Monday, January 4, 2010

On business models for literary journals.

I just got an email from the local expat literary journal. They have rebranded themselves. Rather than shilling subscriptions to their journal, they want you to buy a membership in their writing community. For between 20-50 euros per year, you get one free copy of the journal, 35% off a subscription, a VIP invitation to their launch party, and reduced prices for their writing groups and workshops. The more you pay, the more reduced events you can attend.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (VIP invitation to their launch party? Seriously?)

They aren't the only ones taking this kind of initiative. Another journal that has been around for many years now regularly asks for payment for themed reading periods. They only have two periods per year where they accept unpaid submissions. Reading between the lines, the strong implication is your chances of acceptance are improved if you're willing to fork over the money.

The initiative of the first journal is certainly, on the surface, less pernicious than in the case of the second. But still, it begins to feel as though the journal only exists to hawk the workshops and their (paid) writing groups.

What's the purpose of a literary journal anyhow?

They certainly aren't enduring works of art in and of themselves. Even the most famous are swiftly forgotten. Some of the most influential had runs of no more than two or three years.

It seems to me that a literary journal is a way of facilitating a conversation about writing/art-- a conversation between writers, editors, and readers which finds form through the printed or online page. Writing groups certainly often grow up around a journal, but shouldn't that be an organic thing? Not a paid membership to some kind of writing club like fucking poetry girlscouts.

Pardon my language.

I get regular communication from these people. They never seem to talk about the work anymore. Increasingly it seems they're just hawking their wares.

2010's theme for me is the notion of a writer's community. So I'm more sensitive to this stuff, and thinking about it just a little bit more critically, I imagine.

I have nothing against editors making a living. So perhaps I'm overreacting.

They've never published me. So perhaps I'm a dog in a manger.

Or maybe I really just don't like workshops.

Last year, or a little before, I had contemplated joining one of their Master Classes. The next night I had a dream that I attended one, and a group of people held me down and pissed in my face. The bad taste in my mouth?

What do you think? The way of the future?


  1. Hear! Hear!
    I like the idea of developing the community. As with true Communism, I believe more and more that such an entity can only come from personal association - grass roots. I'm not sure how to attempt to develop community except the slow way of growing connections between writers. Of course, I've never really been a fan of all the hassles with publishing, so perhaps I shouldn't speak. I must say, leave it to money to screw up an otherwise (potentially) good thing.

  2. True and true. The trouble for me with a writer's community is that as an English speaking writer, I'm relatively isolated here. So it's the Internet or something else. But it's nice to have you back in a small way & hear you thinking again. So perhaps the Internet isn't all bad?