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,

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