Jonesing Up With The Keepers

“”Readers feel an intimacy with this magazine. It’s emotional.”
“It’s heartbreaking to throw them away. They’re too nice.”
“The pictures are by some of the world’s best photographers
and the printing is top-notch.”
“…their issues are almost like looks… timely, yet timeless”

NO, THESE OBSERVATIONS WERE NOT MEANT TO REFER to the magazine in your hands. They are from a recent Sacramento Bee article about the collectibility of National Geographic magazine, a publication that for generations has brought a span of bright yellow interest to drab classroom shelves and a glimpse of the beauty of the world to grandma’s attic. The article goes on to explore this remarkable phenomenon among periodicals, observing that the only other major title people tend to collect is Playboy, and that for entirely different reasons, some of them also rather worldly.

American Bungalow does not print tens of millions of magazines each month as these two examples do, and we seldom show photos of people in the magazine, clothed or otherwise. Yet in our own small way we are also regarded as a “keeper,” a judgment that brings us great satisfaction, not least of all because this is not a reputation we can simply wish upon ourselves. Only readers can make it happen.

In fact, I’m not at all sure how we achieved this enviable status in the first place. According to some publishing experts we have made serious errors and missed countless marketing opportunities. 1-low many times have I heard the lecture about increasing sales by spreading commercial messages like gaudy makeup across our cover, stuffing the magazine confetti-full with mailing cards or boosting the bottom line by selling readers’ names and addresses to mailing list brokers? Thanks, hut no thanks. I did my time as a huckster while designing marketing materials for big corporations and no longer measure success by the amount I can add to the world’s sales junk. if we are missing marketing opportunities, it is partly because of our preoccupation with contributing something of value.

As much as we cherish our status as a keeper, certain negative aspects do go along with the reputation. In the early years many readers doubtlessly started collecting because our irregular publishing dates hinted that our fly-by-night publication might soon become an extinct species. Now, in order to be sure their copy is pristine, many readers wait to buy their copies off the newsstand, from whence precious little of the purchase price comes back to us. And, of course, success invites imitation: two new bungalow magazines were launched recently, and a quick Google of the words “American Bungalow Collection” reveals at least seven
companies roosting happily on the name.

Until readers demand otherwise, nothing is planned that will essentially alter our little labor of love. Even though there is so much to show and tell, we will almost certainly continue to publish quarterly because our smaller advertisers are kept pretty busy from four ads a year and probably wouldn’t see a need for more frequent exposure. If change happens to American Bungalow, it will show up as more pages full of even better prose and photos, and maybe a special edition from time to time, free to subscribers, to cover a particular field of interest or to add variety.

The Bee article concludes with the observation that National Geographic’s collectability is not reflected on eBay, where asking prices are “mostly a buck or two per issue, with few bids”— an undeserved implication about a magazine that obviously respects it readers. Although American Bungalow’s prices have also softened at ebay. The record for a single issue stands at $256.52, resulting from a bidding war over Number 5 a few years ago.

Of course, we were only peripherally involved in that transaction, but it’s a flattering hit of information that always brings a satisfied smile to my face. And it says a lot more than any amount of marketing hype cascading from our pockets or splashed across our face. It says that we’re in good hands.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

John Brinkmann




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