“Content mills” is what Steve Russell calls one style of today’s magazines, and I winced at the thought. It’s true, though. This ex-New York staffer of Playboy and Maxim knows that magazines today have limited options for surviving the blustery winds of the digital climate. The most obvious is to hack content, hack it down to shorter attention spans, to bits of clickbait on glossy paper, or listicals, and pay a lot less to the freelancers who will crank it out – the “hacks” in the older sense of the word. More and more is done by staffers too.
Steve, who spoke to our magazine lab Wednesday afternoon, now publishes Edible Blue Ridge – a free quarterly with less flesh than his previous titles. (The world labelled Maxim as a men’s magazine full of hot babes, but the people who ran it thought of it as a humor magazine, Steve says.) Natalie was copy editing Maxim when they met, then was with the founding staff of “O,” then at Martha Stewart Living. (We’ll be visiting both of these places in New York soon.) Steve and his wife edit Edible Blue Ridge out of their Charlottesville home.
“Edible” is a national franchise of foodie magazines all using a similar format and business model in about 30 locations, but each one with local content, a local name and local advertising. It’s another model for a magazine today. Every three months, Steve takes about a week in a rented Subaru to deliver the magazine around the Commonwealth to trusted locations, not newsstands. It’s an attractive publication, with rich color photography on good uncoated stock and with the high-quality writing and editing skills the couple brought to Virginia from about seven years in New York.
Steve also freelances for high-end magazines like Garden & Gun, but the freelance market is drying up, he says. He used to get $2 a word, which for a 1,500-word piece was not bad. Now? “I can’t get them above $1 a word.”
As for the content mills, the pay is lower. A lot lower.
— Doug Cumming