Archives For Anne Newkirk Niven

Today, at the Patheos Pagan Channel, Christine Kraemer interviews Anne Newkirk Niven, editor and publisher of Witches & Pagans Magazine, about the current state of Pagan media (among other things). During the interview, Niven expounds on blogs within the umbrella of Pagan media, and the role they serve.

Anne Newkirk Niven

Anne Newkirk Niven

Today, blogs fill a specific niche: real-time, fast-paced information. No print media can keep up with the blogosphere; on the other hoof, even the most super-heated debate in the legendary Green Egg forum (letters to the editor) never got as crazily divisive as what happens in the comment-rich, disinhibited atmosphere of the Web.

Pagans are an information-hungry group of people; reading led many, if not most, of us onto our paths. (Most of our magazine readers are solitaries, which I suspect is true of Pagan culture as a whole.) The purpose of a magazine is to gather together a group of collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge; blogs, on the other hoof, are radically individualized by their nature and are constantly evolving. I see these two modalities as fundamentally complementary—what one does well, the other does poorly. I hope we can see the continuance of literary paper-based culture even as the digital culture continues to grow, which is why I publish magazines (both in digital and paper formats) as well as hosting a rapidly-growing Pagan blogosphere.

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

When I started The Wild Hunt nearly 10 years ago, there wasn’t really a “blogosphere” to speak of. Most Pagan content on the Internet existed in the form of bulletin boards, static (sporadically updated) sites, and e-lists. There were literally only a handful of Pagan blogs when I started this site, and many folks used the new technology at places like LiveJournal for personal journaling, not a soapbox per-se. I was a fairly early adopter of blogging technology when it emerged, and was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium. Like many others, I quickly recognized that the “blog” had capabilities far beyond listing updates to a large website, or writing short personal entires. While some feared the disruptive nature of blogging technology, I realized that it could be used to prove a point. I could use it to prove that people wanted to read about Pagan news every day, and that there was enough news to write about something every day.

Ten years later, The Wild Hunt has more than enough to write about. More, in fact, than our small team can conceivably do justice to. We’ve grown from a one-person personal project into a media outlet that employes several columnists, and one staff writer. We have a yearly budget, one that we raise from donations, and our traffic continues to grow at a steady rate each year. So I see Niven’s generalizations as not only limiting, but subtly insulting. A blog, at its heart, is simply a technology, like the printing press. When you say you read “a blog” that today says almost nothing about what you’ll get (it’s like someone saying they read “books” and nothing more). The biggest media empires use blogging technology on their sites, and the content can range from celebrity gossip to ultra-professional, edited, and vetted, content. Meanwhile, picking up a magazine gives you zero guarantee that you’ll receive “collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge.” 

A medium is a medium, not the content within it. Mediums can be stretched, changed, challenged, and redefined over the course of different generations. A “real” magazine can be experimental and radical, produced on a shoestring budget, or it can be a well-funded venture that engages in the current norms of editorial and news gathering. Anyone who grew up during the ‘zine revolution of the 1990s knows well enough that mediums aren’t limited by the dominant culture’s standards. Likewise, while many tried to pigeonhole blogs in the early years as the tool of the lone opinionated crank (usually writing about politics), the reality is that many different people used the technology for many different things. Is Talking Points Memo a mere “blog,” or is it a news and political commentary site? If we call it a blog, does that mean it isn’t collated, vetted, and subject to editorial oversight? Is The Wild Hunt still a blog? Are we a part of a blogosphere? We use blogging technology, certainly, but I also think we’ve grown outside the expectations that seem to inform the Patheos interview.

Finally, let me talk briefly about the Pagan magazine. Another reason I started The Wild Hunt was because I was hungry for news about my community, and couldn’t find any in Pagan magazines. They had interviews, and columns, and short stories, and poetry, and recipes, and a letters column, but they rarely tackled actual events happening in and around our lives. When they did, it was often long after the dust had settled. It created the sense that modern Paganism should be handled by the professional Pagans, the “Big Name Pagans,” and that the rest of us should simply give our support. It didn’t have to be that way, even a quarterly magazine can write about big issues, can at least inform their readership of all the things that happened in the last few months, but a reliance on “evergreen” content, and a hesitance to embrace these new technologies left the door wide open for The Wild Hunt’s success. When people ask me why my blog got so big, I tell them the truth: no one else wanted to do what I was doing. At least not on the daily schedule I maintained.

Blogging may have been disruptive, but it also empowered all sorts of people to speak up, to insert themselves into the process of how our community is defined and presented. It rejected the old “club” mentality that had held sway from the 1980s, and demanded a more responsive, more inclusive, community. If things are so “divisive” now, perhaps that is simply because there’s 20 years of frustration built up from having no voice at all in national and international Pagan affairs. Now, we can’t be shut up, because our news isn’t centralized into a handful of vetted and edited publications. If someone doesn’t like something in The Wild Hunt (or any media outlet), they can (and do) publish about it. They can rally their own corner of our community, they can create alternatives, they can have the public discussions they want to have. I sometimes bemoan how uncivil things can get sometimes, but I would never, ever, roll us back to some simpler time before this technology existed. We are collectively better for it.

Digital Pagan media is the dominant format today, and I don’t think anyone could convincingly argue otherwise. The separations between a published print magazine, and, say, The Wild Hunt, is only in the format. I would certainly place may content on the same plain of quality as anything in print, perhaps even better (though I may be biased). It is no longer acceptable to generalize about the “blog” without providing a list of caveats that make the comparisons almost meaningless. The larger Pagan blogosphere is many things, and has many manifestations, but it is no longer some ascendent disruptive format, it has become a ubiquitous tool used by every manifestation of the content we consume. From commerce to hard news. We are the media now. 

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Radio Network

Pagan Radio Network

After 13 years of operation The Pagan Radio Network, one of the most prominent outlets for Pagan and Pagan-friendly music, shut down suddenly on July 21st. Owner Lew Wirt gave the following explanation for the sudden closure: “Not enough time, money, or energy to keep it up. I won’t bore you with a long-winded explanation, except to say that I attend college and raise a special-needs child. This leaves very little time or money to devote to my hobby of Internet broadcasting (as enjoyable as it was). Thank you for tuning in for nearly 13 years.” While there are other worthy streaming Pagan-oriented stations, few rivaled PRN’s size and scope, showcasing an amazing breadth of music. Currently, the domain names and IP are being auctioned off, and Wirt is recommending alternatives (plus new stations are popping up). As someone who had a show hosted on PRN, I’m saddened to see this essential resource go, and I wish Lew all the best in his future endeavors. Whether this is an isolated and personal development, or something that augurs a larger discussion on money and support within our communities is, I think, something that is still up in the air.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

PaganSquare, the blogging portal hosted by Witches & Pagans Magazine, has added a new writer: Dan Halloran (who is going by Dan O’Halloran). Halloran, currently serving on the New York City Council, has been indicted in a massive political bribery scandal, and is facing trial sometime in 2014. While the matter of his guilt or innocence awaits due process, Halloran seems to be publicly re-embracing his Heathen beliefs (and the wider Pagan/Heathen community) by writing about Germanic polytheism. Quote: “Now it’s my turn to kick back in life after politics and discuss the things that matter to me from an academic and philosophical perspective. It may stir up some controversy… but that’s half the battle of ordeal, the crucible process of Wyrd. I’m looking forward to the journey….” I questioned editor Anne Newkirk Niven about bringing Halloran on board and she said that she was aware of his history, and was not looking to make any political statement by having him write for PaganSquare. That Halloran “just seemed to fill a gap in our PaganStudies section.” It should be interesting to see how Halloran’s new engagement with the Pagan community is received. You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of Dan Halloran, here.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

This past weekend was the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon. As I said in my post this past Friday, it is a very Pagan and mythic event, and also boasted the first American performance for the Pagan-folk Netherlands band Omnia. On their official Facebook page, the band said they are “so very happy that the AMAZING audience here has such a strong reaction to our pure PaganFolk musick, seeing as it’s our first time here in the USA.” Meanwhile, featured workshop presenter T. Thorn Coyle said that she “had a grand time. Blessings of magic, mirth, and music to you.” Standout performances this year (aside from Omnia) included the mythic Pagan neo-folk of The Wicker Men, ethereal singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux, the transcendent world fusion of Stellamara, and a brief Kan’nal reunion featuring guitarist Tierro and singer Kurt Baumann. Also of note was the fact that American Pagan band Woodland officially released their new album “Secrets Told” and closed out the event on Sunday night. There’s a lot more to tell, and many more Pagans of note who participated (S.J. Tucker, for example, who, as always, was universally beloved), but suffice to say that this is an event that more Pagans should discover. Here’s the opening spiral dance for a small taste. Tons of photos at the official Faerieworlds page. [In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Faerieworlds, but I thought the festival was awesome even before I did.]

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Of the many small occult-oriented publishers Scarlet Imprint is probably one of the most acclaimed, and also one of the most outspoken. Over the years they have taken very public stances on everything from matters  political to piracy; at the same time they have published well-received poetry collections and in-depth thoughtful meditations by authors like John Michael Greer. However, while Scarlet Imprint recently branched out into the digital realm in regards to publishing, it doesn’t seem they have found their experiences in the realm of social media as enriching, and they’ve publicly announced their withdrawal from Facebook.

scarlet imprint leaving

“Magicians should be asking themselves very serious questions about how they relate to technology. We engage in this self-interrogation on a regular basis and have come to the decision to leave facebook, the maw that rapaciously devours online traffic, a memetic infestation which trivialises the numinous and significantly alters behaviour patterns for the worse. Facebook in particular is choking under the weight of content, and awaits the same inexorable fate as myspace before it and no doubt diaspora next. 

As we have previously stated, without Scarlet Imprint we would choose not to have any personal online profile at all. As such we have a duty to Her, the daemons, spirits and our authors to get the work out for the serious participants in the occult community. We will continue to maintain an online presence, as a necessary evil. Our friends are scattered like stars, and online has been essential for us to make these connections. We are fortunate to say that many of the best practitioners we know have no online profile, and would suggest that those who are most vocal online should perhaps have their claims taken with a pinch of salt.”

Scarlet Imprint’s co-publisher Peter Grey goes on to question whether the Internet is making us dumber (an idea that has found some popularity in recent years) and suggests that our magical (and I assume mundane) selves would be enriched by unplugging from it.

“We would suggest that your practice would benefit if you get the hell out of it, or at least minimise your exposure to the cognitive load. This is what we attempt to do, whilst still selling enough books to survive, and making sure that the right people come across our work.”

Perhaps not un-coincidentally this move by Scarlet Imprint comes during something of a mini-revolt by small businesses and brands voiced by the alternative media outlet Dangerous Minds. In a post entitled “Facebook: I Want My Friends Back,” Richard Metzger slams the social media giant for breaking the service in a cheap attempt to generate revenue, destroying the small but significant audiences many smaller brands and artists have built at the service.

Zuck background22

“Summing up, Facebook has taken a pee in their own pool from quite a lofty height, turning vast armies of “influentials” against the company, people who are now making plans—born of necessity—to bolt from that pool and to stop putting any effort there. Furthermore, Facebook’s greedy grab will have the knock-on effect of causing many blogs to simply throw in the towel, diminishing Facebook’s own business ecosystem and Facebook’s value to its own users to the point where only Axe Deodorant, Taco Bell and Nike will be showing up in your Facebook newsfeed, which after all, is pretty much the sole point of Facebook in the first place! They’ve deliberately broken their own product’s biggest selling point. Whose idea was that?”

The sentiments expressed by Metzger were echoed by Anne Newkirk Niven, publisher of Pagan-oriented magazines like Witches & Pagans and Sage Woman.

ann facebook

Which makes me wonder: will Scarlet Imprint’s move inspire occult and Pagan businesses and brands increasingly frustrated by the recent changes laid out by Dangerous Minds? Will a confluence of dissatisfactions spark a trend toward exodus? While I can’t see bigger Pagan brands like Llewellyn Worldwide ever leaving Facebook, it’s very possible that niche and mid-size ones might start looking into viable alternatives. What that viable alternative might be is an open question as Google+ and other services haven’t seemed to gain much traction against the Facebook juggernaut. Who knows, maybe the second coming of MySpace will change everything? In the meantime, I wish Scarlet Imprint luck in their Facebook-less future.

On July 22nd the bookstore chain Borders started the process of closing its 399 remaining locations. This move was long predicted by industry watchers as the once-mighty chain wobbled in the face of Amazon.com’s rise (a company it once outsourced to) and costly missteps in non-book merchandise. The last few weeks of media coverage has featured a mixture of fond reminiscences, 20/20 hindsight analysis,  and predictions for the future of the book-selling industry. Many of the predictions haven’t been too cheery, for example, the investment site The Motley Fool predicts that Barnes & Noble will ultimately suffer the same fate, noting that “just because B&N will be the last one standing doesn’t mean that it will be standing for long.” Even if the Borders closure is the last domino to topple as the retail book market restructures itself for a post-ebook and post-Amazon world, that development alone could have far-reaching and possibly disastrous consequences for businesses that cater to modern Pagans.

The Borders Closure and Pagan Publishers

One of the most obvious ramifications of the Borders closure is the elimination of bricks-and-mortar booksellers willing to carry Pagan, occult, and metaphysical titles. At the beginning of 2010 Borders operated 508 superstores in the United States, plus several more “Borders Express” and Waldenbooks outlets in malls and airports. As more than one reporter has pointed out, in some areas Borders was the only significant bookstore within driving distance. Or as a recent NPR report put it, “an entire arm of book sales has been amputated.” No matter how healthy or solvent a publishing business is, that much reduction in retail space is going to hurt. Worse still, at the time of the Borders bankruptcy filing they owed nearly 300 million to its creditors. One of those creditors was Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest publisher of Pagan and metaphysical books. In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing Borders revealed that it owes Llewellyn over half a million dollars.

As large as Llewellyn may be to the Pagan community, it’s still relatively tiny compared to the larger publishing houses, and losing that much money has to hit hard. I contacted Llewellyn for comment, but there has been no official response. However, I was able to speak with author Donald Michael Kraig, who has worked extensively with Llewellyn, and speaking solely as an individual, offered his take on what some of the ramification of the Borders closure may be.

“As an author, I don’t get paid until my publishers are paid. I probably won’t directly see the loss in “take backs,” although my royalties will undoubtedly be smaller. Those who self-publish may have a different experience and to them (and small publishers) I hope your losses, at best, are small. My guess, however, is that this will hurt the “bottom line” of some publishers and may have a worse effect on a few very small publishers. This is what happens in business.”

The second-largest Pagan and metaphysical publisher, Red Wheel / Weiser, is also owed money by Borders. Though less than Llewellyn, it is still over $200,000. Again, not insignificant for a company their size.

Jan Johnson, Publisher at Red Wheel / Weiser, responding to my questions via email, says that little should change at their company due to the closing of Borders.

“We’ll, of course, miss the stores and the sales from the books they’ve been carrying. Borders supported many of our titles. We don’t expect it to have a direct affect on the number of titles or authors we sign. Borders closure is another indication of the changing way people find and buy books. In order to succeed as publishers, we need to communicate even more with our reader communities.”

A third Pagan publishing company, BBI Media, which produces the popular magazines Witches & Pagans, SageWoman, and Crone, has also been hard-hit by the Borders liquidation. Publisher and editor Anne Newkirk Niven bluntly explained to me how hundreds of outlets disappearing directly impacts the company’s bottom line.

“The cataclysmic news of the final bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders bookstore chain (resulting in an immediate and pressing gap in our cashflow) rocked me back on my heels just as I was setting down to write the editorial for the 25th anniversary issue of SageWoman. In an additional irony, just as Borders was announcing its liquidation, copies of the current issue of Witches&Pagans were rolling off the presses — thousands of which are now sitting on the dock at our printer, with nowhere to go.

The immediate loss — due to the six-to-ninth month gap between distribution and payment of newsstand copies — caused by the Borders collapse is likely to come in between $18,000 and $30,000. Like many other independent titles, this is a clear and immediate threat to our continued existence. Our plan — identical to the one we rolled out in 1997 when magazine distributor Fine Print went bankrupt owing us a similar amount — is to go directly to our readers, and ask them to donate enough to get us over the hump. In 1997, our readers generously donated to keep SageWoman going, and we hope that when we roll out a full-scale fundraising effort in September, our readers will respond again.”

Niven called this event a “body blow” but seemed optimistic that readers and supporters would rally to help save periodicals like SageWoman, which have become an institution to many in the Pagan community. The company also sounded a hopeful note in their recent initiative to branch out into digital editions of their magazines. The Wild Hunt will be following up on BBI Media’s fundraising initiative, checking back in with Anne Newkirk Niven once it launches.

Assuming that the two largest publishers of Pagan-oriented books, and the largest publisher of Pagan periodicals, are able to weather this storm and come out largely unscathed, there are some troubling forecasts ahead. Science fiction and horror author K.W. Jeter recently pointed out that the prevailing lesson some are taking from the Borders closure may be that it carried too many books, and spent too much time catering to the “long tail” that the Internet thrives in accommodating. This is echoed by another genre writer, J. A. Konrath, who predicts that the “midlist is going the way of the dodo.” For those not up on the publishing-world lingo, “midlist” books are titles that are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication. Should Barnes & Noble decide to cut back on its midlist in a post-Borders book market, that could mean metaphysical/New Age sections that are dominated by titles like “The Secret” and  Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth,” and little else. For many Barnes & Noble stores, this is already nearly the case.

Can Independent Stores Bridge the Gap?

While some are mournfully singing eulogies for Borders, others point out that it wasn’t too long ago that the chain was seen as a villain that many wished doom upon. During their ascent in the 1990s book superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble put many small independent bookstores out of business, and many more nearly so, by offering convenience, big selections, and oftentimes deep discounts the smaller (often niche) stores couldn’t match (illustrator/cartoonist Alison Bechdel famously fictionalized this process in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”). Now that Borders is closing, many are wondering if independent booksellers will benefit, or even grow, in this environment. Jan Johnson at Weiser, when asked about the future of the esoteric bookselling market, said that  “we love it that there are still independent shops who specialize in selling esoteric books, and we’ll continue to support them. We also really like getting feedback and ideas from them.” Will we see independent Pagan and esoteric bookstores rise to fill the gap(s)?

I asked David Wiegleb, current owner of Fields Book Store in San Francisco, an esoteric bookstore that’s been a fixture in the Bay Area since 1932, for his perspective on how the Borders closure will affect business.

“In the short term, we’re seeing some new customers as well as customers returning who we may not have seen in a while. In San Francisco, not only are the Borders stores now closed, but there are no longer any Barnes and Noble stores. This recent uptick for us is certainly welcome, but because of the larger economic and cultural effects our business is still down from prior years. Our challenges are by no means past. There is an opportunity for us to market ourselves to the larger neighborhood as a place people can special order books in any subject and get them usually in only two days. We already carry the Bay Area Bestsellers, and a fair number of customers use us as their “special order” store now. In the medium term, I’m concerned about the ripple effects on publishers and distributors. I’m sure the losses they have incurred with the Borders closing will hit many of them hard, some perhaps fatally, and will impact past and future title availability, as well as pricing. Amazon has already driven list prices up with their demands for deep discounts. This will certainly impact what we can offer.”

Wiegleb also expressed concern that the “next generation will lose the basic cultural experience of browsing in a brick and mortar bookstore,” noting that “more than 1200 Borders and Waldenbooks” have been closing since 2003. Wiegleb’s experience of a recent increase in customers isn’t isolated, other news reports have noted this experience from independent bookshops across the United States. Linda Bubon, an owner at Women and Children First in Chicago, admitted to having “a little happy bookseller who’s jumping up and down” now that “we have this behemoth off our backs.” However, the concerns brought up by Wiegleb are also present. A recent Sacramento Bee report zeroed onto the challenges of growing independent bookstores as more and more people turn to Amazon.com and ebooks,  quoting Mike Barnard, board president of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, who pointed out that “stores that are still left are stressed,” and that “the down economy affects everybody.” Indeed, many reports on metaphysical bookshops I’ve read in recent years have focused on shops trying to stay afloat in a tough economy, in addition to the challenges of the modern bookseller.

One additional issue for those looking to independent Pagan-friendly shops picking up the slack in a post-Borders world is that there aren’t that many robust Pagan/occult/metaphysical bookshops around. The vast majority of Pagan-owned shops carry only a small selection of books, often bought directly from Llewellyn, fewer still carry Pagan magazines. Books are a high-overhead item, and don’t turn the profit that statues, jewelry, stones, herbs, or consignment items often do. I’ve witnessed first-hand how even a single bookshelf full of books can become a fiscal liability for a shop that is barely making ends meet. High-quality esoteric bookshops like Fields Book Store in San Francisco, or independent booksellers like Powell’s in Oregon that are large enough to have a metaphysical/Pagan section, aren’t as common as anyone would like. Creating a new network of esoteric and occult bookstores, along with bigger independents willing to cater to our communities, will take work and commitment from booksellers, publishers, and consumers.

The Bottom Line

The best case scenario here is that some of our largest Pagan-oriented businesses are able to withstand this massive shift, hold out, and recover; that the larger publishing/book-selling world largely stabilizes, and independent booksellers thrive in a post-Borders world, ultimately creating a more diverse and unique marketplace. A worst case scenario would mean that many of the institutions that have  helped define us and support us would cease to be, or exist as a ghost of their former selves. A situation like this would ripple out, hurting many other interconnected Pagan businesses. Economies, especially those that cater to smaller targeted audiences, are like webs. Pull the wrong strands, and the whole thing could collapse. I’m hoping that isn’t the case, and that something approaching the best case scenario wins out. For that to happen, a renewed and concerted effort to invest our time and money in Pagan-owned and Pagan-friendly business should be a top priority.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be returning to this story, for it’s an issue that’s far larger than I can encapsulate here. I want to touch on ebooks, and epublishers, strategies that Pagan businesses are pursuing to survive and thrive, and how these changes might affect other sectors of the Pagan economy.

Resources

Because I was not able to fully quote the statements of everyone I talked to for this piece, I’m attaching them here as PDF downloads so you can read them for yourself in their original contexts. Statement by Anne Newkirk NivenStatement by Jan JohnsonStatement by David WieglebStatement by Donald Michael Kraig.

The latest issue (#3) of Thorn Magazine is now out, featuring wonderful writing from Thorn Coyle, Sannion, Erynn Rowan Laurie, Phillip A. Bernhardt-House, Lupa, and yours truly (among many others). Of special note is an article on the future of Pagan journalism and magazine publishing by Jack Lux and Michael Night Sky. In it, the authors interview Ann Newkirk Niven about her recent decision to merge PanGaia and newWitch (into the new Witches and Pagans), Oberon Zell about the up-and-down history of Green Egg, and Keter Elan, former editor of the now-defunct Mezlim magazine. In their conclusion, Lux and Night Sky wonder if Pagan publications are stuck in a transitional time due to the influence of the Internet.

“…the purpose of a magazine changes to suit its audience, and Pagan journalism may be fixating on a role for which it is no longer useful … perhaps the most useful goal of Pagan publications is no longer to disseminate information about outer limits, but to delve deeper into the ideas of the past forty years and fill the gaps between them. With the Internet and the growing festival network, magazines are best suited not for community building, but for culture building.”

In these recessionary times, where niche magazines are folding left and right, it may be hard for the surviving Pagan publications to successfully re-position themselves and weather the economic storm. Which brings us to the sad news that Thorn Magazine is ceasing print publication after its fourth issue.

“…perhaps inevitably, certain market forces have caught up with us at last: the declining economy and the ailing state of print journalism in general. Despite strong enthusiasm for and interest in the work we’re doing, businesses have been unable to afford extra expenses for advertising and potential readers have had their pockets stripped by the Great Recession. Coupled with the usual enormous cost of printing and the spiraling postage rates, these circumstances have finally cornered us into an inescapable conclusion: we no longer have the cashflow available to continue printing this quarterly magazine. The October 2009 issue, Vol 1 Issue 4, will be our last in print.”

They do note that Thorn will survive in an online-only format, with quarterly “issues” and monthly updates, but it remains to be seen how successful that new incarnation will be. As a columnist for Thorn I certainly wish them all the best but the question has to be raised, if a Pagan magazine of such high quality can’t survive for more than a year, what does that say about the appetite for new magazines among the larger Pagan community, and the ability of Pagan businesses to support such endeavors with ad revenue? How many full-size quarterly magazines can our community feasibly support? Will the revamped Witches and Pagans push to the forefront of Pagan publications? Or will it too run into problems?

While I’m certainly a proponent of the Internet for disseminating information and generating discussion, I would find it sad if the world of Pagan publications were to continue to contract. Not everyone reads the Internet, and without a high-quality and well-edited inter-generational touchstone publication we could see the level of discourse within our communities suffer. This doesn’t mean I excuse publishers who remain hostile or obtuse to the new economies and realities of a post-Internet publishing world, only that print vehicles do serve, and should continue to serve, a purpose to modern Pagans. So good luck to the new online-only Thorn Magazine, and the soon-to-be-launched Witches and Pagans, it looks like they’ll need it.

I just received my contributors copy of PanGaia #50 in the mail*, and enclosed with the issue is a letter from editor Anne Newkirk Niven explaining that due to a reexamination of “preconceptions” she will be ending PanGaia and merging its content and contributors into newWitch magazine.

“I have recently come to the conclusion that dividing our editorial into one “popular” magazine and one “serious” one is no longer a functional paradigm. What we really need today, I believe, is a single, united magazine – a Pagan journal of record – that covers a broad spectrum of Pagan lifestyle, theology, and community; equally able to profile Pagan celebrities and deeply engage with the issues of being Pagan in a new millennium.”

The new, larger, magazine will be entitled “newWitch: Creating Pagan Community” and will incorporate PanGaia columnists like Judy Harrow and R.J. Stewart, along with the magazine’s “Toe to Toe” department, into newWitch’s existing content (and keeping, I assume, popular newWitch columnists like Isaac Bonewits and Phil Brucato). Niven also claims that by combining these two magazines she’ll be able to get BBI Media’s stable (which includes Sage Woman) back on a regular quarterly schedule. PanGaia subscribers will receive issues of the new newWitch after issue #50 of PanGaia.

While Anne Newkirk Niven’s letter focuses on a personal/editorial epiphany of Pagan unity, there seems to be an unspoken thread of fiscal difficulties haunting the announcement. It is no secret that magazines have been dropping like flies in our current economic crisis, and many of our co-religionists involved with festivals and public events have noticed a general contraction lately. Perhaps, since Niven’s letter started with “in these difficult times”, it is simply assumed that fiscal problems were an element in the merger decision.

As for my opinion of the merger itself, I think it has some merit. I always thought that any seperation between “serious” and “popular” is a false dichotomy, especially when you’re dealing with a community filled with entrepenuers, impressarios, authors, artists, musicians, and activists. When the individual profiled on the cover of PanGaia #49 also appears in a popular softcore comic book co-created by an illustrator who did freelance work for newWitch you know you’re dealing with some blurry lines. As someone who wrote for newWitch for several years I never thought I was writing solely for “newbies” or that my subject matter was inherently lacking in seriousness, just that I was trying to reach out to a slightly younger demographic who were dissatisfied with the cultural options provided by the older guard.

Though I an outspoken proponent of new media, I wish the new newWitch a sustained and healthy existence. Perhaps this new unified editorial mandate will manage to spark a new creative era within the world of Pagan periodicals. Joining newcomers like Thorn in taking a more holistic approach to covering the Pagan world. Could a new relationship with the Internet and new media follow as well? Anything, it seems, may be possible.

* Issue #50 features my article “The Brightest Lights in Our Sky: Today’s Most Influential Pagans”. Between that and this being PanGaia’s last issue, how can you not hunt one down on the newstands?!