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And, Lo, There Were Two Tablets

Introducing our new magazine. On paper.

Alana Newhouse
September 08, 2015

Some very exciting news for a new year: Later this fall, Tablet will be launching a print magazine—a beautifully designed, thought-provoking mix of reporting, essays, fiction and more. All of the content in the print magazine will be exclusive to subscribers; it won’t come from the web, or end up there afterward. The two Tablets will be like siblings: though obviously from the same family, each will be its own entity.

So, why are we doing this?

When we were starting Tablet almost seven years ago, I took a meeting with a hotshot marketing guru who shall remain nameless, mainly because I’ve forgotten his name. The first half-hour consisted of him telling me about all of his important clients and how he met the person we knew in common on a flight to Europe, during which they both asked their First Class stewardess for Perrier without ice blah blah. I wanted to pull out my eyelashes one at a time. The last half-hour he actually decided to work, which included asking a series of questions designed to get me to describe our hoped-for audience.

“Are they young Jews?”
“Sure,” I said. “But also older ones.”
“I guess so, but also not. I don’t even really know what that word means. Anyway, I’m hoping for all kinds.”
“OK, so where do they live? In urban areas mostly?”
“Yeah, I suppose, but I also want Jews in the suburbs, in college towns, expats in Europe. And that Jew we all know is living somewhere in Montana because that’s where he got tenure. Also, non-Jews, not least because a bunch of them are related to Jews.”
“Are they rich? Middle class?”
“I mean: yes. And yes. Also people who are not.”
“Alana, stop. Who is this for? Who needs this?”

He left in a huff.

When I relayed the story to my then-new staffers, one raised her hand. “I’d never put this on any marketing material because it sounds gross, but I guess I think we’re for …. curious Jews. It’s not a demographic group; it’s a personality.”

That was exactly it. Some Jews just aren’t curious, either about their own Jewishness or anyone else’s—a feature often attributed to the vaunted “unaffiliated” but which just as easily describes plenty of Orthodox and traditional people for whom Jewishness is simply the wallpaper of their life. These people don’t want to read articles about Jewish history or politics or culture; they don’t find it remotely moving or titillating or fun. But then there are people for whom this sort of thing IS alluring—and useful—and they stretch across all demographic lines. They’re just people (Jews, liberal Jews, conservative Jews, religious Jews, atheist Jews, half-Jews, former Jews, Jewish wannabes, non-Jews who like Jews, I could go on forever) who, regardless of their politics or ethnicity or religious level or how much money they do or don’t have or where they’re from or not from, are searching and interested and curious about their history and identity and how it functions in the world.

The web turned out to be the perfect platform for this new American Jewish conversation. In the traditional format of a print magazine, the structure mirrors a meal: front-of-the-book is the appetizer; the well is the entree; the back-of-the-book is the dessert. But American Jews have become increasingly diverse—almost granularly so. For some, culture is the entree, politics the starter and religion the nice piece of cake on the way out; for others, religion is the app, politics the main, and culture the dessert. By presenting people with stories of equal weights on all topics, what Tablet does each morning is set out a table of dishes and then lets readers organize meals for themselves.

And yet, six years in, something new has started to gnaw at us: A buffet, by definition, is your own, but it’s never the best whole meal you’ve ever had—an experience that requires someone else conceiving of and serving you something. The more we started talking to readers about this, the more we realized that they were reconsidering (consciously or not) their relationship to print—and we started to sense that, contrary to conventional wisdom, this might even be especially true of younger readers.

We share this hunch with our print magazine’s new publisher, Jack Kliger, the former CEO of Hachette Fillipachi—whose passion for Jewish life is surpassed only by his reputation as one of the most experienced executives in the magazine industry. As if that weren’t luck enough, we’ll also be working with Pentagram’s Luke Hayman, who will be spearheading the design. While the publication will accept advertising, our business model relies on newsstand sales and subscriptions for the bulk of our revenues. The initial cost is $40 for the inaugural issue (available in time for Hanukkah) and 5 issues in 2016; if all goes well—famous last words for Jews—increased frequency in 2017. To subscribe, for yourself or a gift, see here.

As I should have expected, I’m again being asked questions I can’t manage to answer to anyone’s satisfaction: Who is this for? Isn’t the written word dead?

Frankly, I haven’t a clue. What I do know is that in the Jewish story, God—who presumably could’ve had human brains come loaded with the Ten Commandments, like iOS on your phone—chose instead to write them down, on something that could be seen and felt and held. Given how long those have endured, it seemed prudent to wonder: Maybe there’s something to that idea.

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.