Bitch Magazine In Trouble

September 18, 2008


It seems like every couple of months, we post here about an indie magazine in trouble and in serious need of help. We just wrote about the KoreAm Campaign. A sharp drop in ad revenue has put this venerable Korean American mag (and its sister publication Audrey, a women's magazine) in a dire situation.

Now our friends at Bitch, the sassy and smart feminist pop culture mag, need help too. See the video appeal here: Save Bitch Magazine. Newsstand sales dropped so much that revenues they were depending on just didn't show up. They need to raise $40,000 by October 15th in order to keep printing. If not, they may also disappear.

What's going on? Does no one read magazines anymore? I'm really tired of writing about how Punk Planet printed its last issue. Or Kitchen Sink closed shop. Or Clamor called it quits. It's pretty scary to watch our friends in the independent press fold. People complain about mainstream media, but not enough people put their money where their mouths are and support the people trying to make a difference through these independent projects.

I've already lamented about what's happening to the independent press. and fellow blogger Slanty has got some good questions about whether or not this is the death of print media, so I'm not going to repeat ourselves. Just please help if you can. Not just Bitch and KoreAm, but Hyphen too, and any other media you love whether its public radio or an indie glossy. We all do what we do, many of us for free, because we believe in representing voices that aren't often heard. We go against the odds and publish our little magazines for the love. But love just isn't enough.


Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. She grew up in Texas, the eldest child of immigrants. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.



Times are definitely changing at a much more rapid pace. I'm sure there are plenty of loyal supporters who have been there from the very beginning, but I wonder if the real issue is trying to solicit a broad base of new readers? With the plethora of information available and the convenience (laziness) factor of the internet, I don't even think people are reading as much. At least not reading as in depth as they used to. There was an interesting NPR segment entitled "Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?": we have now is "infogluttony" - where you reach a point that there's so much information available that it becomes difficult to decipher any significance and quality from the trash.There are still some folks who appreciate good journalism and content, especially in print form. But sadly, I feel that the people are growing up in a world more acclimated to e-books and podcasts as opposed to actual hard-copy text.
"People complain about mainstream media, but not enough people put their money where their mouths are and support the people trying to make a difference through these independent projects."hear, hear. i don't think people realize how much it costs to print a magazine and what an uneven playing field it is to compare a mainstream magazine to an indie one. oftentimes i get people who say they've heard of Hyphen but have never picked one up or read it. we don't have the resources to do the same type of marketing, so it's mostly word of mouth. we're not in every single grocery or book store, so yeah, you kind of have to look for us -- but we are available in a lot of places (see list here). or better yet, subscribe and get Hyphen delivered to your mailbox.most people who have picked it up (or read it at the library) are surprised at how good and how professional Hyphen is. they can't believe it's an all volunteer magazine. they like the stories. they might have suggestions or critiques, and that is what we want -- we want to hear from if you read this blog and have been curious about Hyphen but have never read the magazine, why not pick one up or subscribe?it is a good deal, really it is. for $18 you get four issues. give us a try. we publish three times a year so basically for $18 you get over a year of Hyphen goodness. i'm not just telling you this because i work on Hyphen, but because i practice what i preach. i support indie media like KPFA (Apex Express) out here in Berkeley and CAAM and other independent magazines.whew. i didn't realize i'd be making a pitch for Hyphen in my response, but there ya go. that's what happens when you're passionate about something.thanks also to all the lovely Hyphen subscribers, blog readers, and magazine buyers out there. !!
"hear, hear. i don't think people realize how much it costs to print a magazine and what an uneven playing field it is to compare a mainstream magazine to an indie one."Why should I support a magazine because I feel bad for it? Isn't it enough for me to support the magazines that I enjoy reading? I subscribe to tons of more mainstream-ish magazines, including Harper's, New Yorker, Economist -- I think I end up getting a print magazine in the mail maybe three times a week.But although I used to be sort of into zines in the '90s, times have changed. I find that for that quality of writing, I can just go online and get it. Yes it's free. But it's also convenient, more timely, and it doesn't involve cutting down trees.And online content of this kind doesn't have the extensive cost overhead of print -- no publication, no dealing with distributors. It's cheap enough that lots of people who might've been in the zine world a decade ago can express themselves online without skirting with financial ruin. This might be bad for print zines, overall I think this counts as progress.
Feeling bad for a magazine is not a reason to support it. I hope that people subscribe to Hyphen because they like the content, not because they pity us.However, it is important for readers to understand that it's a different product from a mainstream mag -- and the reasons why it's more expensive.I am willing to pay more for a shirt from a local, independent clothing designer than I would for a shirt at the Gap. If it was the same exact shirt, of course I'm going to buy the cheaper one. But it is NOT the same shirt. What I'm getting from the local designer is something more unqiue.
My perspective on this is probably skewed because I live in NYC, where a dollar will get you almost nothing. But I'd be surprised if there are a lot of people who aren't subscribing to Hyphen/Bitch/KoreAm solely because of the expense. Dollar-for-dollar, reading is an extremely cheap habit. KoreAm charges $28/year, Harper's charges $16.97 -- nobody's thinking "I'd subscribe to KoreAm, but it costs me an extra dollar a month."People subscribe to stuff they like to read, and they'll go to the trouble of getting it in the mail, carrying it with them, recycling it, et al, if they like reading it enough. But you know, not everything fits the bill. If you don't actually think an indie magazine has good enough content to you to be worth the trouble of having in your house, then the price won't matter much.(Other kinds of publications have this problem as well, notably daily newspapers. Most of my friends don't subscribe to the New York Times, and when the subject comes up, the thing people say most is that they can't stand all the waste.)And the comparison of local designer vs. The Gap is the wrong one. Independent print magazines don't have problems because they're competing with Wired and Newsweek. They have problems because they compete with blogs, which are free, more timely, more interactive, and often have writing that's just as good.To extend the shirt analogy: The competition isn't just between the Gap and your local designer who makes shirts a few dozen at a time to sell in local stores. Both of those sources are also competing with Cafe Press and other websites, where any random person can upload T-shirt designs and sell only one or five or ten on-demand. Maybe the designs aren't as pretty, but they are sure are timely. I don't know if you've noticed, but 21-year-old hipsters now basically expect that when there's some dumb celebrity scandal on the news, they should be able to buy a t-shirt making fun of it within a week. Now the local designer has to make sure her shirts have way better quality and design than the stuff that's churned out on Cafe Press.But I don't know that independent magazines have made their content significantly better than that of blogs. And if they can't, or if they persuade others they do, they're not going to have a deep well of support to draw from if their printing+distributing habit puts them in financial trouble.
The fact that Bitch states that they were waiting for newsstand income that never arrived speaks to a connected loss in the indie world -- independent bookstores. I worked at a very wonderful independent in LA, Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore, which, after 24 years serving the community, went out of business earlier this year. At Dutton's we had an extensive and quirky newsstand. We carried Bitch, along with many other independent mags, journals, etc. Dutton's is far from the only independent bookstore to go under in the last few years -- they're dropping like flies. It's no wonder Bitch and other publications are losing revenue: they losing places to show and sell their wares.It's all part of the ever-loving continuum. Support your local bookstore, indie mag, clothing designer, coffee shop, etc., or we'll all soon be Gap-Navy-Republic-clad consumers buying Vogue and Newsweek from Borders or Barnes & Noble, while slurping down our venti vanilla lattes from you-know-where. Blech. Corporate despotism. That's not the world I want to live in.