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Web-only, indie-rock magazine returns to its roots in print

Dan DeLuca
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

PHILADELPHIA — Given the hard times that have hit the music and publishing industries in recent years, it wasn’t so shocking when Magnet, the national indie-rock magazine based in Philadelphia, put out what looked like its final print issue in 2008 and became a Web-only publication.

“The music industry was in the toilet, and we were able to weather that,” says Magnet editor Eric T. Miller, who in 1993 cofounded the magazine. (John Cusack was reading it in publicity shots for the 2000 movie adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity.”

“And then the magazine industry was in the toilet, and we were able to weather that — for a while.” And then, in 2008, the economy crashed.

At the same time, Kimberly Merritt, Magnet’s art director and Miller’s wife, experienced health problems that left her unable to work. The goateed Miller, who is 40 and has made Magnet his life’s work since getting a journalism degree from Temple University in 1993, shook his head, as his Boston Terrier, Higgins, sat by his feet.

“You’re able to weather 90 things going wrong, but 100 things ...”

In a shrinking market where online music sites and blogs such as Pitchfork and Stereogum have thrived while traditional media such as Spin (now a bimonthly magazine), Paste (Web-only), and Blender (out of business) have struggled, Magnet seemed headed for a depressing denouement.

Miller doubted he would ever again hold a fresh copy of the magazine, which featured stylish alt-rockers Urge Overkill on its first cover and had established itself as a sharp, authoritative voice.

Then in October, a funny thing happened. The 10,000 rock fans on Magnet’s subscription list who were still owed issues found something surprising in their mailboxes: A new issue of Magnet, with the esteemed American rock band Wilco on its cover.

And this month, another, with the reunited “classic lineup” of Guided by Voices. In December, they will get a year-end issue proclaiming the debut by the young British band Yuck as album of the year.

While maintaining a daily Web presence, Magnet is again a monthly, bucking an industry trend. And it is eliciting elation from loyal readers, such as Michael Mongillo of Meridien, Conn., who wrote in a letter: “I’m thrilled that Magnet is back in print. And twelve times a year. Even awesomer!”

Magnet is back in print because of publisher Alex Mulcahy, owner of Red Flag Media, which also puts out the environmentally conscious Grid (“Toward a sustainable Philadelphia” is its motto) and headbangers monthly Decibel, edited by metal authority Albert Mudrian.

“It couldn’t be a better time” to relaunch Magnet, said Mulcahy, in offices near Philadelphia’s Chinatown, where Red Flag’s 10 full-time employees work. “There’s a vacuum. I don’t think people want to read music magazines any less. I still think it’s an important way to find new music — having a curated magazine that’s cohesive, that matches your sensibilities.”

Mulcahy felt just as strongly in 2010, when Red Flag launched Cowbell, a monthly that employed many longtime Magnet writers who are now again writing for Magnet.

Cowbell’s editorial direction did not vary drastically from Magnet’s. But Cowbell, Mulcahy says, “was not gaining traction” after 17 issues.

“I don’t want to tell you how many subscribers we had,” he said. “But if I took off my shoes I could count them all on my fingers and toes ... I liked what Cowbell was. It just failed to capture the consumer’s imagination.”

With Cowbell struggling, Mulcahy consulted with Miller this summer. It dawned on them that it might not be quite so hard to restart a magazine, particularly one with Magnet’s brand recognition and subscriber base.

“It all happened very fast,” Miller said. “I’m very excited to be doing it again.”

The magazine, $4.99 an issue or $24.99 a year, has 10,000 subscribers and publishes 25,000 additional copies, including a small number free for customers of record stores outside the Philadelphia area.

Mulcahy, who is also 40, added: “Instantly getting more and more info from the Web — that’s a fact of life. But there’s also something to be said for something that lasts ... There’s always room for a good magazine. And Magnet is a good magazine. I’m bullish.”

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