Distributor Death Takes Down Another Indie Mag

After publishing 80 issues, the great independent culture and politics magazine Punk Planet has announced its closing. According to a front-page post on PP’s website by Daniel Sinker there are several factors contributing to its demise, “bad distribution deals, disappearing advertisers, and a decreasing audience of subscribers.”

The bankruptcy of major distributors is a problem that’s hit the independent magazine world like a plague, contributing to the closing of such great publications as Clamor and LiP. This is a topic I discussed in depth with Syndicate Product’s Aj Michel on the March 16 edition of the radioshow (thanks to Aj for alerting me to the sad news on PP). And Clamor co-founder Jen Angel has written an excellent analysis and reflection on her experience, entitled “Seven Years of Clamor: Challenges, Successes, and Reflections.”

I’m sad to see Punk Planet go, just like these other great publications. I have to admit that I hadn’t read PP much in the last couple of years. But for many years from its founding up to around 2005 I frequently picked it up both for its excellent music coverage and great reportage on news and politics. Although “punk” was in the name, I really appreciated how PP grew out of the punk zine movement to provide a broader more inclusive survey of the independent music scene, still consistent with the punk ethos without being stifled by the strict aesthetic purity of other punk publications.

While the internet provides a relatively inexpensive platform for publishing all sorts of work, I believe it is no replacement for print. I still love magazines for practical and aesthetic reasons. It’s a very tough time for independent periodicals and I think this state of affairs represents a true threat to democratic communications. The world view of millions of people is still informed by magazines and newspapers. Before the rise of the internet, my adolescent mind was opened and informed by independent magazines I found in the expansive racks in the Barnes and Noble and Tower Records, but had never seen next to Time and Newsweek at the 7-11.

With the bankruptcy of distributors who served small, independent publications, the chance of finding these publications in the big bookstores is dwindling, while other places, like the bankrupt Tower and independent bookstores, are also disappearing.

The independent publications that are hanging on are having to turn to creative devices in order to stay afloat. The Dave Eggers-associated McSweeney’s publishing concern is holding a big discount blow-out sale on it inventory and auctioning off one-of-a-kind items in order to pay the bills. Unfortunately, not all independent publishers have enough hipster-celebrity cred to pull this off.

I wish I had some great answer to this situation, except to buy a subscription to your favorite indie mag. More than mainstream periodicals, the indies rely heavily on subscriptions because that money goes directly to the publisher, while newsstand sales are filtered through many middle-men.

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