An issue of ZYZZYVA being prepared to be digitized for the magazine's Web site. Subscriptions have held at 1,200 for the past three years.
Literary Journals Thrive, on Paper and OtherwiseBy Reyhan Harmanci 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 Review, Zoetrope, McSweeney’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“The D.I.Y. movement of the ’60s, those fantastic mimeographed magazines, most has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr.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.