The New York Times: Literary Journals Thrive, on Paper and Otherwise

by Megan Sexton  ·  April 25, 2011

The New York Times: Literary Journals Thrive, on Paper and Otherwise

NYT reporter Reyhan Harmanci reflects on the nature of print publishing, the internet, and literary journals in this article. Five Points can relate as we work on launching our new blog and update our website.

Here is a selection from the article:

With local independent bookstores like A Different Light in the Castro and Modern Times in the Mission struggling to make ends meet, not to mention Borders’ bankruptcy and the general panic of the book publishing industry in the face of the e-reader, it would seem that literary pursuits of all kinds are under attack in this digital age.

But literary journals — a long-tail publishing phenomenon before the Internet made other niche offerings accessible — are thriving.

“It’s a great time for lit magazines,” said Jeffrey Lependorf, executive director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. “I don’t think there are any fewer now than 20 years ago.” The organization’s membership has more than doubled in the last decade, from 230 to more than 500 publications and small presses.

Different journals have different business models, but many are nonprofits or attached to educational institutions, and all rely on marshaling support of dedicated readers rather than appealing to mass audiences.

If literary journals “are poised to do well,” as Laura Cogan, editor of San Francisco-based ZYZZYVA, said, it may be because they share qualities with many successful online ventures: skeletal staffs, low overhead and specialized audiences.

In the Bay Area, established magazines like The Threepenny ReviewZoetropeMcSweeney’s Quarterly and ZYZZYVA — continue to hold down their print-subscriber bases interested in original writing and artwork, and online start-ups like The Rumpus have established strong communities online.

“The D.I.Y. movement of the ’60s, those fantastic mimeographed magazines, most has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr. Lependorf said. “But a lot of print magazines are going very strong as well.”

For literary journals, the arrival of the Internet has not caused nearly the same kind of consternation as it has in book publishing or mainstream magazines — mainly because the profit motive has never really driven these boutique publishers.


Some of the most interesting new projects are hybrids, mixing offline-products with robust Web sites. The Brooklyn-based Electric Literature, for instance, has been selling digital subscriptions for mobile devices, as well as printed on demand.

It seems clear that hybridization– the use of both Web and print interfaces– is the way to go for many literary journals around the country. Five Points is currently working towards this ideal, as blogs and websites offer a closer connection to readers around the globe.