November 15, 2012, 1:45 pm

A Counterculture Totem to Return as a Leaner Magazine


From 2002 to 2008, Arthur was music’s version of a literary-minded “little magazine.” Distributed free in record stores and coffee shops, it celebrated underground culture of all kinds and attracted writers like Alan Moore (“Watchmen”), Douglas Rushkoff and even Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who wrote a reviews column with the critic Byron Coley.

Like magazines of all sizes in the digital age, however, Arthur struggled to stay in print. It briefly suspended publication, and then resumed it, in 2007 before disappearing completely the next year.

Now Arthur is back, with what its publisher and founding editor, Jay Babcock, says is a more stable business model. It will cost $5 an issue and be published on newsprint, with ads only on the back covers of its two sections, a move intended to shield the magazine from fluctuations in the economy and the ad market.

The magazine’s circulation used to be around 40,000, but will be less than 10,000 for its new issue, No. 33, which comes out Dec. 22 and will feature some of its former regular writers, like Mr. Moore and Mr. Coley. Mr. Babcock also has a new publishing partner, Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics in Portland, Ore.

Whether Arthur can stay alive is another question. Dozens of music and youth-culture magazines have shut down over the last decade. This summer, the 27-year-old Spin appeared to become the latest casualty. After publishing its last issue in August, the magazine, now owned by a publisher of blogs and celebrity Web sites, has continued online without any announced plans for returning to print.

Mr. Babcock said that Arthur’s modest but loyal following, and its freedom from the ad market, would help the magazine survive where others have not. By using newsprint instead of the higher-quality paper that advertisers prefer, and by keeping costs extremely low, Mr. Babcock said he could break even on a print run of just 1,000 copies.

“Newsprint is extremely attractive, and reader-supported is extremely attractive as opposed to ad-supported,” Mr. Babcock said from Joshua Tree, Calif., where he lives “on the grid but off the pavement” in near-wilderness, he said, making compost and earning money by renting a cabin to vacationers. (Another plus, he noted, is that newsprint is compostable.)