When I was a kid I went to an intense summer camp that emphasized things like hard work and discipline, and frowned on things like fun (I actually tried to run away at one point, but that’s a story for another time). One of the manifestations of this was a strict “no junk food” policy, which was enforced by intercepting any incoming care packages and removing the contraband—be it chips, candy, or cola. I called my parents in tears the first time a package from them had been stripped of my favorite sweet and salty reminders of home.
My mother was undeterred. Her next package passed through the censors without issue, but a coded message to me revealed the depth of her cunning. The seemingly innocuous contents belied a treasure trove of illicit substances: an Aspirin bottle was filled with Skittles; a deck of cards was carefully packed with chewing gum; a container of talcum powder was full of Pixie Stix dust; and a stuffed bear had been gutted to house a cache of—wait for it—Gummy bears.
This package, and the ones that followed, transformed my summer from one of drudgery and despair to one of clandestine fun and ill-gotten popularity. And it remains to this day the best example I have of the power of packages and the triumph of the postal service. That scene of a gathered crowd waiting in anticipation as a mail carrier calls out names and distributes correspondence is one that is played out universally—from summer camps to military outposts to far-flung expeditions. It is also increasingly rare in the face of new technologies and communication paradigms. But in terms of raw emotional impact, the experience of getting good mail is unparalleled—emails, text messages, and tweets don’t even come close.
Quarterly wants to recapture the romance and impact of a well crafted package, but tie it into existing online communities in an organic way. We think there’s a hunger for analog experiences that complement digital ones, and Quarterly is poised to capitalize on that trend.
As the editor of GOOD magazine I saw first hand the power a physical object sent through the mail can have on a willing audience, especially when paired with an appropriate online offering. People said we were crazy to launch a print magazine during the ascendancy of digital media, but we saw an opportunity to create a deeper bond with our readers—through a tangible offline experience—than our online-only counterparts.
And it worked. As our online audience grew and our digital content surpassed what was in print edition, the magazine itself became less a method for conveying information and more a symbol of participating, the membership card of an awesome club—mail as medium, object as expression.
For most people magazines (and maybe rental DVDs) are the last fun things they get in the mail, and both those experiences are in decline in favor of superior online offerings. There’s a gap in our lives where we used to get something in the mail that mirrored our interests, reflected our values, and made us feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves. Quarterly means to fill it.