Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS
This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be looking at the ongoing struggle of literary magazines to remain profitable, a recent development involving the social media giant Facebook and several news publishers, and pondering a future where literary mags may be distributed via social media. As with several of my past posts, this post picks up on my thoughts following the reading of an article posted elsewhere. To read the full article that got me going down this path click the link below to Vindu Goel and Ravi Somaiya’s May 13th New York Times article Facebook Begins Testing Instant Articles From News Publishers.
If you read my bio when I first joined MacGregor Literary you might have noticed that I cut my teeth in publishing by working at the literary journals Portland Review (print and digital) and Unshod Quills (digital only) and the online arts and culture magazine Nailed. I can tell you from firsthand experience that running a literary magazine in more often than not both a labor of love and an act of audacity performed in the face of a variety of woes, chief among them lack of money.
When I worked on Portland Review as an associate editor during my undergrad years we had a robust subscription base in the thousands and a budget that well covered our printing and distribution costs. When I returned to Portland Review a decade later as Editor-in-Chief we were facing our third straight year of budget cuts and our subscription list had dwindled to a number less than twenty. Without the support of Portland State University, budget cuts and near 100% free student labor notwithstanding, the journal would no longer be in print. This shift in fortunes has been widely reported throughout the publishing industry, but no sector of the industry has been as hard hit as periodical publishing.
With news out last month that Facebook is testing “Instant Articles” from a variety of different news publishers, allowing the publishers to either embed their own advertising or to elect to have Facebook advertising with a seventy-thirty revenue split, I began to wonder if there might be a social media solution to the ongoing decline of the institution of the literary journal. Setting aside Facebook’s arguably problematic practice of collecting information on its users for sale to other business interests what would be the downside of “Instant Short Stories” or “Instant Poems” or “Instant Whatever Artsy Stuff” provided that the publishers of said “Artsy Stuff” could directly generate revenue by tapping into Facebook’s massive user well?