More On Paste Magazine's Print-Side Demise: "We'd Been Running On Fumes For A Really Long Time, And We Ran Out Of Fumes."
Yesterday, the tasteful-culture bible Paste abruptly suspended its print edition, the latest music-related publication to shut down in the past few years. The Paste website, on which the display ads for subscriptions lead to an announcement of the print issue's suspension, will continue to live on, running stories that were in the pipeline for issues of the magazine that haven't been printed (including the issue dated August 2010, which is still at the printer).
Reaction to the magazine's demise, the latest in a long line of them, has been swift, and even sort of nice -- even the claws-out commenters at Gawker were for the most part kind. "It's kind of like when we went through the 'Save Paste' campaign last year, which we were very hesitant to do," said editor-in-chief Joshua Jackson, who remains at the magazine with publisher Nick Purdy and president Tim Regan-Porter, as well as a few interns. "It seems like every email I'm getting is somebody just wishing us the best, and thanking us for what Paste has meant to them."
Founded in 2002 as a quarterly, the Georgia-based magazine became a major player in the music media in a relatively short time. It was printed on thick stock and was gorgeously designed, and it brought many accomplished writers into its fold. In its heyday, it held launch events in New York City (including an intimate show with Beck at the Knitting Factory); it was nominated for the National Magazine Award in General Excellence for the last three years, although because of its financial problems the staffers didn't make it up to New York for the awards ceremony this year. "It was kind of sad that we were struggling and couldn't justify spending money on plane tickets to New York when we owed people money," said Jackson. "We were just trying to get to where it was recapitalized, pay off debts, and move forward."
Perhaps most indicative of Paste's influence was the way it quickly developed its own aesthetic stereotype, crystallized by the magazine's selection of Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise as the best album of the 2000s. It frequently took ribbing from some quarters for being too tasteful, too on the side of pop-cultural righteousness. In 2007, the magazine put Kanye West on the cover, and "People thought we were nuts . . . like we had abandoned some perceived version of what we were," said associate editor Rachael Maddux, who was employed by Paste for four years and whose criticism was nominated for an ASME award last year. "There was this public perception of the magazine among people who didn't even read us, and whenever we strayed from that -- also using the Kanye cover as an example -- it was like, 'Oh, Paste is trying to be this thing they're not. Who do they think they are?' "
Shortly after the hubbub over the Kanye cover, Radiohead engaged in a pay-what-you-will scheme to distribute low-quality digital versions of its album In Rainbows. Paste decided to take a similar tack. At the time, the play made sense to the people on the business side -- boosting the subscriber base would make the title more attractive to advertisers, and would widen the magazine's rate base. But the advertising model that prized the size of a subscriber base over the actual revenue that said subscribers built in was on the verge of taking a big hit.
"2008 was when things started getting very difficult," Jackson said. "We experienced a lot of growth going into the downturn; we'd grown our subscriber base, and our focus was just on getting a lot more people knowing about our magazine, and the payoff was going to be all the advertising money coming from that subscriber base. And all our projections just took a nosedive, [which happened] across the industry."
In January 2010, Purdy called that experiment a success, noting that it had caused the magazine's subscriber base to grow by 30,000 people. But that interview came after the summer of 2009, when Paste embarked on a fundraising campaign -- "The Campaign to Save Paste" -- after the cashflow at the magazine, according to the pitch, "unexpectedly reached an all-time low, and turned a tough situation into a short-term crisis." That campaign raised more than $275,000 -- a nice sum to quote in articles, but nowhere near the amount needed to publish a magazine, pay staff and freelancers, and keep the lights on at an office space.