March 24, was The Millions’ second birthday. In the year since my last “happy birthday” post, blogs have become firmly mainstream. It’s become difficult to find a person who asks the once common question, “What’s a blog?” The book blog world has become amazingly robust in the last year, meriting frequent mentions in the mainstream media and providing a real alternative to newspaper book coverage that manages, at best, to reach some of the readers some of the time. Based on the many emails I get, book blogs have become a venue of conversation (and a potential outlet for promotion) for authors and publishers. For those who bemoan the stagnation of the literary world – and all of the book bloggers seem to do it from time to time – we are in the midst of a shift, if not yet a revolution, in national (and international) literary discussion, which has migrated from book club meetings and bookstore aisles out into the open. I am regularly delighted when a Millions reader, and book lover, leaves a comment or sends me an email, thus entering the conversation. I also love the loose give and take among the several dozen book blogs and the way themes will propagate across the blog landscape one after another until there is a dense web of conversation floating among us in the ether. The best thing about this is it appears to be just the beginning. I have ten times as many regular visitors as I did at this time a year ago, and new book blogs appear almost weekly it seems, adding further depth to the discourse. When I started, I just figured it might be fun to write about books as a way to make use of all the time I spent surrounded by them at the bookstore. Everything that’s happened beyond that has been gravy. Thanks for two great years, Millions readers (and contributors)!
Millions Readers: Max here. When I last wrote in these pages, I was introducing our talented new editor, Lydia Kiesling. Since then, we have added a number of new staff writers (Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Zoë Ruiz, Il’ja Rákoš, Ismail Muhammad, Chigozie Obioma) and a new social media editor (Kirstin Butler). We also have exciting projects in the works that we hope will usher in a new era at The Millions.
As is likely not news to anyone reading this, it is very challenging to maintain an independent, culture-focused online magazine.
Today, we are asking our readers to support the site, not because we are in dire straits but because now, more than ever, we believe it is time for you and us to take our destiny into our own hands as much as is possible. Please visit our new Membership page and sign up now. It’s a very quick and simple process and we have a number of tiers that should be manageable for any budget. The three main tiers are annual recurring donations. There is also a monthly option.
The Millions is a unique place. Over the last nearly 14 years, we have helped launch many great writers, and we have improved the reading lives of many thousands. We have helped countless books, small and large, find their audiences.
The Millions is home to curious, thoughtful, sometimes long and untimely pieces that might not find a home elsewhere but that are important to our readers.
It is likely an accident or an anomaly that The Millions grew to occupy its current role and has survived as other independent sites have failed. One truism that has emerged over the last decade on line is that sites and services that are not supported by readers and users are destined to fail. The Millions has managed to avoid this fate thus far. We have never had a source of outside funding — no quiet benefactor or behind-the-scenes corporate sponsor — nor, before today, have we asked the readers to support the site monetarily in any meaningful way.
Instead, the site has survived on various forms of online advertising, options that seem to grow more constrained by the month, and we have increasingly relied upon Amazon’s affiliate program. And while Amazon’s program has been a good fit for The Millions, many an online business has failed when an online giant changed the rules. It is not inconceivable that Amazon could alter or even eliminate its program without warning. Such an event would effectively shut down The Millions overnight. The bottom line is that The Millions, under its current model, could one day need to shut down unexpectedly. A reader-supported Millions won’t ever have to worry about that.
Rather than ask for your support at some future moment, when The Millions is under duress, it has become clear to us that it makes much more sense to ask for your support now, when we are doing well, producing great work, and hopeful about our big plans for the future.
What will we do with your money? First and foremost we’ll ensure that we can stick around for many years to come. But we’ll also use it to get better. One way to do that is to keep paying our staff writers and make The Millions an attractive place for them to write. Financial stability would also enable The Millions to take more risks and expand what we do.
Some final notes: We have been thinking of taking this step for quite a while, but, frankly, have been nervous about how best to present the idea and execute it. Jason Kottke’s recent decision to go this route helped us shake off some of these concerns and take this step (please read Jason and support him as well!). Also – to be clear – we are not putting the site behind a paywall, nor will we ever.
For those who subscribe, we’ll look at offering site-related updates and perhaps a more robust newsletter at some point down the line, though the plans on that are not firmed up at this time.
Finally, a small number of you have supported us in an ongoing fashion via Paypal. We are going to cancel those “subscriptions” and will email you with instructions for subscribing via this new system, should you be interested.
I’d like to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to invite our New York-based readers to come out this Friday, November 2, to celebrate the launch of my first book of fiction, A Field Guide to the North American Family. The release party will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the lovely and capacious Housing Works Bookstore & Cafe on Crosby Street in SoHo.I’ll be reading from the book for about half an hour and showing slides of the illustrations. During the remaining hour and a half, I’ll be signing books and Max and I will be hanging out and drinking free booze with you. We always enjoy meeting our readers, and I’d love to see any and all of you there. (I need all the support I can get!)
Over the years, Millions contributors and guests have penned many book reviews for the site. However, this wealth of content has long been buried in the archives.And so, in the spirit of starting off the new year on the right foot, we’ve created The Millions Book Review Index, which lists every review, squib, appreciation, and consideration we’ve ever run here alphabetically by author. As we add new reviews to the site, they will appear in the index as well, so we encourage you to bookmark the page for easy access. We hope you find the index useful. Stay tuned for another great year at The Millions.
Tonight’s installment of the Pacific Standard Fiction series in Brooklyn is a special “NYFA night,” featuring three 2008 fiction fellows of the New York Foundation for the Arts. They are: National Book Award-nominee Christine Schutt, author of All Souls; Guggenheim honoree Paul LaFarge, author of Haussmann, or The Distinction; and me. Drink specials will benefit our sponsor, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, and we suggest a donation of one gently used book. The event is free, and if you are, too, it would be great to see you. (For directions, see Time Out.)