The Paper Trail

No one invested...they went years without making a profit. Was this publishing duo's path pigheaded or visionary?

Few inhabitants of mainstream USA expressed interest in anything "indie" before 1996, when Oscar-winning films like Fargo and Shine engaged audiences with small budgets and little-known actors. Younger consumers discovered indie in the early '90s, when the once-underground "grunge" aesthetic infiltrated mass-market music, film and fashion. But years before anyone was watching obscure movies, and before kids deemed flannel-wearing fashionable, "grandma and granddaddy of indie" Kim Hastreiter and David Hershkovits were pointing people in the direction of hip as publishers and editors of Paper magazine. Never heard of Paper (launched 16 years ago) or Papermag.com (live in 1994) or Paper Publishing Co.'s 1999 book From AbFab to Zen: Paper's Guide to Pop Culture? That's probably because Hastreiter and Hershkovits have always run their New York City company on a shoestring and accepted little investment. But no one's ever told them what to do, either. And they like it that way.

The last time Hastreiter, 48, and Hershkovits, 52, answered to anyone was in 1981, right before former employer The Soho Weekly News, a Village Voice-esqe publication unique in its style coverage, folded after its owners failed to focus on the downtown scene about to erupt. "They were English and didn't really understand New York City," says Hastreiter. "They just couldn't deal with punk-rocker types with green hair working for them."

Shocked by The Weekly's untimely departure, Hastreiter and Hershkovits, former style editor and associate managing editor, respectively, decided to fill the void by starting their own weekly publication. Their style and ideal audience were clearly outlined. But having no start-up experience made it a challenge. They did know having a style section would get advertising. "All that existed in those days were brainless style magazines that got all the fashion ads, or things that were all content and no style, like The Village Voice, that would get local ads but no fashion ads because they didn't look good," says Hastreiter.

With boutiques and restaurants appearing around SoHo, an offbeat neigh-borhood where artists lived in the '70s, and sensing their friends (like fashion designer Vivienne Westwood; her husband, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren; and artists Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf), were on the verge of stardom, Hastreiter and Hershkovits were confident a print publication meshing style, music and politics would be a green light not only for advertisers, but also investors. They looked for money, but without a proven concept, all they saw were bad offers-like capital in exchange for control of the company. "David and I just saw [in watching The Weekly's demise] that the people with the power and money didn't understand they had the best magazine in a market just beginning to explode," says Hastreiter. "We knew the market exactly and didn't want to give away our idea just to become employees and get fired." Investors even dangled money in front of the two for months, only to pull out at the last minute. It only inspired them.

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This article was originally published in the July 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Paper Trail.

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