create Winner / 2014
Los Angeles Review of Books
Please describe yourself.
Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)
In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.
To continue to build the infrastructure supporting LA’s creative economy with a weekly radio program and free print tabloid.
Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?
- Central LA
- East LA
- South LA
- San Gabriel Valley
- San Fernando Valley
- South Bay
- LA County; California; the US; the world.
What is your idea/project in more detail?
Our LA2050 projects build community and creative infrastructure with a weekly radio show & a widely distributed free tabloid magazine. As Michael Govan says on this site, “LA can be passed by in terms of long-term recognition & vitality if it doesn’t consolidate its artistic production quality with lasting infrastructure.” LARB provides that infrastructure, giving LA writers, scholars & artists multiple platforms—web spaces, print publications, video, podcast, & live events—to converse, argue, create, & push disciplinary boundaries. These two projects will help LARB foster & nurture our arts community, expand access, revitalize criticism, build creative capacity, enhance our national & global reputation, & help shape our cultural future.
What will you do to implement this idea/project?
With the help of this LA2050 grant, we hope to distribute our free tabloid magazine to all of Los Angeles & produce a weekly half hour radio show.
LA-based & LA-focused, LARB is the communal product of many hands & minds. We produce a main website (lareviewofbooks.org), updated 3 to 5 times a day with essays, reviews, & interviews, short videos, & streaming & downloadable podcasts. We also produce a quarterly journal of original content; a series of LARB Channels—associated websites sharing our mission; an intensive summer internship/educational experience; a series of live events featuring significant writers, musicians, scientists, scholars, & film & TV makers.
Our tabloid magazine, published on recycled newsprint here in LA, is the size of an alternative weekly. The content ranges from fun, quick interviews with writers, artists, musicians, & filmmakers to longform literary essays to short stories & poetry by the best writers in the city, established & emerging, to features & news. We have published a number of editions for our members & have experimented with dropping at a hundred locations around the city. At small print runs of a few thousand, they were gone in an hour, to great reviews. In order to expand the literary conversation across the city’s many communities, we propose printing 20,000 copies of the tabloid each month & delivering it to 500 drops around the city & the county. We plan to build the advertising base for the tabloid over the year so that we can sustain it & make it grow.
We also have begun to plan & produce a weekly half-hour radio program, with the same aim. The LARB Radio Half Hour is design to be a very new kind of book show, something that has not been done before. We have commitments from Adrian Todd Zuniga (Literary Death Match), Seth Greenland (Big Love), Maria Bustillos (journalist), Steph Cha (noir novelist), Michelle Huneven (novelist), Reza Aslan (writer), Juan Felipe Herrera (poet), & many others. The show is a variety show (rather than purely interview-based, like most books shows), & is designed to be fun as well as serious, entertaining as well as enlightening. The idea is to use this year, with the help of the LA2050 grant, to hone our format & performance, & then to continue to support it by syndicating the show nationally.
The result will be an invigorated civic discourse, as the varied content of the tabloid & the radio show make their way into the daily lives of people in all parts of the city.
How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?
LARB helps make LA the best place to create by (1) fostering the community from which that creativity springs, by (2) providing an ongoing conversation about what creativity means, & (3) by publicizing the results of that creativity.
Arts criticism is an integral part of any balanced artistic ecology. Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens in the context of the conversations engaging viewers, audiences, & participants, conversations that are always part of any successful art world.
Since everyone can now be a desktop publisher, recording artist, or film producer, criticism & conversation become even more important. The late 1970s saw some 50,000 titles published a year; now there are over three million. So more than ever criticism is necessary to help art find its audience. It is true that we have crowd sources—the web has made a torrent of information available, & a torrent of opinion, too. But on amazon or Rotten Tomatoes, many still trust the ‘editorial reviews,’ & for good reason—expertise is a real thing; curated content is a gift an editorial group can give its audience.
It is also a gift that is given to writers & artists, because the art & writing that we discuss is what our hundreds of thousands of readers learn about, pay attention to, & are more likely to purchase. This isn’t just shopping advice, though—intelligent, engaged conversation about culture is something people crave, as our worldwide success on the web has proven. In an information- & opinion-saturated world, the kind of considered, well-argued, fact-checked, vetted, & proofread work the LARB community produces is of greater value than ever.
And that conversation then becomes the context in which new creative work happens. Major television producers have given our articles to their writing staffs to read—we sometimes have that direct an impact. But usually it is indirect: art happens within a conversation, & the better the conversation, often, the better the art, & the better the art is known.
In 2050, LARB will have evolved in myriad ways, but LARB will still be a platform for the smartest, best conversation around, with an ongoing impact on the full range of the arts, across an even wider set of audiences. We will have continued to embrace new technologies, & our global impact will help ensure that LA can nurture and sustain its creative community.
Whom will your project benefit?
We work hard to bring the worlds of books, academia, film & television, the arts, & the common reader together, with a series of interlocking goals: to expand the breadth & depth of cultural discussion, give a wider part of the community access to arts criticism & literary production, increase cultural engagement, increase employment in creative industries, keep creative talent remain in the city, & increase the national and global “soft power” of the full breadth of LA’s creative class.
But we especially benefit writers and readers. The world has come to recognize LA’s preeminence in music, film, television, fine art, and opera. But New York continues to exercise hegemony over publishing and the literary conversation, something that has irked Western writers for a century. LARB is an important corrective, and by making LA a recognized center of literary excellence, helps all writers who call it home.
It also benefits writers in material ways—for writers (& artists of other kinds) who are discussed, it provides exposure not just in Los Angeles, but around the world; LARB has millions of different readers each year, readers in all 50 states & in 150 countries around the world, more than all but two or three similar outlets in the world.
The project benefits readers, of course, as a forum for lifelong learning, & in the way mentioned above. Unlike the stuffier culture reviews, we aren’t afraid to have a little fun, we aren’t averse to disagreement, we love pop culture as well as high culture, we’re interested in primetime TV as much as neuroscience, in graphic & classic & experimental novels, in YA & SF & noir & the other outré genres. We represent Los Angeles, or perhaps it is more true that we help LA represent itself. This, as discussed above, in turn helps foster creative work in many ways, & encourages its consumption.
It benefits students and teachers at our local institutions of higher education by giving them access to a global forum for their work, and in fostering conversations across disciplines and across town.
So far, we have spread through academic circles, & through the wealthier neighborhoods in LA. These new projects bring LARB to a wider, broader, more diverse set of communities, where we will also recruit new writers and contributors, & have these new communities bring their LA to LARB, & thereby to the rest of the city and the world.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
LARB has brought the best known & most established figures on the LA cultural scene together with emerging writers, thinkers, & practitioners in the fields of literature, art, music, politics, & cultural studies in pursuing an active conversation with readers all over the city, the county, the state, & beyond.
For the radio show we are partnering with KPFK, which has confirmed our day and time slot, and their help as engineers. Our editor in chief has worked with KPFK several times in the past. For us, KPFK brings expertise and broadcast capacity and some audience. For KPFK, LARB brings additional audience and superb content.
The three factors critical to our success are the (1) the efficient use of KPFK’s resources on LARB’s part, (2) the marketing efforts of both entities, and (3) making the show available for podcasting, the audience for which may end up being larger than the broadcast audience.
We have partnered in the past (and in most cases are still partnered with) many organizations. The following websites are now LARB Channels: Boom, Avidly, Marginalia, Swink, The Philosopher’s Plant, and The Levatine Review. We have also partnered with KCRW, KPCC, the Library Foundation, UC Riverside, USC, PEN USA, CalArts, SoHo House, Skylight Books, Tia Chucho Centro Cultural, and the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, as well as with a number of other literary and arts magazines, including LA Magazine, The American Reader, n+1, Flaunt, The New Inquiry, Slake, Black Clock, Triple Canopy, and others.
How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?
- Employment in creative industries
- Arts establishments per capita
- Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA
- Federal research grant funding
- Minority- and women-owned firms
- Gini coefficient
- Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)
- Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)
- Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)
- Metrics from the other LA2050 areas: Rates of volunteerism, Attendance at cultural events, Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric),
Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.
• Employment in creative industries: This has a direct component and an indirect one. Directly, we will be supporting a number of people as they help us produce these projects. And we will be paying free-lance writers and artists for content. Indirectly we will help the careers of the contributors and the people they write about, and the people whose work we discuss on the radio. • Arts establishments per capita: Depending on how you count this could be considered two new “establishments.” • Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA: Direct: We print locally and help support that manufacturing activity. Indirect: We help support local presses through publicizing their books, through features about them, and through our member discount program. We send people to see films and TV and buy music. To the extent that bookstores and producers rely on local manufactured goods, we are helping support them. • Federal research grant funding: We hope to secure federal grant funding in the future. • Minority- and women-owned firms: We target minority- and women-owned publishers and bookstores for support in the ways just mentioned. • Gini coefficient: Cultural capital is a proven asset in employment and advancement. • Venture capital investment: We hope to help create the environment that would attract more publishing and digital publishing firms to LA. • Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric): 35% of our readership is overseas, and we reach readers in all 50 states and 150 countries. We are helping in a primary way spread LA ‘s cultural influence nationally and globally. • Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric): Our summer internship program has attracted many students from area schools (as well as Ivy League and other schools). • Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric): In the past, anyone wanting to be part of a publishing venture like ours would need to move to New York. We have had some people graduate locally and work for us, and we have had some move back to LA after school on the East coast in order to work for us.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project.
We evaluate our success in a number of ways. The metrics above; web analytics to trace our readership; citations in other publications and on other websites (New Yorker, LA Times, Salon, etc); use of our work in blurbs and advertisements; tweets, retweets and reposts; increases in the number of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook followers; increased subscription to our newsletter; increased memberships; increased advertising and sponsorships.
Those all are metrics for our success as a publisher. But we also measure our success by the success of our people:
The number of people we assist in publishing their first major piece, working with them not despite their lack of experience, but because of it—we are dedicated to giving talented young writers a start.
The number of our interns, volunteers, and consultants who leverage their time and experience with us to secure employment in creative industries.
The number of our contributors whose articles that cause agents and publishers to solicit books from those writers.
And finally, although we have no way to measure this, we can deduce that we have an impact on the number of books sold because of our efforts in engaging people.
We look forward to learning whether there are ways of measuring radio audience.
What two lessons have informed your solution or project?
One of the most difficult tasks we have faced in building LARB over these last three years is educating people about the need to support work like LARB’s. People understand that to be part of a community that has decent radio, we need to support our public radio stations, that if we want symphony orchestras and opera companies and art museums, we need to help support them. But people are less aware that in order to have quality publications like ours, publications devoted to the common good and lifelong education and cultural conversation, they need to support them as well. The old systems that supported literary life—print advertising and subscriptions and author advances—are, as we know, getting squeezed or disappearing, and LARB started by watching the alarming disappearance of serious book reviews in the newspaper world.
One lesson we learned is that the more people know about us, the more support us, and so we know we need to get our work out to as many people as possible. Both these projects help accomplish that.
The other is that advertisers and sponsors are much more interested in print than they are in the web, and so by increasing the circulation of our tabloid, we are increasing the opportunity to get publishers and others interested in supporting us, even as we provide a service to a larger number of readers. We also hope to get underwriting for the radio show, which will help us sustain it and the rest of our operations in the years to come.
Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.
We have completed pilots for both projects, so we know what we have to do.
TABLOID MAGAZINE: We currently produce a limited number of copies of our tabloid 4 times a year, & distribute to our members. We have experimented with print runs of a couple thousand, distributed to coffee shops in the central city. To raise our print run to 10,000, increase frequency, & distribute to 400 outlets would require manpower & funding, but the editorial, production, and distribution system is worked out.
RADIO PROGRAM: We are developing a weekly half-hour radio program for KPFK. The LARB Radio Half Hour is design to be a very new kind of book show, something that has not been done before. We have commitments from Adrian Todd Zuniga (Literary Death Match), Seth Greenland (Big Love), Maria Bustillos (journalist), Steph Cha (noir novelist), Michelle Huneven (novelist), Reza Aslan (writer), Juan Felipe Herrera (poet), Gabrielle Calvocoressi (poet), & many others. We have completed a pilot, and with funding are ready to move forward.
For the tabloid project, our first issue will be ready within weeks of the announcement of the award, which, if we win, will give us the means to print enough copies to distribute in every neighborhood in the city and many in the county.
The radio program, too, is ready to move into production. We will continue preparing the ground, and If we win the grant, we will be on the air within weeks, as well.
Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?
The main challenge will be to continue increasing our budget, so that when this grant is finished, we can sustain this new level of spending. We are confident we can, as we have increased our income by more than this each year, & because these activities will themselves help create new revenues (our tabloid will be more attractive to sponsors, the radio show may attract underwriting), but in any case it will require continued diligence.
Second, as with everything we do, we struggle with bandwidth—that is having enough eyes & ears & hands to get everything done that needs doing. We continue to add capacity, & this grant will, in fact, free up some capacity for us, so we are confident that we can overcome any challenges along these lines.
As we mentioned, we have moved forward already on all these fronts, & simply await funding to fully implement our well-considered plans in each arena.
What resources does your project need?
- Network/relationship support
- Money (financial capital)
- Volunteers/staff (human capital)
- Publicity/awareness (social capital)
- Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
- Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
- Community outreach