Recently, my husband and I went to an event at Red Emma’s (our local radical bookstore), featuring two of the founders of $pread magazine — the first ever magazine written by and for sex workers.
We went for a number of reasons: A) Duh; this sounds fascinating, and B) because I’ve always been eager to learn more about the processes and trials faced by indie magazines. And while the presentation wasn’t as well put-together as I would’ve hoped (it seemed as though a lot of improvisation was happening on stage), I now recognize that this was the same style and attitude with which the magazine itself got started: People need to know about these issues – There are voices here that need and deserve to be heard – Let’s just run with it.
I’m beginning to realize that too much (don’t ask me when too much is “too much”) preparatory work may also at some point become its own pretext for never actually trying anything new. After all, the more I learn about the difficulties of starting up a radical project like $pread, the warier and more uncertain I become. What’s more, it isn’t as though these women didn’t have useful background information/experience and networking connections already in place when they decided to try their hand at running their own indie mag (the original founders/idea-women “met while organizing a benefit for PONY (Prostitutes of New York)” and some staffers were still or had been sex workers themselves) (Aimee et al., 17).
By diving in head-first, the women of $pread got a good five years worth of issues out to a community greatly in need of venues willing to provide an honest platform for their stories and voices. The lesson, at least to me, was clear: When it comes to matters of social justice, there’s no time to waste. Once you have what you need to get your feet off the ground (even if for only a little while) in regards to research, understanding, respect, and empathy — then get your damn feet off that ground!
As $pread editors Rachel Aimee, Eliyanna Kaiser, and Audacia Ray explain in their new anthology $PREAD: The Best of the Magazine that Illuminated the Sex Industry and Started a Media Revolution: “Probably the most important reason we succeeded was that we didn’t know what we were getting into” (32).
Though $pread is no longer in circulation, they had a strong and deeply appreciated five years of quarterly mag issues, and have left “a legacy of making space for the voices of people who have been silenced” (Aimee et al., 32-33).
Here are a few of the more interesting points (in my opinion) from their presentation:
- A primary concern for the editors of $pread was that women’s voices be heard regardless of their perspective or political opinions. This, unsurprisingly, wasn’t always a popular stance (especially within the larger feminist community), as it led to many pieces getting published with extremely controversial perspectives. –But this also gets to the real heartwood of editorial work: When your publication has a set mission (like being an honest platform for voices from a regularly silenced community), you can’t let your own political opinions and unique perspective get in the way. This causes many editors to tread a fine line with their authors (and with deciding who gets to become one of their authors), but it’s a vital line. For all you fellow editors out there, don’t forget to always be on your guard against that insidious prick Prejudice.
- While $pread had its reasons for choosing to go for a print magazine rather than a digital one, many of its editors now regret this decision given how cumbersome and expensive the print version became.
“We entered the arena of publishing at a moment of epic transition from hardcopy to digital. We had been inspired by lovingly handcrafted, desktop-published, and photocopied sex worker zines like Danzine, Whorezine, and PONY XXXpress. We were fans and hoped to be the peers of small independent magazines that had real print runs and distribution, like Bitch, LiP, and Clamor. If we had known from the beginning just how hard everything would be, we almost certainly would have been too intimidated to undertake such a lofty project. But we didn’t. So we did.” (Aimee et al., 19)
- Even though $pread eventually became an Utne award-winning magazine, it never managed to make enough money for any of its staffers to be paid.
- They raised most of their initial funding through benefit parties.
- Through reader surveys, the editors of $pread learned that their initial audience was composed mostly of white, college-educated women. To address this, they began distributing copies of each issue directly to outreach organizations that focused on women in the sex industry.
- Many anti-human trafficking bills are used (at least in some part) as smokescreens to get more anti-prostitution legislation passed.
All in all, it ended up being just as I expected: a fascinating presentation that challenged many of my own preconceived notions and opinions, and that gave me a better look at the work involved in bringing a terrific, radical idea to life. Thank you, $pread! And thank you, Red Emma’s!