Listening to Morgan Entrekin is a shot of adrenaline for anybody concerned about literary culture. “Independent publishing is the healthiest I’ve ever seen it,” said the president and publisher of Grove Atlantic, who recently passed 60 like a marathoner in the third mile.
“We need this. Literary culture needs this,” he told the board members of the National Book Critics Circle last week in New York.
Billed as a “go-to daily source for all the news, ideas, and richness of contemporary literary life,” Literary Hub promises curated and original content such as interviews, profiles and essays. Grove staff members are now following more than 200 Web sites, looking for material that could be used.
The site is being developed in partnership with Electric Lit, whose co-founder, Andy Hunter, was also on hand at the NBCC luncheon, along with Literary Hub’s editor-in-chief, Jonny Diamond, and executive editor John Freeman.
When he started planning this project, Entrekin had hoped to get 25 partners, but he’s signed on more than 100 so far, from publishers to journals, everybody from Akashic to ZYZZYVA, including big names such as Knopf, FSG, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. These partners will provide content and book excerpts — possibly in exchange for ad space on the site. Dozens of booksellers, including Washington’s Politics & Prose and Amazon, have already joined or expressed interest. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Entrekin estimates that three-quarters of the material on Literary Hub will be produced by others — and he’s ready to pay for original content. Jane Smiley and Russell Banks are among the well-known writers who have submitted pieces. Additional content will come from 15 “national correspondents,” essentially stringers who work in bookstores or follow the publishing scene in their regions. The site will also include a calendar to keep track of the literary conversation across the country and periodic updates from major cities in Europe, e.g. “Letter from Paris,” “Letter from Milan.”
If that scope sounds omnivorous, Entrekin is quick to note that his site is strictly “focusing on literary books.” No genre lit — no romance, no science fiction. He wants to avoid the fate of Bookish, that much-hyped, soon-fizzled Web site originally backed by several major publishers. “One of the reasons that Bookish failed,” he said, “is that they tried to cover too much.”
And there’s something else you won’t find on Literary Hub: book reviews. “We’re not doing reviews,” Entrekin tells the book reviewers at the NBCC luncheon. “Because this is being built by publishers, there were too many potential conflicts.”
That desire to avoid conflicts sounds like a guiding principle of Literary Hub. “We’re not selling books,” Entrekin noted. “The moment you start selling books, you alienate one of your major stakeholders: the independent booksellers.”
Which raises the mystery of the site’s revenue model, but Entrekin laughs that off. “We aspire to break even — maybe,” he said. He’s looking for a site sponsor, but he said, “This is coming not from a desire to make money but from a desire to save what’s valuable about literary culture.”
Not making money will be easy. Saving literary culture is a tougher challenge. But Entrekin has never shied away from that.