On the Sale of Utne Magazine
People keep asking me how I feel about the sale of Utne Magazine, my employer for the past 8 years and the family business for the past 23, on June 1 to Ogden Publications of Topeka, Kansas. I left the staff the day of the sale. Rather than continue typing out the same email over and over again, as I’ve been doing for the last 3 weeks, I’ll just summarize my thoughts here, so I have a place to point people.
I feel, in a word, good. Really good, in fact.
I’m happy for Nina Utne, my beloved stepmom and former boss, because she gets back a chunk of the change she sank into keeping the place afloat for the past 7 years, and she’s no longer burdened with endless fundraising and nail-biting cash flow meetings.
I’m happy for the magazine because it gets to continue sustainably (and hopefully profitably) into the future as a crucial platform for launching ideas into the culture. I think Ogden’s a really good fit and I trust that publisher Bryan Welch will be a good steward of the Utne mission. They also publish Mother Earth News, Natural Home, Herbs for Health, The Herb Companion, and several niche collector magazines. I’m confident that I’ll be able to look with pride for a long time to come on the publication that still bears my family name.
I’m happy for my former coworkers, who got to keep their jobs (well, all but 5 of us), and, according to Ogden, will stay in their very cool workspace in Minneapolis.
And quite honestly, I’m happy for myself. After 8 years at the magazine, I had already been thinking for awhile about making some kind of professional move. My wife, Cilla, has been commuting to Seattle for the past year to attend grad school. Now we’ve decided to spend the coming year out there, living on Bainbridge Island while she finishes up her green MBA. Plus, I get to keep working for Utne as a freelancer, contributing story ideas, writing articles, and producing podcasts.
I’m not sure yet how I’ll be spending most of my time over the coming year, but opportunities have been coming at me from every direction ever since the moment I left the magazine staff. There are some exciting possibilities in the works, which I’ll be sure to update you on here.
Of course I have mixed feelings about the sale. The magazine my father founded, the family business for 23 years, is no longer owned by my family. That makes me sad. And it’s sad that an independent, single-title thought leader (that’s Utne’s category in the advertising world) magazine publishing company cannot be sustainable under a for-profit model in this country. Just about every other one in our category — Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, The Nation, In These Times, The Progressive — has either been sold to a larger company or gone nonprofit.
Like so many other industries, the economics of the magazine business have changed so much in the past 2 decades that small independent publishers are an endangered species.
But all things considered, I’m really happy about how all of this has gone down. And I’m excited to start my new life. To mark the occasion, I even shaved my head. I’ll upload a video of it soon.