Dec 02 2009

Oh, ReadyMade, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Published by at 10:52 pm under journalism,lifestyle design

I used to love it, but I won’t be buying anyone else a gift subscription to ReadyMade Magazine.  And, frankly, they can keep the rest of my subscription as well.  No reason to send it to me anymore.

I have been a big advocate for ReadyMade.  It’s a DIY-ers dream mag – they run a series called the “MacGuyver Challenge” where they assign their readers some old piece of junk (analog antennae, or film canisters, or VHS tapes), and ask them to create something amazing.  Readers always come up with cool projects.

It was created as a magazine dedicated to the idea of repurposing.  Using stuff as other stuff.  Shoshana Berger and her crazy team of banditos ran an article about how this guy worked from Ikea instead of working from home.  He went there every day for a month and worked in the home office area.  All of the employees knew him, and thought it was awesome.  I mean, this was my kind of magazine.

But, something has changed.

Oh, I’m not talking about their revamp a couple of years ago, when they started adding a section at the front – before the meaty projects – that showcased cool things to buy (cheekily titled “Product Placement”).  Not awesome, but the projects and the sensibility were still solid.

No, I’m talking about the latest issue – Issue #44.  It just arrived.  I read it the first day (as always), and kept flipping back to the front cover to make sure I wasn’t reading crappy Better Homes and Gardens or some such nonsense.

Here is a complete list of the paltry, crappy projects in their “Happy Holidays” issue:

-Holiday cards using block print: I think I did this with a potato when I was five.  Oh wait, they disclaim this project, stating “even a kid can do” them.  Thanks, I really love craft projects designed for people with ages in the single digits.  Maybe they could write up a project of practicing writing your name.

-Spiced Apple Toddy recipe: OK, they started bringing food stuff in over a year ago, but at least it was how to make your own pickles or something cool, interesting, and fun.  This is a drink.  C’mon.

-Reuse flannel shirts for wrapping paper: This looks good in the photos, but seriously?  Who has a pile of old flannels laying around from the mid 90s?  And do you know how hard – and pointless – it is to try to get fabric glued together?  Plus, no satisfying tearing sound when you open it – just a sad pile of saggy cloth.  Depressing.

-Overhead lighting fixture made of three coffee cans: this one does not even merit a snarky remark.  Honestly, just looking at the picture makes me want to cry.

Then we get to “The Projects” – these are typically the most serious things to make in each issue.  Here they are:

-How to use turkey leftovers.

-How to make hard candies.

-How to make three different types of cookies.

-Make a wreath out of buttons.  The project is, literally, 1) get foam wreath core, 2) glue on buttons, 3) spray paint the whole mess white, 4) tie a fabric strap on so you can hang it.

-Make a menorah out of disposable water bottles.  One word: classy.

-Personalize wine bottles by ripping off the labels, and spray painting stenciled letters over the glass.

-Make your own almond liqueur.

-Make flag football ‘flags’, then play a game of flag football with your family (I am not making this up).

Finally, there’s a lame section where some projects are mixed in with more stuff to buy.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m listing them also.

-Make chocolate lollipops

-Make a bath bomb

-Make a terrarium out of a glass jar, some sand, and small plants

There’s no point in making snide comments about the second half of this list, because it so sad and tragic that I would just be rubbing salt in wounds.  Suffice it to say these stealth changes have killed the heart and soul of ReadyMade.

After rubbing my eyes in disbelief one more time, trying to understand what I was reading, I noticed the editor’s letter – NOT from Shoshana Berger, the founder of the magazine, but instead from Andrew Wagner.  NOT with a ReadyMade email address, but an email from their parent company, Meredith Publications.

My fear was confirmed by Berger’s LinkedIn profile, which marks January 2009 as the end of her tenure as Editor-in-Chief for ReadyMade.

I believe that good ideas and good communities can live on without a founding visionary.  But, there has to be some legacy planning, and a group of people that “get it.”  Obviously, that’s not the case with ReadyMade.

Sorry, Shoshana, and I hope you are on to bigger and better things.

11 responses so far

  • http://www.deanrivet.com/ dean

    I guess I *won't* be mentioning my idea for making a chandelier out of LEDs and empty 2-liter bottles in the shape of a caffeine molecule… ! :)

  • http://www.deanrivet.com/ dean

    I guess I *won't* be mentioning my idea for making a chandelier out of LEDs and empty 2-liter bottles in the shape of a caffeine molecule… ! :)

  • http://irunyourun.wordpress.com/ Carla

    Though I never heard of ReadyMade before (but it sounded totally cool on your first few paragraphs), the way you described it now sounds more like a Sara Lee Semi-homemade Magazine (a blog I read always makes fun of that). Horrible.

  • http://readymade.com/ Andrew Wagner

    Jamie,

    Thanks for taking the time to post and write me personally. Though we're always disappointed when a reader is unsatisfied we sincerely appreciate ALL feedback.

    In your note to me one of your complaints was that the issue is “all about buying stuff.” In that regard, I wanted to give you a bit of our philosophy and obviously you can take it or leave it.

    We are always striving to strike a balance between supporting makers and their work (stuff you can buy) and providing projects for makers to take on themselves. We are dedicated to those who dedicate their lives to making (stuff you can buy) and enabling and encouraging others to follow similar paths in whatever way they see fit. Therefore, our gift guide this year (which I assume you’re referencing) was dedicated to all those people in the world who make their living making; who are DIY'ers to the core. Anytime we highlight a “product” with a suggestion to buy it is with the intent of strengthening the making community and/or giving our readers the back-story of how something actually came into existence. The “making” of something. This knowledge is just as important to us as the project. This knowledge, forgive the cliche, is power.

    In regard to you disliking all the projects what can I say? Did you have a chance to look at issue 43 where projects consisted of things like building a house out of discarded shipping pallets or building a band-shell out of a backyard shed? I know some of our readers thought these projects were just too difficult but again, we're always striving to strike a balance between things that are simple (how to make a hot toddy for instance) and things that probably most of us will never do but are incredibly inspirational (building a bed in a box for example). We hope over the course of a year this all balances itself out for most of our readers and that it becomes clear that what is important is not the scope or difficulty of the project but how each project is approached and in the end, how life is approached. ReadyMade is about taking a DIY approach to everything we do—be that starting a business, making dinner, or building a coffee table out of recycled mufflers—and doing it in a socially and environmentally conscious manner.

    Concerning your assertion that there is no legacy behind the new ReadyMade team and that we don’t “get it” I would simply have to respectfully disagree. I sincerely hope that our future issues are more to your liking and if not would love to hear your thoughts. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly. Thanks again for taking the time to write.

    - Andrew Wagner
    editor in chief

  • Ethan F

    I'm all for hearty debate and for challenging the status quo, but I don't see anything constructive in this bilious screed. I would venture that in the time it took to write this post you could have submitted a sufficiently badass and sophisticated project idea to the magazine for consideration. Personally I found the new issue to be inspiring, clever, and fun. Heard of that? It's usually what happens after a few hot toddies. . .

  • http://www.jamiebeckland.com Jamie Beckland

    Andrew,

    Thanks for taking the time to reach out. It shows great concern to care for the community that the magazine has created that you would write back to one single subscriber.

    But I take issue with your characterization of The Projects section as an appropriate place to celebrate the people that do the making. There are several sections of the magazine that are dedicated to that endeavor already. The Ten Spot is one. The features are another (almost exclusively, these are maker profiles).

    The Projects section is supposed to be about, well, projects. Projects that you can make, with instructions on how to do so, and a difficulty chart. And a list of tools. You know: projects!

    I have every issue of ReadyMade, starting from #1. Over time, fewer and fewer pages of the magazine are dedicated to the actual projects. Featured articles, “How'd You Get That…Job”, music reviews (for a time), buying guides, the Ten Spot, design book reviews, and much more has all encroached on the reason that this magazine was so interesting and refreshing to begin with, which is those inspirational and aspirational projects.

    So, when you pull the project out of the section called The Projects, it's really a culmination of a perilous trend I have been watching in this magazine for some time.

    If you want to be a broader lifestyle magazine that's about “how life is approached,” well, that's a business decision I guess. I have noticed you've been able to sign much larger advertisers like Chevy and Martha Stewart, so maybe that's working.

    But, it's a dangerous row to hoe, as you run the risk of watering down and diluting the brand that has been built over the last eight years. And, you'll lose the people that helped build it.

  • http://www.jamiebeckland.com Jamie Beckland

    Ethan,

    I wasn't trying to debate. Instead, I was trying to present my point of view, which is: ReadyMade has always been about showing people how to do amazing projects. But, now that's changed.

    I used the examples that I saw in front of me. They made me sad, angry and disappointed, because I hope for and expect more from a magazine that I have come to cherish.

    If that's not constructive, I don't know what is. Remember, it's the people that love you the most that will tell you the hardest things to hear.

  • http://www.jamiebeckland.com Jamie Beckland

    Keep it to yourself! Some ideas are too good to share :)

  • http://readymade.com/ Andrew Wagner

    Jamie,

    Thanks for writing back here…and honestly, I really do appreciate hearing from everyone whether they like what we've been doing or not. It is incredibly helpful as we move forward. It seems like we are differing on what we consider a project. Every piece of the project section is a project – with directions etc. Again, you may not have liked the projects in the latest issue (“too many recipes”) but every bit of it was dedicated to projects. Yes, they may have been more lighthearted (flag football etc.) but that was intentional – it's the holidays, people often want quick and simple things that might help them make this time of year a little less stressful etc. Again, I would point to our Oct/Nov issue as proof that we hold more intensive projects near and dear to our heart as well as the quick and easier. That project section was chock full of things that could keep you busy for months. Anyhow, projects are always part of (nearly) every story. Even when we do a more “lifestyle” type story we almost always include a project take-away from it (for instance, the Denyse Schmidt feature in the new issue includes a take-away on quilting – you may not want to make a quilt but that is valuable information from an incredible maker. The “Back to the Futurists” story is essentially a complete project. Yes, it is quite an undertaking and probably more inspirational but again, it is a project in and of itself).

    Ideally, what we want to do is, as I said before, tell a story and present a project – two in one. The thinking there is that if it is a project you are not necessarily interested in (making a quilt perhaps) we at least hope you will be interested in Denyse's story. On the other hand, perhaps you don't care about a quilter in Connecticut but you would like to make a quilt. Well, there you go. Yes, I agree that this balance is a difficult task and we don't always succeed but when we get it right on, this is an approach that I truly believe makes an incredible magazine. And, as I said before, I hope future issues will convince you of the same thing.

    One last thing in regard to “too many recipes.” We really view food as the ultimate DIY project. Something that hopefully everyone can take part in. Something that is a part of everyone's life in one way or another and hopefully they can take control of and show real pride in. We believe in food. You may not be interested in food but it will be represented in the magazine – alongside all of our other projects. Anyhow, thanks for caring about the magazine. It is really appreciated and I always love discussing it – it's what makes ReadyMade such an amazing thing to have the opportunity to work on…

  • http://www.jamiebeckland.com Jamie Beckland

    Keep it to yourself! Some ideas are too good to share :)

  • http://readymade.com/ Andrew Wagner

    Jamie,

    Thanks for writing back here…and honestly, I really do appreciate hearing from everyone whether they like what we've been doing or not. It is incredibly helpful as we move forward. It seems like we are differing on what we consider a project. Every piece of the project section is a project – with directions etc. Again, you may not have liked the projects in the latest issue (“too many recipes”) but every bit of it was dedicated to projects. Yes, they may have been more lighthearted (flag football etc.) but that was intentional – it's the holidays, people often want quick and simple things that might help them make this time of year a little less stressful etc. Again, I would point to our Oct/Nov issue as proof that we hold more intensive projects near and dear to our heart as well as the quick and easier. That project section was chock full of things that could keep you busy for months. Anyhow, projects are always part of (nearly) every story. Even when we do a more “lifestyle” type story we almost always include a project take-away from it (for instance, the Denyse Schmidt feature in the new issue includes a take-away on quilting – you may not want to make a quilt but that is valuable information from an incredible maker. The “Back to the Futurists” story is essentially a complete project. Yes, it is quite an undertaking and probably more inspirational but again, it is a project in and of itself).

    Ideally, what we want to do is, as I said before, tell a story and present a project – two in one. The thinking there is that if it is a project you are not necessarily interested in (making a quilt perhaps) we at least hope you will be interested in Denyse's story. On the other hand, perhaps you don't care about a quilter in Connecticut but you would like to make a quilt. Well, there you go. Yes, I agree that this balance is a difficult task and we don't always succeed but when we get it right on, this is an approach that I truly believe makes an incredible magazine. And, as I said before, I hope future issues will convince you of the same thing.

    One last thing in regard to “too many recipes.” We really view food as the ultimate DIY project. Something that hopefully everyone can take part in. Something that is a part of everyone's life in one way or another and hopefully they can take control of and show real pride in. We believe in food. You may not be interested in food but it will be represented in the magazine – alongside all of our other projects. Anyhow, thanks for caring about the magazine. It is really appreciated and I always love discussing it – it's what makes ReadyMade such an amazing thing to have the opportunity to work on…