Review of Ready Made magazine

Ready Made Magazine coverThe "do it yourself" (DIY) movement is sometimes talked about as a new or emerging phenomenon, but when you reduce it to its essence - "people creating or repairing things for themselves without the aid of paid professionals" - it's clear that DIY is just a new label for a way of living that is as old as human existence itself.

Our culture likes to take the old and repackage it as the new so it's more exciting and engaging. I don't have any problem with that per se - there can be something creative and innovative in finding different ways to present ideas, world-views, ways of living so that they're more accessible to more people. We all go through different kinds of personal discovery about what we're capable of, so why not have a "new movement" that helps support and nurture that for folks who are in that place right now?

This is what I thought I was being pitched when I got an invitation to subscribe to Ready Made magazine, which presents itself as "the only do-it-yourself (DIY)/lifestyle magazine for young people. It entertains and informs through DIY projects for fast-evolving lifestyles." It sounded like a good support resource for learning more about self-sufficient living. I showed the invite to Anna Lisa and we both agreed that it looked like it would be useful, AND that we were excited such a publication existed at all. But when the first issue arrived, it only took me a few hours before I knew we'd be canceling the subscription. Here's why:

Despite a couple of useful articles, the issue of Ready Made that we received (Oct/Nov 2008) seemed to be a thinly veiled handbook for excelling in the consumerist, image-obsessed culture of which the DIY movement (as I understand it) is inherently critical.

The publication itself is very glossy and polished, full of flashy ads and artwork, airbrushed models, and beautiful photos that set the bar super high for even the most dedicated do-it-yourselfer. It feels like an issue of "Teen Better Homes and Gardens," not a rag that is all about making the most of sufficiency in resources. I can see how this style would engage a younger audience used to the glitz, and I won't begrudge them their success if indeed the approach works, but I found it to be an unfortunate mental disconnect between the message and the presentation.

The DIY projects that they cover range from the somewhat practical (various pumpkin recipes, how to give an effective presentation, building a loft bed, storing your bicycle on the ceiling) to fun and quirky (various pet furniture, bamboo drum brushes) to the outright gratuitous (designer miniaturist models?). And in the end, many articles were just an introduction to more products you can buy...a $54 cushion to hold your produce on your kitchen counter-top, a $179 work table, a $200 gadget holder. And that's in addition to the various free-standing ads for cars, beauty products, alcohol and bottled water.

Again, I'm not saying this kind of publication won't be interesting or useful to someone out there...it's just about expectations. If I'd picked up a standard home improvement magazine and seen some of this stuff I would have been thrilled about it, but when I was expecting a publication to capture the DIY ethic and got Ready Made instead, I was disappointed. I have enough troubling or misleading marketing images hitting me every day that I don't need to pay for a subscription to a magazine that unnecessarily glamorizes the otherwise moderately useful bits of information.

Ready Made magazine might be a great introduction to the concept and practice of DIY for a high-school or college-aged person who is otherwise thoroughly engrossed in the culture of "when you need something or something breaks, you go shopping." But for someone who's already used to doing it themselves, I'd suggest you skip the magazine subscription, use their online project archive as needed, and move on to other, more authentic DIY resources instead.

4 thoughts on “Review of Ready Made magazine

  1. Kath used to get all the "stale" mags from the store (WFM) she worked, but was required to remove the covers before taking them home. So I'd arrive home to a pile of unknown mags (including: conventional propaganda, eco-slight greenwash, fringe screeds, and decent rags) all mixed up on the table - with little idea what to expect (or what was worth mining)...

    Then I found I could flip 'em all on their backs, and determine the "target demographic" from the prominent back cover ad. That is, who paid most, and what they were hawking made for a predictable quick & easy tell-tale... Try it out sometime!

    -Jim

  2. I was also disappointed with this magazine. I always thought that the point of DIY was to save money and resources, but the projects they list are prohibitively expensive.

    I actually do like my subscription to Mother Earth News, which has lots of interesting DIY stuff that is actually usable. Lots of tips and tricks in each issue. Last month there were instructions on how to make a week's worth of bread dough in advance so that it takes 5 minutes a day to bake.

    Another really good resource for DIY stuff -- especially in the realm of domestic chores is the website tipnut.com. You can find some fun projects on instructables.com -- some good, some crappy (it's all user submitted content).

    Finally, I recommend whipup.net and the etsy Storque (http://www.etsy.com/storque/) for crafty & gift DIY stuff.

  3. Stephanie & I had the same reaction to "real simple," which premiered maybe five years ago (??). It was pretty much the exact same MO--a few articles championing simplicity whose message was completely negated by a colossal number of glossy ads for high-priced crap.

    I'm not much of a DIY-er, especially when it comes to electronics, but I've always been impressed by Make magazine.

  4. I just got a "please come back to ReadyMade -- 2 years for 1" thing with a free copy of the mag in the mail and I almost considered it because it was so cheap, but then I thought -- why waste the paper? There's a reason I quit getting it, which is that it morphed into a consumerist propaganda piece of crap. It started out different, by the way. Now I just get my jollies with internet sites on DIY, like Instructables, Make Magazine (a friend's subscription), and Dwell (I just like it). And Simple magazine -- what a joke! Nothing Simple about it.

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