April 2011

For the past few months, we’ve been asking our subscribers what they think of the magazine. Editors are a notoriously defensive and insecure bunch, and surveys like this can be unnerving. (What if they think the stories are too long? Too short? My God, what if they hate us?) But occasional polling is a valuable tool. Done right, it can capture the attitude readers have toward the magazine—when it hits the mark, when it doesn’t, and most importantly, if the magazine delivers on its promise to the reader. Because every magazine is making a promise, whether it’s stated or not. Vogue’s promise is different from Popular Mechanics’, which is different from Esquire’s. Atlanta magazine’s mission is simple: to illuminate the city for our readers, so they can better navigate and take advantage of this remarkable place.
When I get the survey results each month, I turn first to the comments section, where each subscriber is invited to sound off. In general, readers want more—more dining coverage (we’ll debut a new dining section next month), more hard-hitting stories (planning them now), and more focus on neighborhoods (stay tuned for our June issue). Because the survey is anonymous, I can’t respond directly to many of our readers’ points, so I figured I’d take a moment here to clarify a bit about how Atlanta magazine operates.
“Your best restaurant listing seems motivated by those who advertise with you,” one subscriber wrote. Aside from receiving tips on new restaurants and the like from folks on the business side of our magazine, there is zero connection between the restaurants that advertise with us and the ones we choose to review or to feature among our annual best new restaurants. That separation is essential to our credibility, which is why our reviewers dine anonymously, making reservations under fake names and paying their own way. You may disagree with their opinions, but you can be sure those opinions aren’t for sale.
“Too many ads,” another subscriber grumbled. Advertisements are the lifeblood of any magazine, and readers, for the most part, like them. For the past year, in advance of our fiftieth anniversary, we’ve been spending a lot of time looking through old copies of the magazine. Like the stories, the ads capture what the city was like at a moment in time—what it valued, what it aspired to, what it was thinking. Thanks to our advertisers, we can charge just $1 (and sometimes less) per issue for a subscription. In some cases, magazines spend more simply to mail a copy to a subscriber (never mind the cost of producing and printing it) than the subscriber pays for that entire issue.
It’s impossible to summarize the individual thoughts of the hundreds of readers we’ve heard from. Some, for example, love Hollis Gillespie. Others railed against her. Some couldn’t get enough of our cover story on pets. Other readers couldn’t care less. As with every magazine, not every element will appeal to every reader. Our goal, though, is that all of our readers find something in each issue that interests them, that provokes them, that enlightens them, that amuses them, and yes, that occasionally enrages them.
A few weeks ago, the City and Regional Magazine Association named Atlanta magazine as a finalist in seven categories in its annual competition. The categories for which we’re nominated recognize our website, our reporting, and our design. I see this kind of recognition as a survey result of a different kind. It’s gratifying, but the opinion that matters most is yours. Please continue to tell us how we’re doing.
Contact Steve Fennessy at sfennessy@atlantamag.emmis.com