What a strange time to be covering the print media, when so much of it seems to be evaporating. Earlier this month the magazine world lost another one of its giants - at least in the eyes of On the Media producer Laura Mayer. Cat Fancy Magazine announced that it's ending in early 2015, after 50 years on newsstands and in cat lovers' hearts.
INTRO: What a strange time to be covering the media, when so much of it is disappearing. Earlier this month print lost another one of its giants - at least in the eyes of On the Media producer Laura Mayer, who swiftly produced this appreciation.
LAURA: Earlier this month Cat Fancy magazine announced that it will stop publishing in early 2015. Every month, since I turned thirteen, I’ve read Cat Fancy Magazine. It’s my longest lasting media relationship.
[Cat Fancy Commercial]: If you’re one of the 16 million Americans who share their homes with one or more of these charming, mysterious creatures, you should know about Cat Fancy...
LAURA: I proudly display Cat Fancy on my coffee table - so people know I’m not just a cat owner, I’m a cat...fancier.
[Cat Fancy Commercial]: “Every month Cat Fancy devotes a special feature to a different pure breed of cat. But we never forget the popular domestic variety. You’ll meet fat cats, zany cats, cats with markings you’d have to see to believe. We even delight you every month with our own Cat Fancy Centerfold.
LAURA: How great is Cat Fancy? It’s the only publication where you can find multiple techniques for brushing your cat’s teeth. The only one with a piece on the state of snow leopards next a profile of a perfectly proportioned Abyssinian. When I enthuse to my friends about Cat Fancy, they think I’m kidding...
Riesman: Like everyone else in the media Cat Fancy was a pair of words that I often used slightly as a joke, right?
LAURA: That’s Abraham Reisman, multimedia Editor at New York Magazine, who pondered, “Who Killed Cat Fancy? In a piece last week.
Riesman: I had just been one of many of the people who lightly mocked it. You’d say, the National Magazine Awards are coming up. And it’s a tough category for investigative journalism this year. Good luck to Cat Fancy.
LAURA: “Cat Fancy Magazine” began in 1965. It’s named after the phrase “the cat fancy,” a popular catlover term in the 60s that no one really uses anymore.
Riesman: It refers to a connoisseur-like approach to cat ownership and cat appreciation. You care a lot about cat shows...you care a lot about bloodlines, and purebreds, and who the breeders are.
LAURA: I called Susan Logan, a longtime editor at Cat Fancy magazine.
(sneak music up)[classical, stuffy, hold music] Your call will be answered in the order it was received…
Logan: I have to say that I’ve always felt a responsibility to be a voice for cats….….this position has been a calling for me.
LAURA: Logan said that, despite its name, Cat Fancy wasn’t just for purebreds..
Logan: From the very, very first issue, the magazine was a voice devoted to the care, welfare and adoration of all cats.
LAURA: But, at least judging by its cover, the common-cat isn’t the public face of the magazine. It wasn’t until just a few years ago, more than 40 years into Cat Fancy’s run, that the magazine featured its first non-purebred on the cover. Abraham Rieman says this apparent stuffiness, earned or not, led to the magazine’s eventual downfall. He says the magazine’s decline is tied to a seismic shift in cat ownership that began just a few years after Cat Fancy’s first issue
Riesman: Around 1970 the population of stray cats in shelters reached this all time high...all of a sudden you had this enormous amount of animals that were just being put to death every year...And around then... you had the birth of the animal rights movement...So, over the course of the 70s and 80s you have this growing shelter population that isn’t getting killed. You have a lot more cats...who are mixed breeds. And, with that growing population, eventually came growing ownership of those, you know, mutts.
LAURA: And the most celebrated cats today?
Riesman: They’re deformed mutts. Now we have this world where the two most famous cats, at least in America, are Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat, who are both deformed. And that would've been anathema to anybody who was a subscriber to Cat Fancy.
LAURA: Another thing that the cat fanciers of the 1960s could not have foreseen: the Internet.
Riesman: In the early 2000s, you get the first known cat meme...this Japanese artist who did a lot of pixel work made this little gif of a loaf of bread that looked like a cat, making little movements with its mouth. And what began as a trickle became a flood. And by the mid 2000s you had 4Chan...4Chan used to have a thing called Caturday, where on Saturdays people would just post pictures of cats, and pictures of cats with captions...And cats, by the end of the 2000s, had become really - not just the animal of choice, but kind of the object of choice for, internet culture
LAURA: Grumpy Cat, now a movie star, is rumored to have pulled in 100 million dollars in 2014. According to CBS, 15 percent of all internet traffic is cat-related. Let me make this clear, videos of cats jumping into or out of boxes, .gifs of cats falling into fish tanks, slideshows of cats looking depressed, cats playing the keyboard - account for 15 percent of ALL INTERNET TRAFFIC.
(keyboard cat part 1 music here)
LAURA: Cat Fancy was not made of the rough and tumble of the internet. But it rapidly gave birth to a successor that was. Over the summer the magazine’s parent company, i5 Publishing, bought two websites, Catster and...Dogster. You can probably guess what those sites cover. i5 Publishing’s chief sales officer Kim Huey-Stein said, "We feel that the tone, content and frequency of the new titles are a better fit for the contemporary pet owner and how they consume their pet-related information.” Cat Fancy was quietly, and one hopes, humanely, put to sleep and it’s owner, i5, is filling the void by putting out print version of Catster and Dogster. Melissa Kauffman supervises pet-related publications at i5.
Kauffman: They’re really going to... not just focus solely on the care of the cat, and the care of the dogs, but the lifestyle of the owner. That would be, you know, budget type questions. Cat tourism. Profiling people with cat businesses...And a lot of inspiring, heartwarming stories.
LAURA: There’s a slideshow of cats in holiday sweaters, a feature on Taylor Swift's cat, and 10 Games and Gadgets for Tech-Savvy Cat Lovers. It’s brilliantly search engine optimized cat content. Case in point: New York magazine’s Reisman was talking to a Catster writer who had reached 13-thousand likes on her latest post.
RIESMAN: And it was just a thing about cat behavior. And, you know, as a member of the media myself, I mean good lord! 13,000 likes on a post that she just put up a couple days prior. You kill for that kind of traffic.
LAURA: Catster satisfies that irresistible impulse some of us have to take a five minute internet detour, in spite of ourselves, to admire a cat that isn’t even yours.
RIESMAN: When you talk about how there was a time when being a cat lady involved having your own cats. And caring about cats involved being around physical cats - that’s ancient history.. if you go on the internet... You can have a wide array of cats in your life.
LAURA: So what’s a true cat fancier to do now that our magazine has been retired. Can I still call myself a cat fancier? Or, am I just a cat lady?
Kauffman:What is a cat lady? It’s someone who loves style, who’s passionate about things...Does that make you a horrible person? No. No it makes you a great person.
LAURA: Melissa Kauffman
KAUFFMAN: If you look through the ages of all the highly intelligent, gifted people, creative people, who’ve owned cats, and the cat has been their muse. I mean that’s your answer right there. I mean, what? Is Ernest Hemingway not cool? Mark Twain? Call yourself a lady with cats. Wear it with pride. You should be proud of yourself.
LAURA: Okay, okay. I get it. I’m a cat lady. But I’m also a fancier. I’ll miss you Cat Fancy. For On the Media, I’m Laura Mayer.