The smaller your mag, the smaller your world. This is a truth I’ve admittedly learned the hard way over time. It's kind of gotten to the point now where I'm surprised when I meet a new small magger. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and sadly, everyone seems to know everyone else's "business."
The small mag community can be unbelievably supportive, with hugs and beers and list swaps all around, but when everything’s a party there’s always the coming hangover. One bad move and your carefully built relationships crumble. Sooner or later something will be said or done that can have a negative effect on both your reputation and your financials. When your business-building is based on back-scratching, favours, and last call, and your colleagues are all your friends (and in some cases, lovers), things can get a bit sloppy. Fun, but sloppy. Have a bad day and piss off someone at another mag, and you can kiss any hope of a future list or ad swap. Even worse⎯piss of someone at your own mag, and you’ll both be fuming at your desk and avoiding each other on the way to the photocopier.
All work places are tricky in their own way, but the problem with small magazine culture is that it’s often so shoestring that it doesn’t feel like a profession, meaning more often than not people are, well, unprofessional. There’s really something to be said for people being on the hook for a payment, whether it’s a list rental fee, an ad bill, or a paycheque. The promise of payment seems to keep things in the work sphere and out of what we define as “play.” When you pull late nights with your colleagues and most of your culture takes place on a bar stool, it can be hard to keep it clean. In some ways, this is what makes the industry so wonderful, but the same characteristics can make things precarious. Couple this with the fact that many a small magger works from a home office and the line between life and work is all but destroyed.
If everyone you know and clink glasses with works at a magazine, maybe it’s time to find some investment banker friends. Hell, maybe they can even advise a way to fund your magazine.
When networking becomes a bit incestuous and the plight of your small mag has the potential to overtake your personal life in unhealthy ways, how do you stay sane? In an industry full of big personalities and blurred boundaries, what tactics do you use to keep the pleasurable and the professional happily in balance?
In circ news this week, head on over to a great discussion
mag about the potential death of direct mail as a source for new subscribers: “Those days of brilliant outers, gorgeous brochures, and well-written 4-page letters are long gone. Or are they? Have the realities of the ‘new’ economy made them obsolete?”