July 18, 2024


General Inside You

RIP Bookforum

The New York-based literary magazine Bookforum will cease publication, according to an official announcement today, December 12. The news that Bookforum’s current December–February issue will be its last comes just days after the surprise reveal that Penske Media Corporation has acquired its sister magazine and parent company, Artforum.

Bookforum was launched in 1994 as a literary supplement to Artforum and became known for running book reviews, essays, and interviews as well as for its “Paper Trail” column, featuring news and updates from the publishing industry. As responses to the magazine’s dissolution poured in online, some interpreted it as a larger symbol of decline in the world of literary criticism, where platforms are increasingly scarce. “We might as well fold, too,” tweeted the independent press Semiotext(e).

Two weeks ago, Astra Publishing House announced the shuttering of its publication, Astra Magazine, after running just two issues. And controversy ensued earlier this year when the beloved New York literary magazine the Believer was acquired by a marketing company, whose brief but disastrous takeover of the publication led its original publisher, the nonprofit McSweeney’s, to buy it back just a month later. In a bid to stay afloat, it’s not rare for small publications to lean on wealthy backers — this fall, for example, the mega-gallery David Zwirner announced that it would become the lead funder of the Drift, a literary quarterly started in 2020.

“The intense outpouring of grief on social media really says it all — Bookforum was rare and precious,” Lauren O’Neill-Butler, a former senior editor at Artforum, told Hyperallergic in response to Bookforum’s shuttering. “Writing for the magazine was formative for me (and many others) and it’s devastating that there will be no newcomers.”

A spokesperson for Penske Media Corporation reached by Hyperallergic declined to comment on Bookforum’s closure or whether any of the magazine’s staffers would go on to other roles in the company. Founded by Jay Penske, the son of billionaire automotive industry giant Roger Penske, the media group has over 20 brands in its roster, including two other print art magazines, Artnews and Art in America. Artforum is the latest acquisition in Penske’s purchasing spree of recent years, which includes a majority stake in the film and tech festival South by Southwest and Rolling Stone. The latter was made after the company accepted a $200 million investment from the Saudi Research and Media Group, a publicly traded media company whose chairman was Prince Badr bin Farhan Al-Saud (the current Saudi Minister of Culture).

The dissolution of Bookforum today has prompted fears and criticism from readers who saw Penske’s Artforum purchase as a potentially disruptive consolidation that could lead to job cuts.

Long before Penske’s acquisition, Artforum was rocked by internal turmoil. Last year, the magazine settled an unlawful retaliation lawsuit brought by its former employee, Amanda Schmitt, in 2017. Schmitt accused Artforum’s former publisher, Knight Landesman, of sexually harassing her while she worked at the publication and after, and of retaliating against her when she and at least eight other women made their allegations public. Artforum’s longtime editor-in-chief, Michelle Kuo, resigned in the wake of the lawsuit, and over 50 Artforum and Bookforum staff signed an open letter condemning the publishers’ handling of Schmitt’s allegations.

Although Landesman resigned in October 2017, he remained a co-owner controlling an undisclosed number of shares, as Hyperallergic revealed in 2018. Last March, Artforum confirmed Landesman was no longer a shareholder but did not provide a timeline of his divestment.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, Artforum’s associate publisher Kate Koza said, “We would like to thank our extraordinarily talented staff and writers. We are so proud of the contribution Bookforum has made to the literary community and are immensely grateful to the advertisers, subscribers, and booksellers who made our mission possible over the years.”

Penske Media noted in a statement that Koza along with publisher Danielle McConnell would continue to lead Artforum operations, while publisher and shareholder Anthony Korner would remain in “an ambassadorial role.” Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.