue includes two or three feature stories (“Barhopping Through History,” “Cold War Cocktails,” “Three Drinks Ahead with Humphrey Bogart”) and then short advice columns, fiction and poetry written by and/or for the inebriated.

Although the Drunkard does not serve up fabricated news, a la the satire publication The Onion, it does walk the blurry line between truth and fiction. Its “Booze News” section includes factual global news stories related to alcohol, such as results from a 2006 Swedish study about alcohol’s preventive powers in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In its profiles, the Drunkard calls special attention to the drinking habits of celebrities, such as Andre the Giant’s daily 7,000-calorie alcohol intake, and his ability to down 119 beers in six hours.

It’s within this potent cocktail of truth and lies that the Drunkard runs the risk of losing its reader. In the story “No Beer, No Peace. When Drunkard’s Revolt: The Chicago Lager Riot of 1855,” the reader is told “…in 1855, prohibitionists went toe-to-toe, both physically and in the courts, with brewers and drunkards, and were thoroughly Whack-A-Moled. We can, and should, learn from this bit of our exciting drunken history.”

It’s an enchanting story, told in brilliant prose, but can the reader trust it as concrete fact? Perhaps — but it might go down easier with a whiskey sour.

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The Caravan Sun, 09 May 2010 20:01:15 +0000 Sruthi Gottipati The Caravan]]> By Sruthi Gottipati

Circulation: 20,000
Date of Birth: 2010
Frequency: Monthly
Price: 40 Indian rupees (Less than a dollar)

The Caravan flaunts what magazines do best — exquisitely worded narrative features that draw readers in and can keep them engaged over a cup of tea. While magazines around the world shutter, or grapple with the recession and the Internet, this brave crusader was launched this year in Delhi, India, challenging the notion that print is dead. It’s no mean feat. For readers accustomed to spoon-fed bite-sized morsels of information, long-form journals such as The Caravan could appear indigestible. But therein lies the craft of the magazine — it’s punctuated with humor and fashions a style of writing as elegant as its 9.5-point Mercury font.

Focused on politics and culture, this monthly publication also offers nips of fiction, poetry and travelogues. The magazine’s richness and texture come, too, from its ability to contextualize current affairs. The reportage is as sharp and insightful as the commentary and reviews that dominate the magazine. This February’s issue, for example, featured a compelling story on Delhi’s trash pickers, who are being left behind in the city’s race to modernize before the Commonwealth games. These poverty-ridden informal-sector workers, who go door-to-door collecting people’s garbage for free in order to resell the recyclable material, are now being elbowed out by the private sector, to which the government is outsourcing the task.

The Caravan also has surprisingly good photo essays, such as a stark portrait of villagers devastated by mining in the impoverished Indian state of Jharkhand in the January issue and the chaos in Congo captured in the February one.

The unique selling point of this magazine could be its distinctly international flavor, peppered with globe-trotting contributing editors. The first couple of sections feature on-ground reports that illuminate oft-ignored global stories, as well as quirky tidbits of news from foreign shores. The Caravan thereby appeals to the cosmopolitan reader based in Manhattan as much as the Indian attending a literary festival in Jaipur. And although The Caravan is currently not available on newsstands outside of India and Nepal, the publishers plan to distribute issues in some American and European cities in the future. For now, readers have to be content with postal subscriptions and online access to the magazine.

Some of the cultural features of The Caravan lack the punch of the political pieces. A story about a trip to Khandwa in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was particularly self-indulgent. Most fiction in Indian magazines is cringe-worthy and The Caravan kept that tradition alive in its February issue, with a cheesy excerpted story from an Urdu spy novel. Perhaps some nuance was lost in translation. Other quibbles? The liberal use of parentheses is mildly annoying — 18 of them in a 1,423 word article, for instance — as is the occasional typo.

The history of The Caravan runs parallel to the country in which it was birthed. The magazine was first launched during India’s pre-Independence struggle. In the ’80s, however, it was christened Alive, a general-interest magazine that continues to circulate today. The Caravan was then reborn phoenix-like this January with a narrative style reminiscent of The New Yorker. Published by the Delhi Press, The Caravan is a departure from the 30-odd mostly lowbrow magazines that are printed by the same publisher. Aimed at India’s burgeoning intellectual class, it also appeals to tech-savvy readers. It has a new website that includes a quality digital edition mimicking the print version, which viewers can leisurely flip through. (There’s an accompanying “swish” sound for added effect.)

In essence, The Caravan remains true to its name. It chugs along slowly, soaking in the political and cultural landscape. And it offers an insightful journey into the world in which we live.

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RT Book Reviews Sat, 08 May 2010 20:11:13 +0000 Sonal Shah RT Book Reviews]]> By Sonal Shah

Circulation: 70,000
Date of Birth: 1981
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $4.99

In a little brick building in Brooklyn, the offices of RT Book Reviews (formerly known as Romantic Times) are divided between two suites. In one, paperbacks and curios line shelves set in converted fireplaces and against a wall painted with pink bows. A cozy room with plump sofas leads to a sunny back garden with a trellis and wrought-iron furniture. On the other side, a handful of editorial and design staffers sit at luminous outsize Mac screens. Cover proofs are tacked to a steel filing cabinet, from atop which a poster of Fabio sets off a cutout of Botticelli’s Venus. A neighbor’s black tabby wanders between the cubicles.

Like its home, the magazine successfully mixes its down-to-business edge with the somewhat chintzy feminine world that nurtured it. RT has undergone many changes in format and content over its 29 years. But, at heart, the magazine remains a source for romance fiction reviews, connecting readers of the genre with the books and authors they love.

Romantic Times was founded in 1981 by Kathryn Falk, a romance novel enthusiast from Michigan who moved to New York as a young woman, eventually succeeding as a dollhouse hobbyist and shop owner. Falk recognized a need for order in the chaos of purple publishing and wrote Love’s Leading Ladies, a book that grew into the Romantic Times. Falk appears to be a cross between a heroine of one of the novels that she loves and the stereotype of the lonely woman who loves to read them. Now “sixty-something,” she has been romantically linked to a Swiss film actor, an Indian maharajah and a Brooklyn plastics manufacturer, finally getting married last year. She owns homes around the world and an English title; her kitschy MySpace page introduces her as Lady of Barrow and lists her interest in “Psychic/Mediumship.”

Her Romantic Times was the first publication to take pulp or “genre” fiction seriously. What began as a 24-page spot color newsprint publication is now a monthly 130-plus page glossy, with a circulation of 70,000, about 50 percent of which is subscription. Publisher Carol Stacy, who has been at RT since 1984, said, “There’s a tremendous pass-along with our magazines. There are bookstores that order one subscription for all their customers to look at, reader groups and writer groups. Not to mention friends and mother-daughters.”

RT reviews more than 270 books every issue and now covers not just romance but also mystery, paranormal, erotica, inspirational, urban fantasy, science fiction and other genres. Falk’s editor’s letter is chatty and usually includes references to recipes and social events. While the feature sections are cheerful and a little chaotic — with dancing typefaces and multiple color palates — the chunky review sections in the middle of the magazine are standardized monochrome and organized by genre. The reviews are contributed by a satellite army of 50 freelancers.

A female editorial staff writes the features: trend stories, author interviews, polls and discussions about writing techniques and breaking into the industry. The exuberant tone of most articles implies that RT is written for and by insiders. “I hire people who love books. That’s part of the prerequisite,” said Stacy.

Besides producing the magazine, RT stages an annual convention, a glittering affair that takes place anywhere from Orlando, Fla., to Cleveland, Ohio. Any budding author or eager reader can attend, providing they can pony up $485 for registration, plus the cost of travel and board. A thousand people do so, and some, Stacy said, “save all year and take their one and only vacation” to attend workshops and mixers, “fairy balls” and male cover-model pageants. The magazine also organizes author appearances in bookstores.

In addition to knitting together its readers with such events, RT has also embraced a changing market. For the first decade or so, the magazine focused exclusively on romance novels. During the ’90s, covers were often simply reproductions of the book of the month — kitschy paintings of swooning women and swashbuckling men. As detectives and corporate criminals, as well as angels and vampires, began to creep into romance readers’ diet of books, Romantic Times incorporated these other genres and became RT Book Reviews.

The magazine has become a reference for the publishing industry as well as a cataloger of it. “We can track trends from a unique perspective because we’re in contact with all authors and publishers,” said Stacy. According to her, publishers “go shopping” for authors in RT.

The symbiotic relationship between publishers and the magazine is well evidenced by large blocks of book ads in RT. This dependence on book advertisers inevitably raises questions about the integrity of RT’s reviews. They do seem to err on the side of the positive, tending to be milder and generally more sympathetic than the droves of snarky reviews that now can be found online. Stacy said RT does this purposefully. “We’re trusted. You don’t know who the [online] reviewers are. A lot of them just want to be mean. We’re more interested in being a guide for the reader.”

While it might benefit from being a bit more stringent with the stars it awards in its reviews, RT is clearly a comfortable home and resource for its readers.

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V Fri, 07 May 2010 19:42:31 +0000 Ellen London V magazine]]> By Ellen London

Circulation: 75,000
Date of Birth: 1999
Frequency: Bimonthly
Price: $6.50

The “V” in V stands for a lot of things. At its most basic, it is an abbreviation of the original publication from which V magazine was conceived: Visionaire, a multiformat arts and fashion magazine that is now published three times per year. Where Visionaire (launched in 1991) is haute couture, often featuring concept fashion and art that are inspired by the ethereal rather than rooted in the tangible, its younger manifestation, V (launched in 1999), is ready-to-wear.

On the magazine’s website,, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana of the luxury clothier Dolce & Gabbana write that V stands for “Vanity, vibrations, vigor, volition, voluptuousness.” Photographer Mario Testino drops the “V” altogether and calls the publication, simply, “A party in a magazine.” But where the physical product is concerned, “V” might as well stand for “visual.”

Beginning with the front cover, V is sexy and stylish. The celebrities who typically adorn the covers range from Brad Pitt to Lady Gaga. The magazine is oversized, measuring 10-by-13.375 inches, closer in size to a small poster than to more traditional magazines. While V occasionally goes with a black-and-white cover — as with the “Size Issue,” released in January 2010, which features models and celebrities of all shapes and sizes — there is no hard-and-fast rule for the cover. Sometimes the colors are splashy, with the “V” emblazoned in yellow or neon pink, and other times they are more understated, with a gray “V” stamped on top of a black background.

Inside, the ads and photos are enormous and printed on ultra-glossy, paper. Getting to the table of contents becomes an afterthought to poring over mega-spreads of the latest fashions. The front of the book features a “Heroes” section, showcasing the work and life of celebrities through the decades. For example, the “Size Issue” has a topless Lisa Lyon, of female bodybuilding fame, along with the rock band “Sol Del Moon,” designer Mark Fast, and five other notables. Where subject matter is concerned, V’s mission statement puts it this way: “Imagine a wall of forty-four televisions, each tuned to a different station.” The breadth of groups and people highlighted in each issue really is that diverse.

The “Extra” section of the magazine features smaller blurbs about what’s up-and-coming in fashion, arts and culture, from a new clothing line to a fresh album release. With smaller images and “nuggety” bites of information, this section quiets things down and ensures that the reader won’t go into visual stimulus overload.

Despite its visual advantages, V’s large format doesn’t lend itself well to text. While the photo spreads come across as almost lifelike, the text layouts are either crammed, as is the case with the “Heroes” section and its tiny font, or sparse, as in the “Extra” section, where the text blocks are surrounded by an awkward amount of white space. Neither style is easy to read.

It’s in the final third of the magazine that V truly sets itself apart from other fashion magazines, including Vogue and Nylon. This is where the fashion spreads are blown up to epic proportions, bringing the models — and the innovative fashions that they’re wearing — to life.

The editorial formula for the back of the book is, well, there isn’t an editorial formula for the back of the book. Sometimes there are two long fashion spreads and sometimes there are six short ones. The photographers basically have the run of the place. Many of them — Mario Testino included — are longtime friends of the magazine’s editors. Rather than handing the photographers a specific assignment, the editors make sure that these photographers are available, and then give them the creative space to do as they please.

The relationship between V and its photographers is a unique one, and leads to some hugely stunning work within an already oversized format. Fashion spreads are enlarged to storybook size, laid out across the pages like a visual feast. A nude romp in Barcelona in one story becomes a cinematic journey abroad, while the photo profile of a Broadway actress in another becomes an intimate “day in the life.”

It’s all about visual impact. If it’s literary content that you’re after, you might want to pick up another magazine. A majority of the pages in V include little or no text, except for long lists of credits. You could say that V is best characterized as a publication for the right-brained among us: the photography enthusiast, the layout editor, the fashion junkie, all whom reach for a mag for the pictures more than the words.

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Marie Claire Thu, 06 May 2010 20:21:49 +0000 Candice Chan Marie Claire]]> By Candice Chan

Circulation: 985,053
Date of Birth: 1994
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $3.50

When I started reading Marie Claire, I found its articles both refreshing and empowering. After flipping through other magazines containing countless variations on the same tired themes — “100 Sexy New Moves He’ll Love” or “His Body Reveals What He’d Never Tell You” — I wanted a women’s magazine that informed me about, well, me. In Marie Claire I found an ethos, and image, I could identify with.

There was fashion, international reporting and some much-needed career advice. There was also relationship and body advice, primarily kept to the “Love/Sex” section, so it never felt like I had to question whether I qualified as a woman. It was a magazine focused on women gaining power to please themselves, instead of women gaining power to please others.

But suddenly, in September of 2009, I noticed a jarring change. Sexually implicit (or explicit) titles, like those I expected from Cosmopolitan, had begun appearing on Marie Claire’s pages.

“The New Trophy Wife” pointed out a hot new trend: Successful Caucasian men were gravitating toward younger Asian women. “Asians (in addition to African orphans) are hot commodities right about now — status symbols as prized as a private Gulfstream jet or a museum wing bearing your name (neither of which goes so well with a frumpy, aging first wife).” Among the couples cited were Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng, and Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn.

Within days of the article’s release, Marie Claire was bombarded with a firestorm of unhappy responses in the press. And I, as an Asian-American woman, found the article particularly offensive. Though it professed to dispel the stereotypes of “geishas” and “dragon-ladies,” it only seemed to bolster these dated perceptions, especially in relation to interracial dating. That article alone made me consider canceling my subscription.

Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated instance. Since then, there’s been a steady flow of titillating subjects. October 2009’s “My Friend is a Mail Order Bride” describes an American woman’s experience watching her Shanghainese friend marry a wealthy, divorced Chinese-Canadian husband she sought out on a website. This January’s “Sleeping with the Boss” profiled women embroiled in love affairs with their employers, a la David Letterman. On the cover of March’s issue, you could find “I Agreed To A Threesome For My Husband’s Birthday.” There seems to be no end to the delectably sinful material the editorial team comes up with these days.

Marie Claire’s U.S. edition is the daughter to a French parent of the same name, part of a large family of global magazines; there are now 27 other national editions. Since 2002, when the magazine had only 350,000 subscribers, it has continued to gain new readers, to reach a circulation just shy of one million as of January 2010. Almost half of those new customers were gained after Joanna Coles took over as editor-in-chief in 2006.

In a visit to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism last year, Coles drew a distinction between her magazine and her competitor, Cosmopolitan, “the sex bible.” She said that Marie Claire isn’t “against orgasms, we just don’t put them on the cover.” When she took control, there was a perceptible change to a magazine “edited for a sexy, stylish, confident woman who is never afraid to make intelligence a part of her wardrobe.”

In contrast to “I Surfed Naked for a Pair of Manolos” and “Orgasm Secrets You Haven’t Heard” in the May 2006 issue, the articles in that October’s issue, which held Coles’ first editor’s note, were deeper and more varied. Subsequent issues profiled international women of note and carried internationally-oriented monthly columns. Female strength, around the world, seemed to have become the magazine’s selling point.

That was then; trophy wives, threesomes and sleeping with the boss are now. What’s behind this change? The editors declined to comment, but it may be that the answer lies in their recent move to market the magazine aggressively on television. They followed the example of Elle, another of Marie Claire’s competitors, which has had great success using TV to expand its brand (in the last few years, Elle has seen an increase in sales, with a circulation rising to 1,105,456 as of June 2009). Elle is featured on MTV’s The City, and in 2008, the magazine aired a reality show, Stylista, on the CW. Marie Claire soon followed, in 2009, with its own reality show, Running in Heels.

As that show was ramping up in 2008, Nina Garcia left Elle and became Marie Claire’s fashion director, bringing glamour and fashion credibility with her — and TV visibility: She had been in the public eye as a judge on the show Project Runway since 2005. It may be that these ties to the mass medium of television produced a conflict between Coles’ avowed intention to position Marie Claire as a beacon for the independent, intelligent woman, and the competitive need to present it as glamorous and sexy.

So far, the edgy new approach has seemed to work. This January, Media Industry Newsletter reported a 23 percent increase in ad pages for Marie Claire in 2009. In many ways, it is still the empowering magazine I remember discovering, and one could argue that the articles mentioned above and the TV-ready attitude are helping the magazine stay afloat in a changing market. But in every provocative article I’ve read, there seems to be an implicit condescension or ridicule embedded in the text — an attitude that doesn’t leave me feeling informed; it leaves me feeling like I picked up just another “sex bible.”

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Arise Wed, 05 May 2010 20:26:07 +0000 Derrick Taylor Arise]]> By Derrick Taylor

Circulation: 50,000
Date of Birth: 2008
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $11.99

Arise magazine creates a stunning portrait of Africa. Covering the vast continent is no easy task, but Arise does so in a bold and beautiful way. The monthly publication showcases art, culture, fashion and entertainment, and its pages are filled with photographs that embrace the sun-kissed races of the motherland. There is no other international publication that so ably highlights and celebrates brown people from around the world, let alone focuses on Africa.

Based in the United Kingdom, Arise drags you away from your Western mentality and slams you into the middle of everything Africa with oversized pages (12 by 9 inches) that display detailed, eye-catching photos. The text is simple and often arranged in unique shapes to make for an interesting reading experience.

The magazine’s audience spans the globe, with a 40-percent male and 60-percent female readership hailing from France, the U.K., the United States (among other places), and, of course, Africa. It can be found in some U.S. bookstores and news outlets, or you can subscribe to it via the magazine’s website. Surprisingly, Arise doesn’t have a large circulation. At most, Arise distributes 50,000 copies around the world, with more than half of its readership located in Nigeria and London.

A considerable portion of the publication is dedicated to fashion designers who hail from Africa. Not all of the models are African — many come from other parts of the world, demonstrating Africa’s international influence. Arise manages to make a lot of global noise, especially during the annual Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York, where the magazine puts on a fashion show with African designers.

The music and entertainment sections shine a bright spotlight on emerging artists across the continent, highlighting talents from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya, among other places. There are also travel pages displaying the beauty of Africa’s vacation spots and attractions. If you’ve never considered vacationing in Africa, these picture spreads will make you think again.

Of course, Africa is not just beautiful places, people, music and clothes, and neither is Arise. Serious — and often controversial — topics are covered, too: H.I.V. and AIDS, efforts to go green, political leaders and political unrest. The magazine provides a holistic look at Africa that leaves the reader with an inspiring image of the continent, without overlooking its darkest moments.

No magazine has everything a reader may want, and one thing I miss in Arise is coverage of the continent’s food. It’s disappointing that there isn’t a food section in which readers can visually taste a piece of Africa.

Whatever your thoughts are about Africa, if the images in your mind are negative — if you think of Africa as a begging bowl or a grief-stricken land depleted of resources — this magazine will change them.

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