Opinion, Uncategorized

What Happened to France Magazine?

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Cover of the Fall 2011 issue of France Magazine.

I am one of those strange people who actually like to pick up a real book or magazine.   I still have my National Geographic Magazine subscription renewed every year and, when at the library I sometimes check out the New York Review of Books.  Another magazine that I thoroughly enjoyed that I no longer see is France Magazine.  This is not to be confused with the expensive high-gloss publication from the UK I keep receiving emails about but something completely different. I first came across this about 14 years ago at one of my aunts’ houses.  Another aunt, who worked for John Carroll University, would bring back issues over the house for her to look at since the school had a subscription. When I saw that there was a card inside offering a year’s subscription to it, I filled out a check and sent it in.

A publication, or so I thought until recently, of the French-American Cultural Foundation, it came out on a quarterly basis and featured, as the cover put it “The Best of Culture, Travel and Art De Vivre”. The mission of France Magazine was, as editor Karen Taylor put it in the summer 2014 issue, “As always, our objective is to enrich your experience of France, whether in person, in print, or online.” There were no vacation homes in Burgundy for sale under 200,000 pounds in this magazine.  Instead, there were articles on fine dining, the latest in French luxury goods, interior design, interviews, movies, and upcoming events in the United States connected to French art exhibitions.

There were also pieces on different parts of the country.  For example, in their Winter 2001-2002  issue, there was an in-depth look at Brittany including a well written articles on the Rennes Renaissance by Alexander Labrano, and the Emerald Coast by Elizabeth Thrush, that stretch of Brittany to the West of the port of St. Malo that, over a century ago, rivaled the Riviera as a holiday destination and was experiencing a come-back.  In every issue, the writing was top-notch and quite informative.

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A few of the books listed in the Fall 2011 issue.

What I really liked about France Magazine were the book lists.  For example, in the Fall 2011 issue, they had Ritz Paris: Haute Cuisine by Michel Roth and Jean-Francois Mesplede (Flammarion Books), which gives the reader a look at what’s on the menu of one of the world’s premier hotels, Saint-Emillion: the Chateaux, Winemakers, and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region by Beatrice Massenet, Emmanuelle Ponsan-Dantin and Francois Querre (Abrams New York) is a great coffee table book looking at many of the wineries of the region, and Versailles A Private Invitation by Guillaume Picon (Flammarion Books) which has many photographs of the royal palace from the Opera House to the Petite Trianon. This is just a brief sampling of the books I’ve taken out of my library over the years because I saw it there first.

Sometime in 2015, it dawned on me that I didn’t see any more issues coming through the mail, nor the postcard asking to renew.  Since I always renewed on a yearly basis and publications come and go I said c’est la vie!  However, I still kept those back issues and once in a while look through them, just like I did the last month with the Fall issue of 2014.  It was such a high quality publication it was a shame it folded and I never really knew why.I tried contacting the French-Embassy about its’ fate.  After repeated attempts, I didn’t receive a reply.   On the other hand, I did track down the former editor, Karen Taylor, via of all things Twitter. There right in front of me she listed herself as “former editor of France Magazine 1985-2015.”  I don’t recall receiving a letter at the time stating it folded.  Apparently, it lasted 35 years; not a bad run for a publication

I sent Ms. Taylor a Tweet and she responded with a direct message.  The former editor wrote that she would be happy to answer any questions I may have and that I could reach at, believe it or not, at her old email address for the magazine.  I was pleasantly surprised that Ms Taylor sent a reply to my email. She was very gracious and offered to answer any questions I may have about the life and death of the magazine.

She  explained that France was started by French Embassy’s Press Office in 1985 as a controlled circulation publication.  However, in 2002 it was transferred to the relatively new French-American Cultural Foundation in DC.  The magazine became a sort of a hybrid or as Ms. Taylor put it “a combination of paid circulation and controlled circulation.”  Revenues were derived from grants, fundraising events. advertising and, of course, new stand sales at the time when what has become an online revolution hit the media industry.

However, two events essentially sealed the fate of the magazine.  The first one was when the company that handled their subscriptions was purchased by another firm.  It completely ignored France Magazine and failed to handle subscriptions (which I can personally testify to) thus alienating many subscribers. By the time they were able to move to another company, extensive damage was done.  This happened at a time when a staff of less than 4 people was trying to create an online web presence and getting into social media (like Facebook).  As Ms. Taylor wrote in her email, ” The fulfillment setbacks combined with these new demands and other difficulties created a situation that was more than we could overcome with our tiny staff.” Then, in the fall of 2014, the French-American Cultural Foundation transferred the publication to France-Amerique. Based in New York City, France-Amerique was created in 1943 and had (and still does) a solid reputation producing first-rate content.  After they fulfilled the remaining subscriptions it became bilingual (until then, France-Amerique was written only in French) and kept France Magazine’s mailing list.  I visited their website and it’s very interesting.  However, it’s not France Magazine.

There are two back issue of France Magazine lying on my desk right now.  I used them for the final photograph and, yes, one of them is that 2002 issue with the articles on Brittany.  I do hope that a new and improved version of it is resurrected in the future, or at least France-Amerique (or whoever currently owns it) can hire an intern to update the website and put the archives online as Ms. Taylor wants.  for a subscription that only cost about $20 a year, it was well worth it.

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Photographs taken by James Valentino

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