I spend a lot of time thinking about media saturation and overload. We are inundated by media. Not just from our traditional media outlets, but from smaller “indie” outlets (like us), personal YouTube channels and blogs, right down to our Facebook timelines. Our friends and family are our media. We are media to them. We consume each other. What this means is that if we are content creators (and I’d wager that most of you reading this likely are) then we are all, in some way, competing with one another for eyeballs. And not only are we competing for eyeballs, we’re looking for ways to survive financially. The problem at Atticus Review (and a lot of other literary magazines) is twofold: we’d like to stay afloat financially, but we also want to help writers survive financially by paying them.
I’m a realist when it comes to endeavors such as the one we are engaged in here at Atticus Review. First of all, I don’t believe people “read” our Web site the way somebody might “read” a print magazine. During the first decade of the 2000s I was a web developer, and what I (and many other web developers) learned during that time is that people don’t consume content online the way they consume content in print. We are all a bit more enlightened about the Internet than we were in 2000, and yet I still find a number of online literary magazines that try to behave like their print predecessors. I have never sat down with a cup of coffee all relaxed on a Sunday morning, taken out my phone or laptop, and read an online magazine’s entire issue “cover to cover.” This is not to say that nobody does this, but it’s just to say that if that person exists, I really wish I was that person because it would mean I had a much higher attention span. But I don’t. And I can’t. Most of us can’t. We don’t need to punish ourselves for this. It’s just the way our brains are evolving, mostly (I believe) as a result of the Internet.
But here’s what my evolving brain can manage to do: it can read a friend’s piece when it pops up in my feed. It can also read pieces recommended to me by the brains of other friends or acquaintances. And this, to be entirely realistic about the matter, is where most of Atticus Review’s traffic comes from: directly via people who are published on our site. People who share us in their own Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The other source of traffic, of course, is from people looking for places to submit their writing. I know this because the top page on Atticus Review other than the home page is the “Submit” page. One of the things this means is that Atticus Review is a site frequented primarily by other writers. I would wager that just about every college or indie lit magazine is this way. Nobody other than a writer has ever asked me if I read the latest piece on Electric Literature, for instance. Which is not to single them out, but just to say, look, let’s all be real about our positions in the media landscape.
One of the questions this raises, and which gets discussed from time to time, is: Who pays for this type of media? Who pays for online literary magazines? The honest answer, the necessary answer, is we do. If we do not, then advertisers must, and while this is a viable option, I don’t feel like it’s the right option for Atticus Review right now. But if we are to pay, then who do we pay for? Which magazines? There are so many. How do we choose? We can’t pay for all of it. Ultimately, we pay for the content sources that speak to us or that we trust. We trust content based on the quality of that content over time.
As the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Atticus Review, I’m going to be looking for ways to create revenue. This is not because my goal is to “make money” from this magazine. It is because I enjoy doing this and I want the effort to succeed. I also want it to grow. I would like Atticus to get back into the business of publishing print books. But for this to succeed and for Atticus to grow it has to, at the very least, sustain itself. What this means is that I’m going to ask you for your help in this. You, who are both the reader and the likely writer/contributor.
Typically, at this point, the discussion turns to the topic of submission fees. People get very riled up about this subject. Some make the argument that writers should not be made to support magazines, that there is a pay-to-play ickiness about submission fees. I think there is some truth to this. And to be clear, I think a mandatory submission fee does create an obstacle to all/any writers submitting their work, which I think is wrong, or at the very least, not ideal. That said, I do think writers are the primary, if not the only, audience for most literary magazines. And so who is going to fund these efforts if not ourselves? My suggestion? Find one you like, and support it. Maybe it is Atticus Review. But if it is not, make it another one. Make it one that speaks to your aesthetic and your sensibility.
We’re going to adopt a model used by another media source I consume regularly: public radio. What I like about the public radio model is that it relies on a community of people who are made to feel like they are active participants in the production of the media and who voluntarily give to it. I think of Atticus Review less as a top-down media outlet and more as a community endeavor, one which other folks participate in, rather than simply consume.
To me, the mission of the magazine is to support developing writers. To provide a platform for them, initially. But also to continue to support them as they progress in their career. I’ve worked with other editors who want to be (and who believe they might be) the next Paris Review. I am not that person. And Atticus is not, and will never be, the Paris Review. Sure, I want us to be smart, but I also don’t mind us being a little profane and goofy. Mostly, I want to find what is meaningful, not what is trendy. Pieces that struggle with the question of what it is to be human. My promise to people who trust us with their essays, stories, and poetry is that I will always treat anything we publish with great care in how it is presented.
In return here’s what I will ask: please support us in one of the following ways:
- Whenever you make a submission, you will have the option to contribute financially. If you are so inclined, please throw us a few bucks. Your submissions will not be marked in any way that sets them apart from other submissions. But you will be helping us stay viable. And for that, maybe you will feel some warm and fuzzies.
- Become an ongoing backer of the magazine by visiting our new Patreon page and supporting us. This will put you more in touch with us and us more in touch with you. We will put out special calls for submissions that we do not put out on our public submissions page. Depending on your level of support, we may also send you stuff in the mail. Like our annual best-of print magazine. We will ask for your feedback from time to time. Let me be clear, we are not a nonprofit. While this may change, what we are asking for right now is more like a subscription than a donation.
So, what else will you get for this financial support? What else does Atticus plan on doing with your money?
- First of all, your financial support will help pay the bills we already pay, including hosting, newsletter fees, and the submissions manager. Also, starting in 2018, we will begin the production of an annual “Best Of” print issue. Your financial support will help in all of this.
- Second, and more importantly, we believe in paying our contributors, and our goal is to do this by 2019. However this will be a goal we’ll only be able to achieve through your financial support.
This likely will not be the last post I make about financial support and the literary biosphere. Like public radio, I will periodically make these calls to you. I will remind you that things like Atticus Review can exist through community support and what a great thing that can be. I hope it sparks some discussion.