Keep your eyes peeled for County Highway as you travel around. It’ll cost you $8.50 for a print copy. There is, decidedly, no digital alternative. County Highway is a feature-filled magazine, produced six times a year as a 20-page broadsheet newspaper.
“I had this idea, born out of our flight from the city, due to COVID,” Editor David Samuels explained to E&P. As a writer and editor, he’s amassed a long catalog of work for magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper’s Magazine. “We found ourselves living upstate. It was a really big adjustment for the whole family, but it was also a source of pleasure and made us all rethink who we were and our relation to our neighbors and technology.”
At the same time, he was mourning the loss of “print culture” and dreaded much of the toxic “babble” from social sites and corporate-owned media. He wanted to create something fresh, compelling and provocative — a print magazine with the look and feel of a 19th-century newspaper.
He floated the idea by Novelist and Essayist Walter Kirn, who signed on as editor-at-large.
Samuels approached film producer Donald Rosenfeld, someone he’d known for over 25 years, for the publisher role.
“I thought to myself, ‘Who do I trust?’ And immediately, my mind went to Don,” Samuels said. “He’s had no experience in publishing, but he was a very successful movie producer, someone I personally trust and like. And he has a lovely personality. He can sell anything.”
Samuels delivered his pitch: “How would you like to be the publisher of a small magazine, published as a 19th-century American newspaper that’s pretty much guaranteed not to make any money?” Then he asked him for a six-figure check to get other investors stoked and kickstart design development. Rosenfeld delivered and became publisher.
Next, Samuels enlisted Abbott Miller and his team at Pentagram and Illustrator Lisa Orth for County Highway’s design. It has columns and features — perspectives you won’t get anywhere else.
Asked about recruiting writers, Samuels said, “It’s easy to find people who have a similar sense of fun, a similar aesthetic, who are looking for places to speak freely.”
As of mid-November, County Highway had 9,000 paid subscribers. It is distributed to more than 250 retailers in the United States and abroad in Paris and London.
“The real surprise is that my business plan was conservative,” Samuel said. “I imagined spending down our operating capital over two and a half to three years, at which point we would hit some breakeven targets. … What actually happened was that we hit our three-year targets in three weeks.”
You can buy County Highway at general stores, diners, bookstores and record shops.
Samuels has also planned a book publishing arm — Pan American Books. He figures that not having a heavy overhead burden will allow them to sell fewer copies and still make a profit.
He retold a story of growing up in New York City. There were particular days of the week when the wealthy Upper East Side residents would put their bulky trash on the curb, including trendy furnishings in good condition but “out of style.” His family would seize the opportunity to trash-pick their treasures.
He likens the experience to fearless journalism and thought-provoking editorial commentary being out of style today.
“If you don’t want F. Scott Fitzgerald, classic New Yorker writing of the 1950s, Harper’s writing of the ‘90s. If you say that’s all garbage now, great! Give it to me. I’ll take it off of your hands for nothing. I’ll put it in my van.”
Gretchen A. Peck is a contributing editor to Editor & Publisher. She’s reported for E&P since 2010 and welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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