Magazine stands are harder to find these days, but apparently magazines are doing OK: By some metrics, their audience keeps growing, with digital gaining ground but print still popular. Of course, “magazine” covers lots of terrain, from Us Weekly to The New York Times Magazine. What of mags publishing literary nonfiction?
The Pittsburgh-based Creative Nonfiction Foundation’s 2017 Writers’ Conference — with two days of talks, panel discussions and networking, about everything from the writer’s craft to the business side — is chance to check in. And the answer is: Also not doing too badly, at least for the employers of two participants in the conference’s May 26 keynote panel, The State of the American Magazine.
“We seem very healthy at the moment,” says Cressida Leyshon, deputy fiction editor of The New Yorker. The storied weekly has a print-plus-digital circulation of 1.1 million — its highest ever, Leyshon says, and its website gets 10 million visitors a month. Much of that traffic is due to web-only content, including daily dispatches on popular culture and the insanity in Washington, plus the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast and features like authors reading their own short stories.
Leyshon, whose editing duties include the nonfiction of such stalwarts as John Seabrook, David Sedaris and Jane Kramer, came to The New Yorker 21 years ago, when it was print-only. “The idea of what the magazine is is really shifting and changing and expanding,” she says.
Harper’s Magazine, meanwhile, is unusual in that it’s backed by the MacArthur Foundation, a nonprofit family outfit that ensures that “we’re not under pressure to make money,” acknowledges editor James Marcus, another panel participant. The venerable monthly is left free to swim against the commercial current, with minimal online-only content and a focus on long-form features and criticism. In some ways, of course, Harper’s anticipated Twitter culture with its long-running Harper’s Index feature. But in the current polarized political climate, “We hope to bring more nuance to the table,” says Marcus. “There are some things that must be explored in depth.” He cites Kentucky native Chris Offutt’s November 2016 article “In the Hollow,” about life in Appalachia and its role in the presidential race.
“These are exciting times for magazines,” Marcus adds. “But there’s great cultural work to be done.”