by Amy Atkins
Since the recession, media coverage of media is often about another newspaper folding—and not into a fun pirate hat. Stories about the demise of yet another print publication have become as commonplace as photos of any Kardashian on TMZ.com. There is even a site,Newspaperdeathwatch.com, dedicated to "chronicling the decline of newspapers ..."
Some of us survived and even thrived in large part by diversifying: We went online, we went mobile, we dove into multimedia. That was pretty much the case across the board, so we weren't surprised to see new smart phone apps and revamped websites from newspapers and magazines across the country. What we didn't expect to see was a new print publication. But then an issue of Cowbell Magazine arrived in the mail.
According to editor-in-chief Brian Howard (who came from alt-weekly Philadelphia City Paper), the Philadelphia-based Cowbell is best described as an "indie music and culture magazine." The monthly mag was launched about a year ago and is published by Red Flag Media, the same people who publish Decibel (launched in 2004), a monthly metal music and extreme music magazine.
Howard, who has been with Cowbell for about five months, explained that Red Flag published in-house magazines for record stores—think Tower Records' Pulse!—and believed they could "spin this product they had been making into an editorially independent magazine and fill a void that [was] definitely there in terms of a nationally circulated indie rock and culture magazine."
The cover story in the July issue of Cowbell is on My Morning Jacket—"America's best live band"—and inside is an engaging piece with gorgeous photos of MMJ (as well as an editor's note from Howard reminiscing on the first time he saw the group live). There are articles on the Mike Watt (Minutemen) and Kira Roessler (Black Flag) project Dos; the Postelles, the Antlers; Bonnaroo; hip-hop group No Surrender; The Rosebuds; and pages of CD reviews. Movies, television, books and comedy also get a wink and a nod and big fat list of the month's new music releases wraps it all up ... except for the final page, which is a hilarious, unequivocal essay from Dead Milkmen's Rodney Anonymous, who suggests that the biggest secret in rock 'n' roll is stupidity.
"We've been trying to branch out, to acknowledge that people who are into indie music are into indie culture in general: books, movies, comedy," Howard said.
The glossy full-color Cowbell is distributed nationally and is currently available at a number of places, including Barnes & Noble and Borders—well, after this weekend, Barnes & Noble—with a $4.95 cover price.
While the word "dinosaur" is often used in stories about magazines and newspapers, not all of them have gone the way of the pterodactyl.
"Conventional wisdom is that [print] is not the way things are going, but my sense is that there's so much information out there, it's nice to have it all in one little package you can carry around with you," Howard said.
Cowbell, a well-crafted mag, need not fear the reaper.