Great integrity, terrible PR. April 15, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: A Real Life, Back Home, Backwoods Home, Helen Nearing, Laurel's Kitchen, Mother Earth News, Plain, The Plain Reader, Wendell Berry
Silence Dogood here. Having just posted about Laurel’s Kitchen the other day, I wondered what had become of Laurel and company in the intervening three-plus decades since the book’s original publication and turned to my good friend Google to find out. Google brought up a tangential site for a magazine called A Real Life that featured articles by (or perhaps excerpts from) my heroes Laurel Robertson, Helen Nearing, Wendell Berry, etc. I was getting all excited until I read the daunting words “A Real Life Magazine is no longer being published.”
The magazine, a cottage publication, had managed to hold on, coming out five times a year, for more than five years, surviving through word of mouth. You can still buy back issues or a collection of all 31 issues on their website (http://www.areallife.com/). The site also proclaims that the publisher, Barbara McNally, is “working on a book and hosting A Real Life Retreats.”
This reminds me of a similar and much-loved quarterly that our friend Ben and I, Luddites that we are, subscribed to until it also died, simply called Plain. Its editor/publisher, Scott Savage, also published a book, The Plain Reader, before vanishing from sight. Though the word “Plain” invokes the “plain people,” the Amish and Mennonites, and they and their lifestyles figured prominently in Plain, Mr. Savage and his family chose to become Quakers, yet give up cars, electricity and the like.
How is it that inspiring and helpful publications like Plain and A Real Life fail, when so much trash persists? A PR failure, I’m thinking. Charlie Sheen’s latest bizarrities, the Kardashians’ fashion faux pas, and Lady Gaga’s cheekbones turn up on every computer screen and in every newspaper and news broadcast. But where is the news about people who are doing real good in the world, the Scott Savages, Wendell Berrys, Helen Nearings, Eknath Easwarans and Laurel Robertsons?
Occasionally, a Mother Teresa or an Eckhart Tolle manages to break through the consumerist/sensationalist PR wall, picked up by the Pope or by Oprah and promoted despite their unfashionable appearance and values. Good magazines like the Mother Earth News, Backwoods Home, and Back Home manage to find the means to keep going. Miracles happen.
But miracles, at least in our day, seem to need a basis in practicality to give them momentum. And they need publishers with a great sense for PR. Lacking that—lacking any sense of PR whatever, as far as I can see—publications like Plain and A Real Life are destined to die, despite a loyal fan base. Loyal fans, in the absence of advertising, simply aren’t enough, unless you’re savvy enough to sell ancillary products like mugs and tee-shirts, anthologies, and the like yourself to make up for the shortfall.
The unworldly nature of Plain (and, presumably, of A Real Life) awes me and gives me hope. True, they failed, at least from a financial perspective. But the fact that they began, that they existed, that they had a following, defies all odds. From my vantage point, that makes them a success. Now, if they’d just had some good PR…
‘Til next time,