Andromeda: A death greatly exaggerated…?

As Mark Twain said about the erroneous reporting of his own death, perhaps the ‘Death of Fiction’ was also a bit exaggerated in the title of this recent Mother Jones article, brought to our attention by a 49w reader.

But article titles, which editors rather than writers often generate, are one thing. (I mean ‘Death of Fiction?’ The article focuses on university literary magazines, not literature in general).

Author Ted Genoways did claim that university-based quarterlies are seeing a decline in their subscriber base and — here is a touchier point — in their cultural relevance. He shares the bad news about publications (including TriQuarterly and New England Review) facing budget cuts or imminent elimination.

I read a few dozen of the comments posted at MJ, and most were doom and gloom. I’m not a major consumer of small literary magazines, especially non-Alaskan publications, to be honest (I barely make a dent in the books and magazines already cluttering my bedside). My perhaps naive impression from reading this blog is that the Alaska and northern litmag scene isn’t doing too badly — witness the publication of the new Cirque, the revival of Ice Floe, Nancy’s post yesterday about The Northern Review, and the long-term success of AQR.

It won’t surprise me to find out that reader audiences are splintering, simply because there are so many new publications (and entirely new forms of media) competing for reader’s attention.

But what’s your say on all this? Did you read the Mother Jones piece? Agree or disagree with it? Think the Alaska litmag scene is thriving or barely surviving? Are you tired of the every-decade pronouncement that ‘literature/fiction/the novel/all of writing’ is dead or do you think that this time around, the sky truly is falling?

I’d also like to know — based on the surprising figures shared by Genoways (he says most literary magazines have fewer than 1500 subscribers) — do you actually subscribe to the magazines he mentions? If a magazine is being supported only by the people writing for it, and possibly not even by those people — does it have much relevance to the larger culture? Or are niche markets the perfect place for counterculture ideas, nuanced arguments, and new forms of writing to thrive — and who cares if the subscriber base is small?

1 thought on “Andromeda: A death greatly exaggerated…?”

  1. Excellent questions, and I like what you suggest about niche markets. Everything self-corrects, and some experimental fiction may have strayed so far from the iconic yearning for story that its audience faltered. But with the commercial market in desparate need of correction, I'd think literary journals could find new readers by embracing what might be called, in marketing terms, "boutique fiction" – overlooked but approachable literary work – much as university presses are doing.

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