A death in the family

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, August 24, 2014

Carstens Publishing this past week announced it was ceasing publication of its magazines, which include Railfan & Railroad and Railroad Model Craftsman, and putting the titles up for sale. I was saddened by the news, but not surprised. The magazine business has been challenged (to put it mildly) the past 15 years by economic events in general and the internet in particular. More than ever, you either have to have a unique product (I like to think that Trains Magazine is such) or be top dog in the field in terms of circulation (Model Railroader Magazine) to make it in publishing. These two Carstens magazines were neither, alas.

But they hung in there, holding on by the devotion of their staffs and the commitment of publisher Hal Carstens. When Carstens died in 2009, I sensed it was the beginning of the end, which it was. Chris Lane, editor of another Carstens publication, revealed in a widely distributed email this weekend that the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and then Hurricane Sandy dealt blows to this company (headquartered in New Jersey) from which it never recovered. How bad was it? For years its printer demanded a check before starting the presses.

Almost all of my professional life I’ve worked for what you might call underdogs. One was the smaller morning newspaper in Chicago, another the third-largest newsmagazine, and finally a personal-finance magazine that is a good as they come but always overshadowed by Big Foot (Money Magazine). So I’ve learned a few things about survival, making do on less, and yes, having fun while swimming to stay afloat professionally. I got the feeling, reading R&R and RMC, that those folks were having fun, too.

So tonight I rise to toast the men and women of Carstens Publications. They didn’t quit; the sand simply ran out of their hourglass. — Fred W. Frailey  

Tags: railfan
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