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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.

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February: Big Numbers
February 2018

Forty is a big number.

Not many businesses last 40 years. Even fewer magazines last 40 years. This marks the 40th year of Billiards Digest. And, having been around now for 38 of those 40 years, it doesn’t even seem possible.

The history of Billiards Digest has been well chronicled in these pages, but as a refresher, the magazine was the brainchild of the man who hired me in 1980, Mort Luby Jr. Mort was the publisher of Bowlers Journal, a monthly magazine that was launched, incredibly, back in 1913! (Now that’s old!) Because the bowling and billiard businesses were so closely linked (many companies manufactured and/or distributed both bowling and billiard products and supplies, and most bowling centers during the 20th century included billiard areas), Bowlers Journal carried a half-dozen or so pages of billiard news in each issue. In the ’40s, the magazine took on the title, Bowlers Journal and Billiard Revue.

As the popularity of billiards grew following the release of “The Hustler,” and suburban sprawl led to wild growth in billiard rooms, billiard industry leaders and players clamored for their own magazine.

So, in 1978 Mort relented and launched Billiards Digest, which started out as a bimonthly publication. Timing being everything, Billiards Digest hit the streets right about the time the billiard industry was going into a terrible slump. Skyrocketing interest rates, which crippled the housing market, made business plenty tough for billiard manufacturers and retailers.

But Mort stuck with it and Billiards Digest persevered. The industry began to rebound and took off in the late ’80s following “The Color of Money,” which played a major role in the “Great Poolroom Boom” of the late ’80s and ’90s. Billiard manufacturers thrived. Poolrooms thrived. Billiard retail stores thrived. The men pros thrived. The lady pros thrived. And Billiards Digest thrived.

I promise not to make this a “those were the days” piece. The fact is that billiards has always been, and will always be, a cyclical business, occasionally forced to hunker down and/or reinvent itself. But the game will always survive.

Billiards Digest has chronicled the sport and the business over the past five decades, a ride which is really quite astonishing. One of the amazing aspects of covering the game and industry over the past 40 years is in seeing how many people and companies have been around for that entire run. I think that’s because billiards is game and a business that gets into your blood. Pool people tend to be lifers, whether it’s as players or business people. There are very few industries that can make that claim. It’s something that this industry should be proud of, and it is something that the industry should embrace.

I am living proof of that phenomenon. As a fresh-out-of-college journalism major, I came into the business strictly for the opportunity to write. I assumed that I would put in three-to-five years as a resume builder, then move on to “real” news or a “real” magazine.

I’m 35 years late making that move.

I am not a player, as most anyone who has seen me perfecting my three-cushion skills while attempting to play 9-ball can attest. But I like people and I like stories. And I can’t imagine any industry offering a better combination of the two. As a business, the billiard industry is fascinating. It’s a relatively simple business with a pretty defined distribution chain. And at each level of that chain you find multigenerational businesses. That’s just one of the things I love about covering billiards. Institutional knowledge makes for great stories. “We used to load tables into the back of a pickup truck…” Or, “We started this business in the garage.”

As a sport, billiards offers incredible characters, both from the past and present. A writer who can’t find a good story covering pool isn’t much of a writer. Talk about love of a game. No one gets into pool with aspirations of million-dollar paydays or job security. Players play because they love it. And they stay for the same reason. Over the years I’ve met, interviewed and become friends with far too many players and industry leaders to mention. They have kept me far too busy to update my resume and trot off to job interviews.

As for 40 years of Billiards Digest, I’m proud of what the magazine has done since its first issue in September 1978. We have strived to publish a magazine that covered the sport and business honestly. We’ve tried to present the game in a professional manner, and print a magazine that would impress people outside billiards. I think the magazine has provided a valuable service to the sport. We have been blessed over the years with an incredible arsenal of amazing writers — Robert Byrne, Mike Shamos, George Fels, John Stravinsky, Mike Geffner, Mike D’Orso — who could write for any magazine of their choosing. Fortunately, they simply loved the cue sports and pool fans were the beneficiaries. I hope Billiards Digest readers, players and industry leaders have enjoyed the 40-year run. And I hope to pen a similar column in 2028 to commemorate the magazine’s 50th year.

That, too, is a big number.