A worthy magazine in tricky times
A very few of you may remember my 2011 New Year’s prediction that “a magazine will close.” Some folks were annoyed with me for that prediction. They thought I was talking about Berkshire Living.
The demise of that magazine and its sister publications was a really sad thing. Editor Seth Rogovoy was kind enough to add my name to the magazine’s advisory board although I can’t remember a meeting or being asked for my advice on anything. I certainly don’t know that I could have made it work if I was asked.
Berkshire Living was both well-written and beautifully laid out. It won several prestigious national awards and reports that it had a circulation above 17,000 copies. That’s a lot of readers in a place like Berkshire County. In the end, though, the economics of the industry caught up with this first-rate publication.
Put simply, it costs a fortune to print these magazines. If a magazine publishing company is lucky enough to own their own printing press, the chances of survival are much greater.
Sadly, Michael Zivyak and his talented team just couldn’t make it work. It is easy for someone to stand back and tell people that the numbers don’t work. But when you’re in the game, you fight the good fight until you just can’t fight anymore. The money runs out. Sometimes, passion overtakes conventional reason. Hey, without passion, you’d never have a good restaurant or a bed and breakfast, two other examples of what my friend Joe Browdy often calls, “The theory of the greater fool.” You can put Columbus into that same group.
I remember when Albany, N.Y., had its own glossy magazine. Despite the assurances that the magazine would make it, I had my doubts. I didn’t know how deep the pockets of the publisher, a very nice man, and his family were. There was plenty of advertising in the magazine, but I really wasn’t sure who was paying what for all those ads. I do know that the magazine had a pretty formulaic way of doing its stories. The fare seemed to be mostly “safe” stories with beautiful pictorials about people’s stunning houses.
Despite the fact that Berkshire Living’s editor Seth Rogovoy’s announced person of interest was Bob Dylan, this was not a Bob Dylan-type magazine. The editorial staff didn’t take many chances on controversial subjects, perhaps fearing that taking chances might alienate a large part of the audience.
With that said, I am sure the marketing people who were responsible for the magazine would have made it a great success had it not been for the recession and economic downturn. Typically, the first expendable thing for most businesses is their advertising budget. I personally would not have run the magazine the same way, but I defer to publisher Zivyak and his greater knowledge.
The scuttlebutt, unconfirmed, was that in order for the sale to go through, all the magazine’s creditors had to agree to something like 40 cents on the dollar and some of those asked to do that, including some writers who were never paid for their work, refused to take the settlement. In some cases, the difference was a couple of hundred bucks.
For his part, Zivyak was a wonderful community member. The name of the magazine was attached to charity events and the smiling face of this tall and genuinely nice man could be seen at one benefit after another.
So much of what happens to us in life has to do with cycles which we cannot control. If you get in on the game during sustained healthy economic cycle, you make it. If the winds blow the wrong way, you lose. If you walk into a so-called “successful” restaurant and it is frequently empty, your eyes are not lying. But, human ingenuity being what it is, talented people like Michael Zivyak will keep on trying.
Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/14/11