Long live print? Two new arts and culture mags hit Philly this year

The backers of Root Quarterly and Dosage are investing in glossies.

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Courtesy Root Quarterly and Dosage
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Print is dead. Long live print.

So goes the slogan for one of Philadelphia’s two new magazines whose glossy covers will be vying to pull your eyes away from your phone this year. Root Quarterly‘s first issue dropped this spring — a high-production arts and culture affair with fiction, poetry and essays.

The other pub, stylized as dosage MAGAZINE, plans to chronicle Philly lifestyle and culture. It will release its first quarterly volume later this year, its editor and publisher told Billy Penn.

While vastly different in editorial vision, both magazines come from leaders who cite two governing impulses behind their emergence despite a shaky media landscape: (1) pride for the city, and (2) a return to the tangible in an increasingly all-digital age.

Philadelphia is no stranger to bucking print’s doomsday prophecy. Despite onslaughts to the media and publishing industries, the city’s literary ecology continues to counter its losses. Just recently, there has been a successful petition to preserve Penn Book Center; three — one, two, three — new indie bookstores setting up shop; and Blue Stoop, the burgeoning literary hub that’s on the hunt for a brick-and-mortar home.

Also, the region maintains a legion of niche publications — from the self-published Philadelphia Secret Admirer to topical journals like environmental-focused Grid to more than a dozen literary magazines, many connected to area colleges and universities.

You can now add these two newcomers to the list.

A New Yorker for Philly?

Root Quarterly pulls inspiration from higher-brow general interest magazines like Harper’s, the Atlantic, California Sunday Magazine and the London-based Riposte.

“There is no reason why Philadelphia can’t have it’s own New Yorker-style magazine that is eclectic but also a cohesive whole,” Heather Shayne Blakeslee, Root Quarterly’s editor-in-chief, wrote in an email.

Does that mean features with phrases like “in the age of Trump”? Yes and no. Blakeslee says the content will be more localized — the first issue has a profile on Philly sculptor Darla Jackson and a rave review of South jazz club on North Broad — but Root will weigh in on national issues as well. “Philadelphia should be in that discourse,” said Blakeslee, who was previously editor-in-chief of Grid.

The first issue contains an essay on a 70-year-old woman’s journey through chronic pain into the age of medical marijuana. There’s also a political analysis entitled “No, Liberal Lefties Are Not Right-Wing.”

Despite its higher-brow influences, Blakeslee wants writing that will tackle public discourse she describes as having become too splintered, judgmental and noisy.

“I would like to produce a magazine that, if one of my friends from high school who still lives in Bloomsburg [Pa.] read it, they wouldn’t feel they’re being denigrated or made fun of,” she said.

Each issue will follow a specific theme, and designed to be an objet d’art people would collect and leave out on their coffee table.

“We’re doing this magazine for Gen Xers and boomers who we know still love print,” Blakeslee added. “I think the millennials will come along, too. We want this to be intergenerational.”

For now, the masthead includes a range of unpaid assistant editors. Root is committed to paying writers and designers who make the product, with the goal of getting part-time editorial staff on payroll within a few years.

Much like restaurants, print projects can often cobble the startup scratch to get off the ground, but long-term sustainability is harder. It can cost $10,000 to $25,000 or more to publish a single run.

Root launched its first issue with the support of Cultureworks — and nearly 100 readers have already signed up for an annual subscription. Blakeslee said she’s committed enough to subsidize the magazine through her two day jobs.

Where can you find RQ? The distribution model is still in the works, but expect it soon in indie bookstores, theaters and art galleries along commercial corridors from East Passyunk to Germantown to Frankford Aves.

A different dose of Philly culture

A bit further from fruition, Germantown native Allan Lane’s new print project called dosage MAGAZINE will drop its first quarterly issue later this year.

Lane said that while he respects their work, he wants to do more than Philadelphia magazine and Philly Style Magazine do to represent the city’s culture. The publisher and editor described an ambitious editorial vision:

dosage MAGAZINE explores, discovers, listens, looks, wears, and consumes the city’s elements with a unique voice that focuses on culture, for the culture, and by the culture,” he wrote in an email. “dosage MAGAZINE is the prescription to remind us and the rest of the world just how ‘ill’ Philadelphia is.”

How Lane will cover that ground in a city of 1.5 million people is unclear. But you can already get a taste.

Despite the all-caps emphasis on “magazine,” dosage currently has an online presence with semi-regular content, including Spotify list recommendations and reviews of new experimental art projects.

Lane, who described himself as a motor journalist, says the website provides bites into everything that falls under the broad umbrella of culture, all filed under verticals like “wear,” “look,” “listen,” “consume” and “explore.”

The magazine will publish in-depth exclusives for the print project. Similar to Root, he says he’s investing in high-quality production to make the magazine a collector’s item — something that would appeal to an outside audience who wanted to look in at Philly.

“When I travel, I enjoy regional magazines in my hotel room,” Lane said. “I look for how they represent their city and culture.”

For now, Lane said his new project is being financed through his company, HKME, aka Hard Knocks Motorcycle Entertainment, which he said publishes other niche titles (SportBikes Inc Magazine is one). He will be throwing a series of lifestyle events toward the end of the summer to promote a fall release of dosage.

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Arts, Media