You know the way the cover of the New York Times magazine always arrives just a bit floppy, little white tears already reaching out from the spine, taunting you like crow's feet. The way they spread, causing the cover not so much to rip off—that might be more humane—but rather to slide out of alignment, slowly shifting up and down, up and down, until it's too late. Dig out the most recent issues if you don't believe us. Why does the New York Times spend their cash on super-stylized comic-book art and super-cute doggie pictorials if they're unwilling to spring for half-decent saddle-stitching?
We've rigorously investigated the matter of the magazine's staples, and one major finding is rather obvious: there's at least one too few of them.
The Times mag measures 9.5 by 11.5 inches, and has two staples. For comparison, the New Yorker—basically the same physical publication, if you think about it, but so sturdy that if one plans right, no expensive DVD-ROM box must be bought— is 10.75 by 8 inches, and has three staples. (When the New Yorker swells for a double issue, as they just did for the Feb. 19–Feb. 26, 2007 issue that blew up to almost 200 pages, they switch to perfect-bound.)
Do the math! Each of the three staples in the New Yorker is responsible for a svelte 57.3 square inches of bounded paper, while in the Times mag, each of the two staples is responsible for an unconscionable 109.25 square inches!
But there's more than just payload at play here.
The staple on the top is from the Times mag. (You can tell because of the word "mixtapes.") The staple on the bottom is from the New Yorker. Note how the David Remnick-approved fastener does what a staple is supposed to do. The two pointy ends fold down onto the crease, forming precious little crescent moons that keep the center-spread firmly in place. In stark contrast, the ends of the Times' staples stick out, ramrod-straight, just waiting to impale a misplaced fingertip—and providing no negative check at all against all those tiny pulp-paper degradations that conspire to make catastrophic magazine entropy inevitable.
What makes the situation especially tragic is that every New York Times magazine comes with all the staple-resources it needs for a fine binding, but for some reason grossly misallocates them. As everyone knows, it's a short magazine—62 pages last week—with unusually thin paper stock. So it's totally inexplicable that it uses massive 1.5-inch staples, which leave so much surplus material that they couldn't properly curve down even if they wanted to.
Again, the New Yorker is the counterpoint (though, really, any average Time, Newsweek or Star would do). That magazine, usually around 90 pages printed on much thicker paper, gets by just fine with 1.25-inch staples. A quarter inch might not seem like much, but in the staple world, it's huge.
In the image here, a dainty specimen extracted from the New Yorker poses with a monster from the Times magazine.
Thus, if only it ever admitted it had a problem, the Times would find the solution staring it in the face. Instead of two 1.5-inch staples, use three 1-inch staples. Epistemologically challenging covers would stay on, shared reading-based marriages would stay strong, and all without any net increase in metal usage that might hurt Arthur Sulzberger's pocketbook.
This is assuming, of course, that there aren't more nefarious reasons behind the magazine's bewildering fragility. We're no longer so sure.
Found in the Times' online media kit is a document called the 2002 Regular Reader Study. It boasts to advertisers that "Regular Readers of the New York Times Magazine are Among the Most Demographically Desirable, Loyal and Action-Oriented of all U.S. consumer magazines." And among the super-desirable stats cited in the report is this strange little nugget:
Shelf Life: 6 days, on average.
Could it be? Is the New York Times magazine perfectly calibrated to totally self-destruct before the next week's issue (and ads) arrives?
Reached on Friday, a Times spokeswoman asked about reader staple angst denied everything. "I've never heard it," Diane McNulty said. "In all the years I've been here, I've never heard that." Decide for yourself, action-oriented readers. We took "shelf life" breakfast photos over the course of the last week to document the decay.