R.I.P. North and South Magazine (1997-2013)

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North and SouthCan’t say that I am surprised by this news. After sixteen years Keith Poulter is calling it quits at North and South magazine. I still remember opening up the first issue back in 1997. At that time I was managing the periodicals section at Borders Books in Rockville, Maryland. At the time I was just beginning to read Civil War history seriously and I even tried my hands at writing a few book reviews for the Washington Times. I contacted Keith early on to see about writing book reviews for the magazine and he gave me the green light to contribute on a fairly regular basis. You can find a fair number of my book reviews in those early issues, which helped me quite a bit to begin to build up a resume and make new contacts.

For much of its history N&S was a quality publication, though now I understand that much of that had to do with the work of Terry Johnston, who eventually left and founded The Civil War Monitor magazine. For those of us looking for a bit more academic rigor North and South offered a wide range of topics from some of the leading historians along with footnotes. Who ever heard of such a thing in a glossy. I continue to use many of the articles in my Civil War courses.

The magazine business is very competitive and most publications last no more than a couple of years. Keith demonstrated that there was room for another Civil War magazine, but he also showed what happens when mismanagement and broken promises go unaddressed. I know a number of authors who were never paid for their articles. My own experience with Keith was incredibly disappointing. After formally accepting one of my essays for publication and even after advertising it as forthcoming the piece never appeared and Keith never explained why. That is no way to deal with your contributors and I promptly canceled my subscription.

Despite these problems it is safe to say that Keith Poulter helped to stretch the boundary of what is possible in a Civil War glossy and you can see its influence in other magazines. I wish Keith all the best in his future endeavors.

41 comments… add one

  • Gregg Jones Jun 4, 2013

    Sorry to here about the NS Mag going under. I think your observations are accurate but I would suggest that this needs to be looked at from a different facet. Every magazine is a business and if you don’t know your business you will most likely fail. In my opinion, NS failed for the main reason that it was not marketed successfully. If you don’t have customers you know what that will lead to.

    PS Good Luck on the book.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2013

      The quality of the magazine took a major hit when Terry Johnston left. I don’t know how many people subscribed to the magazine or how it was marketed. I do know that Keith did not do a good job dealing with authors and that was likely a reflection of other problems with his management of operations.

  • Chuck Jun 4, 2013

    I am sad to learn of the death of this excellent publication. I used many of the articles while teaching a high school Civil War course. The book reviews alone were worth the price. Articles dealing with serious issues ignored by more popular Civil War magazines were written by actual Civil War scholars who adhered to rigorous academic standards. I’ve wondered why I could no longer find it in bookstores. Now I know the unpleasant truth.

  • Eric Wittenberg Jun 5, 2013

    There’s no doubt that it was groundbreaking stuff and the industry is better off for it.

    Having said that, the magazine was a victim of its founder’s incompetence and unwillingness to listen to anyone else. I lost a $20,000 investment in this fiasco. Had I known of Poulter’s incompetence as a businessman, I never would have invested. My bad; I’ve learned from my own mistakes.

    Because he never paid anyone timely, nobody would write for him anymore. That was the fatal thing and what ultimately killed the magazine. And for that, he has nobody to blame but himself.

    But, the offshoot–Terry’s excellent Civil War Monitor–takes what was begun with N&S and takes it to the next level. It’s a very worthy successor. And Terry is willing to listen to others and to take advice; he and I speak often about business issues that arise. Therein lies the difference.

    I will miss N&S. I will not miss Mr. Poulter or his shenanigans, and I feel for the rest of us suckers who invested real time and money in this venture and lost everything invested due to his lack of competence.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2013

      Hi Eric,

      You’ve mentioned this in the past when the topic of N&S has come up on this blog. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with my readers. It adds a great deal to the story of N&S’s demise.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jun 5, 2013

    Wow, this is all so sudden and very disappointing. North & South was such an intelligent, scholarly magazine. It sounds like Mr. Poulter just didn’t have very good people skills or business management or maybe both.

    Recently, a friend gave me a bag full of Civil War magazines: North & South, America’s Civil War, Blue & Gray, and Civil War Times Illustrated (the bag required two hands to carry it). I weeded out the N&S issues right away. I love that the magazine had contributors who could comprehend what the war was about (not hard to figure out) and articulate this with excellent writing.

    I also mention the stack of magazines I got because one of the America’s Civil War issues was an issue I read a long time ago (1997-98?), featuring an article on Black Confederates. In fairness, this was back before the internet (for me, at least) and before the story spun out of control. Anyway, in that ACW article, it was the standard narrative about the faithful servant who sees his master get killed and then picks up a gun and joins the firing line to lick the Yankees. I read this back when the Myth was still manageable and seemingly believeable. Keith Poulter himself (on Civil War Talk Radio) spoke about Civil War magazines with poor research (I think the contributors were mostly freelance history buffs). N&S came along with several great articles sincerely examining why the Black Confederate thing is statistically insignificant.

    Too bad to see this all come to an end. But not the first time I’ve seen a commodity revolutionize its field and then suddenly be gone.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2013

      Bryan, – I would love to get a copy of that Blk Conf article.

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Jun 5, 2013

        Kevin,
        Give me a few days and I will see what I can do.

      • Brad Jun 8, 2013

        Kevin,

        You can get a lot of back issues on eBay at reasonable prices. After a discussion of one of Prof. Harris’ articles in N & S, I found a copy there.

  • Gary H. Wishik, M.D. Jun 7, 2013

    Makes me feel better about not ponying up a significant sum to Mr. Poulter for his 3W Eastern Front series of wargames….

  • Martin K. Fleming Jul 17, 2013

    Sad to see this. Just wondering if the Feb. 2013 issue Vol. 14 # 5 was the last one that was published.

    • Laurence Freiheit Jul 26, 2013

      Vol. 15, no. 5 was the last one I received. I had a lifetime subscription so when I read in the latest Civil War News that The Civil War Monitor would honor N&S subscriptions I was thrilled. I wonder if that will happen?

      • Kevin Levin Jul 26, 2013

        I am confident that CWM will follow through with its promise.

        • Laurence Freiheit Jul 26, 2013

          CWM quickly replied to my inquiry telling me that my lifetime N&S subscription was converted to a CWM subscription ending in 2016. That could be a lifetime given my age.

          • Kevin Levin Jul 26, 2013

            That seems very fair given the circumstances.

      • Dan D Williams Aug 8, 2013

        Please check you last copy of N & S. I do not believe you got a Vol 15 No 5. I think it was probably Vol 14 No 5. It is way to early to get a No 5.

        • Laurence Freiheit Aug 8, 2013

          You are correct, it is 14/5.

  • brett wilson Jul 27, 2013

    Hi my name is brett i live in australia and i have read the N&S magazines for years i finally took out a subscription only to be surprised that they are not publishing anymore is this true? what happens to me i paid good money to get a subscription and delivery?

  • Michael Winicki Aug 8, 2013

    I too was surprised that the magazine folded. It was the only CW mag that I still subscribed to. I wasn’t aware of some of the “stuff” others are reporting, but it doesn’t surprise me. A couple years ago I suggested to Keith that he take the back issues (which are a “goldmine” of information) and put them on DVD, which would have created some immediate cash flow. I was never even given the courtesy of a reply. I’m a marketing “geek” by trade and I would have to think much of the failure of the magazine was due to the lack of marketing… And yeah author relations does fall under the umbrella of marketing.

  • Peter Lucas Aug 9, 2013

    It’s too bad about N&S, but it had a fantastic run, given Mr. Poulter’s poor management. I seem to remember a few years ago he started publishing the magazine in Red China, and from that point forward the magazine was always filled with numerous typos. Despite that, even the last few issues had some excellent articles in them that you would not expect to fine anywhere else.
    I received my first issue of Civil War Monitor; it is a little disappointing, too full of “pop” filler. I hope that future issues will contain the scholarly-type articles we always found in N&S.

  • Tim Yates Aug 18, 2013

    As others, I was surprised and disappointed when N & S stopped publication. Typos and layout problems (I really disliked the multicolored pages which made it hard to read the text) aside, I found the magazine very enjoyable and looked forward to each issue, The articles were almost always well-researched and written, and the editorial stance thoughtful and, at times, somewhat daring particularly in challenging Lost Cause orthodoxy. Until I read the commentary above I had no idea that Keith Poulter had apparently been so lax in marketing and so cavalier in dealing with contributors. Indeed, I stumbled across this website seeking an email address for N & S that might reach him so I could express my appreciation. I am pleased that I will be getting the Civil War Monitor in its place and I hope it will be of the same caliber as was N & S at its best. I am encouraged that Terry Johnson is seen as the person who fostered much of the qualityin N & S and that he is carrying forward with CWM.

    • Michael Winicki Aug 24, 2013

      I just read my first issue of “Civil War Monitor” as a replacement for “N & S”…

      I found it to be decent but it’s pretty much like the other CW related mags you can pickup on the newsstand. Not much in the way of “in-depth” information like what Poulter gave us in “N & S”.

      I’m going to miss “N & S”.

      I hope someone comes into the market with a CW mag that has the ability to make you think.

  • Bud Porter Sep 2, 2013

    Agree with many of the other comments that Monitor so far does not come close to reolacing N&S. Bud Porter

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

      What exactly do think is missing from CWM?

      • Michael Winicki Sep 2, 2013

        If I can look at an article and think, “This would fit in with one of the newsstand CW mags” then it shouldn’t be in CWM. Now that may be a little harsh and yeah I realize every magazine is going to have some “fluff” pieces, but the last thing I want to read is another story on say “The Battle For Little Round Top”. If you’re going to do a battle story then do something about the battle that hasn’t already been covered 100 times in books or other mags.

        I really enjoyed the topics in N&S where a group of historians would kick around a topic, like “Did the South have a Strategy?”

        N&S also wasn’t afraid of being controversial. I think this is an important point. The one thing a magazine doesn’t want to be and that’s boring. Even if you publish something people disagree with, they’ll still read it.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

          I really enjoyed the topics in N&S where a group of historians would kick around a topic, like “Did the South have a Strategy?”

          And here I thought those were the weakest pieces in N&S. Magazines do not have a high survival rate and I suspect it is even more so for history magazine. They need to find a balance between some of the more traditional stories and essays that challenge prevailing thought or steer readers in new directions. I believe CWM has done an admirable job in that department. Of course, we can agree to disagree. Thanks for the comment.

          • Bryan Cheeseboro Sep 2, 2013

            “Magazines do not have a high survival rate and I suspect it is even more so for history magazine.”

            That’s interesting to hear. American Heritage Magazine has been around for almost 60 years; Civil War Times Illustrated has been in publication since the Civil War 100.

            • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

              That was my experience managing a newsstand for Borders Books back in the 1990s.

              • Michael Winicki Sep 2, 2013

                Magazines… like any other business have that critical time period over the first 3 years or so. Make it past that point and you may be onto something that can last for a long time. Of course the failure rate over that first 3 years is pretty high.

                I don’t think “N&S” failed because it didn’t have a fan base. As others have pointed out it smacked of poor marketing and author relations. But it did last for 16 years, and to have it go out in the middle of the 150th tells me it wasn’t a content problem.

                If I was starting a CW pub I would do it pretty much like “N&S” did but would clean up some of the behind the scenes issues.

                Making a new pub the anti-N&S wouldn’t be a good direction, because again you end up moving towards the other CW mags.

              • Bryan Cheeseboro Sep 2, 2013

                I figured as much. BTW, the June/July 1981 issue of American Heritage was the first place I ever saw the Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler photograph. In the photo caption, Silas was a slave/body servant and that was it. I heard many other things about Black Confederate “soldiers” after that but I don’t think I saw the Chandler photo again until an the Vol. 5 No. 3 (April 2002) issue of North & South.

            • Jimmy Dick Sep 2, 2013

              American Heritage Magazine suspended publication with the Summer 2012 issue. http://hnn.us/articles/american-heritage-magazine-temporarily-suspends-publication has more details. It is just not a good time for most magazines. History is particularly affected because of low readership and that lack of emphasis placed on it by our education system.

            • Dan Williams Sep 2, 2013

              I consider American Heritage and the Civil War Times Illustrated to be Yankee rag mags. I will miss North and South but the publication Blue and Gray has never disappointed me.

              • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

                Well, that’s helpful. How about a few examples that get us beyond such a vague reference?

                • Peter Lucas Sep 2, 2013

                  Even the last issue I received of N&S was much more interesting than CWM. The articles are almost all highly original and of such obscure topics that they would never be covered by any other Civil War mag. A detailed analysis of how Julius Stahal has been unfairly accused of inactivity during the month around the Battle of Chancelorville; a detailed breakdown of the campaign against the Sioux in Minnesota in the summer of 1862? No other magazine would come close to articles like these. Instead, CWM gives us a long retread in overly broad strokes of the life of Dan Sickles, and a lot of speculation over what did or didn’t happen during Lincoln’s reading of the Gettysburg Address, and about 20 pages taken up with photographs of Civil War soldiers. Just a lot of filler. Not as satisfying, unfortunately.

                  • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

                    Like I said, we will have to agree to disagree.

                  • Michael Winicki Sep 2, 2013

                    Nice summation comparing the two magazines Peter.

                    The mistake a lot of business owners make is that they think they need to appeal to ALL the folks within a niche. For a magazine that wants to survive in the Internet-era, the focus needs to be on those topics that one isn’t likely to find on the Internet or in the newsstand types of magazine.

                    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

                      One thing that CWM has done an excellent job with is with their digital presence. They made the decision early on to leave book reviews for the online site and you can read the full magazine in digital form as well. I happen to think the quality of N&S declined drastically during the last few years. Keith Poulter’s management was a disaster and left authors in the dust without payment. I had my own run in with Poulter as well.

  • Peter Lucas Sep 2, 2013

    Kevin, if you were screwed by Keith at some point, then I cannot blame you for having been soured and reluctant to say anything nice about N&S. But, as someone once said about Marx Brothers movies (paraphrase: “Even bad Marx Brother movies are better than anything else”), even bad N&S was better than anyone else; similarly, any Civil War Magazine is better than none at all, so I will be grateful that Civil War Monitor is honoring my subscription to N&S.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2013

      I’ve stated before that N&S was a quality magazine for much of its run, but in the end it declined dramatically once Terry Johnston left and Keith was left alone.

  • Like one of the contributors above I too was looking for a current address for Mr Poulter so I could ask him when to expect the next issue of N&S. He has fallen behind in the past, but always gotten caught up, so I didn’t start to worry until I asked the magzine’s person at Barnes & Noble to check on the mag. She said it had ceased publication, but couldn’t say when. Yes, Keith, was “unreliable.” I organized three conferences in Clovis, California, just 35 miles from his home at Tollhouse, and offered him free space to set up and promote the magazine but he showed up only once just long enough to drop off a box of his magazines for us to deal with. I’m truly sorry that he wasn’t a better “people person” and I will certainly miss the magazine which for his faults, was always a quality publication — too much so at times because the ink came off on my fingers, and as noted above the type was too small to be easily read against the colored backgrounds he often foisted upon us. I have received two issues of Civil War Monitor, and now I know why. The first did not impress me – I’ve been a reenactor since 1991 and I considered the item about the GAC event in July to be unworthy of publication. If Terry J. is going to offer CWM as a successor to N&S he is going to have to dramatically improve the kind of items published. By the way — I didn’t know that Keith paid those who wrote for N&S. I am a retired college history professor (Fresno City College) and it would never occur to me to ask for $$ for what I produce. And I believe this is generally true for all academics, at least at tax-payer supported institutions. Publishing is part of the “community service” component of our tenure review.

  • Bill Haley Mar 5, 2014

    Does anyone know what the last issue of North & South was? I was just doing some cleaning up and straightening up past issues of magazines. I noticed I only had one issue of North & South, which was Volume 14, Number 5. I don’t know how much farther my subscription had left. Also, if there were more issues past Volume 14, Number 5, would anyone know where I can purchase them? Thanks for any info.

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