Sunday, January 23, 2011

Printed Nirvana

The lure of the newsstand has always been hard for me to resist. Growing up, there was a small storefront on Saginaw Street near downtown Flint just across the way from Sunday church at St Mike's (can you guess how many times I was late for Mass because I went to this place first?) and sometimes, as I waited for the bus , some after school perusing. I can't remember a week from the time I learned to read and had a dime or so in my pocket not checking out the lower shelves at ReadMor. Week after week, I bought a comic or a "movie fan magazine" or Baseball Digest, just buying what was new that week. Sometimes there were magazines I could not afford, or were "forbidden" that I took a peek or two inside.

As I got older (junior high) I developed an addiction to newspapers and often came home with the Chicago Tribune or a New York daily and if I got there early enough, the treasured Washington Post. Since I was now operating on my own budget from babysitting, I had a stack of magazines that I dog-eared from reading and often fell asleep holding and probably drooling on, too. I bought what interested me, from gardening to sports to sewing to art. Once I brought home a copy of Ebony, because it had an article about my favorite baseball player inside. I was told not to bring that publication home again-and not understanding why, I just read it at the library. I also discovered you could borrow magazines from the library, too!

Little did I know the extent of my addiction. I discovered subscriptions! You know those annoying cards that fall out of every magazine you buy? They used to be sewn into the spine of the magazines, and many were perforated for extraction. When I found I could save tons of dollars by subscribing, I was in heaven! My first paid subscription was to Sport Magazine, sadly gone to the old printing press in the sky. Then I added Sports Illustrated, Baseball Digest, see a trend here? I love stats and the newspaper daily box scores just weren’t enough.

After I married, I still made the Monday night trek into Flint to buy an eclectic  stash. Some magazines didn’t have subscriptions like the Logic Puzzles that came out quarterly. By this time I had added a few local book stores that were more than just tabloids, paperbacks and comics. Then I started dragging my kids on my journey to find the drug of choice- something good to read. Most of the places I hit up back then, from ReadMor to Young and Welshans (when they were downtown before getting snooty and moving), Little Professor and even used magazines and paperbacks at Jelly Beans, are now gone. I will never forget the night I went to Courtland Center to get my stash only to find the Professor locked up, and hearing how they snuck out of the mall by night, leaving employees sobbing and customers (me) in shambled thoughts as we didn’t know where to get our stuff!

Borders moved in and with them, many periodicals from Europe and Asian, soon to follow with some from Australia. I could be found sipping tea and flipping thru magazines as I waited on hubby to meet me for dinner along the strip. My kids had their selections, too. And with no online offerings in the late 1980’s and later, we often walked away with full prices books, some of which still dot the landscape of my family room or bedroom. I later sold the books in garage sales, gave a bunch away and then started donating them to Goodwill or other non-profits. Sometimes, there were tears as I let each one go, like letting a child off to school for the first time. The Internet hit, Barnes and Noble moved in and I discovered Amazon. All those wonderful magazines to be had, either weekly, monthly or by subscriptions left me seriously on the edge of reason as I selected must have reads. Many online selections were not on the local news stands, so it was a chance to try them before committing long term. School kids sold them for fundraisers, and everyone knew to come to Jan-the magazine junkie.

Hubby would bring home from his worldly travels any local newspapers he could find, many not in English but I didn’t care. I just wanted the experience of holding them, smelling them and in some cases, cutting them up for crafting. If I made a purchase online and newsprint was used to cushion my items, I smoothed out the papers, sometimes getting inky fingers, so I could read the local sports from the Gazette in Billings, Montana or the want ads from Des Moines Register , on occasion a small local weekly wrapped my treasures and I got to read Obits from Franklin, Kentucky or Gramma’s secret recipe from Clovis, New Mexico.

I purged 15 years ago many of the magazines and newspapers I had collected over the years, dozens being first editions. I tried to sell them to a used book store (there was no EBay at this time) but it seems there was no interest unless it was real pop culture like People. I finally put them out for the recyclers, with a sign that if they wanted to read them first, and pass them on, please do. We all know the result of that, right?? Now all my used magazines (other than my crafty ones) are taken to rehab centers, the heart clinic at Hurley Med Center or similar, to let someone else dog ear them.

Slowly the subscriptions have been whittled down from over 100 a year to about 6 or 7. Some of these over the years have been tax deductible as business expenses either related to Ron’s job (may THAT rest in peace), or investing education. With each passing year, some magazines became more expensive than they were worth. They offered less and less notable content, less and less enjoyment and many went from monthly to bimonthly, to quarterly and some sadly, to no publishing at all. I hated the fact I paid for a full year or two or five and when they folded, got some other garbage to finish out what was owed to me, or more apt, nothing at all. You can’t sue them-well you can-but you are last on the list to be considered in a bankruptcy.

At one time, I received at least a dozen rubber stamping-related magazines each month. Most have stopped publication, some were infused into other crafting magazines that had nothing to do with paper crafting. I let the scrapbooking magazines lapse, some which no longer publish. There was so much drama over contests and auto renewals, the final straw was the company trying to charge me for three years subscription even after I verbally told them NO twice and declined via email. Luckily I had cancelled that credit card two years before, as the perks were no longer valid for me. When ads took up more space than creating, I gave them the boot.

Today I received notice of Stamper’s Sampler sending me my final issue. I have purchased this magazine for years, but the last time I renewed I did it with trepidation. It was a monthly downsizing to a bi monthly. The last year on this subscription has been torture. Redesigning the interior did nothing for me, and enlarging the samples to fill up a page instead of having more interior art is usually a clue that the magazine is going downhill and soon will go quarterly, raise the pricing and slowly drift off to the land of lost publications. The issues on this magazine run from 7.95 to 14.95 and this latest issue has over 20 pages hawking other publications owned by the publisher, several actual paid ads/pages and so little quality content that I would be stupid to order another subscription. Every other month I complained more and more and honestly, it was a relief to finally see….this is your last issue.

As I write this, I am looking at a stack of solicitations for renewals of magazines with one or two issues remaining, or some that expired months ago. The only one I am certain of renewing is the full year to USA Today. I tried to go without it last January, and that lasted about a week and a half. If I could lock in the price, I would order three years at a time-I NEED the sports section or I can’t breathe. Alas, they only offer one year. I will probably renew one paper crafting magazine, and I just renewed the zine I get called Vamp Stamp News. With so much blogging about stamping and paper crafting that Is far superior to anything being put out in paper publications, I can only say to the publishers…you f***ed up. The artwork I see online that designers share with their fans via websites and blogs is far superior to anything in the magazines, the artists are available to answer questions, these artists aren’t being ripped off by greedy publishers who “claim “the art and then never compensate the designers, AND I don’t have to wait for a month after the actual magazine hits the newsstand for my issue I paid for UPFRONT 3 years ago. Also, the blogs don’t have the covers ripped off or mangled (thank YOU Mr. Postman).

I was born with something to read in my hand. I feel like I am naked and incomplete without the printed word publications I have purchased since childhood.  Often , I wonder if the next century will have anything printed on papers, or will the generations of the 22 century have only digital books, magazines and newspapers. As I watch the steady regression in quality of my local newspapers, the demise of favorite magazines and the uptick in less than stellar reading materials being presented on news stands (how many car magazines are there, really?), I feel the slow death knell inside my head for the entire industry.  I still have plenty of books to read, as I continue to add to my queue beside the bed stand so the withdrawal has been easier to handle. But as the newsstands of the 20th century are moved farther and farther from people's access, I see the forward generations losing out on the actual feel of shiny paper pages and aroma of freshly printed ink that have been both my joy and my bane over 5 decades.