back to the Black Table
           
  OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH 2005'S NEW READS.  
   
 

At the end of every year, The Black Table goes through the heap of magazines we subscribe to, kill off the ones that disappointed and load up on a whole new batch. Yet again, The Black Table has tackled the magazine rack and found four magazines you should take a shot at over the next 12 months, four you should shun from the mailbox and one you need to keep an eye on.

Yes, we know the goddamn New York Observer ran something yesterday called "Maggo" in its Observatory column written by Tom Scocca. They did a marvelous job. Thankfully -- and not surprisingly -- they didn't pick anything we're recommending. And, anyway, we did this last year when that Scocca fella was still dicking around at the Washington City Paper.

So, here's our attempt. Enjoy. Click the pictures to buy 'em -- let's see the Observer try and pull that off in print!

 

Subscribe Today!

 

 
 

THE RAKE

Who knew that Minnesota had more things going on than just badgers and shitloads of snow?

A Minneapolis, Minn.-based magazine, The Rake is everything you thought The Believer would be when it comes to content. Sure, it's regional. Okay, so you'll never make it to Luis Palau's Twin Cities Festival, but then again, you're not hanging out at Odeon, either. You may get a litle confused when they talk about 'skyways.' (Apparently

 
 

they're not like 'subways'. They're these giant, plastic tube thingees up in the air that offer passageways to and from other buildings in dowtown Minneapolis. How fucking cool is that?) But the stories, the writing, and the approach this magazine executes consistently is magnficient. Essays like "The Self-Loathing Minneapolis Jew" by Neal Karlen and critical pieces like "It's My Country and I'll Cry If I Want To" by editor-in-chief Hans Eisenbeis are great examples of how fantastic writing can trump regionalism any time.

Eisenbeis, a former editor at Spin, appears to have pulled together a magazine that keeps the smart writing without the smarm. A year-long subscription to The Rake will cost about $15 a year, but if you're really cheap you can just move your ass to Minnesota and get it for free where its featured in many dowtown locations. We're kind of jealous that they get The Rake and we get the goddamn Village Voice. So not fair.

 

 
 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Over the last two years, Entertainment Weekly has transformed from beach read to doctor's office read, and now, it is officially toilet reading -- and we mean that in the nicest most sincere way possible.

It has made pop culture, even in its current bubble-headed state, tremendously palateable. EW blankets the whole entertainment industry and doesn't skimp at all. They even give a shout-out to this whole Internet thing once in a while. EW makes celebrities

 
 

interesting without deifying them in their feature stories, actually seems to put a little effort into its "Must List" and manages to keep the business-side of show business a reality in its approach. Oh, and we just can't get enough of that damn Jessica Shaw.

Readers are starting to notice -- in 2002 EW's rate base grew to 1.6 million, its 14th successive increase since launching with k.d. lang on the cover. In advertising sales, the magazine continued to break records as well. All that knook-and-cranny stuff is great, but the bottom line is EW is one of those magazines that's just fun to read. Yeah, fine, it's a little pricey, at $39 for 56 issues, but it's rare for a magazine to be this addicting. We stay in the toilet until we're finished. Um, reading Entertainment Weekly that is.

 

 
 

JANE

Just as females have a rollicking great time skimming through Maxim, and any other magazines that show famous females in provocative poses ("I want to see what she looks like naked…), men do the same thing. They read through Glamour and take the quizzes. The read about the things that will drive them wild in bed in Cosmo. And dammit, sometimes they'll even skim through a Good Housekeeping to find a recipe for peach pie.

However, Jane magazine, as girlie as it seems, takes things to a

 
 

whole new level. It's surprisingly smart, deceptively funny and -- come on -- it has Pam Anderson writing for it! Jane Pratt's loyal readership shed a tear when Sassy was shuttered, but Pratt has adapted her whole high-heel-on-the-nuts approach to running a woman's magazine and made it work again. Even better this time. An annual subscription of $8.50 will get you ten issues of Jane magazine and, man, will it make your boyfriend happy.

 

 
 

BUDGET LIVING

Oh, great. Just what you want to run to the mailbox to get every month. Budget Living. Sure, the name might imply 15,000 different variants on canned pork and beans, hot gluing together your destroyed couch and making jewelry from ramen noodles … but, wait a minute … that's fucking cool!

Just look at the cover of December issue! There's a sassy blond in a red dress giving you the happy face while the magazine

 
 

screams "Get Your Jollies!" The cover promises you 55 presents starting at $2, five-minute D.I.Y. decorating projects and cheap, chic party ideas. Finally, a how-to-homey-magazine that doesn't treat epicuriousity, decorating and bargain-hunting like it's nuclear proliferation. Budget Living's coda is "Spend Smart. Live Rich." Or, in other words: How to do loads of random things as fast and cheap as humanly possible, which is a perfect fit for hyper-caffeinated post-grads who can carry home their paychecks in the little canisters film comes in.

Don't believe us? Then believe the hype. The magazine's racked up 450,000 subscribers in the last two years, was named AdWeek's startup of the year and won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. Okay, so with a subscription price of $15 for six issues, it's a bit pricey -- but you'll make that back by using the pages to wallpaper the kitchen.

 

One to Watch!

 

 
 

RADAR

The old adage is the best things come to those who wait, and Radar magazine will certainly test that theory. For more than two years now, Maer Roshan's fledging magazine has been struggling to get off the ground. In its 2003 incarnation, Radar was a combination of celebrity journalism and outre that seemed like a decent start, until the cash ran out and it folded after two issues.

 

 
 

Now the magazine has a second chance, thanks to a massive cash investment by Mort Zuckerman, who owns the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report. The magazine will hit stands in April 2005, have a guaranteed rate base of 125,000 and slowly ramp up to monthly. In Mediaweek, Roshan said the new Radar "in some ways will be a new magazine" that "responds to the tone of the times." The magazine's Website promises "Pop, Politics, Scandal, Style." That's great and all, but it doesn't answer the burning question: What the fuck is this magazine about, anyway?

And that's what makes Radar one to watch. Two years ago, the mere prospect of a new magazine whipped the media world (us included) into a bit of a frenzy. It'll be interesting to see if American magazines have a second act.

 

Dump These Now!

 

 
 

TV GUIDE

With a circulation of 9 million and a readership approaching 28 million, TV Guide proudly touts itself as the largest-selling weekly publication in the United States. Which is cool and all, but ask yourself: Do you know anyone outside of a nursing home who actually buys it? Would you ever grab it at an airport before a long flight? Can you remember anything in it other than Cheers & Jeers?

Of course not. And this is why circulation has dropped nearly 40% over the last decade,

 
 

according to Advertising Age. More than a half-century old, TV Guide isn't aging very well, clinging to an audience that's literally changing the channel. Since 1953, one of TV Guide's main selling points has been those iconic and pristine television listings. But now that digital television -- especially Tivo and DVR -- does it so much better, the magazine's main selling point has to be its content, which is like making Paris Hilton's main selling point her recording career. Honestly, it's $46 a year, or 90 cents an issue, for listings you won't use, articles you'll skim and a crossword you can do in sixteen seconds while drunk and on anti-seizure medication.

But venerable old TV Guide, a throwback to the days of Look and Life, has spent $20 million on a campaign to refurbish its image, performed a complete design overhaul and … has had three editors over the last two years. (Not a sign of happy times.) The mag is now in the hands of Ian Birch, an experienced editor who grew circulation at some of Britain's biggest weeklies, but he may be fighting a losing battle, not only against the listings, but against television itself. With all these shitty reality insta-shows, the magazine has become as disposable as the programs it's supposed to cover.

 

 
 

DETAILS

At one point dubbed the essential men's magazine for primping and posturing and regarded as Esquire's younger brother thanks to its fearless content, Details has morphed into something creepy, desperate, and -- let's face it -- really freakin' weird.

It still may be Esquire's younger brother, but only if that brother wears loafers without socks and throws like a girl. What was once a fun, free-wheeling, edgy publication has, in the last few

 
 

years under editor-in-chief Dan Peres, become more notorious for its identity crises. Is it a men's magazine? A gay magazine? A women's magazine? Who knows? Its ambiguous sexual demographic aside, the real problem is Details' erratic, dashed-off content: homo-erotic feature headlines, stuff like, "How to tell your girlfriend you're gay?" and, "Your Favorite Movie Star is Gay?" And then there are those cutesy, cuddly celebrity hand-jobs that serve as interviews and A-list columnists like Anderson Cooper, Augusten Burroughs and Carrie Fisher spouting off D-list drivel.

Don't think we forgot that whole "Gay or Asian" controversy. I mean, where the hell did that story come from? Oh, how we long for the days of Anka Radakovich yapping about nipple orgasms and ben-wah balls. Sure, we don't need our men's mags to spout off about deer hunting, underwater watches and football all the time, but at least make the stories interesting and less cringe-inducing. Details, thankfully, is cheap ($8 for 10 issues a year), but content-wise, it can't carry the jockstrap of the other men's magazines, even though it probably really, really wants to.

 

 
 

MARTHA STEWART LIVING

In major league baseball, batting .333 could win you an MVP award. But when the title of your magazine is only one-third accurate, well, that's grounds for tossing out the ol' renewal card. That is precisely the case at Martha Stewart Living, which merely trades on Martha's name in the wake of the stock trading scandal that destroyed her company's stock price and left her doing a five-month bid in prison.

Martha's monthly column and

 
 

calendar feature aren't in the magazine anymore and her title on the masthead effectively functions as a tombstone for her tenure there. (Now she's a "Founding Editorial Director.") New editors steer the ship, which still looks good -- the pictures are vibrant, the layouts are crisp, the articles are WASP-tastic -- but there's nothing new about the formula, which has been knocked off endlessly by rivals like Real Simple. Honestly, without Martha, why plunk down $28 for 12 issues? It's just Living.

You'll have to ask the readership. In a survey by industry tracker WPP Group, nearly 70% of Martha Stewart Living subscribers plan to re-up with the magazine -- that's 19% better than the industry average, according to an analysis by Capell & Associates. Maybe readers are staying out of solidarity with Martha. Maybe they don't notice she's gone. Maybe they can't get enough recipes for poached halibut in lemon-thyme broth.

 

 
 

THE SOURCE

Is there a magazine that has squandered its credibility and legacy quite like The Source? Fifteen years ago, whiteboy David Mays created the idea of a publication devoted solely to hip-hop, photocopying together a newsletter while an undergrad at Harvard. As inconceivable as it sounds, Mays talked up the kinds of music that never made it into print and helped unify the rap world. Getting five mics in The Source? You were a legend.

The first warning sign came in

 
 

1994, when Mays wrote a glowing story about the Almighty RSO, a Boston rap act Mays was managing at the time. In protest, his entire staff walked out. Eventually the smoke cleared and the magazine regained some of its lost credibility, but in 2001, Mays added his good pal Benzino -- a member of the Almighty RSO -- to the masthead and since then, it's all downhill.

Today, The Source is a parody of itself, a playground for two men to whip up petty beefs and try to settle scores. Earlier in the year, Benzino and Mays started a silly feud with Eminem, accusing Em of racism, revealing an early tape in which he uses racial epithets. In reaction, Interscope records pulled their ads from the magazine. Yeah, it's $12 for 12 issues, but in this case, you'd be wise to follow the money.

 

Every Year, the Black Table spents too much money buying magazine subscriptions. Since we don't cover the magazines we work for, we implore you to spend the cash on Maxim, so editor Eric Gillin doesn't have to eat cat food for lunch, that is, unless he wants to.