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Irreplaceable Magazines, Irreplaceable Editors

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Martin Schneider writes:

Jason Kottke today linked to some scanned pages of Sassy from the early 1990s. Jason observes, "Sassy seems to be one of those rare magazines that is dearly missed but doesn't really have a modern day analogue. (See also Might and Spy.)"

True enough. What occurred to me, however, was that those three magazines have something in common: a very strong editorial hand. In all three cases the editors are pretty well-known people: Jane Pratt in the case of Sassy, Dave Eggers for Might, and Kurt Andersen/E. Graydon Carter for Spy. So the reason they either don't exist or have not been replaced is that those specific people have elected to do other things.

But it feels like the "rule" of a strong, irreplaceable editor needs more to it. There are other magazines run by strong editors where it's easy to imagine the magazine continuing in that editor's absence. Anna Wintour at Vogue, for instance. David Remnick at The New Yorker. Carter at Vanity Fair.

So we can add a corollary. The irreplaceability of an editor is inversely related to the size of the operation, expressed in terms of circulation, revenue, ad pages, whatever.

Let's stick with circulation for a moment. One way that a magazine becomes "a big deal" is when it expresses the hopes, dreams, fears, etc. of an impassioned, interested sliver of the population. That was true for Sassy and Spy, certainly; not so sure about Might but let's say it's true there too. As a counter-example, you could imagine that being true of Wired, say, but Wired got too big and important—that is to say, its readership combined an impassioned sliver and a larger group that was only mildly interested in the content. In other words, its readership had "graduated" to a general readership, making it possible for Wired to have multiple editors over time.

So I'd ask two questions: Are there any other magazines in Jason's group? Do 2600, Raygun, SPIN, The Comics Journal, Adbusters count as potential members of that group (potential, since some of them still exist) or not? Who are the editors of those magazines? I can name three of them off the top of my head, but I won't say which ones.

The other question is, Are there magazines that break my rules? One magazine that I had in mind for this category was Interview, which was founded by Andy Warhol and decidedly represented a "sliver" of the reading public, but it's been chugging along for quite a while now. Is it an exception, or did its revenue or something pass some benchmark way back when? I don't know the answer.


Those were not just strong editors, but strong founding editors, which I think makes a difference. Obviously that’s true of Interview as well, although it’s changed a lot over time.

Yes! Great point.

So (as I try to generalize it), we’re talking about a single person creating that “sliver”/demographic/constituency in the act of inventing a magazine and shepherding it through the first few “exciting” years. I think that’s sort of how it works. It’s not enough to say that there were however many percent of New Yorkers had a nascent interest in snarking on media figures in a specific way in 1988 — Andersen and Carter created that thing called the “Spy reader” in the act of creating and successfully selling the magazine.

Also, I think it’s not a coincidence that I missed all three magazines Kottke named, for various reasons. I was just a bit too young for Spy, which I probably read maybe four issues of while it was still going (I was in college), I was out of the country when Sassy hit plus I’m not a teenage girl, and Might was on the other coast. I’m saying, the strong feeling of it being missed is connected with people having just missed its prime. Do people miss Raygun? It was in existence for quite a long time, so I don’t think people had the feeling they hadn’t had a chance to appreciate/dismiss it.

i agree some of the magazines are missed dearly,and so are the authors .they had their own charm to mesmerise readers from their articles

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