On Selling Silk Road and Other Literary Magazines

Based on an interview with John Henley, the bookselling instructor at the Portland State University publishing program.

By Valerie Horres

You aren’t going to find many literary magazines in bookstores like Powell’s or Barnes & Noble. Unfortunately, literary magazines are not “a suggested retail practice, for a store needs all of its space to make money,” John Henley explains.

Instead, the market for literary magazines like Silk Road is split between two places. The first is libraries, especially university libraries, and the second is subscriptions. Some magazines distribute evenly between these two markets, but many sell more to libraries and others sell more to subscribers.

Paris Review Spring 2008, 184

Ultimately, the decision about how to best sell a literary magazine depends on the content of the review itself: “The Paris Review, for example, is not usually for sale at any retail outfit at all and is available to subscribers—as most public libraries will have clients who object to the sexuality and avante guarde nature of the review,” says Henley. Although, Powell’s does often carry The Paris Review, even when there might be a naked woman on the cover (Spring 2008, 184). Oregon literary magazines are able to take advantage of the mandate from the State government that demands Oregon public libraries buy Oregon authors and Oregon publications.

Oftentimes literary reviews will work together in order to gain more subscribers or buyers. Magazines often share mailing lists, hoping that if a subscriber purchases one type of literary review, he or she will be interested in another one with the same kind of content. Many literary magazines advertise in larger magazines, such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, or other reviews with the same kind of content. For example, if a literary magazine publishes pieces in the science fiction genre, Henley suggests they advertise in Locus, as well as Amazing Stories.

When a literary magazine is produced through a university, the English Department often aids in its publication and advertisement. Usually there are several professors who have either edited, founded, or are somehow connected to the literary magazine, who also help with its production and the selling of the review.

One final avenue for selling literary magazines is through the internet. Subscriptions are often less expensive when an online format is purchased, due to savings in costs of paper and shipping and handling. Literary magazines, such as Silk Road, are able to advertise their content on the internet with little to no cost. Some magazines have blogs, like this one, which help to connect readers to the content of the magazine and hopefully inspire interest in furthering a subscription, or even beginning a new one.