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Maura Johnston on why she opened her iPad-only magazine to the web

Maura Johnston on why she opened her iPad-only magazine to the web

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Maura Johnston
Maura Johnston

In January of 2013, former Village Voice music editor Maura Johnston struck out on her own with Maura Magazine — a weekly, iOS Newsstand-only "journal about culture from a decidedly enthusiastic perspective." Maura Magazine was produced in a partnership with 29th Street Publishing, which also publishes The Awl Weekend Companion.

Today, Maura Magazine launches on the web, again in partnership with 29th Street Publishing. Tugboat Yards is handling the payment system: web pricing is $3 an issue, and subscriptions are $30 a year and $300 a lifetime. For $3,000 you can underwrite an entire issue of the magazine, and for $30,000 you can buy yourself the title of editor at large. Maura took the time to answer some questions for us about her endeavor and what she's been listening to lately.

So, how would you describe Maura Magazine to someone who had never heard of it?

It's a weekly journal about culture from a decidedly enthusiastic perspective. We've had articles on doing yoga and drone metal, the recent history of country music radio in New York, the binge-watching era of TV, Harriet The Spy, and the Bud Light Lime-A-Rita.

Besides you, who else works on it?

Brad Nelson is my copy editor and co-pilot. Jami Attenberg, a fantastic writer who's long been one of my DIY inspirations, hand-picked the six fiction selections that ran this year. Vijith Assar helped develop the pre-paywall version of the website. Ari Lipsitz, a former student of mine at NYU's Clive Davis Institute, is my very first intern. And 29th Street Publishing helped get the whole venture off the ground and out the door.

You partnered with 29th Street Publishing to produce the magazine. Can you talk a bit about working with them?

Working with 29th Street has been a dream it's amazing how wonderful and jarring it is to interact with people who really get the web, and who want to make it a better place.

What did you do before Maura?

I was in the Village Voice Media (now Voice Music Group) salt mines; before that I was in the Gawker Media (still Gawker Media) salt mines. The whole time I was realizing that blogging about music under the pageview model was a tough gig unless you were doing it as a sideline for, say, writing about technology or video games or sports.

Doing your own, independent thing carries a lot of stress that working for someone else often does not. What made you decide now was the right time?

Years of not being my own boss and realizing that I probably should be.

What sort of stories interest you most? How do you decide what to put in an issue?

I like when writers have a real passion on a subject. I know that sounds kind of clichéd, but it's true, and it's something that is frequently overlooked in cutural writing. Which is a shame, because I think with writing about culture in particular readers are looking for opportunities to connect and get frustrated when they feel like they're being pandered or talked down to.

"I like when writers have a real passion on a subject."

Who is your favorite writer?

Right now, probably Margaret Atwood. I just read the last three installments in her "Positron" serial while I was on vacation, and I love her blend of humor, despair, and empathy, not to mention her ability to see 15 minutes into the future.

Have you ever considered making a print version of the magazine? Why or why not?

Considered and discussed and planned! Look for it sometime this summer.

What do you think the delivery medium digital rather than print offers or loses in translation vs. print?

I've been working in digital media for so long (even at the Voice, where I had to edit 30 to 40 online stories a week compared to the paper's two or three) that I personally don't see much of a difference. I guess the major drawback is the perception that "people don't read on the internet," which I don't believe to be true and which I actually think is a bit symptomatic of the condescension big media has toward a lot of its readers.

Do you see your magazine as being a successor to the 'zine?

Absolutely. And I never made a zine in college or high school.

What are the drawbacks of being iPad-only?

I hate the idea of restricting any piece of writing to a certain group of people. I'm really glad that the web version of the magazine exists!

I know you have written a lot about music what is your favorite recent record?

Ooh. The record I keep going back to this summer is probably the Paramore album, which is an ideal specimen of nervy pop-rock, complete with besotted jams ("Still Into You") and Blondie homages ("Daydreaming"). Hayley Williams is absolutely compelling as a frontwoman; seeing them in May was one of my most fun nights of the year. I also love the albums by Kacey Musgraves, Marnie Stern, and The Joy Formidable. This has also been a ridiculous year for singles that lodge themselves in my brain; a bunch of songs I've enjoyed since the calendar flipped to 2013 are here.