THE NICE WAY TO SAY IT is that great magazines are the product of visionary editors. The other way to say it is that interesting magazines are spawned by self-centered megalomaniacs. For good or bad, the subjects of this year’s New York Review of Magazines are no exception. It takes chutzpah to be Ben Goldhirsh, who against all odds and common sense put his philanthropic vision—and his trust fund—to work by employing his friends and founding Good. And Steve Blechman, the man who has been trying to impose himself on the muscle magazine market for as long as anyone can remember, is not exactly a shrinking violet.

These people are not built for the background. They may even be a little nuts. At its best, their egotism gives them the drive to do something great; at its worst, it can blind them to the ways they need to change to stay in touch. In this fast-changing media landscape (a cliché, but true), they worry about the future in the first-person singular.

Technology has changed the game before. Xeroxing made it easier for people to clip out, draw, and say their piece in a zine. Desktop publishing expanded printing access. Today’s online content producers aren’t necessarily authors, photographers, or editors. But sometimes they are all three, and sometimes they are much more. And they are, of course, for some reason driven to communicate their own message, much like their magazine forebears.

Look at Spencer Ackerman, an editor whose fame and personal audience only grew once he got fired and started blogging. Look at Atoosa Rubenstein, who used to helm Seventeen and now primps and preens on And look at Paul Lukas, once at the top of the zine stack, but now a popular blogger on sports uniforms.

They might not get along at a dinner party. But in their cheery resolution to get their points across by any means possible, they do suggest a way for those giant egos to navigate the future.

Like the blogging Grim Reaper who’s lately been administering last rites to ailing magazines, they understand that nothing lasts forever: instead of grousing about it, they’ve channeled their narcissistic desire to be heard into a search for an audience that feels closer to them than ever before.

The days when magazines ruled our cultural core are long over. It’s not that we don’t see the appeal of vast captive audiences and vast editorial staffs. (At this point in our careers, we’re particularly nostalgic for the latter.) But there’s still plenty of life out on the margins. TV was supposed to kill radio, but radio adapted, and even today enriches listeners’ lives. Magazines must follow that model and become an art form, not just a delivery method. Otherwise they’ll go the way of the 8-track, the cassette tape, and the minidisc.

To offer such grandiose judgments when our editorial staff’s collective résumé features an awful lot of photocopying may seem a little, well, egotistical. Still, there are advantages to our youth. Maybe because we didn’t come of age at a time when it seemed like the sun would never set on the magazine empire, its recent travails don’t trigger the same fatalism in us as they do in you and the Reaper.

So circulations are dropping. Don’t get hysterical. Smart editors won’t be the ones throwing Dreamweaver at the wall to see what sticks, but the ones that recognise that an alternative way to measure success is by how well you know your readers, and how well you serve them. Plenty of magazines have soared to vast circulations in the short term. It’s a much nobler goal to harness that swollen editorial head in the service of the people that love you the most, and to do so on a permanent basis. After all, they have egos, too.




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