Coupe: The other magazine about magazines (at least for one issue).
There are typically two kinds of magazines: magazines that make money and magazines that make a statement. Bill Douglas, who edits and publishes a unique, biannual called Coupe, defines the latter, generally less profitable kind of book as “the personal magazine.” In his latest issue, Douglas explores the future of this strand of publishing through an e-mail conversation with RayGun founding editor Neil Feineman and British magazine guru Jeremy Leslie. “The internet has become a far reaching and cheap forum for personal projects, visions and ideas,” Douglas writes in his introduction to the virtual roundtable. “The niche genre of personal magazines, existing outside the realm of the commercial hoard, has been experimenting with this ethic for year. But, can it, or does it, still have a place in our ever more electronic world?”
Feineman’s take is unabashedly gloomy. “I doubt that there is room to make a mark like RayGun’s again for several reasons,” he writes early in the discussion. “Fifteen years ago, people still looked to magazines to be cultural leaders and there was a cache to working on them. More importantly, 15 years ago, people didn’t expect non-linear, interactive experiences from a magazine. It’s that, more than anything else, that’s done the magazine in.”
Feineman is not necessarily opposed to Web publishing, but he takes a stance on user-generated content and link journalism that puts him in direct opposition with influential publishing bloggers such as Scott Karp, Rex Hammock and Jeff Jarvis. “[T]he more interesting question for me is not how to launch a new personal print project, but how to capture elements of the magazine experience on the web, so that editors, writers, photographers and illustrators can still create communities, but without the tyranny of user-uploaded interactivity and expansive linking that encourages readers to leave the self-contained universe rather than surf outside it as quickly as possible.”
Leslie isn’t quite so down. While he believes “it’s harder than ever to cut through the mass with an alternative publication,” he notes, “that isn’t stopping people [from] doing it,” pointing to the over 1,000 magazines that registered for last year’s Colophon, the Europeean independent publishing conference he helps organize every two years. Leslie also wonders “if anyone has ever really made a living from that type of magazine.”
Douglas doesn’t shy from offering his opinion, either. When Feineman asks if it’s still possible to do “a magazine that captures the zeitgeist, creates a face for a subculture and galvanizes a community,” Douglas offers this pithy reply. “It’s tough. There’s now an entire generation that has grown up with the net. It’s what they know. It’s where society is going. I would say one of the most recent magazines to do the above is probably Vice (not that new anymore) which seemed to perfectly reflect the subculture it was targeting…[I]t definitely was, and still is, to a degree, a painfully personal extension of Suroosh Alvi and the boys. Launched out of Montreal, and now a worldwide cultural media empire, Vice was able to be what it wanted to be and make a shit load of money while doing it. And maybe that’s it. People really like making money these days.”
There’s a lot more in this very worthwhile issue of Coupe, available on (mostly independent) newsstands for $8.95. You can also order it through Coupe’s website, which, as Douglas points out, is “fairly utilitarian.”