Empire of three
Local trio launches literary and current affairs magazine
On May 29, issue No. 1 of Empirical Magazine will hit the stands in major chain stores across the country and in such far-flung places as Brazil, Singapore and Germany. It’s a moment the magazine’s founders hoped would come when they started the project late last year, but never expected to happen so soon.
“We started off following the Sierra Nevada [Brewing Co.] model, to start local but with no limits,” said Olav Bryant Smith, who wears multiple hats as Empirical’s managing editor, art director and graphic designer. He and his wife, Tara Grover Smith, the publisher and editor-in-chief, committed themselves to the magazine last October, though the idea has been stewing for much longer.
“I had forgotten, but Tara reminded me that when we first met, I had talked about wanting to start a magazine,” Olav said. That was in Portland in 2005, and the couple was married in 2007. “We’ve all been writers and editors a long time, and I think every writer and editor dreams of starting their own magazine one day.”
Empirical is designed as a literary and current affairs magazine “with the openness and pioneering spirit of the Pacific Northwest,” and its stated goal is to seek truth “by boldly introducing thought-provoking points of view and new paradigms.”
“I think there’s a hunger for a more philosophical background than a lot of magazines strive for, for going a little deeper,” Tara said. “We have a spiritual edge and discuss spiritual topics. We have a broad focus that feeds the soul.”
Though June is Empirical’s first monthly issue, a prototype premiere issue was printed two months ago. A sampling of the stories are two works of fiction, a piece on the Occupy movement by Chico State professor Michael Coyle, a story about the Arab Spring by English journalist Emanuel Stoakes and a story about the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series run written by Randall Auxier, a Southern Illinois University philosophy professor.
The whole package is beautifully designed, with full-color photos and illustrations.
The Smiths’ publishing dreams became more realistic after Tara’s stint working for a now-defunct Texas-based lifestyle magazine. “I was able to see what they were doing right and wrong and learn a lot, so I figured we could take that knowledge and apply it to our own project,” she said.
Soon after they started, the Smiths were joined by Dan O’Brien—a local author of 10 novels who they brought aboard as an editor—and the current triumvirate behind Empirical was finalized. Between the three, they have backgrounds in philosophy, language, publishing, education and more, which Olav describes as “a good combination of energies.”
O’Brien said the magazine thus far has met their mission statement and even exceeded it, developing a life of its own: “Even without us meaning to create it, there is such consensus in the attitudes and philosophies we have going into the magazine. It seems purposive, but it’s all an accident. Even though it’s unplanned, many of our contributors are using the same kinds of paradigm shifts and the same notions of what’s wrong with the world.
“I think that’s why, on some level, we’re going to be very successful,” he continued. “It’s just going to take time.”
Empirical’s early mass distribution, Tara explained, was based on an initial vote of confidence from their distributors, Rider Circulation Services. “They were supportive from the get go, but when they saw the beauty of the first issue they were overwhelmed and really got behind us.”
O’Brien and the Smiths say they’re “all in” on the project, and have a great deal of faith in their own success, even with today’s dearth of print journalism. Olav likened the situation to that of the music industry: “If you’re a big company and you count on enormous revenue to do what you’re doing, then you’d be seeing the writing on the wall and thinking ‘this is disappearing.’ Well that stage of print production might be disappearing, but we still think it’s possible to find a niche.
“Just like music, you don’t do it to be a huge rock star but you do it because you love it and you hope to find that audience that’s looking for your message.”