An Obituary for AppleSeeds
It used to be said that publishing was a gentlemen’s business: deals were conducted over lunch with only a handshake to seal them, and there was a sense that it was a business that operated on a higher level than the rough and tumble, slightly soiling moneymaking of other industries. People in publishing felt like they were creating something almost noble, for the greater good, bringing literature to the world, a calling beyond just a paycheck.
This craft we can only be nostalgic for, since profit maximization trumped the core values that enshrined “old school” publishing. In the last thirty years there have been endless mergers and consolidations and farewells to various publishing houses and imprints. Books now needed to be blockbusters, making millions in a quick flash-in-the-pan marketing sensibility, while quieter but more valuable gems of literature struggled on the midlist for a little while or were no longer published at all. The same held true for magazines and even newspapers. In a moneymaking perspective, subscription numbers had to meet certain levels of profit or the publication was killed.
Children’s publishing probably held on to the kinder and gentler model longer than adult publishing, since no one would debate the importance of reading for children. But with the economic downturn of the last six or seven years, children’s magazines quietly began to consolidate and disappear. At an annual children’s magazine editors’ retreat I attended in Pennsylvania for six years, our numbers dwindled every year, as magazines folded or combined or were supplanted by digital editions. It almost like the aftermath of a battle to see who would attend every year, who was still standing.
This month it was my turn to see the magazine I edited fall victim to low subscription numbers. AppleSeeds, written for children ages 6-9, was just not competitive enough in the marketplace (begging the question, what are we competing over?). Its sister publication within our company, Ask, was financially healthier, and management decided to fold this stalwart publication into Ask. While its brand name will reappear on occasional stand-alone projects, as a regular, serial publication, AppleSeeds was gone.
The magazine was not alone. Of the 17 magazines that were being published by my company just a year ago, only 11 still remained as active print publications. All of our Spanish language publications had been shuttered. Some magazines, like mine, had been combined with others that garnered more subscribers. Some have digital editions, some don’t, in varying degrees of success.
My aim is not to deride my company for their decisions, but rather to lament the loss of values that justified the publishing business as it was. We have always understood that literature which snubbed its nose at prosaic triteness was going to sell less. But didn’t we find value in such well-crafted literature, even if it challenged us? While most people still assign value to the printed page, this is an age of distractions, especially for children who are digital natives and are accustomed to receiving their information on a screen rather than on paper. Admittedly, I feel hurt at losing the chance to regenerate Appleseeds into something even more vivid and engaging for young readers. But a much more profound sadness derives from losing one more publication in the world for a child to curl up with and physically page through, fingers touching rustling paper, in a quiet moment. Appleseeds’ only real purpose was to develop young readers’ minds, and it succeeded at this for seventeen years. Its value is that it created better people, and we should scorn that such value cannot translate into economic success in today’s publishing world.
*I would like to thank Tedrowe Bonner for his help in the evolution of this blog post from one of pure personal loss to something that addresses a much more vital issue. Our dialogues are invaluable.