Keep Bitch in Print: Because a Magazine is Forever
I've always been a magazine and zine hoarder, and have a personal archive of, well, way too many. The first-ever issue of Spin (1985, with Madonna on the cover); the British music papers, like Melody Maker, that chronicled the rise of Riot Grrrl well before the United States took notice. Details magazine, when it was a missive from New York's arty, gay downtown scene rather than a regularly offensive chronicle of male "bad-boy" celebrities. Shelter magazines ranging from one-offs (Living Room) to cult favorites (I miss you and your die-cut covers, Nest!) to unprofitable corporate experiments (Budget Living). Smartypants magazines like Spy, without which there would be no Gawker or Vulture, and Might, without which there may have been no McSweeney's or The Believer. And, of course, feminist zines and magazines galore. I've returned to all of these print publications over the years, for inspiration, for information, and sometimes simply because re-reading an old magazine over a bowl of cereal is, for me, one of life's ineffable pleasures.
Simply put, I love magazines because of their permanence, and I'm not alone in that.
A few weeks ago, I was a guest on the Bay Area public radio show Your Call Radio, for a show on how magazines are surviving and what the future holds for print media. My fellow guests hailed from Utne Reader and The Sun, two great publications that, like Bitch, have for the past several years had to question just how feasible it is to remain in print as the magazine industry goes headlong into the crapper. (Sorry, but there's really no more delicate way to put it.)
Because it was a call-in show, I braced myself for people to ring in and tell the three of us to just let the dream die, already, to accept that print magazines are obsolete and move on. Instead, caller after caller talked about how important print magazines were to them, listing the qualities they loved and the magazines they missed. What became clear over the course of the hour was that the zero-sum proposition that has been made of the current discourse about print media—the rise of digital technologies means the death of magazines—masks the more interesting reality of magazines today, which is that people who continue to read magazines see them as more than just collections of paper with words and pictures on them.
The New York Times recently weighed in on just this subject, proposing that "If magazines are to survive, they'll have to become something special, offering heft and a kind of 'thing-ness' that gives them value over other ways of consuming text." And indeed, some of the magazines that are thriving—which, let's be clear, is a relative term—do just that, turning print into an experience that's not just about taking in information, but about sitting with it, turning it over, passing it around, coming back to it later. Three of my favorite new-ish magazines—Meatpaper, Uppercase, and make/shift—have launched since the death knell of print media began sounding; three of my older favorites—Mother Jones, Good, and New York—have been muscling through the downturn by combining peerless reporting and great design with new technology. All of them compel me to work at keeping Bitch alive as a print magazine—I want Bitch to remain in the company of wonderful, meaningful publications even as we all explore ways to adapt to a readership that demands different platforms and new points of entry.
Bitch has always aimed to be a magazine that people can hold on to, can return to, can refer to. And we want to continue to be that to our readers. The blog, podcasts, and lending library aren't going anywhere, but if we're going to continue to print the magazine that people know, love—and, yes, maybe even hoard—we need your support. Subscribe, renew, give a gift subscription, or become a sustainer now.
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