I recently realized that if you want to be successful in life, you have to have one thing above all others.
Is it intelligence? Not. Creativity? Not.
Persistence, ingenuity, determination? Not.
Great physical beauty? A winning personality? A DeLorean equipped with a time machine that will allow you to travel into the future and return to the past armed with knowledge of future events?
No, and let’s be serious now.
The answer is the business model.
A business model at its core is essentially a mechanism by which an entity collects sufficient revenue to finance its operations, and ideally, even make a profit.
Many things that matter to me struggle with their business models. For example, newspapers like the one you are reading have struggled for years to find a sustainable business model after the original model based on advertising revenue was disrupted by the Internet.
Twitter, a place where I spend far too much time but is nonetheless a major means of getting attention for my writing, seems to be suffering from a new owner lacking a viable business model.
Another type of entity that lacks a viable business model is a literary magazine. Last December, Bookforum, a book review magazine that had been around since 1994 and had produced some of the most profound and influential reviews in its entire existence, ended.
But when Bookforum’s parent publication, Artforum, was acquired by Penske Media Corporation without bringing Bookforum on board, the costs of producing a stand-alone magazine became too great to continue.
The average reader is most likely unfamiliar with Bookforum, but as I often note here, all of us who value books and reading are part of a larger ecosystem of books, and there are many parts of that ecosystem that we may not even be aware of affect our lives.
A literary magazine helps to sort, nurture and disseminate books that strive to achieve artistic value. Authors such as Rachel Cusk, Karl Ove Knausgård and Maggie Nelson are first introduced to a wider audience through these less specialized literary publications.
The truth is that there has never been a viable business model for a literary magazine, as they are often required to get by on a combination of philanthropy, patronage and the sacrifice of those who publish the issues. Bookforum has managed to survive much longer than most similar attempts.
Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, if you don’t have a sustainable business model, you don’t seem to matter. Can’t print your magazine and pay your staff based on subscription revenue? It’s the breaks, kid. There is no place for you in our world.
The thing is, it seems that all kinds of entities can continue to operate without a sustainable business model. I already mentioned Twitter, but what about Uber, a company that has not only lost tens of billions of dollars over the course of its existence, but that many believe does not have a viable long-term profitable business model? And yet, many continue to invest in Uber because we can cling to the plausible fictional hope that they will one day recoup that investment.
One month of Uber’s losses would fund an entire literary magazine ecosystem for life.
The difference is that a literary magazine doesn’t pretend to be very profitable one day, so it’s clearly not worth the investment, no matter how successful it is in carrying out its mission.
That’s what I’ll be thinking about, maybe for the rest of my days.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Dr. Not” by Percival Everett
2. “Valentine’s Day” written by Elizabeth Wetmore
3. “Conspiracy of the violin” by Brendan Slocumb
4. “Stoner” by John Edward Williams
5. “The Echo Wife” by Sarah Gailey
— Jane W., Apache Junction, Arizona
I look at this list and then I look at my bookshelf and let my heart and gut lead me to a book that seems good for Jane and the answer is “Destinies Will Find Their Way” by Hannah Pittard.
1. “Outlaw” by Janet Evanovich
2. “Beloved” Toni Morrison
3. “NYPD Row 7” Marshall Karp
4. “Bijev” Patricia Cornwell
5. “Righteous prey” John Sandford
— Linda M., Chicago
The TV series “Slow Horses” starring Gary Oldman is really great, but it also makes me think of the book series it was taken from, which is even better. The recommendation is “Slow Horses” by Mick Herron.
1. “Mr. in Moscow” by Amor Towles
2. “One hundred years of Lenni and Margot” by Marianne Cronin
3. “Britt-Marie was here” by Fredrik Backman
4. “We were liars” by E. Lockhart
5. “Happy all the time” by Laurie Colwin
— Phyllis C., Chicago
In the cold winter months, I sometimes find myself drawn to books that truly warm the heart, and I think Phyllis will enjoy my selection that fulfills that goal: The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal.
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Submit a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown [email protected].