The Road to the Rustbelt Almanac
Proudly made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…
A fresh new copy of Rustbelt Almanac just arrived on my desk, the pages crisp, clean and full of goodness about all makers, doers and dreamers. This, the first issue by producers Noah Purdy and Michael Artman is being passed around and poured over by all of us here at Go Media. Just great stuff.
We’re proud, too. Rustbelt recently interviewed our very own Jeff Finley about this year’s Weapons of Mass Creation Fest.
We recently had a chance to talk to Rustbelt Almanac about their recent issue, their road to copy, why they believe print is alive and well and the vast sprawling rusty region that they call home.
Photographer Noah Purdy and Graphic Designer Michael Artman were young creatives whose lives collided in Twitterspace in the fall of 2012. Hitting it off immediately, they quickly discovered they had much in common. States Artman, “We’ve got family in the same small town outside of Pittsburgh, we had been to a number of the same local music events – and more importantly, we both knew that a little hard work goes a long way. As a photographer and a designer looking at a pretty uninviting job market, it seemed almost natural to just start doing something fun. You wonder ‘if I’m not going to make much money, wouldn’t I be better off making no money doing something I’m really passionate about?’”
One crazy idea turned into another and soon, Purdy and Artman’s brilliant plan unfolded: The Rustbelt Almanac, a quarterly magazine about the industrious people of their region. A nod to America’s sprawling Rust Belt, an area stretching from the Northeast across the Midwest, and into parts of the Upper South, is inherent not only in the title, but also the theme of their publication. Artman characterizes their community by its work ethic: industrious people who “value hard work and aren’t afraid to take risks to do the things they love to do.”
But where to start? The two immediately began brainstorming about what and whom to feature in their first issue. ” There are so many great things going on in the region that it was admittedly hard to decide on what to feature in our inaugural pages.”
Enter Brandon Rike. “We took trip to Columbus, Ohio in January – a particularly cold day in January with wind chills below zero. Brandon Rike was kind enough to bring us in out of the cold and tell us his story over some nice warm lattes. He was the second person we interviewed, and the timing couldn’t have been better. That guy is one of the most passionate artists we’ve ever met. The amount of work he gets done in a single day is impressive, and his drive certainly kept us inspired in the coming months.”
They also found Pittsburgh based company Fiks:Reflective, who manufactures passive safety gear for cyclists, and does so with style. The rest fell in line reports Artman, “We’ve got grocery store owners, musicians, photographers, and even folks who recently opened a new brewery. So yeah, there really is something for everyone in the first issue. These are people that value hard work and aren’t afraid to take risks to do the things they love to do. These are stories that resonate with anyone, and they are stories that need to be shared.”
These industrious makers from their community whom they featured not only gave them great content, but wonderful support as well. This backing from the community, as well as from family, friends and artists all over the country, who came together to fully fund Rustbelt Almanac through Kickstarter, was huge, stresses Artman. “We think folks in the community are just excited to see us out there shining the spotlight on people who deserve recognition for their hard work. So in that regard, we’ve been blessed and have avoided a lot of stress. Relatively speaking, the ride has been a lot smoother than it really should have been. ”
A spotlight on the Rust Belt region is due too, because of the opportunity it gave Artman and Purdy. Compared to bigger cities – New York, L.A., Altman feels “the opportunities that await driven individuals is unparalleled. So many media outlets focus on the dilapidation, but what we really have is opportunity. If you can rent some studio space in an empty warehouse or renovate an old storefront for the fraction of what it would cost in say, New York City – you’ve got that much more money left over to fund the things that actually matter.”
Artman continues, “Beyond that, as more people open businesses in these cities, you get a lot of camaraderie. If you and your neighbor both opened up shop within the past few years, its like, ‘we’re in this together’. Competition goes right out the window. No one is going to visit a neighborhood with one business in it. Helping your neighbors succeed brings more people around, and the more people, the better. The sense of community that this resurgence is fostering is fantastic.”
Like any new venture, they ran into some challenges. “Admittedly neither of us knew the first thing about independent publishing,” reports Artman, and “from delays on shipping supplies, to ruining entire rolls of film, to trying to find financially viable methods to manage our subscriptions… we’ve had some trying times. But we have yet to run into any issues that are insurmountable, and that’s mainly thanks to all the great people we’ve met through this process. Almost every time we hit a snag, someone is willing to jump in and say “Hey, I’ve dealt with this issue before, lets solve it together.”
So now that Issue 1, is out in the world, on coffee tables and design studios like Go Media, what can we expect? What are the challenges involved with a print publication like Rustbelt Almanac in the age of the iPad, when major titles like Newsweek and SPIN are choosing to stop their print editions? Artman and Purdy aren’t worried, stating simply, “We definitely don’t believe print is anywhere close to dead.”
Although they do offer a digital copy of their publication, they are focusing on the hard copy of Rustbelt Almanac because they believe in the content. “Plenty of publications suggest the shift to digital is because people don’t buy magazines anymore. Call us crazy, but we wouldn’t buy magazines that has more advertising than content, either. Maybe it’s not so much that people don’t like printed goods. Maybe it’s that printed goods just aren’t as good as they used to be. I’ve read plenty of studies that say consumers still prefer physical media. How accurate those studies are remains to be seen, anything can be skewed one way or the other. However, the cost of producing digital media is near zero. From a business standpoint, it is hard not to go that direction.”
Call them sentimental, but Purdy and Artman really value the hard copy. Adds Artman, “Thirty years from now, when our kids or grandkids are sitting around asking what life was like in 2013, we’ll have to rely on our senile old minds to tell mis-remembered stories. Gone are the days of handing down your 100 year old pocket watch, or pulling some old polaroids out of a shoebox. All we know is that we prefer holding something physical in our hands, and we aren’t the only ones. Here at Rustbelt Almanac, we value longevity. It’s not even about tradition in any romantic sense. It’s simply a fact – print lasts longer. It’s kind of depressing living in a throw-away culture where every two years you toss your computer or phone or tablet in favor of the latest and greatest. Technology changes too fast, and it’s far too easy to accept that everything on your hard drive is expendable.”
“We believe in documentation – journalism – photography – storytelling.”
Continues Artman, “We want to make a product that is going to sit on people’s bookshelves. So years down the road when the paper is nice and aged, and the inks have begun to fade, you can open the magazine, and read the stories that your iPad 15 has long forgot.”
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