Last night news broke that the Minneapolis magazine Utne Reader will be moving its operations to Topeka, Kansas in March. The move is a consolidation on the part of its owner, Ogden Publishing, which bought the magazine six years ago.
Editor-in-Chief David Schimke and his staff will not be moving to Topeka with the magazine. But he did take the time to answer a few questions.
1. In the past six years the Utne Reader hasn’t been able to make a profit. Why is that? Have automatic aggregaters like Google Reader replaced digests?
I think it’s a little bit that. But the fact is, we’ve been winning awards; we even upped the price and didn’t see a decrease in subscribership. But the advertising just isn’t there. We have a small loyal audience, but it’s a difficult audience to market to.
2. Is publishing a magazine still a viable business in the modern age?
I do – I think it has to be smaller, with high end production, driven by a niche readership. I think magazines that are niche driven have an opportunity to do really well. Similar to public radio – you have a dedicated audience that’s willing to pay for quality. It could be a non-profit, working with a foundation. If you have a niche audience and a really beautiful magazine, I think that would attract more advertising. I still think there’s room for print.
3. Have you and the rest of the Minneapolis staff talked about starting up a new magazine in the wake of the Utne’s move?
Oh we’ve certainly bounced a few ideas around, but I think we’re all going to just take a deep breath in March. I believe that – the Utne Reader notwithstanding – there is a need here for a really good publication that’s driven by storytelling and really high quality features and news. And I think the talent is here.
4. Do you think the reputation of the Utne Reader has in some ways hurt you?
The Utne Reader brand can be both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, people associate the name with Eric Utne’s original template, which was truly revolutionary. The downside is that people assume the magazine hasn’t changed with the times and is somehow outdated or quaint. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, given the current media climate, Utne’s intellectual balance, eclecticism, and rigorous journalistic standards are even more unique and necessary than they were 10 or 15 years ago. The challenge is to get magazine lovers to stop and take a look, and that’s expensive and time consuming.
5. What’s the hardest part of seeing the magazine move to Kansas?
I think the hardest part for us is that it’s just a labour of love; we weren’t doing it for the money or the prestige, but because we really believe in these great articles and thinkers we’ve presented over the years.
It’s so hard to compete with the internet – but I really think this magazine has been an important mouthpiece for the alternative press. We’ve helped a lot of smaller magazines thrive.