The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

magazine cover
The era of LAUNCH Magazine ended before that of the shuttle, as it turns out.

Launch failure

LAUNCH Magazine has folded. Last month the publishers finally conceded what those of us who cared had already concluded: after their hiatus of “at least two months” turned into over seven months, the magazine was ceasing all further publication. I wrote about their suspended publication back in February. (See “Launch abort”, The Space Review, February 2, 2009)

On July 20, the publishers issued the following announcement:

It is with deep regret that we must inform you that we are closing LAUNCH Magazine as a print publication. We are looking into the possibility of continuing it as an online-only magazine. This is a decision we tried our best to avoid. We love the magazine, and we have tried our best to keep it alive. At the time we announced plans to bring LAUNCH out of hiatus, we had been promised new funding. But unfortunately, the economy—especially in the publishing industry—has continued to decline. In essence, the funds were not forthcoming. We have spent weeks searching for alternatives, but at this time we simply have no other choice but to discontinue.

This is unfortunate news, because LAUNCH was a pretty magazine to look at, with nice photography, layout, and paper. In fact, that was probably one of its problems—glossy pages and lots of color doesn’t come cheap. As is obvious these Internet days, electrons are inexpensive, it’s the protons and neutrons that cost money.

My naïve hope is that this is a blip, not a trend.

Actually, it’s not just the protons and neutrons that cost money, it’s also the neurons. People to write articles, take pictures, and provide content all cost cash. LAUNCH announced earlier this year that they were going to put the May issue online for subscribers to access. That never happened, even though the electrons were cheap—clearly LAUNCH’s publishers never found the money to pay for that issue to be written, illustrated, and edited. Not many people can afford to write or take pictures for free, and often readers get what they pay for. We’re transitioning to a phase where media outlets don’t want to pay people to write space journalism. It’s worth asking if we are yet seeing the decline in quality as generalists take over writing stories that used to be written by specialists.

My naïve hope is that this is a blip, not a trend. I’m still heartened to find Spaceflight magazine on the shelves at my local Barnes & Noble, even if it doesn’t appear as if anybody actually buys the three copies that they stock. And I was very pleased to see a copy in a bookstore on Maui; way out there on the other side of the world from Spaceflight’s home town of London, in the middle of the ocean, a lone copy awaited a buyer. But Spaceflight’s parent organization, the British Interplanetary Society, ran into financial problems earlier this year, forcing the Society to consider leasing or selling their London headquarters building. In June, the Society made an appeal for donations, “no matter how small.” The BIS is more than Spaceflight magazine, of course, but for many people, their Spaceflight subscription is their only real tie to the Society. If Spaceflight goes under, I’ll be seriously bummed.

Hopefully more will recognize that when the community of space publications shrinks, nobody benefits.

Of course, we still have this glorious thing called the Internet. But even though it’s getting more portable and, unlike your computer, you can take your Kindle to the beach, the net still has its problems. Lack of permanence is one of them. Although there are powerful search engines to find you information, loads and loads of information on the net is temporary. Try to find any of the vast library of articles or images that appeared on Florida Today’s long-vanished (circa 1996–2000) Space Online site. I dare you. You cannot. And yet there was a time when Space Online was the primary Internet source for current space news, before the Lou Dobbs-led bought it from Gannett for the sole purpose of eliminating the competition. The archives were included as part of the deal, and they’re all gone; no search engine will find them.

Somewhere, presumably, there is a complete set of LAUNCH’s brief publication run on a library shelf, so that in the future energetic researchers can find them. LAUNCH occasionally ran articles that nobody else had, and they may still have value to future readers.

Although few people will probably lament LAUNCH Magazine’s demise, hopefully more will recognize that when the community of space publications shrinks, nobody benefits.