Google, The Cloud, and the Death of a Magazine

ReadyMade Lobby
ReadyMade Lobby (Photo credit: Charles & Hudson)
By Christopher Lotito

In 2004 I visited a friend's house for a birthday party.  In fact, it wasn't just a friend, but THAT friend, that one that everybody knows at least one of: that hipster friend.  Here was a guy who was on the cutting edge of all your parents' favorite stuff.  Vinyl? Check.  Cheap reproduction 70's ephemera?  You better believe that's a big ol' check!  Learning to DJ on an external 90's era Compaq brand CD drive?  Another check.

ReadyMade Workstation
ReadyMade Workstation (Photo credit: Charles & Hudson)
Among the items scattered around his place were the early issues of "ReadyMade Magazine."  For those not in the know, ReadyMade was a bimonthly DIY and design magazine centered largely around mid-century American decor that ran from Winter 2002 until June of 2011.  After reading an article about how great a well appointed ranch-style home can be, I was hooked (bi-levels and splits have been the rage since the mid 90's but I've always appreciate the simplicity of the suburban ranch).  I went home and promptly subscribed to ReadyMade Magazine for the next decade.
readymade.JPG
readymade.JPG (Photo credit: Johnnie Utah)

That was about 2 years before I would join the Historic District Commission and 3 or 4 before our historic train station would see restoration, a process during which I found Readymade quite helpful as a reference to the DIY skills that growing up as part of the computer generation had not always been quick to impart.  When Hurricane Irene hit and we were forced to perform huge repairs and renovations to the house, I would apply ReadyMade's DIY skills to create decor that was attractive, but simple enough to replace if another flood occurred.  When I joined the Community Garden, I would recall articles I'd read in those pages.

Readymade loves the Trogdor
Readymade loves the Trogdor (Photo credit: roboppy)
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, especially when profits are put before quality, and in 2011* the magazine was sold to the Meredith Corporation, publishers of Better Homes and Gardens, which then forced Readymade out of business by insisting its staff relocate from Sacramento to Des Moines, Iowa (which none would agree to do).  That of course coincidentally left BH&G with that much less competition in the design magazine market.  Meredith Corp. also ran off with its subscriber's $25 subscription fees, rightly presuming that none would take legal action over that small an amount.  ...all of that of course is only where our story begins.

*An aside, 2011 also saw the demise of GamePro, Computer Weekly, and ToyFare magazines... a rough year for print indeed!

Beyond frustrated, it was at this point that I had the idea to try to import the RSS feed from the magazine's blog page into Google Reader.  The magazine had only had a couple digital issues, so the bulk of its materials were sitting in paper on my shelf, but it would be nice to have some record of what so many readers had enjoyed for a decade.  That import worked and soon I had the full text of the blog (if not the magazine) from 2005 forward stored in my Google Reader account, or "in the cloud" if you will.

For the uninitiated, Google Reader is a free online RSS reader provided by Google.  You give Google Reader the address of a blog you like, it saves every entry from the blog so that you can search, read, or email it later.  It can even do this with older blog entries, they don't have to be new.

ReadyMade Magazine Cover
ReadyMade Magazine Cover (Photo credit: Charles & Hudson)
Perhaps not having learned my lesson from the fiasco with ReadyMade, I presumed that this record of one of my favorite magazines was now safely archived for future enjoyment.  I was, unsurprisingly, incorrect in this assumption.  Just this month, Google announced that it would discontinue the Google Reader product in July of 2013 (what is it about losing our favorite products in July?).  The Internet yelled and kicked its heels and complained, but nothing short of a Google Spring revolution was going to bring back Google Reader.  Google knew, and knows now, that it owns our voices in some small way while we use its products.

I will say that most of the time it's better to use Google products than it is to try to run your own server or use software on your desktop PC.  Servers cost money in electric and bandwidth, desktop software has no redundancy.  90% of the time, it's best to use Google products and call Google "sir" all the while, but then there comes that 10% of the time.  Every once in a while, Google, or Microsoft, or Optonline, or whoever provides your website, email, etc. is going to decide to pull the plug and all you can do is pick up the pieces. In some ways, Google is a lot like a hurricane.  You can't reason with it, you can't pay it off.  That's right, as profit focused as they are, Google didn't even offer to let us pay for Reader Accounts to keep the the service (something they DID do with the Google Apps accounts).
Readymade Print Archive
Readymade Print Archive (Photo credit: Ben Brown)

So I spent 20 minutes today figuring out how to export my ReadyMade Magazine feed from Google Reader.  Google has not provided a solution to export your data and the trick I used was so complex it isn't worth recommending to anyone.  Chalk it all up to part of the price we pay for using supposedly free services via the cloud.  It's not less risk, the risks are just different.  Stored in the cloud, your email is safer from viruses and system crashes, but more susceptible to hackers.  Instead of paying for services in currency, you pay in time spent seeing advertisements and on occasion cleaning up messes like the Google Reader fiasco.

So where are my ReadyMade blog posts now?  On my hard drive and, oh yeah, uploaded to Google Drive. Someday we have to "Stop Worry and Learn to Love the Cloud," right?

If I can get the XML converted to HTML easily, I'll post it somewhere for anyone who is curious / nostalgic.

  Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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