|Related Articles: Literary, All|
Sit. Stay. Read.
Once a whimsical Berkeley lit mag devoted to dogs, The Bark is now cutting more mainstream teeth on service journalism, publishing a book, and spawning a litter of imitators.
by Karen Solomon on Sep 18, 2004
Somewhere between Dog Fancy and Harper's there was a void, and Claudia Kawczynska and Cameron Woo found a way to fill it.
Devoted dog lovers, the couple started The Bark, a quarterly magazine based in Berkeley that in seven years has grown from the newsletter of an offleash advocacy group into a circulation of 75,000. And as more owners show themselves willing to go to any length to pamper their pets, the magazine has proven to advertisers that its readership is a well-groomed demographic.
We caught up with co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Kawczynska the day she brought her 12-year-old Schnauzer-Border Terrier mix Lenny home from the vet. (For the record, Kawczynska and Woo also have an 11-year-old Border collie-Beagle mix named Nellie and -- grrr -- five cats.)
Q: Who's reading The Bark? Is it mostly a local, Berkeley-based readership?
I'm surprised to find that most of our readers aren't local. About 20 percent are on the West Coast, and only ten percent are in California. St. Paul, Minnesota has a huge dog community, and a lot of our issues go there. We have our SFDog community organization here, but they have an equivalent organization called ROMP. All members get the magazine as a benefit of membership.
Q: Your magazine is often compared to The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, and the like. How do you feel about the comparison?
Well, Cameron and I are fans of all of those. We like smart writing that offers a different take on things. It's pretty good shorthand to describe us, but this wasn't our intention. The other pet magazines that were out before we came along we never read, and we wanted to do something that we would actually enjoy reading.
Q: How has the magazine changed since you launched?
We used to be much more literature-rich, and we've started to expand more into service articles, such as travel pieces and a regular behavior column. We're trying to make it a more full magazine. One of the most popular pieces we ever ran was our smiling dog contest. That sort of thing.
Q: When you were just starting out, how did you manage to convince advertisers to believe in your idea?
In truth, we were an early advertising success story. I read about a new Saab vehicle for dog owners equipped with a dog bowl and such, so we contacted them and had Saab on our back cover when we were still in black and white. Urban dog people are active with higher incomes and higher levels of education; they have all the things that advertisers look for. Now we have Jeep, and they actually came to us. Plus, the dog business world is really picking up these days, with people selling everything from jewelry to dog foods, doggie bakeries, nice collars and clothing, dog artists. All of these places do well by us. Some other magazines are venturing into this same market, including Modern Dog out of Vancouver and The New York Dog, both fashion magazines, and Fido Friendly, a travel mag out of Fresno.
Q: How would you like to see the magazine evolve?
Every issue is unique. I keep saying, "This is the best one ever", and then the next one comes. We might be adding more pages, and we might be doing more with the Web. We'd like to be bi-monthly, but right now we only have three full-time people and to expand the frequency would be very difficult. I'm sure we won't go that way for at least a year.
Q: Do you feel that The Bark can make a difference politically? Is that part of your agenda?
We always want to inspire people to treat dogs humanely, and we always want for people to consider dog rescue. Just before the war, our back cover was a peace dog, and we got a few cancellations from subscribers because of it. Some of our authors have made fun of the administration, and that's caused some backlash in Florida and Texas. People write in saying that they don't expect to get politics in a dog magazine, but dogs are part of our whole life, and that includes our political life. In our upcoming fall issue we advocate for voting, and I'm sure we'll get some backlash for that.
Q: Do you ever tire of publishing about dogs? Have you ever wanted to focus on another subject? Say, cats?
No, honestly, I never get tired of people's different takes on the subject. I get hundreds of submissions and I read them all, but most don't strike that chord. I don't like writing, but I love reading, and I love to be able to present people with wonderful writing. I think people enjoy the surprise of someone like poet Mary Oliver writing about a dog.
I should also mention that Meow.com is registered. But writing about cats is a different kind of writing. Dogs are very public creatures, you go out and do things with your dog. Cats are much more about life inside the home and the internal world. At some point in the future, I would love to do something about cats.
by Karen Solomon on Sep 18, 2004