Michael Taber hasn’t received a paycheck in nearly three years.
By raiding his personal savings to supplement advertising revenue, the 37-year-old editor and publisher of the Oklahoma City-based arts publication NONzine has managed to squeak by, assembling just enough money to pay for press runs and reimburse a few delivery drivers for their gas expenses.
Only a historic ice storm, which ravaged the state in December last year, kept NONzine from being regularly stacked on metro racks twice monthly.
Faced with a staggering debt brought on by increasing ink and paper costs, the independent arts and entertainment publication has ceased printing and become an Internet-only entity, spurring a relief felt by its two founders and regret they share with their readers.
Balancing a steaming mug and an iPhone, NONzine’s final issue clutched under his arm while walking out of the Red Cup last week, freelance Web designer Eric Jones said he came to rely on the publication for an escape.
“It wasn’t a great publication, at least, not in the way you’d judge other newspapers and magazines,” said Jones, 31. “But it was always unexpected and entertaining ” funny and strange in a way that you see less and less of these days.”
Both Taber and co-founder Adrian Fallwell describe NONzine’s readers as “weird” ” a demographic they purposely pursued by publishing edgy local art, original fiction, music reviews and commentary on sports, politics and culture, articles penned by an assortment of local contributors and personalities.
But while weird might attract allegiance among devoted readers, Taber said it’s a harder concept to sell to advertisers, especially when pushing the envelope with edgy articles means pushing the public’s buttons.
“One of the problems is attracting that corporate dollar,” he said. “More than ever, they are careful about what art they sponsor at any given time.”
Taber and Fallwell met in Norman during the mid-1990s, a time when Taber served as editor of the non-capitalized doublethink, an often controversial, monthly publication he described as a “practice run” for NONzine. Fallwell eventually became a contributor to doublethink, which Taber said ceased regular publication in 2000.
The first issue of NONzine came in February 2006 and weighed in at 16 pages, Taber said. Recent copies of the publication averaged between 24 and 32 pages, he said. The page count swelled to 48 for a September 2006 issue, which featured cover art and illustrations created by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. The 6,000 copies of that issue, which advanced the Lips’ renowned show at the Oklahoma City Zoo Amphitheatre, was quickly snatched off metro racks by collectors and Lips fans. It was a high point for NONzine, Taber said.
But Taber said printing costs combined with NONzine’s lackluster record for attracting quality ad-sales staffers, and soon the publication became increasingly burdened by debt. The publication started the year roughly $15,000 in the red, and by April 2008, Taber said he knew the end was on the horizon.
Each confess nearly no interest in the day-to-day operations of any business and the networking, glad-handing and appointment-keeping required of any company owner, but NONzine’s founders managed to weave a complicated relationship with the publication over the years.
On any given week, Taber and Fallwell took turns writing and contributing to NONzine, meeting with advertisers, pitching potential sponsors and paginating each issue on top of updating a Web site, where the pair worked to provide extra content through videos and regular podcasts. Fallwell even worked as a delivery driver, which, as the only paying gig at NONzine, occasionally afforded him a few hundred dollars in compensation a month. Ensnaring their lives professionally, financially and personally, both describe the publication as an all-consuming project they are too stubborn to abandon. Adding to the stress were family issues, including the death of Taber’s mom, which he learned about just seconds after uploading a NONzine issue to the printer’s Internet server.
“It was a tough year for a lot of us,” Taber said. “We kept thinking, ‘If we just get the paper out there, if we just stick around, then someone will step up and help us keep NONzine going.’ I’m an optimist. I kept thinking a sugar daddy would drop out of the sky to save us, but we’re too weird ” and no one cares.”
The two founders lament the end of their paper days. “Something to swat flies with,” is how Taber described the inherent accessibility and appealing quality of a physical product.
Despite its print demise, NONzine will remain a real thing, thanks to a new Web effort launched today at http://www.nonzine.com. Taber and Fallwell are both excited at the possibilities of Internet publishing and are eager to funnel the metro’s myriad strange ideas to digital life with interactive content, animation and videos.
“In the end, we may have more fun,” Taber said about the publication’s new direction. “I’m looking forward to it. If I were a businessman, I’d be a businessman, but NONzine is what I do as an artist … it’s my little art project.” “Joe Wertz