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Friday, June 04, 2010

The More Things Stay The Same...

I get the Oxford Fact of the Day email, which is a link to a free nugget of Oxford's copious online, fee-based reference works. I've received it for going on a decade now, ever since I used a three month subscription to the OED Online to fight my way through Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.

Great novel, that one, his best in my entirely un-humble opinion. I'm fond of V., and I absolutely adore The Crying of Lot 49 (and at that point, my affection begins to wane; he's got some decent shorts that were collected in Slow Learner, and I may try yet again to read Vineland or Against the Day, but I've tried Gravity's Rainbow a half dozen times and never made it past page 59.

Anyway, Mason & Dixon is a masterpiece. It's historical fiction written in the language of the setting (with poetic license taken liberally), such that there are, as there is often with Shakespeare, a bunch of jokes you'll miss if you don't parse out some of the more opaque passages.

But, as Arlo Guthrie would say, that's not what I came here to talk about. I came to talk about magazines.

I love magazines. In flusher times, I've subscribed to a half dozen literary magazines, Cooking Light, a couple different model rocketry periodicals, Zymurgy, Playboy (which is an interesting time capsule of fads and fashion, even outside the pictorial content, and often a publisher of short fiction even better than what you get out of a half dozen literary magazines), Guitar Player, and so on and so forth.

Today's Fact of the Day was about magazines, when they came into being (slightly before Mason & Dixon takes up) and when they took off (when the Post Office became the 19th Century version of the Internet) and so on. Here's what struck me:

Magazines remained shaky ventures for the next century and a half, low in income, circulation, advertising, and life span.

What the Internet has done is return magazines to their roots. The Postal Mailing Act of 1879 made it cheaper for periodicals to mail, kind of like how AOL made it cheaper (and infinitely faster) to send an email than to send a letter. Next thing you know, the USPS looks about as financially healthy as most magazines, a shaky venture low in income...

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