4-11 For Your Information, it’s Springtime in the City

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It’s a girl! You can tell by the bright yellow frilled bonnet she wears. She was born a few weeks late and is fairly fickle after a long labor. Please don’t disturb her, even though she’s wet right now. Let her wake up on her own. Last year I went back to Montana when the bulbs in Bryant Park were three inches tall. This year I am in labor and delivery with New York City as Spring is born.

I revert to the fantasy I’ve always held, root faeries fast asleep wrapped in bright petals. When the earth softens just enough, the faeries roll up the colors and push them through soft green tubes, where they unfurl. Flowers, you see, are just used blankets from sleeping faeries, airing out after a long sleep. Manhattan is always grey, beige, black and brown after the Holidays, decorated with an intermittent white powder coat, soiled within hours into the hues of the City. In those months, New York is a window dresser’s dream: the streetscape is a grey frame and every eye searches for color. When Spring finally comes, they might as well soap over the windows on Fifth Avenue. Yesterday, April 11, was our first real Spring day: working stiffs draped coats beside briefcases and man-bags, joggers dared expose pasty limbs.

A bald man with skin the color of cherrywood bent over a planter in The West Village, a compact coleus in one muddy hand. To my annoyance, the Highline was rife with strollers. Greenmarket vendors hawked bedding plants in Union Square and those little curbside tree planters with wrought iron fencing were in full promise or full bloom. Street vendors stood at ready to swap whatever they were hawking for cheap umbrellas at the first sign of April showers. The Mets are out of contention and the Yankees of course, are damned. It’s Springtime in New York City.

The New Yorker in an Old Scam: Is Conde Nasty or Does This Just Hearst a Little?

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Arch rivals Conde Nast and Hearst spit on their palms and shook hands in a back room somewhere in Boone, Iowa. They’ve been playing nice behind closed doors for a few years now with a ‘digital storefront’ cooperative project. I liked it better when they were arch rivals. If you read magazines online or in print, you might prefer your publishers in different corners too. When big publishers cooperate, irresponsible hi-jinx are likely to ensue.

You don’t have to get your news or opinion from The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, A&E TV, Wired, The Atlantic Monthly, ESPN or the Clifton Park South Pennysaver. Our baseline world view, however, is heavily influenced by media interests owned by Hearst and Conde Nast. Add Time, Inc., another erstwhile ‘frenemy’ and sometime partner of these media giants, and the information highway becomes streamlined, more efficient. There are still erudite little backroads and scenic self-interested side-trips for curious readers, but it’s harder to find an off-ramp when more and more influential magazines come from Hearst, Conde Nast, and Time, Inc.

And that hi-jinx I mentioned? Take a look at my second renewal notice for The New Yorker, above. The return address on the back? P.O. Box 37682, Boone, Iowa. It was kind of my longtime friends at The New Yorker to extend my deadline even if the words were in an insistent militaristic all-caps boldface font on an envelope bearing a Stars & Stripes stamp. Their not-so-subtle message: it’s my patriotic duty to renew. When I saw the Iowa return address, I was grateful at least that The New Yorker was employing an American subscription service instead of going for offshore fulfillment. Then I blinked. See that tiny date above my name? My subscription doesn’t expire untilFebruary, 2013. I have TWENTY-ONE MONTHS to renew and they are graciously extending my deadline? Whether it’s New York City slickers or Iowa corn-fed snake oil salesmen, someone was a little lubed up when they sent this off.

The New Yorker could be playing the float. It’s not illegal to collect early payment for products yet rendered. It’s great for cash flow–especially for a magazine with loyal subscribers and traditionally low newsstand sales. They may even be attempting to shave a few months off my subscription. No…a highbrow magazine like The New Yorker would never commit such a low-down offense. Maybe it wasn’t their fault. That’s when I googled “The New Yorker+ Boone, Iowa” and uncovered the cooperative ventures between The New Yorker’s publisher, Conde Nast, and Hearst. Would The New Yorker participate in this kind of ruse to insulate themselves from a magazine subscription scheme? They could put down their walking stick and point their white-gloved finger at the subscription fulfillment service, CoMag. They all appear to be joint ventures of Hearst and Conde Nast, ALL in Boone, Iowa (population 27,000) among other global locations.

This amorphous endeavor involves more than subscription fulfillment. They just merged another publishing company onto their growing information highway: CoMag acquired Lagardere, a French publisher with an additional 102 publications in fifteen countries. More magazines, faster magazines…better magazines? Do you hear the sound on the information highway? “Beep, beep! Out of my way.” Discovering this baseline co-op venture reminded me of that moment years ago, when I discovered that Clinique, Bobbi Brown, MAC and Aveda are all owned by Estee Lauder, or more recently, when I found out that Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari are Facebook friends.

Does sharing a distribution and ownership scheme compromise editorial integrity? Editorial control is a decision of exclusion. It’s not ADD-itorial. It’s EDIT-orial. Do the same writers with the same Ivy-league world views float from one magazine to the other, and is there a problem with that? I’m writing a check to CMG/CDS/CoMag/Conde Nast/Hearst. With all those layers to filter through, it’s no wonder it takes 21 months to renew my subscription to The New Yorker.