Many in the literary community were saddened this past week to hear of the imminent closing of Tri-Quarterly, the national literary magazine published at Northwestern University. They will publish their last print issue in the spring. Back in May, we heard reports that the New England Review, another literary world giant, is in serious danger of being discontinued by Middlebury College.
The simple explanation is that these publications cost too much to operate and print, particularly in a world that is moving swiftly and continuously to digital content. If that’s true, expect many more to follow down the path of closure or digitalization.
This is especially bad news for many of the aging baby boomer generation, who grew up with printed books and magazine, and still prefer the look, feel and portability of printed matter over lugging an electronic device around just to read a story or chapter on a screen we can barely see, using keys we can barely operate. We are uncomfortable using technology to replace functional simplicity. It wasn’t broke—why did they have to fix it?
Most of us still have 20 to 30-plus years of reading (and spending on reading material) left in us, so the move to digital, and whether us older folks will fight it or acquiesce, will be interesting to watch. Personally, although I spend six to ten hours a day on the computer writing and researching (and other, far less productive tasks—I admit it), I still much prefer the feel of a book or magazine in my hands when I’m reading.
I’m still part of the online community of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, where I received my MFA, and much of our discussion centers on the future of publishing and how writers will have to adapt to changing modes of content delivery—even more important is what that means to our rate of pay, although we are fairly sure of one thing, that it will be less. The corporate world is all about reducing costs, and writers are one of them.
So if you’d like to see at least some of the better literary journals continue in their present form, there’s only one thing to do—subscribe to a few. As an assistant editor for one, Fifth Wednesday Journal, I’m amazed at the number of stories submitted by writers who’ve never bothered to read it. If half of the writers who submit to literary journals bought an issue, and if only a quarter took a subscription, I’ll bet most of these publications would be in no danger of failing. Pick your faves, and if you can afford it, send them a check for a year’s worth. If you’re one of the many missing out on the great stories, poetry and essays these publications contain, check a few out at your local library or bookstore.