Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! What's wrong with Canada?

Here in the US, today is Thanksgiving. This is an excuse for most of us to celebrate our blessings by having a feast of turkey with our family. We want to thank our family of readers for the overwhelming support you've given us since we started. We're working hard on Volume II to make it better than the first issue.

While many of the improvements will have to remain top secret until vII hits the stands, we can hint at the following tidbits:

  1. More content. We're not positive of the page count, but it's going to be bigger than issue one.
  2. Wider format. The book is going to be slightly wider than issue one, meaning that we can cram even more spurious knowledge into each page.
  3. New writers. We're glad that you liked the featured authors in vI, but be prepared for some fresh faces in vII. 
  4. Better print quality. No more smudged, crappy or blurred pics or ink. We hope. 
  5. But most importantly:
PERFECT BINDING. The first issue featured a stapled edge. While infinitely more durable than a glued spine, the saddle stitched format is not without its limitations. For one, there's only so many pages you can staple together. Perfect bound (aka square bound) books don't have a limit. Secondly, the main complaint I heard about vI was "I really wish that it had a thick spine with a printed title, so that I can display it on my shelf with my other books." We agree. (See, I told you that we listen to what you guys want!) So let it be written, so let it be done.

So happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers across the globe, and know that we appreciate each and every one of you. Now, to address a topic that really sticks in my craw...

 What the heck is wrong with the Canadian Postal System ?!?!?!?!

First off, their rates are ridiculous compared to the USPS. Do they handle each parcel with a velvet glove and sing it to sleep with a Canadian lullaby? Nope. They ignore the parcels and lock them in a deep, dark basement for weeks on end like Jame ‘Buffalo Bill’ Gumb. Then, when they run out of room in their cavernous warehouse of horror, they bulldoze the packages into the back of a horse-drawn wooden caravan and send it out for delivery. This delivery can take several days or several weeks, depending on the age and general health of the horse. At least, that's how I understand the process.

Secondly, why the HELL do they insist on keeping USA-shipped packages held up in customs for weeks on end? Do they think that my obvious shipment of a digest-sized magazine contains drugs or weapons? It makes no sense. And it shows the arrogance and corruption of a bloated government bureaucracy. 

Now, the advice I kept hearing about shipping to Canada was to send it Priority Mail, as it would get there quicker and it could be tracked. So the first couple of issues that I shipped to Canada were sent Priority, until I realized that it cost about twenty dollars to ship one issue. Yeah, I love our Canadian readers, but I don't love them that much, heh heh.

Know that whoever tells you that shipping via Priority Mail is quicker than First Class to Canada is lying through their teeth. It makes no difference. The orders that we shipped to Canada were mailed out on 11/3-11/5. They are all still sitting in Canadian customs. Yep, three weeks. That's piss poor service. If I were Canadian, I would revolt. Oh wait, I forgot. Your government has effectively disarmed you so that you can't revolt. D'oh!

If you've ordered from Canada then I sincerely apologize for your book not getting there. We did ship them out, and they all got there on 11/6 and 11/8. Once it hits the border, it's out of our control. I love the Canadian people and their beautiful country, but I hate their postal system and government. To end on a positive note, I'll post the following letter from another Canadian, our featured columnist Jennifer Goldsmith:


I got your packet of books today. I'm pretty sure that you didn't rip the box open and stomp up and down on the magazines until they were tattered and torn, but that's the shape that they arrived in. (Sigh.) Gotta love Canada. On the upshot, they got here in 4.5 weeks, which is a pretty good for our customs officials! You might want to post something on the site that mentions orders to Canada might take up to a month to arrive, you never know. 


So, dear reader, don't feel bad. Not only do they hold up shipments to our readers, but they actually mangle packages sent to our columnists. That's sad.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Back Cover: What it Means

OK, a lot of people have been asking me lately what the back cover of Volume One is all about. If you haven't seen it, here it is:

Well, it's a homage to the brand of cigarette that I smoked for many years. If you've ever bought a pack of filterless Camels in the last 97 years, you've noticed the back of the pack contained a "quality warning" explaining why Camels cost more than most cigarettes:

Of course, we know now that this is pure BS on RJR's part (the amount of "Turkish" tobacco in Camels is nearly non-existent, and the domestic tobacco isn't any different from what they put in their filtered blends like Camel and Winston, it's just less adulterated). But, the cigarette companies still want to put some sort of "mystique" behind their non-filter blends, so they justify the higher price by alluding to some sort of "super" tobacco in their premium blends.

In reality, non-filtered cigarettes like Camel, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, and Chesterfield don't cost any more to make than their filtered counterparts. In fact, most evidence points to them costing much less to manufacture than filtered cigarettes. So why do the companies charge almost double the pack price of the average filtered brand for their non-filters? Simple: because they can.

All cigarette companies have what are known as "over the counter" brands. These are the "old fogey" lines like Benson & Hedges, More, Carlton, Tareyton, and Kent. Brands that have dedicated buyers that have been smoking them for decades, and will absolutely not switch for any reason whatsoever. Most non-filter smokers belong to this group. The cigarette companies know that they have a built-in (albeit small) customer base that will pay a premium price for these brands. They don't have to spend any money advertising these brands, and they make a tidy profit off of them by selling them at above-average prices.

RJR does this with Camel and Lucky Strike. They know that the smokers of these two brands will not be satisfied with any other cigarette. It doesn't matter if they only sell 100,000 cartons a month either, because they're making twice as much profit off them than they are on their leading brands.

For many years, I smoked Lucky Strike non-filters. When RJ Reynolds bought out B&W, they acquired the Lucky brand as well, and decided to change the recipe into something a little more bland (perhaps in an attempt to sway Lucky smokers towards the more established Camels?) Either way, I was not satisfied with the "new" Lucky Strike and I found myself gravitating towards the bolder Camel line. I too bought into the lie that I was now smoking "Turkish" cigarettes with "premium" tobacco.

When I found out the truth, I felt duped. But it made it really easy to quit smoking when I felt that I had been RJR's little propaganda sucker for two decades, and in hindsight, I now question the claims of all tobacco manufacturers when they claim to have "superb" leaf in their product. Very few companies actually pick prime leaf like they did in the thirties and forties. They rely on their labs and their additives to provide all the flavor; which brings me to the use of Recon tobacco in cigarettes.

RJR pioneered the use of Recon in some of their cheaper brands in the late 1940's. Recon is short for reconstituted tobacco. Previously, "floor sweepings" were traditionally ground down into snuff or used in short-fill cigarillos. RJR found a way to press these tiny chunks of tobacco into a new "Frankenstein" sheet and cut it down into cigarette tobacco. (The sheets look kind of like the outer wrapper of a Black and Mild cigar, which is also a recon leaf.)

This saved the company a lot of money, and they were able to mix crap tobacco with better grades and still have a somewhat decent cigarette. At first, this was all done on their cheaper brands, but in time, even their best sellers like Camel and Winston contained some degree of Recon. RJR began losing marketshare to Phillip Morris in the 1960's, when RJR's use of Recon was at an all-time high while PM made very little use of it. Was it because RJR's cigarettes were tasting lousy, while Phillip Morris's were tasting pretty good by comparison? Who knows. But in time, all cigarette companies started to use Recon as a cost-cutting measure.

So I laugh now at the absurdity of the Camel message, especially when RJR alone was responsible for making cigarettes less prestigious than they already were. The whole thing is a copout, really. It's like when a car company says "No fancy GPS or On-Star in our vehicles. We make cars, not entertainment centers." Read that as "We're too cheap to compete with the other guys, so we're going to justify our lack of features by making them seem superfluous in comparison."

So does this mean that the Ephemeris is cheap, or overpriced? Hell no! I just thought it would be nice touch for the back of the book, which was going to remain blank until the last minute, when I came up with the Camel homage.

So, there you go. No, it doesn't mean that we're never going to run specials (hell, our entire first printing was sold at a 10% discount) or have contests or whatnot. Don't read too deep into it- it's just a cover! 

Friday, November 5, 2010

On selling out and cashing in: Why DIY publishing may be the right choice

As of 12:00 pm, November 4th, our remaining stock of Volume One sold out completely. Unfortunately, the proposed second printing that was planned is probably not gong to happen anytime soon.

See, when the first printer screwed up, I had to go with another printer at the last minute, which kind of ate up our entire printing budget for the first issue. Previously, I had set aside enough reserves for a second run if we needed it, but the new printer was much more expensive than the first guys we used. Keep in mind, we had NO paid advertisers for the first issue, so that kind of limited us to how many issues we could print the first time around. This left us with a much smaller run than originally anticipated, and I had just enough to mail out to everyone on our list.

So, here are the things that we plan on increasing within the Ephemeris:
1. Readership (and by extension, circulation) 
2. Ad revenue
3. Page count (80 pages is pretty thick, but I'd like to eventually hit triple digit territory)
4. Distribution, both online and brick and mortar
5. Advertising on our part
   and most importantly:
6. Production values.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by the final product that we ended up shipping out. Most of these issues were beyond our control, but I'm still taken aback by the wretched ink and photo reproduction that our printer turned out.

I'm still looking for a local print shop that can deliver the goods and not cost a fortune to work with, and if I can't find the right team, I'll start looking online and overseas. Our indica states that the Ephemeris is "proudly printed in the USA" and I want to keep it that way, but if there aren't any Americans that are willing to do a decent job at a competitive rate, I have no qualms about getting some communist heathens to do it for me instead. It shouldn't cost thousands of dollars to print a smallish run of an independent magazine, but in America, it does.

Why is this? Who is getting over on the customer: the print shop, the paper manufacturers, or the ink companies? At times, all three are. Sometimes, none of them. It all depends on the cost of raw goods, which can fluctuate wildly depending on the economy.

I know that right now the cost of paper is at an all-time low, yet the printers are still charging top dollar for it. Why? Well, when the cost of wood pulp increased a few years ago, the paper industry passed the increase on to printers, who in turn raised their prices. Yet when the cost of paper plummeted last summer, the printers jacked up their rates yet again even though their margins were wider than they had been in years. Why? The print shops were crying about all the lost revenue that desktop publishing and affordable laser ink printers had cut into their bottom line.

The reason that desktop publishing and home printers cut into the print shop market is that print shop quality was on the decline, while the quality of home office printers was on the rise. Many printers reverted to cheaper digital printing (basically printing things on a giant Xerox machine) as opposed to traditional offset printing. Yet the quality of digital printing doesn't often justify the price, which is why the average print customer began looking for alternatives.

Put yourself in the consumer's shoes: you have to print up 5,000 color flyers for your office party. You call local Joe's print shop, and he quotes you a rate of 800.00. You go and look at a mock-up of the flyer, and it looks like something that you printed at home on a laser printer. In fact, the paper it's printed on isn't even as good as the nice card stock that you buy at Staples or Office Max.

So then you calculate the cost of the flyer if you printed it at home. A round of toner for 5,000 color pages? About 400 bucks. 5,000 sheets of quality gloss stock? around 150.00. Time it takes to print? Maybe an hour. So, for a couple of hundred bucks less, you can have better results without having ever left your house.

THIS is why print shops are hurting. Don't charge me 800.00 for something I can do better at home for 500.00. Charge me 500.00 for something I can't do at home (offset printing) and do it correctly, and you'll have a customer for life. It's literally like paying a hundred bucks to send a plain telegram when you can send an elaborate email for free.

Print shops are going to have to learn to change and adapt to the times, or they're going to find themselves going the way of the dodo. Get away from the digital press while you still can and go back to being a REAL printer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Hey guys, just dropping in to give a status update on the magazine.

I picked up the run from the printer yesterday ready to ship them out to retailers (pre-orders were supposed to ship today) but unfortunately, I had to reschedule shipment. Quite simply, everything was screwed up.

The beautiful glossy paper I ordered was replaced with matte stock. Pages were printed out of order. One page was printed upside down. Pages were off-center. It looked about as professional as a misspelled flyer for a car wash.

I've put in an emergency order with another printer, and it should be ready to ship Monday. I sincerely apologize for the slight delay, but I could not (in good faith) send the magazine out looking like that.

On a positive note, I've learned a lesson: in the world of digital, on-demand printing, you truly get what you pay for. Also, if your printer speaks barely any English, then you're probably in for a real surprise when you pick up your order...

Friday, October 22, 2010

So... what kind of a magazine is it?

I was asked that question twice the other day. I thought the people asking it meant ‘What kind of stuff do you write about?’ and I proceeded to answer somewhat smugly, "It's an ephemeris about snuff."

What they actually meant was ‘What kind of magazine is it in terms of aesthetic qualities?’ and it hit me; I hadn't really discussed those details yet.

Firstly, as I explained in this Snuson thread, the magazine is engineered to last. The book is meant to be stored away for future reference, and not tossed out with the evening's trash once it has been read. The page stock is coated, heavyweight, archival grade, acid-free 100% bright white bond. It's guaranteed by the manufacturer to last at least 127 years in average conditions. The cover stock is a similar glossy-coat stock that is likewise archival grade, though not quite as strict a grade as the interior. It is nigh impossible to get a really deep gloss coat that is also rated for archival purposes, so I got the shiniest, thickest cover stock I could find and still be within the bounds of what is considered "archival grade."

The size of the magazine is a source of contention for me. Originally, I planned it as a tabloid size (think Rolling Stone before it shrunk into its new smaller size), but the overwhelming response to tabloid shape was negative; it seems that people find the format too bulky and uncomfortable to hold. I understood that people wanted a more traditional shape, although I still was going for as big a page size as possible, so that I could fit more material into each issue.

This brought me into the standard 8.5x11" territory that most magazines fall into. You would figure that since this is the most common format for periodicals, it would also be the most economical choice. WRONG. It would have been cheaper for me to go with the tabloid size, even though it is much larger than standard size! It's like walking into a car dealer to buy a Toyota Camry, and walking away with a Cadillac Limousine for half the price of the Camry. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one.

So, reluctantly, I knew we had to downsize. I personally wanted to go with the Reader's Digest size square bound, since this would have given us maximum page count. There was two problems with that though; one, I couldn't get good paper for that format- I would have had to settle for cheap newsprint. Second, the size isn't very big- none of the photos would have come out well and you would have had to strain your eyes to read the fine print. I would never want to torture my readers that badly, so I had to go up a couple of sizes.

That left me with two last options: National Geographic-size (6.5x10") or Farmer's Almanac size (8.5x5.5"). After a lot of deliberation I went with the 8x5 size simply because it offered me more versatility. With the Nat Geo format, I would have been limited on page count, paper stock and binding options. The 6.5x10 size is always squarebound (also known as "perfect" bound).

I did not want the Ephemeris to be squarebound for a few reasons. Perfect binding is OK for smallish paperback books, but not for anything you want to stand the test of time. Magazine squaring is also nowhere near as perfect an art as book squaring; the examples I've seen of squarebound independent zines are poor at best. The glue is lousy and the spines don't hold up well.

I knew that I wanted a stapled/saddle stitched book, and this left me with the Farmer's Almanac format as my only choice. The pros of going with staples over glue are that staples last longer, they fold better, and the spines take less wear and tear than glued squarebound spines. The cons are that stapling costs more than perfect binding, and stapled books don't look as good sitting on a shelf with its spine exposed compared to perfect bound volumes. You can also get a much higher page count with perfect bound books over stapled.

So, in the end, the choices I made regarding the magazine's format came down to what I would want in a magazine. Something that feels good in the hand. Something small enough to be portable while still being large enough to give justice to the content inside. Ink that doesn't run off onto your hands because it's printed on cheap newsprint. Paper bright enough to contrast well with the printed word. But most importantly, I want something that my grandchildren can pick up thirty years from now and still be able to read without the book degrading with each touch.

By this point, you're probably wondering why I'm still going on about the production values of our magazine. I really don't know, except that I wanted to let everyone know that we're not cheaping out on any of the materials we use to make our magazine, even though the temptation was certainly there at times. Even our staples are rust-free high stress grade! We want you to be as satisfied with the book as humanly possible.

Till next time,

Print Ad

Here's the first print ad for the magazine. Let us know what you think. So far, people seem to like the "retro" style tongue-in-cheekiness of the whole thing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The critics seem to like us so far...

Though we've kept the contents of the first issue under wraps, we have sent out some advance copies of certain articles to reviewers and advertisers. So far, the overwhelming response has been positive. And these aren't just folks that want to tell us nice things to make us feel happy- these are hardcore, masochistic reviewers for militant anti-everything blogs and zines. Every single one of them asked for one thing: more material. Could it be that they've actually found something fun to read? One shudders to think.

Our first issue went up for pre-order late last week, and we have been inundated with orders. To be honest, I didn't quite expect such an amount; I called my printer and decided to double the initial print run, just to meet the demand. If we run out of copies from that run, it is within my contract to strike an "emergency" run to fill orders. After that, no more copies of the first issue. If you want to guarantee a copy of your own, your best bet would be to pre-order soon, before they're all spoken for.

This brings me to another question I was recently asked. Will we sell back issues of The Ephemeris on our website? Yes we will, so long as as we have extra copies laying around. As for subscription services, well, it's not quite as easy to implement as I thought that it might be. Before we start taking people's money a year in advance, we want to make sure we have the right printer. We want to have a long-term relationship with a company that we trust; one that we can count on to go the distance. I sadly do not see this as a possibility with our current printer, so I am hesitant to take advance subscriptions until I know that the books will be ready and shipped out on a timely basis, on schedule. Once we're certain of our printer's capabilities, you can start throwing as much money at us as you want!

Next blog, I'll go into some of the aesthetic details of the magazine.

All the best,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Press Release, First Issue Available for Pre-order

Whoo-wee, talk about a busy couple of days!

Firstly, Larry Waters got an exclusive first interview with us, and it's posted up at Snus Central's front page.

Then, the main site went up, complete with pre-orders for the premiere issue.

After that, Mick set up our Facebook page.

Don't let me forget to plug the Myspace page for the three or four people that are still on it.

That's all for now, but it should be enough to keep you entertained for a few minutes at least. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Meet Your Overlords! Me, Mick and the Magazine

I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce myself, RW Hubbard, and my right-hand-man, Mick Hellwig.

Mick and I met some time ago on Larry Water's forums, and we struck up a friendship right away. We had a lot in common; we both liked guns, cars, motorcycles, tobacco and other stuff. We'd swap each other snuff or snus through the mail, etc. When Mick, his wife, and their daughter came down south for the races, they went out of their way to visit me. Good people.

Mick had been writing the occasional article for SC, and I was immediately impressed with his style. Mick, Larry Waters and Andy Romeo are all three talented authors; their columns made me want to express myself better in my posts. Unfortunately, this tended to make me blabber on endlessly, thereby disrupting the flow of the forum threads.

Larry, in his infinite wisdom, decided that my posts would be better served as essays. He wanted me to write a column for SC. I thought he was crazy! I told him so. But he believed in me, so I wrote a couple of articles covering snus and politics. I found that I really enjoyed writing about tobacco history. In fact, I discovered that I really liked writing in general. I have Larry to thank for that.

See, when I was a young punk, I couldn't decide whether or not I should become a musician, a filmmaker, or a writer. I tried my hand at all three, and I found that I preferred to work a 9 to 5 and earn a steady paycheck rather than to express myself artistically and be dirt poor. I even tried to do both, but I just couldn't bring myself to write a hit song after spending all night mopping the puke off of the gas station floor. So I gave up, and drifted into blue collar obscurity.

But Larry made me remember what it felt like to accomplish something. After I'd finish an article, I'd lean back and think "Gee, I just did that." Not that I'm a good writer, mind you; but I know that I can fill up some blank space with a few words and know that it makes some sort of sense.

So, the genesis of the magazine lies in a trip to the dentist. I hate going to the dentist, especially this one in particular. He always makes me wait for at least an hour before I'm seen, and there's never anything to read in his waiting room except for those crappy dental health magazines. There's also a Reader's Digest from 1995 in there that I've read about six times. Lots of news about Bill Clinton in that one.

I meant to grab a book when I left the house, but I forgot to. I had a few minutes to kill before my appointment so I went in the local chain bookstore to find a magazine or two to read in the lobby. Nothing caught my eye, except for a couple of the cigar magazines over in the men's health section. I leafed through them, noting the BMW ads and golf write-ups.  

Where's the cigar articles? I wondered. Not all cigar smokers care about Scotch, ink pens, Rolex watches, Tiger Woods or 401k plans. I just wanted to read about tobacco. That's when it hit me- barring the few cigar books on the stand, there existed no publication devoted to what I feel is real tobacco. Where were the books about snuff? How about its Swedish cousin, snus? Hell, where could I read in print a review of the new C&D seasonal pipe blends?

Something had to be done. All day in the dentist's chair I thought about doing a snus book. That night, I actually printed up a crude ashcan of what I thought the book could look like. The next day, I talked to Mick and told him that we should do a magazine, all about snuff and snus. He thought I was crazy for wanting to do a print mag in this internet-based day and age, but I believe that the more he thought about it, the cooler the concept seemed.

And that's pretty much it. Mick and I have toiled away for the last six months getting this thing together.We've been blessed with a supporting crew of the finest contributors that we could have ever hoped for. We have writers onboard that I can't believe aren't writing for "big" books like Time or Newsweek. Editors like Mick that aren't really only editors; it's just one of the many feathers on the dozens of hats that they wear.

And we hope that you enjoy the book as much as we enjoy creating it. This time next month, I guess we'll know for sure!

Take care,
RW Hubbard

Monday, October 4, 2010


Please excuse the lack of content, we've been really busy getting the first issue together and getting the website up and running.

First, an introduction is in order. The Snuff Taker's Ephemeris is a bi-monthly, full-color magazine that averages between 80-100 pages per issue. Each edition covers the history of snus, snuff and other fine tobacco- from our earliest ancestors, right on through to the present day.

We are scheduled to release the first issue on Halloween night of this year. This date is not set in stone however; the printer I've contracted to do the magazine has been giving me quite a bit of grief over certain issues, and we may be forced to switch companies midway, which could stall the release date. Hopefully, it won't come to this, and we'll have the issue ready for pre-order shortly before the 31st.

Our website is currently under construction, it should be up within the week if all goes well.

So check back here every couple of days, we'll post more news as it becomes available. We'll also go into more detail about who we are and what we do.