For personal reasons, W. Ralph Eubanks has decided to leave the team of the Virginia Quarterly Review. Ralph brought his unique talents, commitment, and dedication to the magazine, and has made substantial contributions as Editor of VQR, with four National Magazine Award nominations during his tenure, including one for General Excellence in the Literature, Science, and Politics category. Although Ralph will no longer be associated with the magazine, VQR will continue on its editorial course, and continue to be responsive to the changing world of magazine publishing. We wish Ralph the very best, personally and professionally.
This note is to address where we see VQR going in the near future.
VQR: OUR PRINT MAGAZINE
First, we are not reducing our commitment to—or investment in—the print magazine. VQR will continue our themed magazine issues and will add numerous section editors for categories such as poetry, criticism, and science. These paid section editors will work within their fields, bringing stories to the magazine that they and our staff believe VQR is uniquely suited to share. A magazine staff of four or five people naturally benefits from the collective strength of many writers, journalists, scholars, photographers, and filmmakers. We view these structural changes as reflective of our historic commitment to broad coverage in current reporting and to continuous innovation in magazine publishing.
We will select a VQR poetry editor before the end of 2015. By restoring the poetry editor position, we are acknowledging the specialized knowledge of the practitioner that Paul Muldoon brings to the New Yorker and that Gregory Orr brought to our pages for decades.
We are committed to poetry in print and online. In addition to our in-depth critical reviews in the print magazine, we will be launching a biweekly, online-only column that highlights new and forthcoming poetry releases and our favorite contemporary poets and poems.
VQR STAFF AND THEIR ROLES
Our full-time staff includes Deputy Editor Paul Reyes, who served on the staffs of Harper’s and the Oxford American and has written powerfully in our pages about his family’s exile from Cuba. Our Managing Editor, Allison Wright, has taught in the Media Studies department at the University of Virginia, and her most recent article is in the Atlantic. After serving as Counselor to the National Endowment for the Arts Chairman for four years and as NEA Literature Director for four more, I joined VQR in 2011 as Publisher. Paul, Allison, and I have worked together on the past thirteen issues and will continue to do so. VQR’s breadth of vision is determined by the interplay of ideas within our editorial team.
Every VQR staff member acquires and edits, and thus we will have editorial continuity during this transition. For example, in addition to the numerous works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction acquired by Ralph last year, Paul acquired Julia Cooke, Garret Keizer, and Jeff Sharlet; I acquired Richard Bausch, Camille Dungy, and Roxana Robinson; and Allison had a stunning year, bringing in Roxane Gay, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Leslie Jamison, and Elizabeth McCracken. Likewise, our National Magazine Award nomination for reporting was acquired and edited by Paul, our nomination for essays and criticism was acquired by Ralph and edited by me, and our nomination for fiction was acquired and edited by Allison. Truly, our magazine is fortunate to have such a strong editorial team.
Overseen by Allison, Senior Editorial Assistant Amanda Korman, and me, the VQR internship program is another essential part of our mission at the university. To be successful in our endeavors, we depend upon their contributions as proofers, fact-checkers, researchers, writers, and team members. They have worked hard at our many events, including our inaugural VQR Writers’ Conference, in 2014, which attracted participants from across the country.
Lastly, the matter of fact-checkers. VQR dedicates approximately 10 percent of each issue budget to pay outside fact-checkers. We depend on a freelance designer and several proofreaders, too. But none are valued above those who confirm the facts.
UNIVERSITY SUPPORT OF VQR
Of course, a good team isn’t enough; a magazine needs reliable funding. VQR is fortunate in this regard. The University of Virginia has invested endowment funds wisely on behalf of VQR, and those resources stand at approximately $4 million today. With diversified revenue streams from subscriptions, royalties, endowment funds, and fundraising, VQR is financially secure, backed by the university, and well positioned for the future. Our budget is sound, and it is sustainable.
In addition to its strong backing of VQR, the University of Virginia supports numerous print and online publications run by its students, faculty, and staff. As someone who evaluated more than 100 magazines and presses annually for federal funding, I can attest that our university has a healthy, balanced commitment to artistic excellence and innovation.
VQR: IN THE DIGITAL AGE
In 2014, we concentrated more than two years of marketing funds on completely replacing our website. With a decade-old, functionally obsolete CMS, we had no choice but to redesign and rebuild the website, which required transferring more than 10,000 files. Our responsive website adapts itself to computers, tablets, and mobile devices instantaneously.
Since 2011, VQR has doubled our total online readership, increasing it to 564,946 annual readers. We reach online readers in some 200 countries. In that same three-year period, we had a decline in our print subscribers by some 400 people—but gaining some 275,000 new online readers was a marketing tradeoff that we would do again.
In fact, many institutional subscribers, especially large libraries, prefer VQR in the form of electronic-access copies via ProQuest and Project MUSE bundles of humanities and science publications. In 2013, VQR was accessed 26,572 times through only one such service, and we received payment for each access. Knowing the success of the University of Virginia Press with the program, we joined Project MUSE last year; the projected royalties for a mere four issues will equal 10 percent of our total print subscription revenue for 4,400 copies, which was our record high in 2007. This transition is not about lost subscribers or lost revenue—but migration from one platform to another, from one revenue stream to another.
To understand the reality of the digital age, consider: VQR has more online readers in India than our print magazine has ever had in subscribers, worldwide, at any point in our ninety-year history.
In 2014, we hit a major milestone: more than 1,000,000 pageviews. In each of the months that we release the print magazine, our website traffic doubles. Then, within weeks, the visitors drop off. We want to keep them engaged throughout the year on our website and through social media. By reallocating our budget, we will focus additional editorial effort on online long-form journalism, multimedia, and video to serve and expand our audience.
These online-only works will augment our magazine content and, combined with a targeted direct-mail campaign, will attract more print and digital magazine subscribers. As we wrote in VQR in January 2013, “It’s not a choice of either/or, but of both/and. We have been and remain storytellers. We will deliver our stories in the formats that best match our audience members’ reading preferences.”
E-books offer yet another opportunity to innovate and deepen our impact. As part of our second consecutive NEA grant, we will be producing educational and literary e-books. For example, our remarkable back issues on Charles Darwin, Walt Whitman, mining, and threatened ocean life could be expanded and updated for classroom use. How about short fiction from our pages curated by a nationally acclaimed novelist? In fact, our recent fiction has been in an e-book single—released by Electric Literature as part of its Recommended Reading series. We applaud the digital-first series of e-books from Ploughshares, too. Other magazines, such as A Public Space, have impressive book imprints for their work. In our 2013 Reader Survey, 54 percent of respondents reported that they purchased nineteen or more books annually, and 56 percent stated that they read or purchase e-books. With more than 9,000 past and recent VQR works to select from, we will find a new audience in this medium as other leading magazines have done.
Talented writers want a home for their work, and readers want great writing. Our job is to bring them together. Since 1925, our masthead has changed often, but the mission of our magazine has remained steady. It remains steady still.
As ever, we thank our readers and contributors for your partnership in VQR’s continuing pursuit of excellence.