Biblioracle discusses business models and literary magazines

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I recently realized that if you want to have success in life you need to have one thing above all others.

Is it intelligence? No. Creativity? No.

Grit, gumption, stick-to-itiveness? Nope.

Great physical beauty? A winning personality? A DeLorean rigged with a time machine that will allow you to travel into the future and return to the past armed with the knowledge of events to come?

No, and let’s be serious now.

The answer is a business model.

A business model at its core is essentially the mechanism by which an entity accrues sufficient revenue to fund its operations, and ideally, even make a profit.

Many of the things that are important to me have been struggling with their business models. For example, newspapers, like the one you are reading, have been struggling for years to come up with a viable business model after the original one predicated on advertising revenue was disrupted by the internet.

Twitter, a place where I spend too much time but is nonetheless the primary vehicle for one to draw attention to one’s writing, seems to be suffering from its new owner’s lack of a viable business model.

Another type of entity that lacks a viable business model is the literary magazine. This past December saw the end of Bookforum, a magazine of book criticism, which had been operating since 1994, and produced some of the most in-depth and influential criticism around for the entirety of its existence.

But when Bookforum’s parent publication, Artforum, was acquired by the Penske Media Corporation without bringing Bookforum along, the cost of producing the magazine as a stand-alone became too great to continue.

The average reader is quite likely not familiar with Bookforum, but as I often remark here, all of us who value books and reading are participants in a larger books ecosystem, and there are many parts of that ecosystem we may not be aware of that nonetheless impact our lives.

The literary magazine helps sort, nurture and disseminate books that strive to achieve artistic merit. Authors like Rachel Cusk, Karl Ove Knausgård and Maggie Nelson are introduced to wider audiences first through these smaller niche literary publications.

The truth is that there has never been a viable business model for a literary magazine, as they’re often required to make do through a combination of philanthropy, patronage and sacrifice by those who produce the issues. Bookforum managed to last much longer than most similar attempts.

Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, if you don’t have a viable business model, it seems as if you don’t matter. Can’t manage to both print your magazine and pay your staff based on subscription revenue? Them’s the breaks, kid. There’s no place in our world for you.

Thing is, all kinds of entities seem to be able to continue operating without a viable business model. I’ve already mentioned Twitter, but how about Uber, a company that has not only lost tens of billions of dollars during its existence, but one that many believe has no viable long-term profitable business model? And yet, many continue to invest in Uber because we can cling to the likely fictional hope that someday it will return money on that investment.

One month of Uber’s losses would fund the entire literary magazine ecosystem for a lifetime.

The difference is that the literary magazine does not pretend that it will someday be hugely profitable, and therefore is apparently not worthy of investment, no matter how successful it is at executing its mission.

That’s the thing I’m going to keep thinking about, maybe for the rest of my days.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “Dr. No” by Percival Everett

2. “Valentine” by Elizabeth Wetmore

3. “The Violin Conspiracy” by Brendan Slocumb

4. “Stoner” by John Edward Williams

5. “The Echo Wife” by Sarah Gailey

— Jane W., Apache Junction, Arizona

I’m looking at this list and then I’m looking at my bookshelf and letting my heart and gut take me to the book that feels right for Jane and the answer is “The Fates Will Find Their Way” by Hannah Pittard.

1. “Going Rogue” by Janet Evanovich

2. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison

3. “NYPD Red 7″ Marshall Karp

4. “Livid” Patricia Cornwell

5. “Righteous Prey” John Sandford

— Linda M., Chicago

The “Slow Horses” TV series starring Gary Oldman is really terrific, but it also makes me think about the series of books it’s drawn from, which is even better. The recommendation is “Slow Horses” by Mick Herron.

1. “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

2. “The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot” by Marianne Cronin

3. “Britt-Marie Was Here” by Fredrik Backman

4. “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

5. “Happy All the Time” by Laurie Colwin

— Phyllis C., Chicago

In the cold winter months, I sometimes find myself drawn to books that genuinely warm the heart, and I think Phyllis will enjoy my pick that fulfills that goal: “The Lager Queen of Minnesota” by J. Ryan Stradal.

Get a reading from the Biblioracle

Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to [email protected].





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