American Reader to drop its web content and focus on print
One of the consequences of the print industry's downward slide over the past several years has been the trend of newspapers and magazines going "digital-only"—ditching costly paper products, with their diminished circulation and advertising potential, for amped-up digital platforms that can operate with lower overhead and thinner staffs.
You don't tend to hear about publications making the opposite move, but that is precisely what is being planned for The American Reader, a two-year-old literary magazine that's based in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood.
The American Reader, which launched to considerable buzz in the fall of 2012 thanks to its masthead of smart young society and lit-scene fixtures, is planning to reinvest all of its energy and resources into the print edition, which comes out bi-monthly.
Its homepage will cease to exist in its current form, which offers a daily melange of free original content produced exclusively for the web. The two editors who spend much of their time overseeing the site will be fully moved over to the print edition, which now has a masthead of around 15, just four of whom work on the product on a daily basis. As of October 1, theamericanreader.com will become more of a landing page, with occasional news and updates about the organization. Certain content will still be made available online through partnerships like the one The American Reader has with Salon.com.
It sounds like a counterintutive strategy given the mass migration of readers to mobile devices, but it's not exactly rocket science for lit mags, whose readers tend to cherish print's tactile nature. While some of the more established players in the category, like The Paris Review, have managed to carve out a robust online presence, it can make sense for newer, smaller entrants, like The American Reader and former Vice editor Jesse Pearson's Apology, to put all of their eggs into a basket with a reliable revenue stream.
"We have big growth in our print edition that hasn't necessarily been reflected online," Uzoamaka "Max" Maduka, The American Reader's 26-year-old co-founder and editor-in-chief, told Capital.
Indeed, the magazine's website still does not meet the minimum traffic standards that are required to be measured by the analytics firm comScore. (Maduka said the site draws roughly 75,000 unique monthly visitors.) The publication has fewer than 7,000 Twitter followers and roughly 42,000 Facebook likes.
While the print circulation of 6,000 is even smaller, it represents a more engaged, lucrative and geographically dispersed audience, about 1,200 of whom pay $39.99 for a yearly subscription while the rest cough up $10 a pop to pick up single issues on the newsstand. (The circulation was a microscopic 400 at launch.) Single-issue sales, said Maduka, have begun to cover "a significant chunk of production costs" for The American Reader, which was initially bankrolled by an investor whom the magazine has declined to name. They're working on a second round of funding and will soon begin accepting print advertising with a publisher in tow.
A spokeswoman cited internal data showing that The American Reader's distributor has more than doubled its order over the past year and that the average sell-through rate is 62 percent. The magazine is now sold at Barnes & Noble stores in 37 states and there are plans to increase the magazine's footprint in independent bookstores, where the average sell-through rate is 73 percent, she said.
"It really comes down to the time and the effort and focus," said Maduka. "Our audience for print is more aligned with our mission to be a truly national publication. Online, the audience is far more parochial, and mainly centered in New York City. So we realized that if we're serious about the mission, we'd have to completely reinvest."
The inaugural issue of The American Reader hit stands in October 2012. The magazine, which focuses on ficiton, poetry and criticism, has since published the works of literary giants such as John Ashbery, Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Muldoon.
“I like the unprecious look of the thing,” Paris Review editor Lorin Stein told The New York Times in a January 2013 profile. “It’s made to be read."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said The American Reader is a monthly publication. It is bi-monthly.