Punk Planet redux
I wanted to start this story off with something like, "Now that the smoke has cleared from the closing of Punk Planet…" but considering the overwhelming response to the news, the smoke looks more like a gathering storm than a dissipating cloud. A Technorati search for "Punk Planet" shows more than 1,000 recent blog posts on the topic, not to mention that reposts on MySpace bulletin boards have begun to resemble a digital funeral procession. Chicago zine distro and collective Fall of Autumn has probably captured the zeitgeist best with this video. I wouldn't be surprised if people clamor for a James Brown-esque posthumous tour.
"I'm not surprised by the outpouring of the responses," says Associate Publisher Anne Elizabeth Moore. "But it's one thing to think, when you're sitting in the office saying 'Man, people are going love this' or 'People are going to hate this.' But it's totally different to hear one woman's voice say 'I am who I am because of what you've done.' I wish to god we could continue to be that kind of resource."
The reason Punk Planet isn't that kind of resource anymore is well-documented. In January 2007 their distributor, the Independent Press Association, went bankrupt. They picked up with a new distributor, Disticor, held a few fund-raisers and made the plea for more subscribers. But now, it's clear that the path was set in October 2005 when the IPA announced it couldn't pay back its magazines. PP's finances never really settled. In mid-April, when a check from the new distributor came in $1,200 lower than expected, publisher and founder Dan Sinker skipped a paycheck to help cover the difference, and it became clear that issue #80 would have to be the last.
"Earlier this year, we had this amorphous, let's-see-what-happens attitude," says Sinker. "The final decision we made in April, but even then, Anne and I didn't write our good-bye intros to the last issue until the day before it went to the printer. We all held out hope that we could do another."
Distribution woes are plaguing small, independent publishers like never before. When Punk Planet started nearly 13 years ago, there were a dozen national distributors who specialized in small, independent magazines. Now there are zero. ("Ironically, the mafia is out of magazine distribution and it's meaner than ever," says Sinker). The same problem has cropped up in book publishing, where the bankruptcy of Publishers Group West in December 2006 is starting to wreak havoc in a similar vein, with indie darlings McSweeney's and Soft Skull both calling for help. Given Punk Planet's constant advocacy for independent publishing (the mag's umbrella company is called Independents' Day Media), the blow has come extra hard.
"I think there are plenty of examples of independent magazines who are doing fine," says Sinker. "But doing it our way, refusing any kind of multinational, corporate, major-label advertising, attempting at least to pay your writers something, it's become very, very difficult to do now."
"We completely admit that in some ways we're the canary in the coal mine, but we're also the very last canary in the coal mine," says Moore. Recent like-minded magazines that have folded, like Clamor, StayFree and Kitchen Sink that have shut down all cited Punk Planet as the final torch-bearer. "We'd read that and say, 'Fuck, this is going to make people feel so shitty.'"
Moore isn't sure what she'll do now. She still edits the Best American Comics series for Houghton Mifflin, and she has a new book, Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity coming out in November. Sinker has landed a gig at Stanford University as a Knight Fellow for 2007-2008, where he'll investigate models for independent publishing online. Punk Planet Books, which is an imprint of New York's Akashic Books, and punkplanet.com will both continue to exist, which means PP isn't declaring bankruptcy and is carrying the debt, what Sinker calls his "student loans." Look for some benefit shows to crop up to help erase some of that debt. But no matter how much cash is raised, the magazine that published two issues with cover lines that read "Revenge of Print," will no longer be in print.
"We've had over 5,000 people come to the site in the last 24 hours, and I know how that that goes, when something ends, you go to find out about it or remember it," says Sinker. "But on a certain level, I'm like, 'We would have liked to have had you here one-and-a-half years ago, 5,000 people!'"