Conversation: OVERFLOW Magazine

There is a Twitter account called Themediaisdying, which has 20,000 followers, most of whom believe – I think it’s safe to assume – that media is in fact going the way of the dodo, dinosaur, and DeLorean. While nothing to sneeze at, I couldn’t help thinking that the twenty grand they’ve collected in followers is probably a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who still get their news from more “traditional” media outlets. That 20K, however, is only a sample, and a significant one at that, of the growing mass of people who have become disenfranchised with the current state of affairs, media or otherwise, where huge companies are going bankrupt, shutting down, or shedding staff. If this is what’s happening to the big guys, it’s only understandable that the indies as well are having a hard time keeping their heads above water.

With all these goings-on, you might want to call the folks at South Brooklyn-based OVERFLOW Magazine crazy, heroic, or a mixture of both. They have, after all, recently started up a small-scale independent and highly local print venture. Those are scary words for a new business. Take a step back, though, before you write them off as martyrs. In reality, OVERFLOW’s localized, DIY approach to small media might just be the most innovative way to start a magazine in these frighteningly dubious days of new media and profit-loss.

Jonathan Melamed, one of the publishers of OVERFLOW answered a few questions for me. Check out the newest issue here.

In light of all the uncertainty concerning today’s media, it could be argued that it’s exactly not the best time to start a new print magazine. What made you decide otherwise?
We were never worried that just because Conde Nasty has lost a number of publications and has trimmed some fat and stopped sending limos to cart their editors around, that we would somehow never make it. If anything, when the big guys come crashing down, that’s not always a sign of the death of an industry, but it can also mean the need for something different, something fresh. But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll say that we felt that we were pretty safe because we were starting on a smaller, local level.

I suppose the recession does effect the businesses of South Brooklyn and that in turn effects our ad sales and in theory would effect our print output. But we are at a 10,000 copy distribution per issue right now, so we are proud of what we have accomplished thus far in a so called shitty economy. Hopefully we can enjoy further success in this little bubble we have created and eventually expand when things, if they ever, pick up.

How much time and many people are involved in putting together an issue?
OVERFLOW has three publishers: Samuel Carter, Shane Dixon Kavanaugh and me, Jon Melamed. The three of us manage every facet of the production of OVERFLOW from editing, to selling ads, to dealing with the printers to physically distributing the magazine. But that’s all the boring stuff; it’s really about our contributors, the talented photographers, insightful writers and creative art directors who bust their asses to make this a great magazine. We probably have over 30 people contributing to each magazine.

Tell me a little about the distribution process of getting the magazine out.
Oh, sad story. The OVERFLOW mobile, this hoopty Volvo that my father’s neighbor gave to me about a year ago finally died on 6th st. in Park Slope just last week. We used to cruise around South Brooklyn with the drive belt running off kilter, causing a huge racket with the back half of the car sagging under the weight of 15 boxes full of magazines. We basically drive around and park, or double park or maybe get two wheels on the curb and one or two of us jumps out and replenishes our stacks at different businesses. We are pretty well know at the coffee shops and other stores where we leave the magazine, so we rarely have to talk with the owners or managers, just a knowing nod and we are out and onto the next location. It takes about 3 hours on a generally hungover Saturday or Sunday. We also did a little distribution outside of the subway in the morning, but for the most part, new Yorkers are pretty suspicious when you try to hand them unsolicited material. They usually do a double take and if they stop long enough for you to tell them what it is, the reaction is generally positive and people practically snatch it out of our hands.

Has there been a good response from the public about what you are doing?
We have been receiving a great response; people are excited to have a new publication for their neighborhood. A lot of people email us with story pitches, artwork and photography of the neighborhood, which is great; we are really starting to create not only a community of readers but also an outlet for local artists and writers. We encourage submissions and pitches. We’ve also received a couple of negative responses, but it’s mostly from people who are upset that we don’t cover their neighborhood, so that is actually a compliment I guess.

I’m curious about the title, any significance in the term “overflow”?
The idea is that there is an overabundance or an overflow of overeducated and perhaps underutilized people in our neighborhood and in New York in general. It’s essentially a call to all the artists and writers in South Brooklyn to be productive and to get their work out there instead of griping about how hard it is to catch a break in New York.

Do you see the current state of media – especially the proliferation of such varied and often incompatible forms – as a good thing for OVERFLOW?
With the rise of blogs and the increasing troubles of traditional media outlets, it’s tempting to write off print media. Although it’s great that everybody can have a voice on the Internet, the truth is that there is a huge difference between blogging and journalism and I worry that those lines are getting blurred. We are breeding a generation of seriously unfocused and over-stimulated and over-saturated readers because of these sites. It’s great to get a wealth of information, but to digest all that info in about a half hour of clicking through multiple blogs is insanity.

We’d like to think that print media could survive. In fact, what we’re trying to do with OVERFLOW is to go back to the origins of print journalism – to target discrete communities in a specific geographic area about local concerns.

When you sit down with a print magazine, you take the time to read the article and appreciate the photography, and it’s also something that you can keep and revisit. Our writers take the time to write in an entertaining manner about subjects they have spent time researching and experiencing first hand. It’s less fleeting, less disposable. That’s not to say that there is not good stuff out there on the Internet or other great magazines with great content. But on a purely functional level, it’s just a lot more complicated to bring a laptop into the bathroom with you than it is a print magazine, right?

Your focus is on the specific area of South Brooklyn. Any plans to move northward?
For now, this is where we are at. Of course we have grandiose plans of expansion, you know taking over the free publication world and putting Vice out of business, but for now we are going to take it easy in South Brooklyn. Hopefully we can get some hype going in a contained area and move onwards and upwards from there.

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