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Staying in paper in a digital world

Marketplace Staff Sep 14, 2010

Staying in paper in a digital world

Marketplace Staff Sep 14, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: The fall issue of the Paris Review hits newsstands tomorrow. The old stand-by literary magazine has a new editor this year– a new look too. But the mission is still the same old one.

The Paris Review was founded in 1953 by George Plimpton and company. Ever since, it’s been all about fiction and poetry. Not what you might call a recipe for financial success in a digital world.

So we called the Review’s new editor Lorin Stein to talk about how the magazine can survive in the age of blogs and page views.

Lorin, good to have you with us.

Lorin Stein:Good to be here.

RYSSDAL: So I’ll tell ya, when I think of literary journals, you know, “cutting edge” is not the phrase that comes to mind. What are you guys doing to sort of bring this thing into the 21st century?

STEIN: Well, we’re doing a couple things. One, that’s new is that in June we started an online arts gazette called “The Paris Review Daily,” that’s already gotten about 200,000 readers. And we’re talking to a few companies that are interested in partnering with us to put out a digital edition, and I think that that’s something we’ll do. But the core of our business, as long as I’m editor, is going to be putting out a paper magazine. We call it “the paper,” that’s how it’s always been referred to, and that is the thing that is a literary magazine can do now. It has a special place that it didn’t use to have in the culture, I think.

RYSSDAL: Why is that?

STEIN: We want the reader to be absorbed; it’s not a thing to skim, it’s a thing to read and to really get lost in. It’s a refuge. Technologically, paper and ink are still the way to go. I don’t know about you, but I still can’t quite get absorbed in the gizmo that just delivered an e-mail from my boss, and I certainly don’t want to get an e-mail from my boss while I’m reading a story.

RYSSDAL: Make me the elevator pitch for — not the innovative things you guys want to do and the way you are and sort of have to bring parts of the magazine into the 21st century — but the business case for keeping it paper and ink and good design and solid writing.

STEIN: There may not be a market for many, many literary magazines in America, but I’m quite sure that there’s room enough for a couple of really great ones. If you can tell people honestly that by picking up your book or your magazine, they’re going to get a sense of what’s really going on in the culture, if you can really promise that and if you can deliver it, I don’t think you have to do much else.

RYSSDAL: How many copies do you guys sell?

STEIN: Our circulation right now is about 16,000, but you know, I hope that will go up.

RYSSDAL: What’s a realistic increase for you, do you think?

STEIN: Several hundred thousand.

RYSSDAL: Really? A little pie in the sky?

STEIN: Why not think big? There’s so many more serious readers out there. People complain about declining readership, and then a book like Roberto Bolano’s “2666” comes out, or Jonathan Franzen’s book — which I gather sold 35,000 copies the day it came out — these are serious works of fiction. These are masterpieces, and they’re not easy. And people love them; people buy them. I think it’s a real mistake to underestimate the American reading public, and I think publishers tend to.

RYSSDAL: Lorin Stein, he’s the editor of The Paris Review. Lorin, thanks a lot.

STEIN: Oh, thank you so much.

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