How is Heeb?

Ever since Gawker.com jumped the gun last November and reported that Heeb Magazine was shutting down, some folks seem to be waiting to benefit from its demise.

“The Heeb Magazine death watch starts now,” wrote Gawker in a blog post that cited heavily from am anonymous tipster who repeatedly cited gross mismanagement. The post was subsequently updated several times with Heeb officials assuring the media gossip site that the magazine’s death was not imminent.

Now rumors are circulating that Heeb plans to drop its signature print magazine. But in an interview with The Fundermentalist on Thursday, the magazine’s editor insisted that Heeb isn’t going anywhere anytime soon — and would continue to publish a print edition.

“There is no Heeb without the print magazine. You are never going to hear me say that [the print magazine] will never happen. That is who we are. It is what distinguishes us in the marketplace. We are magazine people,” Neuman said. “Everyone wants to know when we are closing the magazine. And if we were smart, we would ditch the magazine. But we love the magazine. Heeb without the magazine isn’t Heeb.”

Yes, Neuman said, Heeb is publishing less frequently. Its last issue came out six months ago, and its Spring 2010 edition might not come out until Rosh Hashanah, in September. But, he again insisted, the magazine’s issue last fall — featuring a photo spread of Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler — would not be its last. More will be coming.

The always colorful Neuman painted a less-than-rosy picture of Heeb’s current situation.

“Heeb is doing poorly,” he said. “But every print-based media portal in absolute terms is doing poorly. It happens to be a complicated story," he said. "We are paying people less for more work, just like every other media organization. And we are jiggering the relationship between print and digital.”

Heeb has spent the last six months revamping its website and focusing on increasing and improving its online content. In the process, Neuman said, Heeb has boosted revenue from online advertising. The organization is also bringing in revenue from advertising campaigns it is creating for Jewish groups and corporations targeting a Jewish demographic. It has an “excellent cover story” in the hopper for when it does come out, Neuman said, and he claims the magazine is still attracting interest from investors.

And, he says, people still love the magazine, which  has been able to engage this generation’s Jewish pop culture icons — Sarah Silverman, Jonah Hill and Seth Rogan among them.

“But I’m not going to bull—t and pretend we are not living in 2010,” he said. “The sky is falling.”

Neuman spoke with The Fundermentalist via cell phone from Washington, where he was among a number of prominent Jews invited to the White House to meet President Obama in honor of Jewish Heritage month.

In fact, there is one possibility that Heeb could abandon its website, albeit a slight one.

“If Obama says today he wants to guest edit an issue of the magazine, then f— the website,” he said.

Fundermentalist’s take: There is a subtext here. Heeb has been one of the most successful Jewish publications around in terms of generating crossover buzz in the mainstream media and entertainment worlds, becoming part of the mainstream pop-culture lexicon.

But it seems to be locked into a competition of sorts with JDub Records, the nonprofit Jewish record label responsible for discovering Matisyahu — the Jewish music world’s most significant crossover success. JDub acquired Jewcy.com after that online magazine lost its funding, and JDub seems to be trying to edge itself into the space that Heeb now holds.

Setting aside JDub’s record operations and Heeb’s print magazine, the two organizations offer strikingly similar services.

They both are generating revenue by offering marketing services to Jewish groups. JDub has a partnership with the cultural group Nextbook and its online magazine, Tablet, in which it acts as their PR wing, and it has won marketing gigs from Hillel and the Jewish nonprofit incubator the Joshua Venture Group. Heeb has created ad campaigns for the Jewish Agency’s MASA program, Hazon, Gold’s horseradish and others.

Both offer a series of Jewish cultural events. Both are seeking a greater web presence. And they both hold competing Christmas-time parties.

Based on my conversation with Neuman, I would say that there is definite tension between the two groups.

While JDub touts itself as a nonprofit growing amid the recession and Heeb prides itself on operating solely on revenue from its events, ad sales and marketing services, this tension is made all the more interesting that both are considered among the two most successful projects to emerge from Joshua Venture’s first cohort seven years ago.

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