Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bloom off the rose

The new issue of Beeradvocate hit the mailbox today, smaller in page dimension (and smaller type, too), thinner in page count, and alas, now printed on newsprint stock.

Ouch. It looks cheaper, and it feels cheaper. It's a bit ironic, too, that the featured article in the current issue bears this line (to paraphrase): No shortcut goes unnoticed.

The Alström brothers deserve praise for taking a parallel universe of their Web site into print media in an era when doubt surrounds the survivability of newspapers and magazines. Both are long past their better days, and that was eons before the current downturn. And amid industry shifts, specialty magazines, say like Cigar Aficionado, started doing better than general interest mags probably 10 years ago. By 2005, with Web 2.0 and YouTube becoming Internet staples, the slope got steeper for print media and the downward slide grew faster.

It was in the face of that trend that Beeradvocate in print started coming out. That its more majestic form – oversized pages and thicker glossy paper – lasted as long as it did is the real surprise. What came in the mail today was just the inevitable, and any publisher with overhead on his mind would have made the change sooner.

So, give Jason and Todd props for hanging on as long as they did before changing the format. But it's hard to not be skeptical about the reasons they spell out in an editors note on page 3.

Essentially what they're saying is the content remains the same, it's just the wrapper that's different. Yes, the content is the same, but greener, faster turn-around, glossy stock is overrated? ... Won't argue with the first two much, but the paper making no difference? That's just not so. Glossy paper costs way more than newsprint, but it does afford better photo reproduction. Way better. (Not to mention more attractive to court advertisers.) The photos now look flat, with muddy color that's off register on some pages.

The reason for the change is money. Plain and simple. To publish a magazine costs a load of dough. There are all the freelancers (writers, editor, artist, page composition person – and, trust us, they represent the low side on the overhead) to pay, and the printer, who's probably only giving you a break on the production run when you top 50,000 copies. Next comes the US mail – and postal costs aren't cheap. Beeradvocate has brewery advertising, but it's not clear if the ads are just to offset some costs, as opposed to outright paying the publication's bills.

Beeradvocate in print is still around, and that's a good thing. But what came in the mail today makes you wonder for how long.