Harper’s Magazine in Trouble

Ru-oh. I’ve subscribed to Harper’s Magazine continuously since the 1980s; it has shaped me in all sorts of subtle ways. I can’t imagine a world without it, but apparently, I better quickly grok the idea.

Newstand on State Street circa 1996

In a rambling 40-minute monologue that left many attendees perplexed, John R. MacArthur, 53, talked about the problems facing Harper’s: readership was down 35,000, newsstand sales were plummeting, the only direct-mail piece that seemed to work was 20 years old. Worse, Harper’s seemed irrelevant — “the mainstream media is ignoring it to death,” he said — according to people who were at the meeting.

What he did not address was the chief concern on everyone’s mind: two days earlier, without warning, he had fired the magazine’s well-liked editor, Roger D. Hodge, in a five-minute conversation as Mr. Hodge was finishing his breakfast croissant.

The episode has sent ripples through the placid magazine, which has long been an outlier in the fast-paced New York publishing world.

Harper’s is a nonprofit that relies on the support of Mr. MacArthur’s foundation. As advertising revenue in publishing has declined, many organizations have considered that foundation model — combining traditional revenue with donations — to finance quality journalism. But as the Harper’s situation shows, no publishing model is immune to change — especially when one influential person runs the place.

[Click to continue reading Rick MacArthur Shakes Up Harper’s as Sales Fall – NYTimes.com]

Lewis Lapham is like my third grandfather, but he’s no longer editor, and hasn’t been for a few years. I have no solution to proffer, just hope Harper’s doesn’t vanish. Harper’s is also one of the few magazines I subscribe to that I want to keep after I’ve read: I have several years worth of back issues. I know I shouldn’t keep them – what’s the point, right? Very rarely would I think to go browse an old issue, but still, they feel substantial, so I keep them on a shelf until they fall victim to one of our periodic house cleaning purges. We subscribe to plenty of periodicals, but most are ephemeral, of the moment. Harper’s Magazine isn’t.

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