Andi Zeisler

Andi ZeislerIf you’re a woman in communications and you don’t know about Bitch Magazine, congratulations: Today’s your lucky day. For more than a decade, the quarterly has provided a feminist response to pop culture, existing as one of the few voices of modern feminism. But what about that name, you ask? It’s a reinterpretation of the insult, signifying intelligent, ambitious women who don’t hold their tongue in the face of opposition. But Bitch isn’t only a feminist power; it’s also an interesting case of an old medium becoming new. Learn more about Bitch’s beginnings, its transformation and its future, from co-founder and editorial/creative director Andi Zeisler.

You and your friends, Lisa Jervis and Benjamin Shaykin, started Bitch on a whim, even distributing your first copies from a 1977 station wagon. 13 years later, Bitch Magazine is still around, as a renowned leader in feminist perspective. How does it feel to witness an idea you bred in college become an important force that exists today?
It's pretty humbling — I think that while we all hoped in a vague, abstract way when we started that Bitch would grow beyond a little zine into a “real” magazine, none of us expected it to still be around. We have had the support of so many, both individuals and entities, and there's no way it could have lasted this long without that. I think of it as kind of an endless loop — people care about the magazine because we care, and we care more because we see how much the magazine means to its readers, and so on.

The upcoming issue of NYWICI’s Connect focuses on entrepreneurship. What has starting and running your own company been like for you?
I've only ever been marginally involved in the business side of things, but I’ve certainly been involved through creative and editorial direction, as well as working on crafting our fundraising campaigns and messages. What's really important to me is making sure the magazine's (and now the website's) voice remains strong, relevant and witty. There's plenty of media out there about feminism, and plenty about pop culture, but not necessarily a ton that looks at the intersection of those two. We have a really solid niche, and it's important to us to evolve the kinds of work that we do, but keep our intent firmly within that niche.

In the last few years, we’ve watched the print industry struggle to find its niche in a market of new media. How has Bitch reinvented itself to take this challenge head-on?
It's definitely a challenge, and something we've struggled with over the past several years. We've always wanted to branch out beyond publishing a magazine and work on programming that hews to our mission of feminist pop-cultural critique — lecture series, videos, podcasts — but, financially, we're just starting to be in a place where that's logistically possible. We're in the midst of a re-visioning process, where we're looking at how we want to diversify the offerings of Bitch Media, and planning our fundraising goals accordingly. In the meantime, we're continuing to publish the magazine quarterly and keeping our newly re-designed site as relevant and fresh as possible.

Another hot debate in the new media landscape is how to monetize content; whether sites should make users pay for content or not. What’s Bitch doing to bring in the dough?
Bitch is unique because we use a mix of non-profit and for-profit tactics. When we first became a nonprofit, we did fundraisers very much by the book, but it became clear that we could appeal to our readers in the same voice we used in the magazine. That meant we could approach fundraising in a more immediate and grassroots way, like the member-focused campaign we have going on now. Until recently, the Bitch site was ad-free, but we realized that we could be doing much more to make it a viable secondary revenue stream. So that's something that, again, we're still in the midst of figuring out and building up. We're still not sure whether or how we'll start charging for back-issue content, but we are going to be taking sponsorships, we just recently opened BitchMart and will be adding more Bitch merchandise as time goes on.

Bitch was inspired, in part, by your love/hate relationship with Beverly Hills, 90210. So now, it's time for a burning question: Have you seen the new 90210?
I saw the first episode, and it was like a chore for me to watch. The new version really epitomizes the way in which the lines between teen culture and adult culture have blurred. I have the feeling that this is some serious narcissism on the part of the creators of these shows — they might be old enough to be parents, but they still think of themselves as the cool kids. But someone's got to be square. I miss the square parents.

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Kristen Dolle