Normally, when someone is obviously, painfully wrong on a topic, it offers a warning to take that person’s other opinions with a bucketful of salt. But, occasionally, it can serve as a bullshit offset, a sink into which you can pitch all your wrongness to keep it from contaminating the rest of your thinking.
Thanks, John Gruber, for showing us how it’s done.
Long (and long-delayed) discussion on ‘the stuff of identity’ coming.
But to get back in the mood for writing, it’s a happy coincidence that the latest spat over Nick Denton’s editorial methods appears at the same time as another brief profile of Felix Dennis, something the media desks seem to write up on a semi-regular basis.
Dennis changed American magazine publishing in the late 90s. It was obvious from Maxim‘s first few British issues that it was doomed to fourth place in a market saturated by lad mags; it was also clear that Americans were buying import copies of Loaded with nothing of their own to compare. Conventional wisdom was that the format wouldn’t work: you had your serious gentlemen’s monthlies, the sporty-outdoors mags, the aging hipster mags, the pinkish Details in post-Truman decline. All neatly stratified and commodified. Instead, Maxim’s US launch in 1997, driven by Dennis and a no-bullshit British staff, immediately made GQ and Esquire look fusty, and put Details out of its misery.
Of all the lad mags, Maxim was the one you’d least have expected to succeed in the US, based upon content and market positioning. But that misses one key element: Felix Dennis. Ten years on, it outsells all its US competitors combined, most of which now imitate some or all of its house style. (Details is back on the shelves, though in name only.) As for Dennis himself, he’s no longer at the helm, predicting the slow decline of print mags; that didn’t stop him from getting around $250m for offloading his American titles last year. (Translation: even more time to spend writing doggerel in Mustique. As a poet, he’s a great magazine publisher.)
That’s your model for understanding Nick Denton and his American blog menagerie, his treatment of writers, his PPV earnings model, his zest for publicity. (The comparison is inexact: if Denton writes poetry, he keeps it to himself; his prose sings like a goose.)
All done with complete unnerving honesty. Which you have to admire — from a safe distance.
Update: Denton’s made the comparison himself. (Note to self: 2003 and Kinja seems like a long time ago.) But the report presents it simply in terms of Maxim‘s content, not the wider aspects of how both Dennis and Denton seem to view publishing.