What Price Syncopation?

Three years ago this month, I set forth on a journey of perpetual astonishment with the first issue of The Syncopated Times. “How did I even do that?” is what I wondered upon sending out the first batch of files to the printer—and I have asked the same question every month since. There was the idea of a publication when I started, and standing timbers left by my predecessor as an indication of what walls might go where. But all I really had was a hammer and nails, a pile of boards, and access to a few instructional videos on how to build a house.

Three years on, I feel I have cause to celebrate. Publishing my thirty-seventh issue feels like the triumph of rank amateurism over conventional wisdom. That’s only fitting: The Syncopated Times is anything but conventional. It’s still the only national monthly publication reporting on the world of pre-modern jazz and ragtime from more than just a historical or nostalgic perspective, but celebrating music that still lives in performance and evolves according to its own lights.

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Fortunately, where my own astigmatism (actual as well as philosophical) prevents me from seeing distant signposts, I now have people on board who can discern what’s down the road. I am deeply lucky to have an associate editor, Joe Bebco, who has even more of a feel for what’s going on now that I do, who can make connections with excellent artists who are his contemporaries, and who can put together a website as efficiently as I can lay out a newspaper. Our website, syncopatedtimes.com, which Joe has launched and developed over the past year, is a stunning success. (My own internet skills remain at about the blog level.)

The biggest challenge I’ve faced over these three years is learning how to pace myself. Determination is one thing; being maniacally driven is something else again. Self-employment can be the cruelest form of indentured servitude. If I had a cell phone (and I don’t need one since I rarely leave the office) its ringtone would be Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” It gradually dawns on me that I should smile, rather than swear, when one of those spinning plates hits the floor. Those are Dollar Store plates, anyway. Let ’em go!

During this particular layout week, I’ve found that walking away from the computer to read or to doze for an hour, even when staring down the barrel of a deadline, works wonders. I haven’t been napping nearly enough for health or sanity. And I’ve been plowing through the wonderfully crafted mystery novels of Larry Karp (courtesy of Larry Melton, who kindly sent me a box of them), with profound enjoyment. (And please consider a contribution to the Larry Karp Memorial Fund, about which you can find more information of page 19 of this issue.) Also, I begin to find that a cup of tea does worlds more to keep me going than a cup of coffee.

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So, this paper bids fair to come in on schedule with much less anxiety on the part of its publisher than usual. And that’s the good news.

The other (and some would say greater) challenge I face is in learning how to value my work at something like its actual worth. With an increase in the cost of printing last year and the cost of postage this year, I’m faced with the unfortunate necessity of raising the price of a subscription. And I do see it as unfortunate. The problem with a labor of love (as The Syncopated Times most certainly is) is that I’ve had a tough time seeing it in terms of dollar signs.

Yet there are those who tell me that I’ve been letting it go too cheaply from the start. I’ve been told that, at thirty dollars a year, people think they’re getting “gerbil paper.”

I don’t know. It sure doesn’t feel like gerbil paper, unless I’m the gerbil. What I do know is that it has to pay for itself, which it does much less efficiently as I meet increased expenses. As of March 1, 2019, the price for a year’s subscription renewal will go up to $40. That’s the bad news. The less bad news is that you still have the (short) month of February to renew or add years to your subscription at the current price.

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That being said, if you have a renewal reminder postcard from me that you haven’t sent in yet I’m likely to accept it with your check for the old rate. In a similar vein, I’ve just had advertising cards printed for distribution at venues, clubs, and festivals offering the rate of $35 per year and $60 for two years. If you find one of those cards, lucky you. I’ll happily take your money at that rate. But I must stress that you should renew now if you possibly can.

And if you are someone who genuinely enjoys the paper but is in strained economic circumstances, please let me know. I don’t want The Syncopated Times to be the reason you forego vegetables to eat Kraft Dinner. (Although during layout week I’ve been known to make some rather expedient dietary choices myself.) Above all, even with the insistent voice of commerce nagging away in my ear, I appreciate appreciative readers.

Good news or bad news, this issue is about ready to go to press. And that, for me, is a real reason to celebrate.

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