Over Easy: Niche Magazines for Our Narrower Day and Age

For the Valley News
Friday, August 24, 2018

Although I had never been a subscriber, I regretted the demise of Vermont Life magazine, just as I might lament the collapse of an old barn on a back road. I had no financial or personal interest in either, but it’s sad to see something pleasing fade away when ugliness seems to endure.

So, too, has the golden age of magazines passed. From my childhood I remember Look, Lifeand The Saturday Review of Literature, which I suspect my mother subscribed to to give us an air of erudition. If no one else, at least the mail carrier knew we were not rubes.

Much of The Saturday Review was way, way over my head — 10-year-old boys contemplated baseball more than postmodernism — but even I recognized important things when I saw them, and the magazines seemed vital and smart as they introduced the world to my parochial brain.

My mind turns to what manner of magazines could thrive today, as general interest mags like the wonderful Life once did. General interest is passe, of course, when people can’t agree on the big picture and are mostly interested in self-interest.

But, Eureka! Perhaps magazines could revive, even thrive, if they served intensely targeted niches, with titles something like these:

Crabby: An essential read when annoyance festers. Crabby could have articles like “Why Your Co-Worker Thinks It’s OK to Hum all Day,’’ and “Is That a Touch of Cologne He’s Wearing, or Did He Shower in It?” And the ultimate rant: “Everything: That’s What’s Wrong.”

Non-Reader’s Digest: All it would need are some photos, cartoons and dummy copy that designers use to fill space before they get the real stuff. Ignore the content without guilt. NRD is for non-readers, so you’re off the hook.

Everything Trump. Two versions of this mag potentially satisfy all. Everything Trump (Blue) is a horror show, with headlines such as “It Keeps Getting Worse,” “I Can’t Even Talk About It’’ and “My Mechanic’s Shop Plays Fox News in the Waiting Area. My Car Works Fine Now But I’m a Wreck.” Everything Trump (Red) has articles like “Our Favorite President,’’ “1,001 More Reasons to Fear Nancy Pelosi” and “Covfefe: Now More Than Ever.”

Selfie Magazine: This could be the ultimate personalized publication. Subscribers upload photos, and Selfie Magazine sends them back printed in full glossy glory. There wouldn’t be articles, just categories: Me and Friends, Me and Food, Me and Friends and Food, Me and Friends and Food at Home, Me and Friends and Food in Other Places, etc.

Where Are My Keys? This would make a thoughtful gift for those who struggle with the life skill of keeping track of their keys. Articles could include “Memory Tips for Forgetful People,” “Where Did You Have Them Last?” and “Exploring Mass Transportation in a Pinch: Start Running Now!”

Destination Landfill: In many towns, a Saturday morning trip to the dump is a pleasant part of life. Consumers could enjoy features such as “Appreciating Plastics,” “Know Your Metals” and “Should You Really Bring That Rusty Fan Home From the Dump Because It Reminds You of the One in Your Childhood Bedroom That Made a Funny Noise That Kept You Awake?”

Hanover Parking: Enjoy “Secret Lives of Meter Readers,” “Free Hidden Parking Spots They Don’t Want You to Know About” and “Big Cars and Small Spaces — Physics for Dummies.”

Men’s Mystery Pain: Go-to articles would be “It’s Probably Nothing, No Need to Tell Your Wife About It” and “What Do Doctors Know Anyway?” The circulation department will require payment in advance.

Same-Old Arguments: Pretty much the same material each month. But if you’re the kind of person who knows what you want to argue about and what you’re going to say, why not stick to the tried and true? “Did Roosevelt Know Pearl Harbor Was Coming?” “What’s Really Ailing America?” And, “Did Someone Say Second Amendment?” Have at it.

Remember That Guy, You Know, That Guy?: A magazine about celebrities and personalities you once knew but whose names you have likely forgotten. Readers will thrill to read “Larry Storch, Unsung Hero of F-Troop,” “Estes Kefauver, Not Just a Failed Vice Presidential Candidate Anymore” and “Don Buddin, Extremely Average Red Sox Shortstop of the ‘60s.” Bonus: Remember That Guy magazine will have a hotline with operators standing by 24/7 for when you must know the name of that guy — or that gal — right now. (Extra charges will apply.)

There are so many more possibilities for niche titles: Nagging Itch; Dripping Faucet; Whining Kids; Drive-Through Dining; Awake at 3; Wallet Clutter; and Just Browsing: The Magazine for People Who Only Like to Look.

I’m not saying these would be better than the great magazines of the past, some of which were regal as ocean liners. But they reflect where we are now: each in our own little boats, rowing as fast as we can.

Dan Mackie is a retiredValley Newseditor and writer. He lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.