Art & Commerce: Volume 1, Number 1

Iused to collect first issues of magazines. Sports Illustrated’s first cover was Eddie Matthews of the Milwaukee Braves, newly moved from Boston and heading toward a 47-homer season, taking a Ruthian swing with a stadium background in a wide-angle shot. It told you (or should have told you) that this sports magazine would be different. It was, too. It had a chess column by grandmaster Larry Evans and a bridge column by Charles Goren, two less-than-athletic pieces of content that probably slowed its first decade’s movement toward eventual profitability.

Life, which died twice and now thrice as of a few weeks ago, began during the Depression with a Margaret Bourke-White black-and-white cover photograph of a hydroelectric plant; nevertheless, it lasted four decades in its first incarnation.

I have first issues of Fame, George and Premiere. The last just expired, leaving its loyal readers with new subscriptions to Us Weekly; never mind that at least one loyal reader (me) already had a sub (not a comp) to Us. I just got my duplicate issues with Tom Cruise and Katie Cruise. The latter, we are told on the cover, is “In love with Tom, but confined by Scientology.” It is “her painful choice.”

Not as painful as that made by Fame, George and Premiere. They had lives short of a pet’s (parrots aside). The optimism of any first issue reminds me of the elation of starting a new advertising agency. The reality of the last issue re-reminds me of the strong possibility your new agency, and you, could end up as an all-in side pot in the ad game.

National Review’s 1955 launch is interesting only because of its arresting, light blue typeface. Who could have figured that the weekly that would become a bi-weekly would become a magazine of vast influence?

The last first edition I added was Milton. You remember it: The Luxury Gaming Magazine? Its slogan: “We drink. We smoke. We gamble.” 1997? Cover headlines: “Play Blackjack Without Looking Like a Dork” and “Milton Berle, Casino Casanova.” My inaugural copy is intact, save for the subscription card I mailed to the publishers of the quarterly that ceased publishing after the first quarter.

I’ve never saved first issues of newspapers because so few have been started in my lifetime. The New York World Journal Tribune, an amalgam of at least seven newspapers, was one, but it seemed to be born dead.

Last month, The New York Sun celebrated its fifth anniversary. I had written about the newspaper, particularly its excellent numbers-driven, analytic sports section and entertaining crossword puzzle, last year in Adweek. So I asked Michael Moi of the Sun if I could get a copy of its first issue, April 16, 2002. I hadn’t remembered that the Sun began as a seven-column broadsheet (it’s now six columns). That first issue was the result of two years of thinking by editors Seth Lipsky and Ira Stoll. But they re-thought their first effort to produce a design that is less retro, but more exciting.

The May 1, 2007 issue of the Sun used its color to show a Léger painting, shots of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya in training for their May 5 fight, and an ad for Escada that ran across the bottom of the page. This ad was good to see. When I had done the previous piece on the Sun, I noted that its advertisers were not what I would have thought: Ayn Rand 101 instead of Saks, a cut-rate cigarette offer instead of Bloomingdale’s. There was little indication that the Sun would become the best newspaper in New York. The page one headlines included:

a) Ant Colony Largest Ever

b) In Which Metal Box Does Salman Rushdie Hide?

c) The Land of Milk and Mommy: A Visit to the Upper Breast Side, NYC’s Breastfeeding Boutique

They were shuffled into a page that also included a prescient article about Hillary Clinton’s political tightrope act, a Peggy Noonan interview with Lech Walesa, a Sun editor’s interview with then-insurgent Iraqi Ahmad Chalabi and oenophiles trying to undo New York liquor laws. The first issue was one section, reducing by 50 percent the chances of buying a back page ad. The crossword, too, showed in its very first clue no clue of its emerging brilliance. That clue? Five spaces: The Big _ _ _ _ _ (New York City).

The Sun’s circulation grew from 18,334 in 2002 to 98,171 in 2006. Its cover now tells you, in addition to the weather, the price of gold and the Nasdaq close, that the paper reaches 150,000 of New York City’s most influential readers every day. That influence is confirmed by, of all people, Malloch Brown, Kofi Annan’s former chief of staff, who is said to have suffered in the UN cafeteria as the result of the Sun’s reporting. The cover also directs you to, a site whose influence over me would be bolstered by adding serifs to the fonts. (Why do type designers think that sans serif typefaces verboten in books deserve use in long pieces online?)

The New York Sun is a conservative paper, but it gets the respect of the left. The Nation’s April 30 issue contains an article on the Sun’s rise by Scott Sherman that is as balanced an article as I have ever read in the magazine (not a gibe; you don’t read The Nation for balance). I tried to figure out why, in fact, an issue of a magazine that had an article exonerating Alger Hiss once again and prosecuting Imus’s fellow travelers would also have such a calm, fact-filled piece on a five-day-a-week conservative newspaper. Then I saw the lead-in headline to the story: A Big Hit With Conservatives, the Paper Has Lost Money for Five Years.

Businesses that lose money are more beloved by the left, I suppose. If only all of capitalism could be that way, it would be just like socialism.