Bitch Magazine Is Closing: Bad News For Me, You and Indie Media Overall

I’m not sure how to start this piece, which angle makes more sense. So I’ll just do one and then the other.

There’s the personal one: I’ve been a subscriber to Bitch for as long as I can remember. There’s a well-worn copy of their 2006 anthology Bitchfest as well as 75 back issues of Bitch Magazine in my personal library including the one I received in the mail just yesterday. I was reading it just this morning! Thinking about how their design has evolved, remembering when it was all black + white. I promised myself I’d save this issue to read on a flight I’m taking in two weeks but I cheated and read an article this morning, I couldn’t help it.

When I ranked 15 Women’s Magazines That Don’t Suck some years back for what I’m sure was a pressing reason, I put Bitch at #1. I wrote that it was “my favorite lady-focused magazine of all time,” and furthermore: “It’s smart, dorky, funny, educational and somehow also friendly. Consistently inventive and always-evolving, this non-profit publication is in fact partially responsible for my ability to write critically about pop culture through a queer and/or feminist lens — an ability which helped me build this here website.”

cascade of bitch magazine covers

Which brings me to the professional one: Bitch has been an enduring example of how an ethical media company can survive on subscriber support without big advertising dollars, and we’ve often felt a deep kinship with Bitch. We’ve looked to them for inspiration that pulling this off is even possible. We’ve gotten their advice on topics as huge as hiring someone specifically devoted to fundraising and as small as which boxes to use when you ship mugs in the mail.

Bitch Magazine is a crucial piece of the modern feminist media landscape, and Bitch‘s work has undoubtedly shaped later debuts like Jezebel, Feministing and Teen Vogue. When they began publishing, nobody was doing this kind of work. If you wanted to read a feminist response to pop culture, the best place to find that was in a Sociology of Gender course pack, chock-full of academic articles about TV shows from the 1960s. But Bitch was current and fun and I loved it, even its regular feature “Jane Petty Criticism Corner” devoted to hating my other favorite magazine, Jane. (We contain multitudes.) They covered queer issues and perspectives without restraint at a time when very few magazines were doing so.

Bitch changed the world.

And today, Bitch Magazine announced that they would be ceasing publication:

Bitch Media has been an independent-media presence like no other. Since 1996, we have provided nuanced, thoughtful, and resonant media criticism and have never wavered from our original mission to look at popular culture through a feminist lens—and encourage others to do the same. Over the past 25 years, Bitch’s magazine, website, podcasts, writing fellowships, campus programming, and more have helped to shape a media and pop-culture landscape where feminist perspectives are embraced, rather than sidelined.

Recent years have brought a multitude of challenges to our organization, and despite incredible effort, we have concluded that we are unable to sustainably continue creating the quality content that our readers and supporters expect.

On twitter, an outpouring of support and lamentation followed their announcement — writers who published with Bitch, were shaped by Bitch, or appreciated Bitch‘s coverage of their books. Teachers who used Bitch in their classroom. Readers praising their intersectional work and their beautiful magazine. But the resounding mood is something like this:

Bitch‘s shuttering is the latest in a long line of feminist magazines closing their doors.

“This is heartbreaking. I personally donated to Bitch and am a member of The Rage because I wanted to see them keep going,” Autostraddle’s A+ and Fundraising Director, Nicole Hall, told me. “And at Autostraddle, we made sure we shared their fundraisers on our social media, because we want to see our fellow feminist indie media sites thrive. I’m devastated to hear about Bitch closing — especially after watching them not make fundraiser goal after fundraiser goal throughout the pandemic. Like I imagine many people are thinking, I wish I could go back in time and do even more to keep Bitch around. But, that’s the thing, indie media is always hanging on by a thread. I wish that more people would believe it when we (us, Bitch, whoever else) say over and over that without reader support, we will go away. I almost always have their magazine on my counter, an article open in one of my tabs, the words of their writers in my head. This is an incredible loss, and I think, it might be a loss that we didn’t have to see.”

The thing is: I get it. It’s fucking hard to fundraise that often. It’s frustrating to hold all these progressive ideologies about what your people should be paid, but not have access to the same money that other, less progressive companies do. The hours are long and the work is so rewarding, but it’s not easy. Sometimes you sit down and you look at how much money this kind of work can realistically earn and how much money the people doing the work deserve to be paid and the math just doesn’t add up the way we wish it would.

On their website, Bitch says they will process prorated refunds to subscribers, and I don’t know how it works with non-profits but I’m probably not the only one who’d prefer they just keep the extra money and take a vacation. They’ve definitely earned it.


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Riese

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2945 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. I started reading Bitch in Spring 2014 with their Tough issue. For a long time, they were one of the websites I visited every day. Just yesterday, when I was writing down my 2022 goals, I put down “apply to Bitch pop culture fellowship”, because I was so looking forward to that application opening up.

    When they sent that email out to subscribers, I wanted to cry. I still do. Bitch is only 2 years older than I am. I thought we’d have more time.

  2. Fuck. I’ve subscribed to Bitch for 22 years. And for the past ten I can’t say that I succeeded in reading the magazine, not because they’re any less interesting or well-written, but because it’s hard for me to engage with the kind of hard-hitting content they consistently put out. But I desperately want it to exist, because it was just so good when I did manage to put down my phone long enough to read it. (I did digital only for a long time, but never read those either.)

    I feel similarly about Autostraddle, in that I don’t often come to the site and read through it thoroughly even though I deeply feel like this is the place for me. My daily dopamine seeking or trauma numbing behaviors make it feel like just beyond my grasp. I don’t know what to do about it. I do wonder if I have a lot of company here because I think the Bitch and Autostraddle audience probably has a lot of people who, like me, are dealing with things like CPTSD that makes us want to consume only the easiest media, the media we know won’t challenge us in meaningful ways but will give us something to fixate on, like how Twitter gives you a main character to hate so you don’t ever have to worry about self reflection.

    All this rambling to say: what a huge loss. My junior year at art school for graphic design, I sent my resume and portfolio along with a red Sharpie and return prepaid envelope to Bitch magazine as a class assignment to ask for critique from people working at our dream jobs, or something like that, and being an editorial designer for Bitch was and is my dream job. I think it was their editor who took the time to write back with only encouragement about my work. It was such a gracious gesture, and now that I work for a nonprofit myself I realize how extraordinary it was that someone took the time to do that for me.

  3. On one hand, I know that change is normal. Things come together, things fall apart. On the other hand, I’m gutted.

    Being a teen in the 90s I really believed the situation was going to change. Equality for women was inevitable, we were here to fight. I thought Bitch was one of the signs of that. Now it’s 2022. Bitch is dead along with those teenage dreams.

    People want the stuff, the media, the art, the words, but they don’t want to give actual money to support it.

  4. Riese, that is sad….every loss like this is like one less candle in the dark to light the way.

    In this day of corporate owned media, I always have to ask myself….what is the corporate agenda here?

    With indie media, that is not an issue…..

    The passing away of Bitch magazine is exactly the kind of reason I became an A+ member. It was less about access to the A+ content (WHICH I LOVE BY THE WAY!!) but it was more about providing the funds to keep the voices going and to continue to bring in the top notch writing talent.

    Take Care, <3

  5. I first found Bitch at a local feminist bookstore back in 1997 or 1998 and subscribed to it for years. I let my subscription lapse for many years when I moved multiple times but was so thrilled to find they were still around a couple years ago and became a Rage subscriber. I wish I had a wad of money to send them but sadly have been broke like everyone else during the pandemic. I felt so bad that I couldn’t afford to give more than the $12 a month during their most recent fundraisers. So many of us on the margins of society need more media sources but we are also the same people who often have very little in the way of money to give. They will be missed badly and hopefully their legacy lives on here at Autostraddle who I guess will now be the benefactors of my $12 a month.

  6. Riese, was in a used bookstore yesterday, and found a worn but readable copy of bitchfest (2006) in the feminist section. Snapped it up…..been really enjoying it….it’s like the feminist bible! I had no idea……

    Thanks for making me aware of it…..

  7. I picked up my first copy from Borders Books (RIP) in Ann Arbor when I was a senior in high school. It was true love. Really everything I had been looking for in a magazine. I think I picked up my second copy at Crazy Wisdom also in AA, a new age feminist bookstore that has also recently shuddered. Now in my late thirties, I’ve been an infrequent reader, so, I guess what did I expect? Still I always enjoyed reading it and it’s hard to see it go. I’m kind of kicking myself now.

  8. Oh, Bitch Magazine, how I’ll miss you! 😔 I’ve been a subscriber for probably 20 years! I’ve donated to fundraisers, I’ve gifted subscriptions to others, I’ve purchased cool gifts from your store for myself and friends…. You’ve been part of my life for so long now. I don’t know what I’ll do without you. Feminist media without mainstream advertising? Where will I get that now??? I’ll miss you more than you know, Bitch. You were loved🥰

  9. I came to autostraddle today just to see if y’all published something about Bitch closing…. I knew it was impossible that it would go unremarked upon. I’m glad I did, cause it’s really comforting to be grieving Bitch with all y’all queers <3

    Autostraddle is how I found Bitch in the first place…. I always looked forward to the day I would be able to afford a subscription to the printed mag, and contribute more to their fundraisers. How I wish I could have given more to them. if wishes were fishes, and all that.

    Y'all already do so much with so little (money), so maybe this is unfair of me, but I hope AS will be able to fill the void they are leaving behind, just a little.

    Where else am I supposed to go for scathing, SW-supportive, intersectional feminist pop culture media??? (besides here, obvs).
    Goodbye, Bitch, you will be sorely missed.

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