Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Literary Magazines and their Survival

I have been reading literary magazines for some years now. The first literary magazine I read was Asia Literary Review. I stuck to it until I stopped finding it one day at the bookstore I visit. I searched for it at other bookstores, but without any luck. Probably it met with the same fate many literary magazines meet eventually; either the store stops stocking them due to lack of sale or the magazine shuts down. This is the tragedy of literary magazines (LMs).


LMs are vastly different from the glossy newsstand magazines. LMs generally carry short fiction works by known and unknown authors, book reviews, photo essays and articles on current affairs and culture; they are literary in nature. Not for them the snazzy film reviews, one-page idiosyncratically written biased pieces etc.

I have nothing against newsstand magazines and I enjoy reading them, but LMs distinguish themselves by content and approach.

If a popular magazine informs you of an issue in a short and quick manner, a literary magazine gives you the complete perspective. Only when you read a topic in a literary magazine, you understand how many sides can exist to a subject. (If read over a period of time, you develop an analytical and all-sided approach to dealing with a subject.)

LMs showcase culture, give a platform to new writers and photo enthusiasts by giving them an opportunity to publish their work, alas not many are lucky enough to publish their works with them as you have to meet their criteria and they greatly vary from magazine to magazine and are mostly not clearly explained in their submission guidelines. Also, unlike in popular magazines, articles in literary magazines are tilt-free, if a little leftist, which is understandable given their arty nature.

Then why literary magazines struggle to survive while their newsstand siblings do well? I have worked out some theories. The strength of LMs – their content - is also their weakness. People want to be informed but in an entertaining and quick way. They may want to know an issue but only enough to talk about it in office and not necessarily to get a student’s perspective.

Another problem is lack of exposure. While ordinary magazines enjoy a round-the-clock exposure to customers at pun shops and newspaper stands, LMs stay tucked in a solitary corner of serious bookstores. So unless you visit these bookstores – and there are light readers who don’t – and are curious enough to visit the neglected corners of the stores, you are unlikely to get a view of these magazines.

Unlike books, magazines are generally identified with quick reading, and the fact that LMs generally have a solemn look and feel about them (covers are generally very serious) doesn’t help.

But these problems are not without solutions. I think LMs’ content approach (length, nature etc) should not be tinkered with to get a wider audience. LMs would never have the following of their newsstand counterparts, but they would always have their dedicated readership. What can be worked on is their publicity. They have to enjoy more visibility through proper placements at bookstores and newspaper stands.

Probably this sort of network is difficult to build by small groups that mostly run LMs; but here is where big newspapers and publishing houses have a role to play. An increased reader base with a polished reading taste will only help them in turn.

If nothing is done, this species will meet with extinction.

2 comments:

Being Pramoda... said...

i read many books but somehow i've never been attracted towards literary magazines.. got to know some good things about it.. interesting!!

Thanks Indrashish..

indrablog said...

Ya, you can pick up one; they are interesting to read. Thanks for stopping by.

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