"Mike and I have been talking about (a Pitchfork print publication) for a few years," Kaskie said. "We talked about it from a business standpoint, from a statement standpoint: How cool would it be to do this? At the same, how indulgent would it be? But if it added value to Pitchfork and the world of print at the same time? The idea was not to get rich, but not lose money either.
"One of the reasons we didn't do it for a long time, frankly, was because, technically speaking, design-wise we could finally do the things online (that once looked better in print), and we didn't want to detract from that. We also didn't want to equate print with importance. I think we have already fought that battle, and we have awards. (A National Magazine Award for general excellence sat in front of him.) ...The thing was, could we create something that felt unique in the real world, while having articles that might still fit into Pitchfork?"
Kaskie told me that he promised himself he wouldn't use the word "branding" this year, but that's partly what he was talking about, a thoughtful way of keeping the Pitchfork name in front of its readership.
A print edition is also nicely on trend, a kind of unspoken mark of an online publication's success: The website Grantland has been printing smart, hardcover keepsake editions of its favorite articles for a few years; after going digital in 2012, Newsweek recently announced plans for a pricey, regular compendium of its more analytic, lengthier features; and the digital political magazine Politico launched a pair of print magazines last fall.
Which is all a kind of reaction "to the vast everythingness of the digital world," said J.C. Gabel, the former Chicagoan who Pitchfork hired as editor of its new excursion into print. Gabel has made a living as a counterpoint to that online maw: Founder of the now-defunct Chicago-based Stop Smiling magazine and a sometimes book editor for different publishers, he relaunched the Jazz Age literary magazine the Chicagoan in 2011, only to watch its staff and funding dry up (the long-awaited second issue is coming in the spring).
Gabel, who lives in Los Angeles (and will edit Pitchfork Review remotely, working with the company's Chicago and Brooklyn offices), told me he wrote a 5,000-word essay/introduction to the Pitchfork Review that Kaskie and Co. cut to three explanatory paragraphs. Perhaps wisely. He said he wrote a lot about the justification for an online magazine having a print component, though buried in those three paragraphs is a practical, digestible reason: "We love the speed and community of the Internet, but there's so much noise. … We wanted an opportunity to give some pieces a second life, one that won't be lost to Google searches."
Which is a good reason.
Juliet Litman, special-projects editor for Grantland, told me that having a hardcover journal was always part of Grantland's plan "since we do long-form writing here that lends itself to the printed page better."
But it's worth pointing out: Bill Simmons, editor of Grantland, came from the print world. As did Gabel. As did Kaskie, who came to Pitchfork from the Onion satirical newspaper (which recently went completely digital). As did Renaud, a former art director at the Chicago Sun-Times. When I asked him why Pitchfork, bottom line, was venturing into print, he replied quickly, "It's romantic." (He points out the Pitchfork Review will be printed in Chicago by Palmer Printing, a staple of Printers Row.)
Posterity plays into it. Gravitas plays into it. But money, not so much. "You can be successful at this," Gabel said, "but you can't expect a big profit."
Record collectors, Pitchfork readers, culture vultures.
"What people rarely admit is print puts limitations on a user's experience," Renaud said. "But there are still people out there who like that limitation, who like being forced to sit with something and enjoy it and take it in." And that, dear reader, is what we now call a niche.