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 We got better computers (only five years out of date) and pay raises.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