Which literary publications get the most attention online?

One of the fun things I get to do at the 2010 AWP Annual Conference in Denver next month is check out the exhibitors who are publishing literary magazines. Their ambition and idealism are admirable, and they pull communities of writers together—sometimes by excluding the unanointed, but hey, whatever.

Since 2000, I’ve been adding to a list of approximately 1,600 2,000 3,200 4,200 6,000 literary magazines, which I exported to Delicious a few years ago. The public list includes some other types of magazines that regularly publish creative writing, though they can’t correctly be termed literary journals. If I see a literary publication that’s new to me, I add it; the links are compiled, not curated. I’m sure I’ve failed to delete, or at least note, some publications that are now defunct.

Writers form strong opinions about the merits of various literary periodicals. They have favorites. They root for some and denigrate others. Writers often resent exclusion, but at the same time they strive for publication in the most selective of the literary magazines. The whole scene is a little arcane, which keeps everything intriguing and contentious.

After observing for so many years, I felt I knew which magazines had earned their reputations. But I wondered what a purely objective (as well as unscientific, random, and provisional) measurement would show, because creative writing has been flourishing online in spaces where many of us don’t know to look. So, I culled from my list—pay close attention now, because the qualifiers are significant—the eleven literary publications, for lack of a better denominator, that were most frequently bookmarked on Delicious as of March 9, 2010.

Obviously this a snapshot of these publications’ relative popularity among users of one social bookmarking site at this moment. Don’t rush to Delicious to bookmark your favorite litmag, because I’m not going to update or assemble this list again. However, if I’ve overlooked a literary publication that should be acknowledged for its online popularity, let me know. Please put a link to it in the comments section.

I’m guessing wildly that appearing on this list are the literary publications that get the most online traffic. I know it’s common for a literary magazine’s online readership to far exceed its circulation in print, if indeed it exists in print.

This list will surprise you. As a second measurement of popularity, each site’s PageRank is included in parentheses.

UbuWeb (7)
Visual, concrete, and sound poetry

The New Yorker (8)

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (7) and The Believer (7)

One Sentence (6)
True stories told in one sentence

Harper’s Magazine (6)
Essays, fiction, and reporting in a general interest monthly

Cabinet (6)
A quarterly magazine of art and culture

London Review of Books (7)

Fray (6)
The magazine of true stories and original art

Strange Horizons (5)
A weekly Web-based magazine of and about speculative fiction

Words Without Borders (5)
The online magazine for international literature

These publications are doing something right to be relevant online. They’re worth a look, if you’re trying to establish a Web presence for your literary magazine or your community of writers.

Of course, there are many other ways to measure the achievements of a literary publication. I’d like to know of any statistics or studies you’ve noted. Opinions are welcome too.

14 thoughts on “Which literary publications get the most attention online?

  1. Robin Mizell Post author

    You can follow the discussion of this post on Facebook, where Rob Omura suggests the number of Pushcart Prize selections as a gauge of a literary publication’s success. Michelle Garrett and William C. Robinson’s study “A Multitude of Voices: Pushcart Prize Winning Publications 1976–2006” shows which publications had the most selections during those three decades.

    As I told Rob, who appreciated having some new literary territory to explore, the problem I encounter is that our opinions, once formed by results like these, tend to calcify. I want to guard against that kind of rigidity.

  2. Robin Mizell Post author

    Random House maintains a list of the American and Canadian magazines that originally published the stories that won the O. Henry Prize. As of today, the top ten and their numbers of winning stories are:

    192 The New Yorker (1935-2009)
    123 Harper’s Magazine (1919-2009)
    119 The Atlantic Monthly (1919-2007)
    52 The Saturday Evening Post (1919-1968)
    51 Harper’s Bazaar (1936-1964)
    43 Mademoiselle (1936-1975)
    43 Story (1933-2000)
    41 Esquire (1934-2003)
    35 The Kenyon Review (1944-2005)
    33 Epoch (1948-2009)

    See the entire chart here.

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