Thorn Magazine and the Future of the Medium

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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.