Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Photo versus Text: Size versus Salvation: Bandwagon's Precarious Future

Will the Circus Historical Society's fine magazine Bandwagon ever reach the parade on time?

When current publisher and editor Fred Pfening III resumed editorship, after having earlier edited for over a year only to walk away, I reported his return as very good news.  It seemed inevitable that the young Pfening had been groomed to take over for his dad, but that was a surface observation of mine.  Actually, he had himself expressed a preference for research over editing.

As it turns out, Pfening was not coming back to accept editing the Bandwagon permanently, only to help get back issues expeditiously off the press and into the mails.

A well placed inside source told me a while back -- insisting the information was known to quite a few among CHS officials, that Pfening, in fact, still plans or wishes to give up the editing reigns once again, presumably when he has managed to publish overdue back issues. We are now up to the September-October 2012 number and counting.  The Pfening III presses seem to be slowing down a bit.

If the inside source is correct, that's too bad.  But there are, possibly, equally pressing issues the CHS will be faced with for many years into the future as the print world changes, as more and more, people go to their computers for information that is in some instances easier to obtain, surely less costly to have at hand.

At $60.00 a year, that amounts to a whopping ten dollars per issue.  It's, I suppose, a price tag that hard line fans and big top historians are evidently willing to pay.    I'd say it is arguably too expensive a tab.

The size of Bandwagon, as I think that of the White Tops, has increased over the years.  Perhaps both publications are now designed under the spell of the grandiose Feld style Ringling program magazines replete with lavish color photography.

On a circus blog thread that I came across several years ago, some were arguing in favor of the White Tops and Bandwagon merging.   While it does seem like a strange maarriage, it might be a viable solution to increasing costs and shrinking subscription lists.

Bandwagon has enlisted the design talents of White Top editors John and Mardi Wells to revamp its visual layout, and the effort is brilliantly obvious in a visually spectacular array of photos.  Needed?  Necessary?  Too expensive?

I don't know.  I know that ten dollars an issue strikes me as over the top.  I'd re-subscribed to the magazine upon learning the Pfeing was coming back, following the ill-fated tenure of Fred Dahlinger, Jr.,  who never gained traction at the desk, assuming he actually spent time at it.

But now, soon the magazine's fate will again rest in the hands of yet another candidate, and that person may still be out there, not yet found and/or signed to a contract.

It's a fine fine magazine.  Do I value it more than what the elder Pfening delivered?  Not necessarily.  I am certainly struck by the photography, but I never really subscribed for visuals beyond their historical input.  I subscribed to learn about circus history, especially for the research value to the last two big top tomes I've written.  There comes a point at which, arguably, too many photos can degrade the importance and integrity of text. Consider the book The Circus: Garden of Eden to Pittsburgh (you know the real title, published by Taschen).  That is not a Bandwagon problem, not yet, but we must be talking inflated printing bills for all the large photo spreads and the total number of pages.

Spectacle is now on-line, no longer in print. All of the circus rags have lost customers over the past 20-plus seasons.  Circus Report's subscription pool is likely half what it was years ago, if that.  It is simply a matter that the world is changing.  At some point, the gloriously gilded new Bandwagon may have to face the barn, unless it can lose a lot of weight, slim down on the visuals, perhaps cut itself in half, and charge a lot less.

That is, assuming it will eventually reach the time period in which we live.

Cry, clown, cry?  Maybe not.  Half a bandwagon may be perfectly fine for those who value (or, make that can accept) their sawdust history straight.

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