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 heâ€™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 heâ€™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, thatâ€™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 Johnâ€™s death, that board position remains open and unfilled. Thereâ€™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 Iâ€™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 magazineâ€™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 havenâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 Poulterâ€™s ego.Scridb filter