God Bless You, Mr. Rosenthal

My final blog entry for Popular Woodworking Magazine is here.

For the last 22 years, one month and 29 days, I gave the magazine the best work I could do. They own it now – every word. I don’t know what they’ll do with the blog and the hundreds of articles I wrote, but that’s OK. That was the bargain.

I am not walking away empty-handed. There’s something I took from the relationship that I own. Actually two things: I learned how to run a publishing business. And I learned how not to run a publishing business.

When I started at the magazine in 1996, F&W Publications, Inc. was a technologically backward company. Not everyone had computers, and no one had Internet access. Company announcements were made constantly using a PA system. It was like working at a Greyhound bus terminal.

The pay was terrible – I took a 23 percent pay cut when I signed on. But the company’s finances were golden. It was a family-run company with zero debt. They owned their building outright. They paid their invoices and bills on the day they arrived. And most of the managers had been there for decades.

It was a company with odd, odd rules. Every day had a “quiet hour” where we weren’t allowed to use our phones. People who cursed in front of a certain family member were fired. You got a Christmas bonus every year. Sometimes it was a tiny amount of money. Sometimes is was a turkey. I couldn’t tell if these were rewards or a sick punishment.

The family demanded that we keep our magazine’s editorial content crafty-oriented and decidedly downmarket.

The Rosenthal family sold the business to venture capitalists, and everything changed. It became all about money. It wasn’t better or worse. Just different. As editors, we were free to do what we wanted with our magazines’ content. We just had to make money. We got better computers (only five years out of date) and pay raises.

And like all money-hungry companies, they started to delay paying people – authors, vendors etc. – to make their quarterly statements look good. They still do.

The company became, in my view, just a big pile of debt.

None of the above statements are criticisms. People are free to run their businesses as they please. But we have the same freedom. That’s why Lost Art Press has never taken a loan. We pay our vendors, authors and contractors immediately and generously. We offer our authors editorial freedom and strive to maintain their voice and point of view (even if it disagrees with ours). We have decent equipment. And we don’t have a quiet hour or bonus poultry.

I am thankful to everyone at F&W for teaching me about the workings, successes and failings of a publishing company, even if they didn’t mean to.

Let’s hope John and I made the right choices. I guess we’ll see in about 20 more years or so.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Yellow Pine Journalism. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to God Bless You, Mr. Rosenthal

  1. ikustwood says:

    Well… you are an insipiration . You and all the Craft people who work at LAP and all the other creators contributing.

    Long live LAP , honesty and the Craft.

  2. fitz says:

    I have a sudden urge to microwave some fish and popcorn to eat while reading this 😉

    • meghanlostartpress says:

      You just gave me cubicle flashbacks. The two hours after a fish lunch was microwaved was the worst.

    • Keith says:

      I was working in an office that was a converted convent/retreat center (every office except the few cubicles had a sink). One day the firemen in full outfit came walking into my office and wondering where the fire was. Sometime later, we determined that someone had burnt their popcorn in the break room microwave, stood next to the elevator to get back to their office, set off the alarm, then got in the elevator and left. Always an adventure in an office. That was more of an adventure than when my college roommate cooked a bunch of smelt in the toaster oven in the dorm room.

    • Tom says:

      Please don’t hit the “popcorn” button twice. It makes the whole building smell like burnt popcorn.

  3. Norman Pirollo says:

    Recall the mid-90’s when companies were beginning to transition to the Internet. It’s strange to leaf through a magazine from that era and not find any URL’s or domain names. Instead, just old-fashioned brick and mortar addresses. We’ve come so far in a mere 20 or so years.

    Norman

  4. ant11sam says:

    Happy new year for you, the LAP team and all the minions, umpalumpas that get the job done
    And please, please keep at least one “reseller/distributor” on the “Euro zone” for 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022…. (you get the picture)
    All the best!

  5. Steve Vlahos says:

    Mr Scwarz – thank god you do what you do. Happy new year. Steve.

  6. Martin Green says:

    You’ve 100% made the right decision my friend , best of luck to you I’m sure you won’t need it though.
    I’m sure in twenty years time you’ll be an old Chris Schwarz employing a load of young punks with new ideas just as you were many years ago.
    Happy New Year

  7. Daniel Williamson says:

    I’ve been noticing and appreciating a couple of your Vonnegut references lately. Makes sense for your type of humor (and mine).

    Best of luck to you guys at LAP in the new year and in your new chapter!

  8. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack says:

    I admire your independence and dedication to doing what you believe in. Not many businesses are run that way. So far, so good!

  9. Bob Glenn says:

    And thus your success! P/W has really gone down hill since Fitz left. I won’t be subscribing to it any more. Best of luck, you’ll be fine. Bob Glenn

    • tsstahl says:

      You don’t have a need for 10 inane tips for router supremacy (latest issue)? Sure the new design is a step squarely into the 1970’s; Greg Brady might even show up as an author. And their website inexplicably doesn’t give you a way to get to the latest issue extras from the home page (not that I could find on a recent trip).

      Seriously, they still have Walker and Flexner which is enough for me to stay on board for a while.

      I’d be lying if I said I didn’t share your sentiments at least in part. These things are cyclical. I may get tired of waiting for the pendulum to swing…

  10. The real surprise is that in all those years, you were never fired for cursing!

  11. fedster9 says:

    I love LAP and I wish you the best, but I need to ask — do you summarily dismiss people for swearing in some (or all) circumstances?

  12. Gerald Yungling says:

    Well said, although you might want to rethink the bonus poultry policy. Nothing speaks shared success quite like a little bonus poultry. Except maybe the jam-of-the-month club. If I worked at LAP, I would definitely feel the employee appreciation every month with a tangy marmalade or a nice preserve. Happy New Year to you Mr. Schwarz, and all at LAP.

  13. johncashman73 says:

    I would have preferred to leave a comment on your final PopWood blog. But they’ve screwed up their website so badly, I haven’t been able to login, despite several attempts to change my password over the past month. I won’t try again.

    You are right on the money about debt. The only restaurants still in business beyond 5 years do so because they own their own building, and have no debts. And if course, have a good product. But lots of folks with good products still go under.

    I think you’re missing the boat on bonus birds though.

  14. Mike Siemsen says:

    Thanks for all the pearls Chris.

  15. Pascal Teste says:

    I wish LAP all the best. The fantastic work you do and the wealth of information you share with us is very much appreciated. Thank you! Happy new year to everyone at LAP and to your family Mr. Schwarz.

  16. drschwank says:

    I appreciate your business perspective and insights perhaps more than any other subject you write about Chris. As a small business owner I agree with most of your thoughts and it has helped me tremendously in shaping how I have gone about setting up and running things. Thank you for that.

  17. I almost bought a commercial space this year. I could have swung the property myself, but would have needed a loan for the renovations lest I didn’t drain my savings entirely. I really wanted to do it, I imagined having the perfect studio, office space, even some class space for the future. But I just couldn’t bring myself to take on debt. Living, and running a business debt-free has brought me a measure of security, satisfaction and best of all, freedom. I learned that lesson long ago, and it’s the first bit of advice I pass on those anyone asking (and a few who don’t even ask).

  18. Kerry Doyle says:

    My opinion:
    Much of the trouble with current business practice is that ethics, I.e., treatment of people, has been supplanted by short term dollar gain mentality. It brings to mind the 70’s mantra- come the revolution the accountants and attorneys will be the first to go. I wish no physical harm to these professions, but treating people correctly and managing resources go a long way toward success. Thank you gor exemplifying that and for sharing your Woodworking prowess.

  19. Jacque Wells says:

    I found the way to avoid cursing in the office (I was a computer programmer); it involved biting my tongue, By ten each morning, I was unable to curse — or speak any known language.

  20. Bob Easton says:

    God bless your wife!

  21. Jim says:

    Thank you for your writings all those years.

    Please find a way to share your scraper sharping post again. That post contained amazing advice. Especially compared to everything else I read or every other technique I was trying.

    I loved the second to last paragraph of your 22+ years, the one that started with “close your laptop”. Priceless advice.

    Happy New Year

  22. Tom Bittner says:

    You made the right choice, don’t doubt yourself.

  23. J.C. aka BLZeebub says:

    From such seeds greatness blossoms. Follow your heart tempered by your head and you’ll be fine. The world is your bivalve. Now go and shuck it! I raise my half-full glass, cheers! Let’s all have a banner 2019.

  24. James Watriss says:

    Gratitude for the win. All the best in 2019.

  25. John says:

    What draws me to LAP is the diversity in subject matter. From books to classes to blog posts about less then main stream projects.

    The lack of buy this gizmo. Make this jig. Etc. I for one am anxious to see where the rabbit hole leads.

  26. John Verreault says:

    Spot on Mr. Schwarz, spot on.

  27. Mr. Anderson says:

    Your new building is a tad nicer than your previous place of work. In fact, I suspect it will become a Mecca of sorts.

  28. John Mak says:

    As a guy who self taught workwooding after retirement here in Taiwan, I learn a lot from you, just want to say thank you!

  29. Mike McGinnis says:

    I wish all the luck to LAP

  30. Chris Poore says:

    You have been working on a new “chapters” as long as I’ve known you, Christopher. It’s been fun bragging to others about everything you’ve done and fun watching — from too far away these days — to see what you’re going to accomplish next. Congrats, my friend. I hope we get to see you all soon and hear about adventures past, present and future.

  31. Ken Pollard says:

    I’m a violin maker, not a furniture maker, but I sure have enjoyed your articles, books, blog, and such over the years. Covington is on my list of places I’d like to visit . Best of the new year to you, Christopher.

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