Buck Up, Magazine WritersS

Yeah, yeah, magazine features are shorter than they were. This Old House may be shut down. The lead times for printing and distribution are increasingly absurd in an age of instant online publishing. But do magazine writers have to be quite so depressed and depressing?

Here's David Samuels, in an interview with Matt Haber, a fellow gloom-merchant, for the New York Observer. "Nobody wants to publish a collection of magazine pieces. It's like saying, ‘Here's a bag of used Kleenex: Would you like to hold it for a while?'… The publishing industry is convinced that this stuff is garbage. Increasingly, it is garbage. If you look at magazines today, how much is there that you'd want to read a year later, let alone 10 years later?"

The sick thing? Samuels is actually successful. His latest feature in The Atlantic, on the cultural significance of Britney Spears, was that august monthly's most talked-about cover in years. The magazine business has so spooked itself that even the star writers mope around as if they were penniless artists on the margin of society.

Samuels is not the only one. An acquaintance, winner of prizes, one of the most sought out writers of her generation, worries that her contract rates are no longer increasing, and that even entertainment titles seem under pressure. She emailed: "I thought that was the one safe niche. I guess I'm going to be a housewife."

Enough already! First of all, this pessimism is to a degree self-fulfilling: nobody wants to be entertained by downers. Second, have these whiners ever experienced the grind of high-frequency web publishing? (Actually, some have written long articles on this fearful future, which just depresses them even more.) Finally, these complaints by $5-a-word megastars must be pretty galling to all those wannabe writers who'll never get a cover; not to mention reporters at newspapers, which make magazine publishing look like the most robust of businesses.