10 February 2009 by Published in: General musings 25 comments

For the past few days, there has been a lot of discussion about the state and future of North & South magazine. It began with a post on Kevin Levin’s blog. After quite a few comments (including one by me), Ethan Rafuse pitched in. Ethan has put up two posts at the Civil Warriors group blog that also address the situation with North & South.

I think I can lend some insight. By way of introduction, I own a major block of voting stock in the company. I am in the top ten of the group of largest shareholders, and until two years ago, was a member of the company’s board of directors. I was kicked off the board by founder/editor/president Keith Poulter when he realized that I had turned hostile and would no longer approve his actions in managing the company without question. Consequently, I have some inside knowledge and insight that few others have.

The problems with this company run very deep and date back to its very beginnings. The simple truth is that the company has always been severely undercapitalized, from its very beginning. Poulter has always been very proud of the fact that he started the company on $15,000, which I can understand. That would be okay if he’d been able to take that $15,000 and turn it into a profitable operation, but it has never made a profit. In fact, the company has lost money every year of its existence.

There are a variety of reasons for that. First, and foremost, while he’s an excellent editor, Keith Poulter is an atrocious businessman. If North & South fails, it will be the second business of his to fail, the first being a wargaming company. He just has no idea how to run a successful and profitable business. The track record speaks for itself.

The biggest problem is that he and his ex-wife Kathy, who, conveniently enough, is the CFO of the company without the qualifications for the job, own enough stock to put down any attempts to depose them. I know this for a fact, because I tried. When I failed, that’s when I was kicked off the board in favor of the late Prof. John Y. Simon, who was willing to be a rubber stamp for Poulter. Since John’s death, that board position remains open and unfilled. There’s nobody to prevent Poulter from simply doing as he pleases. I’ve stopped caring, as I’ve accepted the sad reality that my investment is gone, pissed away by incompetent management.

Terry Johnston, the editor, and Joyce Gusner, the art director, were the only voices of reason, and were my allies. Terry, of course, was fired, and Joyce, sadly, died of breast cancer. Since Joyce’s unfortunate passing, all of the artwork and composition work is being done in China by people who obviously know nothing about the Civil War. Joyce had a large block of stock, but I’m not sure what happened to it. Terry had a few shares, but he was sent packing. When they dropped out of the picture, there truly was nothing to prevent Poulter from doing as he damn well pleases with the company without having to answer to anyone.

Further complicating things is that Keith Poulter spends the bulk of his time in China now. He’s never been good about communicating, and now that he’s spending most of his time there, forget getting a response from him. It’s very unprofessional, and it aggravates people to no end.

In fairness, the company’s wretched financial state has left Keith with no alternative but to serve as both editor as well as business manager. That’s a heavy burden, and it’s become clear that he’s not up to fulfilling both roles. The issues with publishing articles and things being in line for publication for years at a time are well documented in the posts and comments on the other blogs linked above. I have experienced the same problem myself–my article on the Battle of Tom’s Brook (the last thing of mine to be published in the magazine) sat in the production queue for the better part of three years before it finally saw the light of day, to my incredible frustration.

A friend of mine had an article in the last issue, and Poulter simply chopped off the conclusion without even asking him about it. Dan was absolutely flabbergasted when he saw the article in print without its conclusion, so much so that he wrote to Poulter to protest it. It took Poulter a while to respond to his e-mail, and when he did, he pretty much just blew Dan’s complaints and concerns off without even the courtesy of an explanation or an apology.

Among the financial problems is the elephant in the room. The last I knew, the magazine’s printer was owed in excess of $150,000 for back printing bills, and they may finally have finally said enough and pulled the plug. That debt has existed for pretty much the entire eleven year run of the magazine without much progress being made in whittling down the balance, and in these uncertain economic times, the printer may have finally determined that it could no longer carry this particular albatross around its neck. I certainly wouldn’t blame them if that’s the case.

Also, a couple of issues ago, the magazine lost its long-time cartographer, David Fuller, who was lured away to Civil War Times Illustrated, meaning that the last two issues were published without a single map. Given that superb maps were a hallmark of the magazine, it’s not a big surprise that the complete lack of any maps generated a lot of questions and complaints from readers. It’s very difficult to understand complicated military actions without maps, and the lack of maps really detracts from the quality of the magazine. Poulter then flagrantly lied about the situation in print in the magazine, directly contradicting the announcement that Dana Shoaf, the editor of CWTI, made in his magazine. It certainly made N & S look bad and made Keith look really petty.

Since Terry Johnston was fired, there have been a lot of complaints about the magazine’s content. Again, please see the comments and posts on the other blogs. Content has changed dramatically, and not necessarily for the best. In addition, there is a long-standing history of Poulter not paying authors timely, which has certainly hurt the magazine. Consequently, nobody really wants to write for him any more. I know of numerous authors who either haven’t been paid at all, or have been forced to wait for significant amounts of time to get paid. That has caused the stream of quality material to dry up.

So, to sum up, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the thing is swirling around the drain. Shame on me for not doing my due diligence and learning more about Poulter and his terrible track record before investing money into this cesspool. I’m paying the price by losing my investment. At least I’m not alone there.

As for North & South, it could have been great. Keith has a real gift for getting big name authors to clamor to write for him, and that’s how he was able to fill a brand-new publication with so much great content. But then he stopped paying authors, and his ego ran amok. The biggest shame is that it was all avoidable but for Keith Poulter’s ego.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Tue 10th Feb 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Eric – Thanks for the post. I’ve followed the discussion at “Civil Warriors” and bit over at Kevin’s, but since I visit your most frequently, I thought I’d leave a short comment here.

    I won’t address the business aspects, but will take your word for it. What I will address is something you have touched on and is a subject of many of the comments on the other blogs: Keith’s lack of civility, professionalism, courtesy, calli t what you want.

    I have had several shorter articles published in N&S over the past few years (in Knapsack)…my communications were most often with Al Nofi, but I had my very first contacts with Keith, have communicated with him over the years, and have even talked on the phone a couple times. As a rule, he was cheerful and prompt with his replies.

    I treasure very much those articles in N&S…they formed the backbone of my first book and I acknowledged N&S, Keith, and Al by name in the book.

    My most recent article was late last year…I actually did get a check…kind of…it was actually written for and sent to the wrong person…I took the time to mail it to the right person myself…I sent him polite e-mails and polite letters by post…no response…I even sent him a signed copy of my first book…no response.

    Look, I’m not getting rich writing and certainly not off of Keith and N&S, but what I had always counted on – and what I am most disappointed in – is the recent absence of courtesy and professionalism.

    I won’t be writing for N&S anymore…I don;t expect that Keith cares or the readers care, but I do.

    Thanks,

    Jim Schmidt

  2. Rock
    Tue 10th Feb 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Wow. I appreciate the information on that. Now I see it’s not really much of a coincidence that I haven’t bought an issue in about 2 years. N&S went from being my favorite magazine, which I had subscribed to from at inception, to one that I’d buy on occassion, to finally, a mere shoulder shrug when I saw it at the bookstore. Sometimes I pick it up and page through it to see if there is anything interesting, and am usually disappointed.

    It’s funny you should mention the artwork, etc. being done in China, because I had started to notice that the illustrations and the pic on the cover often had little to do with the articles.

  3. Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 1:33 am

    Eric,

    Was it Dan Mallock’s article you’re referring to that got clipped?

    Eric

  4. Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 2:58 am

    I don’t usually comment on matters like this, but It might be instructive to relate an experience I had with Keith / N&S.

    I live around Sacramento, and was driving down by Fresno on business to pick up copies of Civil War Regiments he was keeping on consignment to sell through his magazine. His accountings and checks to me were, shall we say, irregular and suspect. I was going to pick up inventory and end the relationship.

    Keith lives out in the boonies in the middle of no where (almost literally). This was about four-five years ago. What I saw appalled me.

    He ran N&S out of a separate building next to his house. Inside one section were, literally, hundreds of stacked up, thrown about, and ill-treated books that presses and individuals had submitted in good faith for review. Hundreds. The area in which they were stored had a leaky roof and no humidity control. The books were just thrown out onto the flood in a room in no particular order, and certainly with no care. That is sufficient information to form a visual as to what the books looked like. I dug through some of them. Not one in ten was sellable. And he was not even embarrassed by the fact that I saw it.

    The next room, where he did his editorial work, looked like a cyclone has passed through. My teenaged son’s room looks better on its worst day. It was, to put it mildly, a pig sty. He looked for a long, long time for papers he assured me were “right here a minute ago.”

    I loaded my own books (thankfully stored properly) and left, knowing I would never do business on faith with him again. It was a real eye-opening experience.

    What I have learned in these posts, from private talks with Eric, and from the way Keith handled Terry Johnston (who now does editorial work for me at Savas Beatie) therefore, does not surprise me.

    The magazine was a great concept, and for a while was properly executed. He should have turned it over to someone who knew how to run it and stepped aside.

    –tps

  5. Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 8:58 am

    Eric,

    It was.

    Eric

  6. Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 10:35 am

    I think Mr. Savas sums it up right. It was a good produce for a time, but grew stale in exposure.

    I still have all the first three years worth of issues in the library. At the time the topics covered offered new forage for those tired of the same old hay. I recall one note from the editor decrying the over exposure of Gettysburg topics. However, two years later, after three issues in a row on Gettysburg topics, I decided N&S had become just “another Civil War magazine.”

    Frankly, with the ever increasing amount of information on the web, the N&S issues are less and less relevant. I can’t recall the last time I pulled a back issue off the shelf for any reason. Perhaps the growth of the “www” world is doing more to undermine the magazine that the economy.

    There is only one traditional Civil War magazine that I’ve found ages well – Blue and Gray. Those who shun the General’s tours are apt to miss a lot when stomping the battlefields!

    I’m at a point where some issues of B&G must be replaced due to wear and tear. How many magazines can you say that about?

    Craig

  7. Jim Epperson
    Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Since Eric went into such detail on his issues with Keith,
    I’ll tell my stories. If Eric thinks it is too long, he can
    delete it.

    Back in the day, I used to be a serious wargamer. At one
    point I actually designed a Civil War wargame — not the
    hex-map and counters kind, but one based on decks of cards.
    Each card would be a regiment or a commander, other cards
    would allow you to do things, etc. I took it to an informal
    gathering of Civil War gamers and got a lot of good feedback,
    so I sent it to Keith to see if he would be interested in
    publishing it.

    Keith liked it, he said, but it needed development. No argument
    on that point. I would contact Keith periodically and ask what
    the status was, and it always was the same: “It needs
    development.” I talked to Keith at Origins, the annual
    gaming convention, and got the same response. One day I
    was looking through the latest issue of Keith’s magazine
    (The Wargamer) and saw that they were going to publish a
    game called Dixie, a Civil War wargame based on cards! The
    details of the ad made it clear that Keith had stolen my
    game! Obviously I was angry, but just as obviously I
    couldn’t do much about it. I insisted that Keith return
    my prototype immediately, which he did.

    Fast forward to 2000 or so. I was doing a lot of research on the
    formation and collapse of the Dix-Hill Cartel, and thought it
    would make a good article for N&S. I knew Keith was the man
    behind N&S, but I figured he couldn’t be the same kind of
    unethical fool he was before, because he had done such a good
    job putting the magazine together, etc. So I pitched an article
    on the POW Cartel to him. He initially didn’t think it was a
    good idea, but I talked him into it and he said he would look
    at my article when it was done. Well, because I changed jobs
    and moved my family from Alabama to Michigan, it took longer
    to finish my article than I had planned. When I emailed Keith
    the finished product, he claimed he had completely forgotten
    about our previous discussion. And, by the way, he had someone
    else doing a similar article! I have no doubt what happened:
    Once Keith was convinced that doing an article on the cartel
    was worthwhile, he went and found someone else to do it. I
    argued extensively with Keith that it was *my* article he should
    publish, but to no avail.

    I should never haved thought of working with him :-(

  8. Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve always wondered what happened to “Military Chronicles”, the sister magazine to N&S that was to cover military history from ancient times to the present in tried and true format. It was advertised heavily for a period then disappeared. Was even a single issue published? I was not a subscriber, but was surprised the public indignation seemed to be limited to the occasional web posting from a subscriber wondering when they would get their magazine.

  9. A. W. Bunn
    Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 5:05 pm

    The last couple of issues they’ve had an offer for a lifetime subscription for $150.00 and I’m glad now I didn’t do it. Its such a shame, because until recently I’ve enjoyed the magazine.

  10. kevin a kearns
    Wed 11th Feb 2009 at 10:31 pm

    mr wittenburg thank you for your post,i wondered why there were no maps in latest issues.

  11. Thu 12th Feb 2009 at 7:22 am

    Sounds like there’s a lot of unpaid bills in the N&S offices. I can relate to that. Once upon a time, “Civil War” magazine, “The Magazine of the Civil War Society,” was a fine competitor in the world of Civil War glossies, based in Berryville, VA. I was the last of its book review editors, brought on when Bill Miller took over as editor.

    It was a good gig for year or two, but the then-owners, always struggling, accepted a buy-out from Poulter and North & South. All of the staff had varying amounts of back pay coming, and part of the terms of the sale was that Keith would send a check to each of us to square things, and close the books on the old enterprise.

    I was only owed something in the low 100s, but others, including Bill, had quite a bit of money owed them. I don’t think any checks were ever forthcoming. I inquired about my money for some months, with nary a response. Eventually I sent a sarcastic letter to Keith inviting him to keep my money, and congratulating him on the new magazine business model where everyone works for free. The “shame” tactic didn’t get him to send a check, but it did prompt his one and only communication to me — he wrote back to thank me for being so generous.

    I know at least one of the other staffers took legal action, but I don’t know how that turned out. This was when North & South was seemingly at the top of its game, acquiring a rival concern, but I couldn’t get the guy to write a check for a few hundred bucks that allegedly had been part of the purchase price.

    David

  12. Chris Evans
    Thu 12th Feb 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for the interesting rant about the situation with North and South Magazine. I have not bought the magazine in recent years but I have flipped through them at the bookstores. I had no idea that it had collapsed to such depths as you describe. What a description on how far a Civil War Magazine can sink.
    Chris

  13. Dave Powell
    Thu 12th Feb 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Mr. Poulter’s rep, sadly enough, became a bit infamous in the Wargaming world – lifetime subscriptions and all. Too bad, because he is not without talent, and seems to come so close to success – very Greek Tragedy of him.

    Dave Powell

  14. Jody Switzer
    Sun 15th Feb 2009 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for the info regarding the state of affairs with North and South Magazine. I own a five year subscription to it, and lately I find the articles either uninspired or old hash articles. I have been subscribing to this magazine before it became North and South- it was actually published in Virginia, not California. Now instead of reading it right away, I put it aside and may or may not read it, depending on my mood.
    Now I look for either America’s Civil War or the Civil War Times since they usually offer better insight on the late hostilities.
    This is too bad, because I believe that there are a limited number of magazines ang journals solely dedicated to the Civil War. Anyone remember the Columbiad Journal? This was one of my favorite journals until it went defunct several years ago.
    Maybe we should do something like a petition, or have the subscribers write letters to Poulter to get off his ass and make North and South magazine great again.

  15. Mike Fitzpatrick
    Mon 16th Feb 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I, too am a subscriber to North & South and have seen the difference in the magazine’s quality from when it was first published. From everyone’s comments, the answer seems to be, simply, lack of money. No money for staff and printing and trying to keep the magazine going on a shoestring budget. Eventually, the plug needs to be pulled on the patient and, sadly, this seems to have happened. Maybe, somehow it can be revived, but from what I am reading, that won’t happen unless a big pockets publisher appears for the rescue.

  16. Stevan F. Meserve
    Thu 19th Feb 2009 at 9:45 am

    Several years ago, the late Rich Rollins called me to tell me Mr. Poulter was looking for someone to write a sidebar on Quaker life in Loudoun County, Va., during the war for his next issue. He wanted 350-500 words on the subject. Rich asked if I could get something written within a week. I sat down that evening, wrote the sidebar and sent it off to both Rich and Poulter the next day. Rich acknowledged receipt and congratulated me on a well-written piece. I heard nothing from Poulter.

    Months passed, and the next issue of the magazine came out. There was an article about Quakers in it, but no sidebar about Quaker life in Loudoun. I tried several times to contact Poulter to find out what happened, but never got a reply. Finally, I mentioned it to Rich one day when we were talking about something else. He said he would check on it. He called back the next day to tell me Poulter never really intended to use the sidebar. He just wanted to see if I could really write one for him within a week.

    Couple that with the fact that I, like David Woodbury, am a former “Civil War” Magazine employee Poulter never paid when he bought out the Currans, and you can understand why I never even considered submitting anything else to “North and South.” My magazine articles since that time have gone to Dana Shoaf for “America’s Civil War.”

  17. Thu 19th Feb 2009 at 5:15 pm

    WOW. If you would have told me 5 years ago that N&S would come to this, I would have refused to believe it. Seeing all of the respected names in this comments thread who had negative interactions with Mr. Poulter confirms it for me. I guess I shouldn’t ask for the subscription money I had invested for the next two years back eh? Ouch.

    On a more upbeat note, I have noticed the positive improvement in CWT and ACW since Dana Shoaf took over.

  18. Arthur B. Fox
    Thu 26th Feb 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I thought it was just me, but I have found few of these obscure battles in the last issues of N & S of little interest. I have authored 2 books, Pittsburgh During the American Civil War, and Our Honored Dead, Allegheny county During the Civil War, so know something about the little known facts regarding Pittsburgh during the war. I queried N & S about writing an article on the Fort Pitt Foundry, one of the largest producers of heavy artillery during the war, amoung them – five 20-inch cannons. After waiting about 6 months for a reply, I was told that the article probably would not be of much interest to the readers, SAY WHAT – aside from my book, little has been written about this little known foundry. Will not renew my subscription once it expires. Anyone out there interested in an article on the founry?
    Art Fox, Pittsburgh

  19. Aaron K
    Thu 12th Mar 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Anyone who was familiar with Keith Poulter should have seen the end of N&S from its inception. He wrecked 3W as well S&T. Not to mention his unscrupulous and self absorbed business reasonings. I’ve known Poulter for a long time my mother worked loyally with Keith for a long time (near 20 years) and throughout that time he remained half loyal to my mother and all his employee’s. He was notoriously late in paying my mother as well asked too much too often. The readers of North and south will never understand the level of commitment Joyce N. Gusner put into N&S. That Was My moms magazine, Cover to Cover!!! I watched years of her live spent talking to Cadmus placing ads and getting her layout perfect and that is just the tip of the ice burg. Keith burdened my mother with an excessive work load near the end of their association in order to facilitate his “hasty” trips to China to see some woman. Keith has always had great ideas too bad his values and morals are kaput. His business practice and execution are impaired by his personal agenda unfortunately to the detriment of N&S subscribers, stockholders and employees.

    It is truly a shame too see all the hard work by the real N&S engineers be thrown to the side like an unwanted toy.

  20. John Royal
    Sat 21st Mar 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I have been wondering where the fuck my issue of N & S has been. I also think it’s suspicious that they were trying to get people to subscribe to a “lifetime” subscription. If I don’t get my issues that I paid for someone should fuck this Keith right in his ass! This is bullshit.
    John Royal, NJ

  21. Kevin Weddle
    Wed 25th Mar 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I, too, have a sad story to share about N&S. I submitted an article to Keith in the last spring of 2007. It was an article about the civil-military conflict between Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont and Gideon Welles over the ironclad attack on Charleston in April 1863. The article was adapted from my book, “Lincoln’s Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont,” UVa Press, 2005. I should have realized that something was not quite right when he “misplaced” several copies of the article, always asking for “just one more.” He told me via e-mail that the article might make a good addition to the magazine. I didn’t hear from him again for months. Imagine my surprise when in June 2008 my article appeared in print in N&S. I never signed a contract, never gave him permission to print the article, never had a chance to do a final proofreading, and was not given the opportunity to review the final copy before printing. He also got my title wrong in the author’s bio. I still don’t know where he got that. Oh, and it goes without saying that I never got paid. In fact, I have no idea if he ever paid anything anyway. Needless to say, it was not a good experience.

  22. Rudy Kreubel
    Sun 24th May 2009 at 1:56 am

    I am not interested in the politics of the problems wih the magazine. I’m sorry that it has come to and end. I have been a civil war fan ever since I was a kid. I cam across some of the magazines in a book shop. All that I want to know is, can I get copies of the magazines that were produced?

  23. Tim Mayner
    Wed 06th Jul 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I was impressed with the articles in the third issue of Military Chronicles. So my wife ordered the three year subscription and the first two issues. I guess that’s money down the drain.

  24. Fri 14th Oct 2011 at 9:28 am

    Mine too is a story of disappointment. N&S started with a bang. No longer. Keith claimed to be very excited about two recent submissions: Hawaiians in the Civil War and Irish Drinking Habits–An Analysis. I rushed them to completuion. That was years ago. The rest is silence.

  25. Sat 21st Jun 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Even though I have had no direct contact with Mr. Poulter except by phone on two separate occasions, I was sorry to see North and South Magazine as well as Military Chronicles Magazine bite the dust. I wasn’t impressed by the conversation I had with Mr. Poulter and it would seem that he saw these publications as cash cows with out thinking about the time and dedication needed to make these magazines successful. I was wondering if anyone knows about an article written on the war of Florida’s rivers that was published in North and South Magazine. Any help would be appreciated and I would like to see if I can obtain a copy of that article. Any help would be appreciated and thanks.

    Respectfully Submitted-Colonel Robert A. Lynn, Florida Guard

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