A new weekly magazine called California Sunday was announced this morning, and reaction was immediate and joyous. The very creative business idea is to put the print mag inside the state's biggest Sunday papers, while having all the websites and apps that are exciting to new-media people but can't charge Sunday paper ad rates.
Here in the nation's most populous state—which among other things is the world capital of both technology and entertainment—we have such an inferiority complex about our print media that we cheer like yokel boosters from the Chamber of Commerce when the New Yorker or the NYT sends somebody over to New York-splain whatever happens here.
Of course there are many successful and high quality magazines published in California, from Wired to Sunset, Mother Jones to Dwell. But the last ambitious general interest magazine based here was New West, which died in 1991 after being renamed California. It was modeled on New York, because anything ambitious in print must be modeled on something from New York, but it had a distinctly California feel and was much loved by its 360,000 subscribers during the 1980s. More recently, Pacific Standard appeared as a website and bi-monthly magazine.
California Sunday will launch online this year while becoming a much needed quality Sunday magazine in the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle. Newspapers are bleeding print subscribers, of course, but Sunday subscribers are still a very desirable demographic, because they're generally wealthy people in the most expensive zip codes.
Still, the success rate of such things is dismal. I was the editor of one of them, the Los Angeles Examiner, which managed one prototype issue in 2003 before former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan pulled the plug. A business model based on the money-hemorrhaging New York Observer was one of many dubious decisions, but it was terribly exciting for a couple of months!
The editor of California Sunday is Douglas McGray of Pop-Up Magazine in San Francisco, which is actually a series of acclaimed live performances done in Bay Area theaters. That is the kind of high-concept stuff we are used to in San Francisco, like Dave Eggers' lovingly crafted single issue of the San Francisco Panorama.
But a quality Sunday magazine is something we haven't had since the ambitious days of the Los Angeles Times in the 1990s, and there's never been anything on the West Coast to compare with the trio of the New Yorker, New York and the NYT Sunday Magazine.