Dear Southwest Contemporary community,
Today I write with significant updates to Southwest Contemporary’s work. After careful consideration, and much initial heartbreak, I have decided that Southwest Contemporary will publish one final print edition this year: our new Field Guide publication. We will suspend print publication of The Magazine for the remainder of 2020, with strong and sincere plans to return to print in 2021.
This is caused, of course, by the various effects of the pandemic and its economic fallout. Our content is free to our readers both online and in print, as it has been for 28 years. Therefore, advertising sales currently account for 97.2% of our funding, which we need to pay our contributors, staff, printing costs, and other overhead. With the disruption caused to our advertisers’ businesses, the cancelation of events, and an uncertain economic climate during New Mexico’s high season for arts and tourism (and beyond), we have lost significant revenues and cannot safely expect them to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months.
We plan to pivot to online-only publishing for the rest of 2020. We remain dedicated to our mission to give voice to contemporary arts in New Mexico and the Southwest. My highest priorities now are to continue publishing content on New Mexico contemporary arts and culture, regardless of the medium; to continue intellectually and financially engaging with our editorial contributors, who are local and regional writers, artists, journalists, editors, and photographers; and to secure long-term viability and sustainability by reexamining our business model.
We plan to pivot to online-only publishing for the rest of 2020.
The silver lining is this: relieved of the long production cycles required of print publishing, we are now able to publish new content online weekly, to respond to events more quickly, and to dedicate new energies to exploring the trans-media, multi-channel possibilities this may afford us. We are dedicated to maintaining our high standards of editorial excellence online, and providing information, storytelling, and critical insight for our community during these strange times.
I also remain dedicated to the print medium, and I look forward to returning to print publishing in 2021. In the meantime, I embrace this rare moment as a time to reassess and reevaluate how we do our work, and this opportunity to consider alternatives: alternative business models, alternative funding sources, alternative distribution models, etc. It’s all up in the air now, everything is on the table, and we are free to reinvent ourselves from the ground up.
When I launched Southwest Contemporary as the company that now publishes The Magazine, the primary reason was that we were also creating content online, in our newsletters, and through our events and exhibitions. The company was no longer limited to just a magazine, and our identity needed to align with this newly expanded framework of being a true media company. Because of this evolution, we can now shift our weight to these other channels. In other words, we don’t need The Magazine itself to remain the leading resource for contemporary arts and culture in New Mexico. We can adapt and reimagine what comes next. And, as is true for so many businesses, and for entire industries, what comes next brings up a long of questions, questions that may have been lingering around for some time. Whatever dirt has been swept under the rug, the rug’s now been pulled out from under us.
We don’t need The Magazine itself to remain the leading resource for contemporary arts and culture in New Mexico. We can adapt and reimagine what comes next.
I read an article last month in the New York Times that has haunted me ever since. In it, New York restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton writes of the perilous future of her restaurant, Prune, in a world that has changed around her, in an industry driven by relentless growth into unsustainability. I see parallels everywhere. In the art world: the demands to pour time, energy, and money, money, money into art fairs, travel, and an unending circus of programming that was all too ready to topple. The publishing industry has been in crisis for some time. Revenues at all levels (newspapers large and small, mainstream, niche, and indie magazines, alt-weeklies—no one is safe) are falling, have been falling, and for some have completely evaporated overnight when the stay-at-home orders began.
For years, publications large and small have been turning increasingly to readers to fund their work. To attract readers to invest and diversify revenue sources, magazines are launching events, conferences, podcasts, video series, membership programs, creating in-house creative agencies, and more. More and more work is required, just to make the same dollar. Meanwhile, tech giants freely source media content for their users from media companies, build massive audiences that local/indie media companies can’t compete with, and then leach those companies of the ad revenue critically needed to create that media content (Google, Facebook, and Amazon receive just under 70% of all U.S. digital advertising dollars). For all magazines, but especially local, independent publications, the question of revenues looms ever larger. But it’s certainly not the end of print, for even as revenues have declined, niche publications, especially in print, still have incredibly dedicated audiences that continue to grow—audiences that are often seeking alternatives to our increasingly fragmented, digital world.
When I first arrived in Santa Fe, I knew The Magazine was special. It was my guide to the community, it was and is the glue, the container, that brings it all together and into context. It was and remains the lone voice of art criticism, an essential pillar of any serious art community. Most cities of this size (and many larger), have nothing like it. Most cities have no media dedicated to the arts at all, no media dedicated to upholding arts writing and criticism as crucial disciplines. For most newspapers, the arts and culture section is usually the first budget cut. For most magazines, a generalized lifestyle or commercial approach is a safer bet to preserve diminishing ad dollars. In most markets, sales and profits (of ads, of art) are prioritized over publishing that empowers arts writers to examine and interpret art, culture, and how they are presented—how contemporary arts can help us figure other futures.
We’re tiny enough to be nimble, to change tack, and challenge the current structures that have defined the media industry.
So why will it be any different for me? For Southwest Contemporary? For The Magazine? For the New Mexico art community? Southwest Contemporary isn’t about ad revenues. It’s about art, culture, and community. It’s about critical thinking, storytelling, truth, and empathy. I am honor-bound to keep publishing, to preserve the freedom of our arts writers, to give exposure to artists and arts workers. We’re tiny enough to be nimble, to change tack, and challenge the current structures that have defined the media industry. It’s been my aspiration for the past few years, and now my obligation, to find a model for local, independent arts media that is sustainable, doesn’t compromise editorial integrity, serves the arts, and pays its staff living wages. If we can survive it, perhaps the pandemic will be the disruption we actually needed to get there.
I believe New Mexico art needs Southwest Contemporary. In order to keep going, SWC needs New Mexico, too. The single best way to support us right now is to buy an ad or listing in our new FIeld Guide publication (if you run an arts and culture business/organization), or to buy an ad or listing on behalf of your favorite local arts organization (if you don’t). You can learn more about the Field Guide here. As stop-gap measures, Southwest Contemporary is also currently accepting donations, and we are at work planning a fundraiser to launch this summer. If you’re in a position to do so, please consider helping us weather this storm. You can find information about supporting us here, including non-monetary ways to support us. And, if it’s not us, please donate to your local alt-weekly. Subscribe to your local newspaper. Subscribe to your favorite independent magazine. Share an article. We’re all in the same boat, and we all need our readers to help us fill in the gaps as we turn a new page.
publisher + editor