From The Millions:
David Lynn began his Editor’s Notes for the Autumn 2004 issue of The Kenyon Review with some necessary questions: “How much is a fine story worth? What monetary value does a superb poem possess? How much — and this is the inexorable point — should authors be paid for their long, solitary work?” The questions were particularly appropriate to his magazine: The Kenyon Review published writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and yet the magazine closed in 1969, and was not revived until a decade later. Lynn assumed the editorship in 1994, and the magazine “struggl[ed] toward financial stability,” only paying contributors “fifteen dollars per page for poetry and ten dollars per page for prose.”
Lynn’s introductory note served two purposes. The first was to announce an increase in payment rate for writers, which managing editor Tyler Meier attributes to the generosity of “a great Board of Trustees [at Kenyon College].” Lynn admitted that even an increased rate could not compete with the dwindling “commercial magazines” who still published fiction, but his qualification leads to the second purpose for his introduction: a philosophical consideration of the economy of literary magazines. Lynn wonders about the rewards of writing, quipping that “a fiction writer may serve an apprenticing of sorts by fashioning short stories (all the while harboring a fantasy of blockbusters and screenplays down the road)… [while] poets, even the best poets, daren’t delude themselves in this particular way.”
Lynn engages a prescient point: are literary magazines an end, or a means toward an end, for writers? From an economic standpoint, he reaches a practical conclusion, shared by most writers involved in the submission process: while publication in literary magazines might be an aesthetic end, it is no means an economic one. Since “many authors today hold academic positions… promotion in the academy often depends on generating vitae with lists of publications that otherwise have earned them little beyond the price of a meal or two.” The obvious irony needs to be unpacked. Scan the contributor notes of any contemporary literary magazine, and you will find Lynn’s statement true: writers are often employed by university English departments, or are students in MFA programs affiliated with those departments. Other than a few and often notable distinctions, the economy of literary magazines appears to be a closed system: writers publish in literary magazines that are often read by writers. Money is tight, payment is low, and subscriptions and institutional support appear to be the final hope for sustenance. Does it have to be that way?