The Future of Harper’s

Guernica interviews ousted Harper’s editor Rodger Hodge. Obviously take this all with a grain of salt, given how Hodge left Harper’s, but there are still some provocative remarks on the future of magazine publishing in this interview.

Hodge certainly would be one who thinks the Internet is the future, and I don’t think it’s reading too much into what he says to think that he would be against New York Times-esque paywalls:

It’s a damn shame. And the story didn’t have to end this way. Harper’s remains a very good magazine—it still publishes excellent journalism and fiction, outstanding literary criticism. And, with the exception of the cover, which has been outsourced, it’s the most beautiful magazine I know. But all those riches are hidden from view. The newsstand industry is dying; direct mail is a failure; the Internet in all its gaudy diversity is the only hope. Contrary to the assertions of Harper’s management, magazines truly are using the web to build circulation. The Nation has a very successful model; the Atlantic, after a long struggle, is turning a profit; Mother Jones is thriving and has raised millions of dollars. There are people out there who know how to use the web to connect with readers. Some of them used to work for Harper’s.

Then there’s these remarks about Harper’s status as a non-profit. These are interesting, given that we’re seeing more and more arts and journalism organizations become non-profits and build donations right into their business model in a rather serious way.

No one owns Harper’s Magazine. It is a trust, a multi-generational American project. Those who have devoted years of their working lives to this project, who have made substantial material sacrifices in order to work there, have as much right to direct the course of its future as does the person who currently signs the checks. A moneyman can be replaced, but if you eliminate the editorial vision you kill the magazine.

More specifically, the way to save Harper’s is to exploit the full resources of its non-profit status; the magazine must raise funds on the web, it must hold galas and auctions and conferences. It must make use of the enormous reservoir of good will that liberal-minded Americans, people who care about independent thinking and writing, who care about literature and the arts, not to mention American history, feel for this institution.

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