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U.S. literary journals thrive with low overhead and dedicated audiences

A couple of weeks ago poet Michael Lista got the attention of the publishing Twitterverse with his National Post essay Why literary magazines should fold.

Now, we don’t need another American TV sitcom to point out the differences between our two cultures, but here’s an interesting article about the financial health of U.S. West Coast literary journals. Turns out, boutique publishers like The Threepenny Review, Zoetrope, and McSweeney’s Quarterly are doing just fine these days, but not for the reasons you might think. According to The New York Times:

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.

The article suggests journals associated with academic institutions have financially suffered the most over the last couple of years. Not that the successful print publishers are sitting around counting their money bags ” they’ve been investing in the online side of their businesses by overhauling websites and promoting online subscriptions. McSweeney’s even hired a digital media director.

But, as the article concludes ” and here’s where Canadians can nod in agreement ” if these publishers are doing well, it is relative to their notions of success:

No one has ever been able to make a good living writing or publishing literary fiction, Stephen Elliott, a writer and founder of The Rumpus, said. It doesn’t matter that there are exceptions. The rule stands.