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Commentary: Is This Any Way to Ruin a Magazine?

Matt Trulio

Matt Trulio

I am done waxing nostalgic about Powerboat magazine, the publication for which I wrote for 16 years before it was purchased earlier this year. Been down memory lane, said my fond farewells, wished the new publisher, Bonnier Corp., success and asked loyal readers—the coin of the realm in the magazine business—to give the new publisher “a chance.”

And now with Bonnier’s decision to kill the magazine—again—I find myself a little embarrassed and a lot pissed off, hence the rhetorical question in the headline above.

Here’s what I want to do first: Apologize to Powerboat readers for asking them to give the new publisher a chance.

It doesn’t matter that I was really asking you folks to give the editor Jason Johnson and technical editor Bob Teague—two of my best friends and most respected colleagues—a chance. I went out on a limb thinking that, at the very least, the new publisher would deliver the six-issue run it promised for 2012.

Two days ago, that limb snapped and the goal of rebuilding a once-respected high-performance boating magazine crashed to the ground and shattered when the news broke that Bonnier had suspended publication of Powerboat.

Of course, I am disappointed for my friends. But as the editor of another magazine (and I’m not here to pimp that magazine in this column) the demise of Powerboat creates an opportunity for me to work with them again. But I am really disappointed for Powerboat readers because, well, you put your faith in a publishing company that is either schizophrenic or one heck of a poor planner and forecaster.

You folks deserved better. A hell of a lot better. Is that strong enough? Am I being clear?

Whatever hope Powerboat had of rising from the ashes died the day before yesterday because as the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” and you people are not fools. The Powerboat magazine brand still had a chance to reinvent itself when the decision-makers at Bonnier changed their minds and decided not to shelve it. But now?

This being the holidays and all, I’ll try not to be blasphemous, but it would take a Lazarus-like miracle to pull Powerboat from its tomb.

I don’t know why Bonnier bought Powerboat, why it first announced it would close the magazine, then announced it would re-launch the magazine, then announced it would suspend the magazine after just two issues. I don’t know how Bonnier will handle Powerboat subscribers who don’t find Boating magazine a suitable replacement. I asked all of these questions via email to the company’s corporate communications person yesterday morning, but I have yet to receive a response.

What I do know is that after spending more than 25 years in the magazine and newspaper publishing business and having been through several “acquisition deals” involving multiple titles, I have never seen one as poorly handled—and I am being kind—than the Powerboat magazine deal. At least when Conde Nast killed Gourmet magazine (for the record, I worked for neither), which reportedly had a circulation of around 1 million, they just killed it and, to borrow from a friend who hunts like his local butcher is about to run out of meat, killed it good.

So yeah, I think you might be getting this by now, I’m pissed off. For my friends who went through a rehire, put their faith in the new publisher and their credibility on the line and asked you, as did I, to give them a chance. For all of you, who actually gave it a chance.

And as I said at the outset of this commentary, I’m sorry I asked.