I was recently flipping through a New Yorker when I was stopped in my tracks by an ad in Russian for a magazine called Snob, with a teaser in English: “Ask your Russian friends to read it to you.” I planned to investigate further but didn’t get around to it; I’m happy to say that Jamie Olson of The Flaxen Wave has posted about it, and here’s the nub of his report:

Well, according to its website, Snob is a magazine “for people who live in different countries, belong to different cultures, speak different languages, but think in Russian.” A couple of weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a story about the magazine with comments by Snob’s deputy editor in chief, Masha Gessen, who explained its global reach: “Russians living abroad have been rediscovering Russia … [They now feel] secure enough to go back to the culture that unites us.”

Its perceived Russian audience is cosmopolitan, and so are its competitors. Snob seeks to place itself on a par not with Russian newspapers or thick journals, but with “high-minded” Western magazines like Vanity Fair and—you guessed it—The New Yorker. With any luck, this means that some of the best Russian writing will find a new audience. Indeed, Snob hopes to provide readers with material that rewards them with “pleasure from the very process of reading.”

As I said in a comment at Jamie’s blog, “I’ve always liked Masha Gessen, and I hope the magazine does well.”


  1. They must be paying for rack space too: here in Evanston, IL, there is a stack of Snob right inbetween Conde Nast and the Atlantic Monthly. Suffice to say, Russian-language journals don’t generally get placed in that spot.

  2. They’re running (ran?) a promotion that gave away three free issues. I just got my first. The look and feel is more Monocle than New Yorker. It’s a large magazine, with heavy paper inserts, shipped in a cardboard sleeve. Judging by the ads for luxury goods, the target audience is similar.

  3. We just got our first free copy today, too. It may tax my Cold War Russian, but who would say no to free? There’s an ad for the Mall of America as well as one for Sotheby’s Real Estate. There aren’t nearly enough ads total to pay for it, so some investor must be hoping the big push will attract subscribers and then they can sell those numbers. Which will be incentive to keep us on free after the three issues, perhaps.

  4. It’s one to watch as it may be representative of a new trend in Russian media/publishing – going international. London Evening Standard and the Independent are run by millionaire Lebedev, France Soir by the son of another Russian tycoon Pugachev.

  5. I was sent a free copy a months ago too (I’m in London) – not sure how I ended up on their database. It also features quite prominently in the magazine racks in the WHSmith’s near my office, which I find quite surprising, as I didn’t think there were that many Russophones in the area (although there are plenty in London as a whole, of course). Not a bad read.

  6. Funny coincidence… Just yesterday I saw the first online ad for this magazine (while browsing a New Yorker article, I think). I was alarmed and wanted to know how on earth the computer knew I could read Russian, as I hadn’t clicked on any Russian links in forever.
    Now I see that the computer didn’t know. Snob is papering over the whole (virtual) town, hoping some of it sticks somewhere. Admirable. And expensive. But it’s not my money.

  7. Snob has a full stop after the title. Which as an unusual thing to do.
    Just like Hat’s posts always have full stops.
    What does it tell us?

  8. The Wall Street Journal has a period after its title also. The New York Times used to have one, but dropped it decades ago. (The probably apocryphal story was that some beancounter had calculated how many buckets of ink and money could be saved by doing so.)
    If you look at old newspapers of a century ago, you’ll see periods not only after the title but also after things like the date and place on the masthead, and after headlines and subheads. Same thing on other printed materials like posters. My understand is that this derives from using the period as an indicator for speakers reading the text outloud to stop. (There’s a name for this punctuation style, but I can’t find it. Something like rhetorical punctuation.)
    My father used to tell me that when you signed your name to something, you had to put a period after it. He always did, but I never did.

  9. I guess I’m just a nineteenth-century kinda guy.

  10. Regarding the newspaper punctuation I mention above, a good example is here.
    There’s a discussion of the whys and wherefores of this kind of full stop usage here.

  11. I also just received my first issue. I’d had high expectations for the physical quality of the journal after reading comments from Wimbrel and others… but was still surprised to see how beautifully produced it is. As for content, I’m particularly looking forward to the fiction (of course!) and the interviews with Akunin and Sutyagin.
    I believe the investor is Mikhail Prokhorov. I just hope he doesn’t try to sell me Nets tickets!

  12. Bah, everybody gets free issues but me. And I even subscribe to the New Yorker!

  13. Bah, everybody gets free issues but me.
    I don’t think it’s too late… The link to ask for free issues still works, here. It took a couple weeks for the first issue to arrive.

  14. Not quite everyone, Hat. Looks like the spammers didn’t get one either. 🙂

  15. John Emerson says

    “High minded” Vanity Fair? Hmph.

  16. And why would Russian immigrants suddenly want to be thought of as snobs–some sort of Yakov Smirnoff backlash?

  17. And why would Russian immigrants suddenly want to be thought of as snobs–some sort of Yakov Smirnoff backlash?

  18. There has been so much snickering about this magazine here — Prokhorov is the Playboy Billionaire — that it didn’t occur to me to take it seriously. It was perceived as classic Russian merchant class throwing around of money, like a joke about New Russians who are only happy when they spend more money than anyone else. Everyone who gets a free copy is amazed: how did I get on the list? I just heard Gary Shteyngart speak (fabulous reader; incredibly funny; really smart and thoughtful and rather sweet — frankly not what I expected), and he did a long jokey riff about getting it in a DHL box as if it were a box of jewelry. But Gessen isn’t an idiot and the list of “participants” is more and more impressive. I guess I’ll purge images of Prokhorov with scantily clad “ladies of the night” in Courchevel and give it a read.

  19. Can’t resist pointing out that Prokhorov lists himself as “businessman and sportsman, bachelor.” Yuck.

  20. and the interviews with Akunin
    Lisa, there is a live Q/A session with Tchkhartishvili/Akunin on the Snob website here. Very interesting, includes mentions of his lesser known exercises – sequels to Hamlet and the Sea Gull. I think it is still open for questions, but he hasn’t replied to the last one.

  21. if you missed it, Prokhorov got some unwanted notoriety at the French resort of Courchevel.
    Something’s going on there, at first Vladimir Yakovlev, who changed Russian language and journalism in the 90-s with his Commersant newspaper, was mentioned as the Editor, and Masha Gessen as deputy, and in September issue it’s Masha who is the Editor.

  22. Something’s going on in Russia in general these days… I dunno. Prokhorov is not exactly my ideal of a publisher, the magazine is called Snob, for heaven’s sake, and it’s a bit like a celebration of the worst of Russian high-end consumerism combined with a bit of not entirely healthy national “pride.” Maybe he’s pays really well? Probably. But… when you realize you’re rooting for a switch of ruling clans from domestic intelligence to foreign intelligence, then maybe a playboy, ecology-destroying, basketball-team-buying publisher is just fine.

  23. michael farris says

    “And why would Russian immigrants suddenly want to be thought of as snobs”
    Not entirely sure about Russian, but in Polish the word has more positive connotations than in English.
    I can’t imagine anyone calling themselves a snob (unironically) in English (and expecting anyone to take them seriously) but it happens in Polish where the primary connotations inlcude ‘having good taste and high standards’.

  24. I agree with Michael. I think in Russian it’s the same. The word evolved from Thackeray’s ‘socially aspiring’ (as in Keeping Up Appearances) to something similar to Apple’s ‘Think Different’, i.e. don’t follow the herd, ignore conventions.

  25. Michael, while you are here, can I ask if it is at all common in Polish to make affectionate/diminutive names with -sha/-shka like we do in Russian? Say, can Marie Curie be Masha? or Anna Jagiellonka be Annushka?

  26. michael farris says

    Well dimnunitives of all kinds are very widely used in Polish. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any ending in -shka (-though -czka might be a double diminuitive after the first k turns into cz) Anna > Anka > Anneczka
    -sia is a common female diminutive though generally ś/si- is not a cognate of Russian ш (which would be Polish sz). Most non-Poles find it almost impossible to disitnguish between ś (soft) and sz (hard, formerly soft) but they sound different to Poles and function very differently.
    Joanna > Joaśia, Asia (pronounced AH-shya – two syllables)
    Danuta > Danka, Danusia (dah-NOO-shya)
    Maria would by Marysia (mah-RIH-shya) instead of Masia.
    Anna would be Anka, Anneczka, Ania, Aniusia, Aniuśka etc
    On the other hand, it’s not common to refer to historical figures with diminutives and people do so with public figures primarily maliciously.

  27. I see, thanks.
    Anna > Anka > Anneczka – Анна-Анка/Анька-Анечка
    disitnguish between ś (soft) and sz (hard, formerly soft)
    this must a cognate of ш/щ (борщ-borsch) also difficult for non-Russian speakers.
    I was asking this because suffixes sometimes may show the route of word borrowing – from Russian/Polish into English/French for example.

  28. It was perceived as classic Russian merchant class throwing around of money
    But that’s how a lot of classy magazines get started; specifically, the brilliant flourishing of Russian culture a century ago (Mir iskusstva and so on) would have been impossible without the Russian merchant class throwing around money. Let the playboys spend their money on culture rather than booze and girls once in a while, say I!

  29. hear, hear!

  30. How would you decipher the Ↄ in the magazine title? I take it it’s the Roman inverted C. Meaning large number? of what? money? fans? or just the Big Thing? Yakovlev is very clever with branding. He used the unpronounced Ъ letter at the end of Коммерсантъ as the logo for his company.

  31. Sashura, in my set, “snob” is derogatory. No possibility for anything positive.
    Yeah, Hat, I know. Let the rich throw money at culture. And if they pay the writers well, and if the magazine is worth reading — great. But there is an element of “we’re better than you” — not only in the name (and I have no idea why the C is reversed, except as a play on how English/American publications reverse Russian letters) but in the way it is been shown off, but not exactly marketed, among English-speakers. Maybe this doesn’t seem so bad from where you are, but in the context of today’s Russia, where sneering at the dumb Americans and stupid West is a standard part of the political/social/cultural elite’s manner — well, that’s not attractive to me. It srikes me as a high-toned version of “you stupid pindos.”

  32. Sorry about the double post upthread–my internet connection is becoming increasingly more unstable. Feel free to delete, etc.

  33. In English snobbery is negative and associated with New Money; Old Money is always gracious. Of course in real life you can find multiple exceptions to both generalizations.

  34. re flourishing of culture. Just picked this while researching something else:
    On a total UK public sector investment of only £1.6bn, the creative industries garner a return (measured as GVA) of £7.7bn

  35. What are the creative industries, Sash?

  36. when you put a (dummy) shark in a jar-full of vodka and then flog it for a few bob? or present a cut-out of a human body as a work of art, not as a school anatomy aid, also for a few bob? Read this
    and tell me if it makes sense.

  37. mab, what’s a pindo?

  38. Not too much sense. What are “cultural goods”? Dvds and books & magazines? Artworks? Contemporary and old? Antiques? The Elgin marbles? Do they know the difference between goods and services? Architecture? Internet?
    And, unless UNESCO has a very limited definition of “cultural goods”, I find this bit impossible to believe:

    According to UNESCO the UK is the world’s largest exporter of cultural goods.

  39. mab, what’s a pindo?
    She’s referring to пиндос [pindós], once an insulting term for Greeks and now used for Americans; we discussed it here.

  40. how fascinating! I think it’s more likely that it got its American link via the Balkan conflict and the Chekhov-Kuprin connection was rediscovered afterwards. Look at this long article. There is even a date, 7 November 1999, when the word sounded on Russian national television in a report from Kosovo. And according to another version it’s not Greek at all, but Serbo-Croatian, meaning ‘penguin’ – the nickname for American soldiers of IFOR.

  41. Sashura, are you trying to suggest the two uses are unconnected? That’s clearly not the case, as is clear from the article you linked to (which is just a copy of an earlier version of the Wikipedia article: note the “[источник?]”). It started out being used for Greeks, lost that sense, and wound up being applied to Americans. The “penguin” story is just nonsense.

  42. yes, that’s what I am saying. I suspect that it’s a phonetic invention that has nothing to do with the Greek nickname, which was reconstituted to legitimise the newly introduced word.
    Words ending with -ос are not that rare in Russian (колос, волос, молокосос, кровосос, водонос, поднос, занос), so it is possible that pindos is an original Russian invention and has nothing to do with Greeks, Pontian or Balkan.
    Also, америкóс, негритóc (possibly of Dutch-Indonesian origin) and латинóc all precede the current pindos. I have a reprint of the 1920s dictionary ‘Blatnaya muzika’ (criminal jargon), but can’t find it now to check if pindos is there.

  43. Sashura, penguin in Serbian is pingvin. No one has been able to determine why Americans got the name (or rather, it started — it seems — in Kosovo, but why is not clear). In any case, pindos has been around as derogatory slang for a long time. The meaning varied depending on the region. Now it refers to Americans, usually preceded with the word tupoi (dumb).

  44. Victor Sonkin says

    I’ve done some work for them, and I know some of the people who make the magazine and the site (has anyone mentioned it yet? it’s, of course, and it has loads of information that’s unavailable in the printed magazine, though some of it is only accessible to subscribers). I was also involved in the project of launching its US campaign (translating subtibles for a host of their video materials), but I’m not sure where all that ended up (in Russian, these lectures and interviews — some numbingly banal, some very interesting — are on the Snob site).
    I don’t think Prokhorov is aiming at profit (though Yakovlev did say recently that they were hoping to reach zero losses in about a year’s time — completely unrealistic, in my opinion — and they let some people go to that effect). It’s more of an ‘image project’ as they say in Russia these days; besides, in spite of Snob’s skyrocketing (for the Russian landscape) author’s fees, it’s pin money for Prokhorov.
    With the kind of resources they have, they could order pieces no other Russian publication could dream of. Sometimes they do, but more often they don’t. It’s a shame, really.
    Stories of disgruntled authors and other contractors are a dime a dozen in Russian-language blogs. Their management does have a weird way of dealing with authors/people/plans/younameit.
    And yet, it’s an interesting project, and I would regret its going down.

  45. ‘image project’
    yeah, I can’t get used to this newspeak way of trolleying words for which people are too lazy to find equivalents. Why Москва-клаб and not клуб Москва? Имидж-проект has a lowly synonym: кидать понты (throw the ponts, meaning to show off, presumably for card slang).

  46. penguin in Serbian is pingvin or пингвин.
    But that is not the point, there are people who seriously and neutrally try to understand the phenomenon. The date, November 1999 seems to be established, etymologists also seem to agree that the roots are in the old Pontian Greek nickname. But why folk etymology insists on penguins?
    Mab, have you only heard ‘tupoi’ or do you sometimes come across ‘glupyi’? If so, this could be the clue.

Speak Your Mind