They rate the cigars but has anyone ever rated them?
Cigar Magazines… How They Stack-Up Against Each Other
An editorial by David Garofalo
Some might say “print is dead,” meaning that nobody reads magazines and newspapers anymore but it doesn’t seem to be that way in the cigar world. At least 5 major publications continue to survive in this teeny-tiny industry called premium cigars. I’ve been in this industry long enough to remember when there were no publications and to be honest when I first heard of the launch of what most believe was the first cigar magazine, I thought it would never last, but it has for 24 years and currently it has lots of competition and those competitors survive also. They all highlight cigars, some more than others. They all review cigars, some more in depth than others and they all have their own unique appeal. They rate cigars but has anyone ever rated them, the magazines themselves? How do these publications stack-up against each other? Let’s dig in.
First let’s go back to the very beginning, the first cigar publication. Lots of folks believe it was Cigar Aficionado who printed the very first cigar publication but it wasn’t. I guess we can call Cigar Aficionado the first successful cigar publication, but it was the late Al Goldstein, the cigar chomping owner of the dirty book, Screw Magazine who actually put out the very first cigar publication. In 1981, over a decade before Cigar Aficionado, it was Al Goldstein that started up a publication devoted to cigars entitled “Cigar.” “Cigar smoking is not just a part of life, it is everything” announced Goldstein in his lead editorial. Goldstein lost over $200,000 on the venture, which folded after just four issues.
In September of 1992, more than a decade later, the “Premier Issue” of Cigar Aficionado crossed my desk and I was blown away. One hundred fifty six pages of glossy cigar goodness. With advertising from high end men’s fashion boutiques, to Cadillac, and Ratings of cigars. Blind testing cigars including the forbidden fruit, the Cubans. I saw and read about cigar brands I never even heard about and caught mention of tasting notes like nutty, coffee, spicy and leather. This magazine took our little industry and made it classy. And while they were at it, took a slightly growing industry to places nobody thought it would ever be again. For all this, I thank Cigar Aficionado personally for helping the growth our business and the industry. There’s no denying it.
On the heels of Cigar Aficionado’s success the editors of an industry publication that was just for shop owners called Smoke Shop put together a publication for consumers in 1995 called SMOKE. This publication is still out there in very small circulation. They attempted to play to a younger clientele and although still in business, never really built a strong following.
Next came a publication across the pond, in Europe. A bilingual publication that came out as European Cigar Journal, known today simply as “Cigar Journal.” Much like Cigar Aficionado, Cigar Journal was, and is, a classy publication but less of a lifestyle magazine, it’s true to its name… a Cigar Journal. Everything having to do with cigars, from the growers, rollers, retailers, accessories and of course the cigars, Cigar Journal covers it all in their quarterly publication.
Most recent publications to gain traction are “Cigar Press” and “Cigar Snob,” again, like Smoke they seem to be going for the younger audience with a lifestyle flare. Sure I’m missing a bunch, there have been dozens, some that still exist and some that went away including Milton, a publication owned by Milton Berle’s Family in 1997. It mixed cigars with drinking and gambling, some for Milton’s passions. After a very short run most publications just went away just like Milton. The cigar magazines I’m talking about today are the ones that kind of stood the test of time… and still exist. In a time when most publications are dying due to online blogs like you’re reading right now, these few continue to survive. They survive despite an industry that has been hammered through media and politics, and notwithstanding the insurgence of online instant information.
First off, congratulations to each and every one of them for simply their survival, and with that being said, let’s do a little side by side comparison on each of the top five Cigar Publications, and rate them.
Creativity: As you look through them, you will see, kind of the same type of rating system, the 100 point scale is most common with all of them. Cigar Aficionado didn’t invent it but they modeled it after their highly successful Wine Spectator ratings and tasting notes, and it worked out brilliantly. The others followed but I have to give it to Cigar Aficionado for setting the bar first.
Class: When it comes to class just look at Aficionado, the name alone signifies class. I didn’t even know what an “Aficionado” was when it first came out, which tells you where I came from, but Cigar Aficionado brought class to an industry that was not accustom to it in any large scale before. Smoke, Journal, Press or Snob as a word just don’t compare to Aficionado. But then there is the content… the “Cigar” content.
Content: What’s inside is what really counts but before we do that, let’s look on the outside… The Covers. Lots of times I will see a cover of Aficionado, I call it “Aficionado” now and not “Cigar Aficionado” anymore because over the years the “Cigar” has virtually disappeared. On the cover the word cigar has shrunk and almost disappeared. So has the in-depth coverage. It is no longer a “Cigar” publication but a “Lifestyle” magazine. Famous people on the cover sometimes don’t even carry a cigar anymore. Some are not even cigar smokers. As for Smoke and Snob I would guess the same to be true, beautiful women holding a cigar, sometimes lit, sometimes not to tantalize the browser to pick it up. Don’t get me wrong, it works, because we all know sex sells… but does it really? Do these publications sell more than the others, I don’t think so. Then you have Cigar Press with its sometimes juvenile covers that may be tasteless and classless… and then you have Cigar Journal. The Cigar magazine that is always true to the cigar smoker, with covers denoting Industry leaders in the cigar business, cigar rollers, tobacco growers and cigar-lebrities.
As we dig inside the magazines we see much of the same. Cigar Aficionado highlighting watches, vacation destinations and even private jets with its occasional cigar story. Cigar Press with microbrew beers and foods, Cigar Snob with cover to cover beautiful ladies and Cigar Journal again staying true to cigars. Packed full of cigar accessories, industry news, stories of the craftsman in the fields, in the factories and in the shops.
Like cigar shops who have gotten away from specializing or staying exclusive to cigars and diversifying to hookah and vape, so have most of the cigar magazines. With the exception of Cigar Journal, the other publications have reached for a broader market with lifestyle content, and for a cigar geek like me, I find “Lifestyle” far less interesting. I rarely wear watches – my cell phone tells me the time. I can’t afford the private jet. I don’t care for beer except on occasion and although I enjoy a beautiful women as much as anyone, I don’t believe the pictures of them with a cigar are anything but staged and sometimes insulting. Come on, who’s kidding who? They don’t smoke cigars, it’s a prop and has nothing to do with cigar smoking and the hobby of cigar smoking.
But I read them all, even the one with the pin-ups and I do so cover to cover. It’s all good for the industry but some are better for the industry than others. Some are apparently reaching for a different segment than others. Some to the wealthy or people who wish and dream, others to the younger average Joe, others to the extreme and another to the real deep cigar geek, like me, who wants to learn and know it all.
I guess who you are and what you are looking for, will dictate which one appeals to you the most. Although I read them all, I study Cigar Journal cover to cover. I learn from it and I can’t wait for the next issue. Others I sometimes skim through, sometimes paying more attention to the ads then the content, but I would guess that is exactly what they want you to do because that is really all its about, don’t you know… advertising.
So here are my ratings of the cigar publications. Not in a 100 point scale, without the crazy taste profiles, but bringing it back old school.
RATINGS: A = Excellent; B = Good; C = Fair; D = Poor; F = Failure
Cigar Journal: A with an A for effort
Cigar Aficionado: A- with a B for effort
Cigar Snob: B with a C for effort
Cigar Press: B- with a C for effort
Smoke: C with a C- for effort
You know, I had second thoughts when I first came up with the idea on writing this editorial because of an old saying which says; “Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” It means, don’t criticize the press. All these publications are the “Cigar Press.” I hope I didn’t come off that way, because I certainly can’t write as well as any of them. I’m just giving my 2 cents and to be honest, after I thought about whether to write this or not, I remembered another old saying… “any press is good press,” and if they talk about this, it’s all good publicity. I hope they agree… or maybe I don’t.