How Can a Print Publication Survive?

November 18, 2009

As publisher of an independent magazine funded by subscriptions and my checking account, I wonder if it will be time one day to hang up the print and move to web. I’ve mentioned this in passing and people look at me in horror. Often, these people are not currently subscribing to the magazine. “I can only subscribe to three magazines this year,” they apologize. I smile. I’m not going to make them feel bad. I’m in this magazine business for the long haul, and we’ll get through recession or not.

One reason we can survive is that we keep our costs down. This year, I decided we’re not spending $600 or more dollars on the AWP Conference. Having a table at the conference can be fun — people know where to find me — yet it’s also exhausting and, as I said before, extremely expensive. The number of sales and subscriptions we receive from it is not worth the money to pay for it, and I must spend on increasing subscriptions.

Anyway, I digress.

Charles Jensen posted that creating a niche for a magazine is the way to stand out from the crowd. 32 Poems aims to do this by publishing a small number of poems in a nicely designed package. Do we need to do more? Please read Jensen’s list below. We welcome your thoughts.

1. Do it differently. I think magazines that niche themselves are better off than the “everything to everyone” magazines. Tin House and Passager are good examples of this, as is the print version of MiPOESIAS, with its huge glossy pages dominated by photography. It’s gorgeous.

2. Do it cooler. Whenever a technological advance democratizes the means of production of something, the outmoded way becomes a form of fine art (like letterpress printing, for example–formerly the norm, now an art form). So magazines like Ninth Letter really up the ante on quality and innovation in design. I say that’s a good call. Another great example is the print version of spork, which was community-made, hand-bound, and beautiful.

3. Do it smarter. American Poetry Review seems to understand the temporary nature of its work, and prints its issues on newsprint, which I’m sure saves buckets of money each year.

What would make you want to subscribe to 32 Poems?

By the way, I am not scared of your criticism. I’ve survived workshops with The Most Hated Man in American Poetry, so whatever suggestions you have for this magazine will be milk in comparison.

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