When does a publication become awful?

Esquire When do you decide to unsubscribe from a magazine or a newspaper?

What are the conditions that need to be met for one to pick up the phone (or the mouse), call the circulation department and say in the most sour tone possible: “Listen, your publication has become about as useful to me as ribbed toilet paper. What I’d like you to do is to stop my subscription and add ‘we are editorially impotent’ to the list of reasons. Oh, and tell the editor that if he/she is supposed to be a visionary, they’d better use that talent to creating an in-house newsletter rather than content leaving the building.”

Seriously now. We subscribe to a lot of stuff: The Washington Post, the Sunday New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s and Esquire. None of those has made me think of quitting them as much as Esquire has.

I believe that dropping your subscription is an act of conscience. When you can get most magazine titles under $25 a year, it’s certainly not a financial stand. There is defiance in the act of cancelling a subscription, so much that you feel the need to let the publication know it has dissapointed you.

I used to take Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone back in Missouri and after two years decided not to renew. It wasn’t money — I was taking a stand against crap. Some might ask why the hell it took me so long to realize that news magazines don’t provide content anymore?

I took so long because I needed to make what I feel is an important decision. Does either Time, Newsweek or Rolling Stone have the capacity to surprise me? Despite all the crap they print, is there a possibility that once every couple of issues there will be an amazing story that was worth the investment of time (again, this is about time as money rather than money per se)? And there wasn’t. I did not feel that possibility existed. The frequency of pleasant suprises was so low, it became a chore to flip through the pages.

Esquire is now under similar review. Their last four issues were packed with Bill Clinton-loving crap, a series of Maxim-like tips and tricks to ged laid, a slew of quick reads crammed in the front of the book, silly celebrity profiles and a host of average stories I can find in other magazines. It’s obvious I’m not the only one thinking these thoughts as the magazine has printed letters from a fair number of readers saying more or less: “you are starting to suck. I’m cancelling my subscription!”

Esquire doesn’t start from the low rating Time or Newsweek had so the likelihood of me dropping this subscription before it ends in late summer is small. But the review I’m putting Esquire under begs the question: How do you know when a magazine or a newspaper has stopped satisfying your reading needs? How do you know when to quit them?

* You can also read an account of my first six months as a subscriber of the Washinton Post here.

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