Sunday, April 11, 2010

 

The Trouble with the Magazines III: Sky and Telescope

Like last week’s post on public outreach, this week’s topic seems have become a yearly ritual for your old Uncle. What has? A “where we are” concernin’ the big glossy astronomy magazines. Why devote so much attention to ‘em? Because, even in this latter-day, post-modern, Internet-crazy age magazines are still a big part of amateur astronomy. No, I ain’t gonna kid you; things like Astromart and Cloudy Nights have made THE MAGAZINES less important to rank and file amateurs. If’n you are like Unk, though, you still place more faith in what the writers in Sky and Telescope and Astronomy tell you than you do in what you hear from some Bubba on the freakin’ WWW.

That ain’t all, neither. Magazines are still just so dadgummed portable and convenient. Most everything I need to get me through a month’s observin’ is there between two covers. Often in four or five pages. Don’t need to worry about no batteries. Perfect for Unk’s morning…uh… “ablutions.” Yeah, I know, computer-like thingies such as the iPad and Kindle are movin’ in the direction of replacing print, but it will be a long while before that happens, I reckon.

How are “our” magazines doing? It don’t take long at the newsstand to see that all print magazines, not just Sky and ‘Scope and Astronomy, are still havin’ a pretty hard time. You know what I am talking about, one of the prime complaints of rank and file amateurs: decreased page counts. Yes, our two are skinny—but so are Time and Newsweek.

The “why” is no mystery. We are in a severe recession. Ad revenue is down. Postal rates have continued to go up. Is it any wonder publishers have had to cut back on editorial content? Sure, there is no doubt the growth of the Internet has had some effect on magazines, too. Especially hobby-type magazines. It seems, to the uncritical eye at least, that all the amateur astronomy information anybody could want is on the Web free for the taking. Why pay for the cow? Once you start actually using these resources, the truth turns out to be a wee bit different, but it takes most of us a while to realize that.

Onward! It would probably have been best to cover all the publications in one go, but I wanted to take an in-depth look at each this time rather than just repeat last year’s bloviating, and that meant TOO LONG. So, this time we’ll do the little ol’ rag from Cambridge M.A.; Part II will deal with the Midwesterners and, if there is room, THE ALIENS.

Sky and Telescope

Let me say right from the get-go that I am not entirely unbiased when it comes to Sky and ‘Scope. I occasionally write for them and their family of magazines. Even if I didn’t, I’d probably still be prejudiced. All those golden and nostalgic teenage summer afternoons spent waiting for the magazine to arrive and all the subsequent afternoons spent devouring it (without understanding half of what I read) assure that. On the other hand, I’ve loved Sky and Telescope so much over the years that I want it to do well and survive, and so am not hesitant to criticize ‘em when I think it is deserved.

Anyhoo, let’s take a stroll through the latest issue and see what’s up. First, though, maybe a few general comments is in order. What can’t I help but notice? S&T is still thinner than I’d like, but at least she ain’t lost ground. In fact, the rag has actually gained a few pages since last year, with the current issue, May 2010, clockin’ in at 86 pages. The pub continues in its “slightly wider, slightly shorter” format. I don’t know if that helps with production or shipping, or whatever other benefits it may bring, but I’ve come to think it’s very attractive and modern looking. Cover price, $5.99, is a buck cheaper than the competition, and you get a break if’n you subscribe, and another break if’n you subscribe with your club as a group.

Let’s dig in. Cover’s first, natch. A lot has changed at Sky and Telescope since I visited their old digs on the fabled Bay State Road a few annums ago, but one thing that hasn’t is the talent of the folks in the art department. This issue’s cover, a night-time cityscape demonstrating the wages of light pollution in grim detail, is striking if scary. Best thing about the covers? The variety: some months, light background, some months, dark background, some months DSOs, some months, planetscapes or Earthly vistas. Only suggestion? For even more variety and interest, howsabout puttin’ a human bein’ on the cover ever’ once in a while, just like in the old days?

The vaunted inside-front-cover advertising position once occupied by Questar has been held by TeleVue for quite a while, as it is this month. Thumbing on, there’s the TOC, table of contents. It’s one page these days, and there’s nothing to complain about. Short blurbs for the features; the other articles/departments have pretty self-descriptive titles.

Next up is “new” Editor Robert Naeye’s monthly soapbox, “Spectrum.” This time, he talks over the issue’s theme, light pollution, and does a nice job of it. I note that over the course of his tenure Bob has stirred up some ire and elicited plenty of comments on the online astro-BBSes. Which tells me his editorials are doing their job. I read ‘em every month, which says something right there.

On we go past the letters section and quite a few ads (good thing) to one of my favorite little features, S&T Editor Emeritus Leif Robinson’s “75, 50, and 25 Years Ago,” which, as you might guess, is about the issues that appeared 75, 50, and 25 years ago this month. The good? They’ve recently added “75 years,” which makes me feel a little less ancient than I was beginnin’ to. The focus is mostly on pro astronomy/space from those old issues, though. I’d like to see the occasional nod to the amateur astronomy of bygone days, too.

And so we come to “News Notes.” I’m still conflicted about this here. Oh, it’s well done enough, I suppose, but I dunno. I still question the need for pro-astronomy/space news in a magazine these days. Three pages of editorial content is a lot to sacrifice for something that’s more effectively done on the Internet, and which Sky and ‘Scope is doing quite adequately on its own website. There are, in fact, blubs in the section referring readers to the website for in-depth coverage and breaking news; maybe that’s enough. Let it go, guys.

The first feature article, Mike Simonsen and Alan MacRobert’s “Amateurs Catch a Crucial Nova,” is a particularly good one, worth the whole price of admission for me. What I really like? That the magazine is not afraid to lead-off the prestigious front of the rag with an “amateur article.”

Following is a “fact” piece, Yaël Nazé’s “The Quest for the Most Massive Star.” There wasn’t anything in here that was news to me, but, nevertheless, I found myself reading every single word over my morning porridge. Yeah, I know what some of my fellow curmudgeons are gonna say, just as I noted last year, “But Uncle Rod, but Uncle Rod WHERE’S THE MATH?”

I’ll admit the science articles in the modern iteration of the magazine do not have as much mathematics (if any) as the issues from the old Sky and Telescope, the Sky and Telescope of the 50s and 60s. But, you know what? Even then, it wasn’t exactly the gull-derned APJ. I think the “fact” authors do a good job of conveying what we want to know about their subjects without the numbers, which would give general readers the hives, anyway. Fortunately, those of us who do want to do the numbers will find it easy enough to Google our way to mathematical ecstasy on any astronomical subject. It might, howsomeever, be nice to do a little “in-depth” on the website to accompany some of these articles; a page or two with a bit more in the way of the technical details some of us want.

The nextun, “Saving the Night Sky,” gets down to brass tacks with regards to the issue’s focus. I probably don’t have to tell you that Kelly Beatty is one heavy hitter, not just as an editor (he’s even been able to straighten out some of my mess), but as a writer. This is a good, solid explication of the problem and possible solutions. Kelly’s piece, subtitled “Your Light Pollution Guide,” is just that, and will be very informative for both the sprouts among us and their elders. I’ve mulled over the subject a lot, but even I learned something—L.E.D streetlights was news to me. Particularly striking was the graphic of the U.S. at night showing the growth and projected growth of light pollution from the late 50s to 2025.

Are you as much an equipment junkie as Unk? I know you are. And you will be very happy with Tony Flanders’ “Big Binos versus Small Scopes.” I mean, what self-respectin’ gear-head can resist a shootout? I’ve done this very comparo myself, large aperture binocs versus a similar aperture refractor, but I didn’t and probably couldn’t write it up as well as Tony has.

After Mr. Flanders’ opus, we come to Fred Shaaf’s “Northern Hemisphere Sky” column, which marks the beginning of The Middle Section, the current (monthly) sky events part of S&T. Fred is the latest in a long line of distinguished folks who’ve done the text to accompany each issue’s star chart, and he does a very fine job. After this many observing seasons, I know what to expect of the sky dome any given month, but I still enjoyed Fred’s delineation of “The Spica Hour.”

Passing the second Meade full-page ad this ish (that’s gotta be a good sign), we come to the centerfold chart. The preceding page contains a calendar of prominent sky events for the month. The two-page May sky map is followed by the “Planetary Almanac,” which features graphics showin’ the current aspects of the major planets and Pluto, a text ephemeris for ‘em, and a small chart of the ecliptic. All four of these pages are printed on heavier stock than the rest of the issue, mostly in red-light-friendly colors (there are a few “disappearing” items). Maybe I still like the old, simple, single-page black and white chart of Sky’s youth better, but today’s map gets ‘er done in attractive and useful fashion.

“Useful,” huh? How comes Unk thinks the news section belongs online but not the star chart? After all, you can go to Heavens-above.com or skymaps.com or even skyandtelescope.com and make all the pretty (and customized) planisphere-style charts you want. Because the print chart still works better. More convenient. More portable. It’s way easier to snatch up the magazine and haul it out for spur of the moment naked eye/binocular missions than it is to fool with cotton pickin’ websites and printers. This magazine’s colors won’t run, either. Tote your finely tuned inkjet masterpiece outside, and the dew will soon make a mess of it.

The centerfold section is backed-up by another Schaaf column, “Sun, Moon and Planets.” Not much to say about it. It’s concise and accurate monthly planetary info purty much like what’s been in the magazine decade after decade.

Winding down toward the end is Charles Wood’s “Exploring the Moon” column. As I said last time, if I’ve learned anything about the Moon in the last few years, it’s been from this dude. Not only have I learned a lot, I’ve also realized how much I still don’t know about Luna after admirin’ her for almost 50 years, and how mysterious and interesting she still is.

Reviews? Where are the gear reviews? Paul Deans is up with one next, and, not surprisingly in this electronified age, his “S&T Test Report” is about an astro-program, Lunar Discoverer, which, coincidentally, I’d been thinking about purchasing. I believe Mr. Paul just saved me some money, as the deficiencies he points out have encouraged me to keep my credit card in my pocket for a now.

In addition to “skinniness,” the complaint I hear most about Sky and Telescope is the ol’ canard “they only print favorable reviews.” Paul Deans’ review is just the latest example to put the lie to that. It is even-handed and points out the software’s strengths, but it doesn’t hesitate to take the knickers all the way down and reveal its weaknesses, either.

“New Product Showcase” is what it is: product announcements without editorial comment. I’m happy with it; I like to see new stuff, and there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the page informing the more innocent among us that “The descriptions are based largely on information supplied by the manufacturers or distributors.”

After Showcase, Alan MacRobert is back with a piece about Saturn’s Moons. Or at least those eight conquerable by us amateurs. Like most of y’all, I’ve only confirmed the five easy ones visually. Maybe I’ll try for more with Alan’s guidance. Only quibble? The Saturn’s Moons graphic that accompanies the article. Oh, it’s nice and clear, but I’d have preferred it be somewhere closer to the centerfold where I can get at it more easily outside.

Sue French’s “Deep Sky Wonders” is, as I’ve said a time or three, one of my favorite elements of the modern Sky and Telescope. She has more than worthily assumed the mantle of that giant of deep sky observers, Walter Scott Houston. I sometimes wonder how long Sue can keep goin’, finding interesting deep sky objects to tell us about month after month after month, but she does. Maybe because she has a talent for making even the pedestrian exciting.

Of late, the magazine has had two deep sky columns, Sue’s and Ken Hewitt-White’s “Going Deep.” As the title suggests, Ken pushes us toward the more challenging, as he does on this month’s observin’ run with a selection of galaxies in, of all places, Bootes. Despite my modest talents as an observer, the author sometimes impels me to follow in his footsteps, which I manage to do with some success—sometimes, anyway—probably due to his clear descriptions and directions.

What would Sky and Telescope be without the sainted “Gleanings for ATMs”—I mean, “Telescope Workshop”? Gary Seronik keeps the tradition goin’, and does a pretty good job of mixing the advanced and the basic. I wish he’d been doing Gleanings when I was a sprout, in fact, since most of the articles back in the 60s went way too far in the direction of “advanced,” and some of which still puzzle Unk to this day.

CCD Astronomy, Skypub’s brave attempt at a standalone magazine for electronic imaging, is long gone, but Skytel continues to print plenty of articles concerning this art and science. May’s contribution by Ken Crawford, which is all about image processing with Adobe Photoshop, looks good. Why jus’ “looks”? For computer ignernt Rod, this is purty much out in the stratosphere. But that is one thing I love about S&T and have always loved about it: it makes me stretch. Even after 45 years.

The end, my friend? “Gallery,” the, well, gallery, of user-contributed images. I sometimes whine that this section is too et-up with images with tag-lines like: “18 hours exposure with a 20-inch Richey-Chrétien.” Oh, them is purty and all, but I like to see a few pictures that are at least theoretically achievable by fumblers and bumblers like yours truly. And that does happen this issue with a nice mix of images that does include, yeah, one that’s 20 hours worth of photons, but also several attractive images done—gasp—without a telescope at all.

At the very end is the “Parting Shot” editorial, “Focal Point.” This is by a different non-staff (and sometimes/often non-pro-writer) each time, and that is the beauty of the thing. This time Constance Walker contributes a piece about kids and light pollution that’s fun to read and appropriate for the issue’s thematic center.

The month’s festivities come to a close with the back-cover advert. Unitron is long gone, of course, but that other “tron,” Celes-tron, has become as much or more of a tradition here than Untron ever was. I guess I will always miss those wondrous Unitron Christmas ads, though.

So…a good an solid issue, not unlike many good and solid issues I’ve seen since the spring of ’65. So what? If that were all there were to today’s Sky and Telescope, I would fear for ‘em, muchachos. While the current economic disaster is no doubt responsible for some of the immediate and drastic decline at the newsstand, it is, again, not responsible for all of it. Magazines, and especially hobby magazines, are relics of a bygone age—whether I like it or no.

Lucky for those of us who have treasured this particular rag, the Sky and ‘Scope folks seem serious about lassoin’ that elusive “new paradigm” that will take magazines into the 21st century. The first sign that S&T was at least trying was the 2010 Skywatch special issue/annual. In addition to the magazine itself, there was an accompanying CD. It wasn’t real fancy, but it did add extra value with more articles and pictures. The CD business seems to be workin’ for UK magazines, and there’s no reason it can’t work and help here. I’d like to see every issue of Sky and ‘Scope come with a disk. Especially if that media were used in truly creative fashion.

What gave me even more hope was that  the magazine began experimenting with an online edition again. They did some o’ this some time back, but appear more serious now, going so far as to email their subscribers informing us we could access a free .pdf of the March 2010 issue, and making that e-issue available to all comers, not just subscribers, for free. The e-zine itself was impressive, being accompanied by a glitzy looking custom reader. You can still checkout the March S&T fer free rat cheer.

Still, even given that S&T was dipping a toe in the online water again, I was kinda suprised to get an email subscription offer for a digital version of the magazine for the very reasonable price of 6 smackers. I took 'em up on it, you betcha, and am pretty pleased with what I got in return. The for-pay copy of the May issue I received looks purty good. Very readable, with that same cool-reader that was previewed with the March ish. Problems? Only a few. You have to download a whole cotton picking computer program to your PC, Adobe Air, if'n you want to read your issues offline. Supposedly, you can also download a plain, ol' .pdf, but I ain't been able to make that work. Anyhoo, it was a blast to be able to read the magazine on my PC, and, even moreso, on my iPod.

Unk being Unk, naturally he wants more. He wants Skytel and their parent, New Track Media, TO KICK IT UP A NOTCH! Offer three subscription types: print, print + electronic, and electronic only. Some of us folks, some curmudgeons like me, will always want print. Some of us will be interested in an electronic copy in addition to a hard copy magazine. And some of the younger amateurs won’t care pea turkey about anything but an electronic version.

How will going at least partially electronic help? In addition to maybe making it possible to offer readers who will opt for electronic-only a lower subscription rate thanks to lower production costs, extra value can be added. We got a little of that in the May online edition, with all URLs being clickable. We want MORE, MORE, MORE, though! Like “bonus” editorial copy in the e-version. If it's cheaper to produce, maybe that can happen. That’s just the beginning, of course. How about videos? Interviews, star party reports, and product reviews would be naturals for that. Howsabout nice big graphics of plans/blueprints to accompany ATM articles? There is mucho cool stuff that could be done with the online magazine or a CD/DVD.

The biggest Sky and Telescope e-news don’t have nuttin’ to do with the future, though, but with the past. An announcement came that many of us feared we never would hear: the entire run of the mag, November 1941 – December 2009, will finally be available on DVDs. It appeared for the longest time that legal considerations would prevent this from happening, but those hurdles seem to have been leapt. I cannot tell you how happy I will be to have this, to be able to browse and search the whole run, including all those issues from the 1960s and 1970s that one ex-wife or another used for puppy trainin’ or birdcage lining. I don’t care how much the collection costs. I will pay it. Gladly.

So it goes with Sky. The competition? My heart belongs to S&T, maybe, but that don’t mean I ain’t enjoyed Astronomy over the years, too. I have some very fond memories of that magazine, especially its Richard Berry Years. How are they fairing? Ah, that, my friends, is a question for another Sunday…

Spurious Book Review

“Spurious” how? In the sense that book reviews are not a regular part of this here blog. Maybe they should be, though, and I promise to give notice to those astronomy—amateur and professional—books I enjoy as we roll along. What I liked this time was a real moldy-oldie, Dr. Henry E. Paul’s Telescopes for Skygazing, which first hit the streets in 1966. What got me thinkin’ about it in these latter days? As I done admitted, I spend one hell of a lot of time on the Internet Astro Bulletin Boards (yeah, that’s what I still call ‘em), where I invariably run across some interesting stuff. Which included, one mornin’ not long ago, a post about this old book on one of Cloudy Nights’ forums.

Reading and re-reading the missive finally caused one of my few still-functioning neurons to fire: “OH, YEAH! THE SCOPE CATALOG BOOK!” That’s what I called Dr. Paul’s work back in the day. It wasn’t really a catalog, but it had so many mouth-watering pictures of the era’s luscious amateur telescopes that it might as well have been. I remembered I’d also learned quite a bit about telescopes from Paul’s text, but what really struck me and stuck with me was, yeah, those cool pics.

After I logged off CN, I got to thinking I might enjoy a trip down memory lane with Telescopes for Skygazing—my copy had long since disappeared, no doubt due to the depredations of them ex-wives. I hopped on over to Amazon.com to see what I could see. That gigantanormous online seller not surprisingly had the old tome available. Perusin’ the list of used copies, I found, “Very good condition with dust jacket, 1 cent.” A frackin’ penny? How could I resist?

Nota Bene: I do not normally buy used books on Amazon.com. As an author, I like to get paid for my hard work, and am not about to do anything to deprive my fellow writers of the same. When you buy a used book on Amazon (or anywhere else) the person who wrote it receives nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I didn’t mind buying used this time, however. This book is out of print and (so far as I can determine) the author is deceased.

OK, preaching mode OFF. I received my 1 cent copy from Amazon (actually about five bucks with the $4.99 postage) in due time. Just in time, actually, since it made the hours I spent in the hospital waiting room during Miss Dorothy’s recent surgery go by a lot faster than they otherwise would have. My opinion after laying eyes on the book for the first time in at least 25 years? In many ways Telescopes for Skygazing is still a remarkable work. Frankly, I was impressed all over again. Not just by those wonderful and now-nostalgic pictures, but also by Dr. Paul's reasoned and spare but elegant prose.

The most amazing thing? The book is still of real value, not just to classics nuts, but to today’s novice astronomers. Paul’s discussions of scope theory and, especially, the forever popular "refractors vs. reflectors" are just as relevant as ever. Henry Paul was an engineer, but his doctorate was in optics (and nutritional biochemistry, go figure), and he does know his stuff when it comes to the telescopes of that bygone era—and the basics of telescopes of ANY era.

This book is over thirty years old, of course—the third and last edition came out in 1976—so it would be awful strange if it weren’t dated in some respects. And it is. For example, few amateurs these days, even wet-behind-the-ears newbies, would agree with Henry that practical scopes top-out at 12-inches of aperture. There is no doubt 12-inches is still a very useful, far-reaching aperture, however, and for many of us it is still the biggest telescope that is practical for us. Me, for instance: for years and years my largest scope has been a 12-inch and I don’t feel a bit deprived, just as Dr. Paul said I wouldn’t.

There are a few mistakes and gaffes (who am I to talk?) in the book, but mainly you find ‘em when (in the 1976 Edition) the author takes up things on the hairy, cuttin’ edge of technology, like them new-fangled SCTs. In one passage, fer example, we are told the Orange Tube C14 focuses with a "dial" that moves a "small secondary mirror." On the other hand, Henry Paul was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Schmidt Cassegrain.

All-in-all, a great book for any amateur...those who lived through the amateur astronomy of the era and are badly nostalgic for it; those who didn’t, but think old scopes are cool; and, yes, those who are new to the game and want a cogent explanation of the basics. Henry Paul does that in spades. Now get on Amazon and get you a copy before the price goes up.

Comments:
Hi Rod,
I'm writing mostly to say thanks for your book on new SCTs. I recently bought a CGE1400, and a copy of your book, and your book has really laid some great groundwork for me to learn from.

I agree with your comments on magazines. The Web is a wonderful place, and it'll be a shame if the printed word on paper ever becomes obsolete. The most successful magazines, I think, will figure out ways to combine the two. And, I think people are going to have to get it into their heads that the Web is not "free", and that to get good content, it's fair to expect to pay a bit for that. Of course, to get that extended content on the web, the authors should rightfully get paid more, and an extended subscription of some sort could allow for that.

Having said that, I think I need to disagree with your comments on used books. I don't really buy many used books, but have on occasion, and I just think that your logic on that is a bit off. If you are an author, you've agreed that, say, you'll get a buck a copy for each copy of your book that's sold by the publisher. If a book gets sold as used, you've already earned your income from that book when it was sold the first time. If authors and publishers want to work out deals with places like Amazon to include an additional royalty with each additional sale of a book, then that's great. I love to see authors make a living. But that's not the agreement that they have now. I don't think that that's Amazon's fault or any used book seller.

Anyway, thanks again for the book on new SCT usage. It's just great, and I highly recommend it to anyone getting a new SCT.
 
HI Ron:

Well the thing is...unless your name is "Stephen King," or at least maybe "David Levy," you'll make next to nothing as a writer to begin with. It can get to the point where some of us say, "Why bother with another book?" I know one popular astronomy author who has vowed that he is DONE. The process of bringing book to print is an incredibly arduous one even if you are small potatoes like me. Like my buddy, whose name you'd recognize instantly, I am wondering whether its worth doing another book for slave labor wages. :-(

Every dollar that's spent on a used book is one dollar less the author would have made for his hard work. I don't have a problem with the local church rummage sale, but a big--a giant--outfit like Amazon who aggressively markets "used"? That's a different story.

Bottom line? If you want to see your favorite authors continuing to write books: SUPPORT THEM.

Oh...work out a "deal" with Amazon...they are not likely to be too interested in that. Even if your name _is_ Stephen King. ;-)

So, it's up to you (the collective you, not use personally). If you want to save a buck, buy used on Amazon.com. If you want to say "thank you" to the people whose work you enjoy? And keep them doing what they do? Buy a new copy.

Want to go one step farther? Buy from your local independent bookseller. That is, buy from people who LOVE BOOKS not a corporate hydra.

Preachin' mode OFF! LOL!
 
Good article Rod. I quit talkin S&T some years ago. At the time, I had to make a choice of keeping one subscription and S&T didn't get the nod. I truly liked the mag but, at the time, I thought they were entirely too hung up on cosmology and lots of "advanced" topics. Even the other guys do the same to some degree. I dunno...maybe their demographic leads them to believe this is what the customer wants. Hell....I have always wanted a series of articles (one per month for a year) of an average Joe (and maybe written by that Joe) that covers all the aspects of becoming an astrophotographer.....from selection of equipment, to a home observatory, selection of software, and on and on. Don't get me wrong....like the dark matter and GRB articles but how about somethin closer and perhaps more impactful???

Anywho...ramblin too much....after readin ur article...perhaps I should give S&T another gander.
 
I've subscribed to S&T since 1969, and have issues going back to 1962, but I haven't really read it cover to cover in decades. I keep it coming for emotional reasons. If they do come out with their DVD set of all issues, I would toss all my magazines from 1980 forward and just keep the old ones along with the most current year or two.

The biggest difference between S&T then and S&T now is the tone of the writing. The old S&T was formal and academic. These were the days when TV hosts behaved as if they were guests in your home, and wore suits or tuxedos. Even amateur astronomers seemed to wear ties, if the photos are to be believed. The new tone is casual, informal, not academic at all. That leads to the impression that the writing has been dumbed down. In a sense it has, but the audience has become dumber, too, especially as they try to expand their base of subscribers.

If they're going to survive, they need to be more serious about using the Internet and start charging for content. I subscribe to several talk radio shows as an "insider" and get extra goodies for only $5/month. S&T could put those neat planet, moon and star chart applets on the subscriber side and I'd gladly pay $5/month for them, if I also got a downloadable PDF version of the magazine or a hypertext version. Lots of things they could do to make the web work for them in addition to the magazine.
 
Sky & Telescope has always been the only astronomy magazine I consider reading, the main draw are the wonderful articles by Sue French! Back in the good old Rick Feinberg days, I'd get nearly every issue but now I actually seem to have trouble finding a copy of the mag anywhere (I live in cloudy Britain!), but lately I've kinda gone off magazines because everything I want to know can be found on the internet.
I really like the range of topics covered by the various writers, especially "guest" articles by amateurs, I remember reading a great article by Ken Crawford and Johannes Schedler about a quasar in Hercules and I thought, "Why doesn't Astronomy magazine ever do anything like this?"
The only thing I don't like is the overuse of fonts but thats not so important. Also I absolutely love the illustrations of Casey Reed, she is amazingly talented!
 
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