How did the Tablet brand come about?
Tablet was started in 2009 as an online magazine about Jewish life and culture. Even in the beginning we were dedicated to long form, which was a rarity back then.
Why did you launch the first print edition in December 2015?
There is a certain feeling that specific kinds of content are better absorbed on different platforms. There was a sense when the Web emerged that it could be a platform for any kind of story, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. There are certain kinds of stories that are better encountered on paper.
So what stories are better suited for Web versus print?
Unfortunately there is no simple way to understand it. It’s not that stories under 2,000 words go online and stories over that count go on paper. There are plenty of stories that work online that are 5,000 words. The entire journalism story is figuring out what those kinds of stories are. We definitely felt we knew it when we saw them—they just felt like they were print stories. They needed the privacy of a print experience to be embraced properly. That’s why we decided to start a print magazine.
What’s the early feedback from your launch issue?
It’s a strange situation because we already have this online magazine with a big readership—a million and a half readers, which is big for a small niche like us. We’re already known to our readers, so, as a result, there are certain things they expected. Those that subscribe to our print magazine already know us well and like us and what we produce. The feedback has been great, but the audience is self-selecting.
What types of stories were printed in the first issue?
I decided there would be no excerpts online. I wanted readers to experience the magazine and its weirdness and specificity as a whole organic entity. One piece was written by film director Brett Ratner about growing up in Miami and what Miami Jews are really like. It was a very fun, exciting, and sexy piece. Then we had a piece by Princeton historian Anthony Grafton about [Italian historian] Arnaldo Momigliano. It was about 9,000 words and was a deep and moving meditation on history and how it gets written. Two very different pieces.
The idea is that not everyone is going to read both pieces, but they are there in the magazine to see. Both of those pieces are a vital part of [the magazine’s] mission and we don’t see that as confusing or contradictory. The magazine can do things in the way that the Internet can’t. On the Internet, you read what you want and then go way. You really can’t ignore it when it’s in print. You know it’s there. You have to pass it to get somewhere else.
What was one of the readers’ favorite pieces in the first issue?
There was an illustrated, eight-page spread on the craze in Japanese manga [comics] about Anne Frank. We got the rights to reproduce excerpts from the nine mangas now out there about Anne Frank. And it’s a highly designed piece. We spent a lot of time working with designers Luke Hayman and Shigeto Akiyama at Pentagram and essentially the end result was meant to look like a manga.
Thus far, who are your print subscribers?
My anecdotal sense is that it’s the elite of our readership. The people that read our magazine online are highly educated and this is the top of even that group. We charge so at the moment it also seems to be those economically well off. And it’s skewing young; many subscribers are in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s. We’re dealing with people who are newly married, professionals, highly educated, and mainly in cities.
So there is still a place for print in this online world?
There is. I’m not trying to be Pollyanna about this. There are at this point people who are starting to comprehend that the Internet is one platform for information, but it’s not the only platform.