An Indie Publisher’s Emotional Final Letter to Subscribers
Founder’s exit memo details ‘harsh and sudden shock.’
This week, another small, fiercely-independent magazine folded (“Another Small Music Magazine Bites the Dust”). The publisher, as they often do, wrote an apologetic, heartfelt, 1,000-word note to subscribers detailing the constant struggle that is being an independent magazine publisher in 2008.
It’s also one of the best “exit” memos I’ve read in awhile (sadly, there have been enough of these lately to compare), touching not only on the “harsh and sudden shock” of having to fold, but also on the blood, sweat—the love, really—that went into launching a magazine like this (“Resonance began in a bedroom, moved to a living room, then, for the second half of the magazine’s existence, persisted in the two-room attic”) in the first place.
Here it is, in full:
To our dear friends and supporters:
In January 2008, immediately before going to press with our 55th issue, we were forced to stop printing Resonance. The financial challenge of publishing an independent magazine finally overwhelmed us. Fueled by the tireless support of many people (readers, subscribers, staff, freelancers, advertisers, publicists, as well as long-suffering spouses and significant others), we stubbornly survived on a shoestring budget and volunteer staff for 14 years. Such a business model isn’t sustainable forever.
Independent publishing has always been a challenge; the recent couple of years, however, have been a much greater struggle due a number of factors, not the least of which include: downturns in the magazine and music industries; rising paper, production and postage costs; the list goes on. We’ve always been a small-budget business, but we nonetheless made additional spending cuts wherever possible, many of them painful (being unable to pay staff for the previous year, for one). In the past we had survived the lean times by borrowing on credit to cover shortfalls, but these gaps have been steadily increasing to an unmanageable degree. I believed we would manage financially, like usual, by the skin of our teeth. Our debt finally reached its limit—immediately before going to press with issue 55.
This was a harsh and sudden shock. We had worked tirelessly and in good faith these past several months to produce the best issue possible in terms of editorial, design and integrity. So although not in hardcopy, we hope you will read our final issue, Resonance 55. With the help of contributors from around the globe, we pour hundreds, maybe thousands, of work hours into assembling each edition. This issue—even if only in digital form—shines as one of our best ever and will be permanently available on this site as a free, high-resolution download. Resonance 54, the first issue of 2007’s bold redesign, is also posted here. Please download, enjoy, and share the link with others, too.
To our subscribers: You believed in our vision and are the most valued supporters of Resonance. Only one subscriber ever requested a refund since we began publishing. For this faithful support, accept my deepest gratitude. What may be harder to accept is my apology. We will take care of you, and are negotiating to ensure that all subscriptions will be fulfilled by another music title. I know this is not at all ideal. I am sorry. Please understand that this is our only option.
For the near term at least, Resonance as a media vehicle is on indefinite hiatus, and continuing a print version at a future date is highly unlikely. A more viable route may be to phoenix ourselves online with a site devoted to the same vision (and with a massively diminished carbon footprint). We shall see.
Resonance launched in 1994 and consistently published quarterly editions for 14 years. The initial focus of Resonance was electronic music, but within the first year the mission evolved to focus on emerging artistic innovation itself, first across music genres, then encompassing other media such as books, film and the visual arts. The goal was to promote imagination in music and art, beyond the constraints of a single genre or medium. Creativity rarely stays in a vacuum, it explodes and interacts and influences everything around it. In the mid-’90s, the internet was making this synergy among media all the easier. We wanted a magazine that reflected this same kind of open-minded interconnectivity. Then, eschewing a narrow niche was considered ill-conceived marketing—we took the risk anyway. Now, such a kaleidoscope approach is common. We like to think we played a role in expanding the old, rigid view of what a magazine could be.
Eclectic content became one of the defining traits of the magazine. We wanted Resonance to cover media readers could actually talk about. So we launched a film department, featured visual art, and strongly developed our literature content. In fact, our feature interviews with book and graphic-novel authors count among some of our proudest pieces: e.g. David Sedaris, Miranda July, Eric Schlosser, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk, Tony Millionaire, Irving Welsh, to name a very few … and we put Eightball and Ghostworld creator Dan Clowes on the cover of issue 47. Resonance even received an Independent Press Award nomination for its arts and literature coverage from the Utne Reader.
None of us got much monetary gain from Resonance. As publisher, I barely made a living wage. The editors and contributors worked for small stipends or simply volunteered. We never had a real office, either—Resonance began in a bedroom, moved to a living room, then, for the second half of the magazine’s existence, persisted in the two-room attic of a rented house in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. But financial reward was never the point for anyone involved. It was to be a part of something sincere, a cause to believe in, a labor of love fiercely committed to editorial integrity and excellence. We wanted to create an oasis amid a sea of advertorial-riddled media churning out predictable coverage of the newest flavor of the month (indie or otherwise). So we filled most of every edition with little-known artists creating something more … inventive. And we were never afraid to go as far as giving them their first U.S. magazine cover, either (Lali Puna, Goldfrapp, MIA, Bobby Conn, Dan Deacon, Octopus Project, to name a few).
Whenever we had the opportunity, we tried to create content as unconventional as the artists Resonance championed. Perhaps our most unique achievement was orchestrating a dialogue between Thom Yorke and author Howard Zinn in issue 39—a worldwide-exclusive feature some readers thought was a fabrication. It wasn’t. Even with interviews we looked for refreshing ways to engage artists, such as the single-topic Final Cut department, in which we shared candid, often hilarious, chats with diverse personalities such as David Byrne, Diamanda Galas, Afrika Bambaataa, Boy George, Britt Daniel, Vincent Gallo and many more. Our Toolkit page, for another example, showcased interviewees illustrating their answer to the question "What does your favorite song look like?" using only the limited (and masochistic) art supplies our staff provided.
Yeah, we liked to play around, a lot. A content mix of erudite and silly kept Resonance from becoming a somber, geeky journal for pundits. It was a nice balance. Besides, who wants to work for peanuts without some good laughs? Our penchant for costumes, props and mischief kept the photography lively, for sure. Long-suffering artists became characters as cartoonish as wing-and-halo’ed angels (Mogwai), Soviet comrades (Mates of State), hotel-room trashers (the Flaming Lips), and silver-skinned visitors from the future (Le Savy Fav).
Our most outrageous stunt was in 2000 when Yo la Tengo conspired with us to do a cover photo shoot, not of the band themselves, but with three unknown impersonators instead: a trio of attractive, young Latin models. The cover’s headline read: "The sexy makeover of a hot Latin trio." Most readers got the joke, others believed the models were the band. Yo la Tengo’s record label Matador responded with a cease-and-desist letter from their attorney that threatened legal action for misrepresenting their artists, citing "gross non-compliance of the fair-use agreement regarding Yo La Tengo imagery." We published the letter in the following issue. Many readers, Resonance staff, and Matador fans were alarmed that such a credible indie label would be so devoid of humor. Well … they’re not. The legal threat was also a joke, kept secret until now. Thanks to the label’s then-publicist Ben Goldberg for help orchestrating it all, and for keeping mum for eight years. God, to this day I still chuckle about that.
Since 1994, Resonance celebrated the forward regions of music, books, film and the visual arts. We’ve always aimed to create a friendly mosaic—a mix of what’s next, innovative and inspiring—accessible to everybody in one nicely designed package. That’s what we ask readers to remember about Resonance. And if we reemerge online, the same spirit will continue.
We’ve had a lot of fun along the way—I hope you have, too. To all supporters of Resonance, thank you.
With warmest regards,
Andrew Monko, publisher