Blurt Magazine Publisher Scott Crawford Defies Trends By Going From Pixel to Print

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Scott Crawford recently did something audacious: Amid a major magazine industry contraction set off by declining print readership and a precipitous drop in advertising revenues, Crawford decided to turn his nascent online music magazine, Blurt, into a print publication.

That is not a typo: P-R-I-N-T.

Did Crawford -- who launched Blurt out of his home in Silver Spring -- miss the memo announcing that the medium is in critical condition?

"I don't think that ever landed in my box," he says with a laugh. "Who told you that?"

A funny thing happened on the way to what Gawker has dubbed the "great magazine die-off," a publishing plague whose victims included Crawford's previous music magazine, Harp (2001-2008): He managed to get a new national glossy about indie rock, alternative country and other strands of popular -- and, especially, semi-popular -- music onto newsstands.

After nine months of an exclusively digital existence at http://Blurt-online.com, the magazine made its print debut with 30,000 copies in late March. Six musicians, including rocker Bob Mould and folk singer Marissa Nadler, peered out from the cover -- and advertisers (mostly from the music biz) filled 40 of the issue's 108 pages. In many ways, it's a reincarnation of Harp.

Noise-rock icons Sonic Youth are already booked for the next cover of the quarterly magazine, whose name is a reference to "Let It Blurt," a song by Lester Bangs, the late, legendary rock critic who, Crawford notes, "spent his career searching for the truth in art and culture."

Truth might prove easier to find than a workable business model, given the current market conditions in the publishing world. Two days after Blurt reached the racks, Alpha Media Group said it was publishing the final print edition of the pop-oriented magazine Blender. The following week, the plug was pulled on men's magazine King, adding yet another victim to the ever-lengthening list of recently perished lifestyle titles.

The list already included one of Crawford's own: A year ago, the partners at Guthrie Inc. killed off Harp, which Crawford had launched out of his basement in 2001. Guthrie, which continues to publish JazzTimes, said Harp wasn't making enough money.

"I can't help but think back to when I launched Harp," Crawford says. "The week it hit the stands, 9/11 happened and the economy was a complete mess. It was a scary time, but we had a great run for seven years.

"We'll see how each issue goes with Blurt. But people have been saying print's dead since 2001. We're certainly seeing more and more evidence of it now, but I'm fairly confident. I'm being very conservative in terms of expectations and overhead; we're just keeping it lean and mean. . . . We're doing the magazine virtually, with people throughout the country. The only overhead is our respective homes and apartments."

Crawford, 37, made what he calls a "substantial personal investment" in Blurt and received "a moderate sum" from a small group of backers -- including the magazine's associate editor, Andy Tennille, and Steven Lorber, owner of Metro Music, a Silver Spring-based mail-order company. The venture isn't profitable yet. "But 2009 is looking very, very healthy," Crawford says.


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