Years ago, Stephanie, our designer Anne, and I went to see the editor of a huge, glossy magazine give a talk. It was a fancy-schmancy affair, set up in the dome of the University of Virginia’s famed Rotunda, with its Jeffersonian architecture and luxe decor. As we milled around with glasses of wine, we spoke to the editor briefly before dinner was served. She was personable, but all of us knew that we weren’t working in the same field. For example, her assistants had assistants, while I was (and still am) the one who goes through and formats the Word documents before we start editing. We were all in the magazine industry, but in the sort of way that both a tabby and a Bengal tiger are cats.
What we wanted to hear about, though, was the future of print, from her perspective at a big corporation with thousands of employees’ livelihoods on the line. She reported that among her colleagues, the general feeling was that print would never die because of where people read magazines, the Three Bs: Beaches, Bedrooms, and … what? I can’t remember. Barnes & Noble? Banks of sperm donation? Or maybe it was the belovedness of paper? Anyway, at that point in publishing, only other real alternative to printing on paper was posting on the Internet, and we just couldn’t see giving away the very best thing about Brain, Child: what you read in it.
Then, a few years ago, e-readers came on the scene, all the Kindles and Nooks and Sony E-readers and iPads and iPads for Your Lighter Days. As an avid reader with serious storage problems, I jumped in. But as a co-owner of a small, independent magazine, they made me a little queasy. These things were being powered by some big companies, the sort where an executive’s suit could cost more than our whole annual editorial budget. Could we compete? Did we have to? I asked on our Facebook page if our readers might be interested in an e-reader version. And a lot of them said yes, in fact, they were.
There’s a scene in The Princess Bride where three men are trying to figure out how to storm the castle. They list their assets: one man’s brains, another’s sword mastery, and another’s pure strength. (Oh, and a wheelbarrow and a “Holocaust cloak.”) In solving the e-reader conundrum, I looked at Brain, Child’s assets—which are the list of names on our masthead. Every single one of us is smart and creative, hardworking and passionate. We each have unique strengths, too: mad organizational skills, a talent for visuals, a gift of gab, an empathetic way with words. None of us, though, were tech wizards, and there was zero room in our budget to hire one.
I took a stab at investigating. After a month of research, the tech talk became completely incomprehensible. I reported my embryonic findings in a memo, and then I turned my attention to finishing the Fall issue. I was ticked at myself but not surprised. My talents don’t include picking up other talents easily. When I tried my hand at knitting, I wound up with seven extremely tight lines of stitching, like a straitjacket for a rogue band of angel hair pasta. When I got a ukelele for my birthday, I was able to play, after much practice, one song: a very halting rendition of They Might Be Giants’s “Particle Man. (Doing the … things … a … part…ticle…can!)
As in The Princess Bride, though, I had overlooked one asset. It turns out that Stephanie’s tenacity is the wheelbarrow of this operation. She’s not actually a tech wizard, but she did spend years working as a journalist in the tech field, enough to decode the vocabulary. She dug in for a while… and, Reader? Girlfriend figured out how it was done.
We made some decisions. While selling tons of things cheap is Amazon’s business model, it can’t be ours, so we offer our e-reader versions at a normal, fair price. Since the giant online booksellers require publishers to agree to terms they freely admit can change at any time, we decided to offer our e-reader subscriptions only through the Brain, Child website. And we (obviously) aren’t abandoning our print version.
So, my lovelies: For those of you who want an e-reader version, thanks to the tenacity of Stephanie, you have it. For those of you who believe in the belovedness of paper, we’re having a subscription sale—click here for details. As someone wise once said: as you wish.
—Jennifer Niesslein, co-founder of Brain, Child
A version of this appears in Brain, Child‘s Winter 2012 issue.
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