The University of Houston’s Literary Magazine- Gulf Coast

I grew up in Houston, Texas. Now normally, I say that with an apologetic shrug, mainly because I feel so strongly political in the –ehem- “other” direction, that I feel the need to explain that just because I hail from the South, doesn’t mean I embrace some of their more ludicrous sentiments, such as textbook “revision,” cable guy humor, or a certain past president with a decidedly affected Texas accent. But there are a few things to be proud of: saying please, thank you, and excuse me and meaning it, tex-mex food, and the sun never going down at 4:00pm. And although I’m giving Houston a hard time, there are many wonderful (and liberated, mind-expanding) aspects to the city. There are some world-renowned art museums and theaters, a huge international scene, and one of the country’s most prestigious creative writing programs at The University of Houston.

Since most every school with a creative writing program has a literary journal of some kind, I thought I’d take another look at U of H’s simply because I’m familiar with it, it’s been around for a while, and it’s a highly respected program. There are also some similarities between their journal and CURA. They are also student run but feature writers from all over the world, and they have a visual arts component as we do. Also, since it debuted in the mid-1980’s, it has had some time existing in the print world before shifting online and ultimately having to figure out how to straddle the expanse between both formats. Since we’ve been discussing justification for a print version of CURA and ways in which we can make them more sellable or possibly start a subscription process, I was especially interested in how the U of H magazine has managed to do that.  

I had grown up seeing the print edition on the coffee tables of my parents and their friends, and although I have no idea how commonly this is still actually the case, it struck me as precisely a reason for a print edition. As was mentioned in class, people still like owning a physical object, having a memento, holding something in their hands that is permanent, having something out that a guest can pick up and flip through, etc. So the question is, of course, how do you get people to pay for something physical when they can have a free digital version online? One answer may be to play off of that tactile/visual difference. The other answer may simply to be to offer them something in the print version they can’t get otherwise, because as we can all agree, humans like “free” and “bonus” and to feel as if they’ve gotten something a little extra.

So here’s what I noticed that they do online to entice people to buy a subscription and some other ideas for CURA. I know a lot of these tactics are commonly used, but I wanted to find just one solid example instead of jumping from site to site:

1. The online issue offers enough to read for free to entice the reader to want more, but limits what is available by what seems like half. Most of the non-fiction and fiction prose supplies about 400-600 words of the story, and then it says, “To read the rest of this (story/essay), please purchase the issue here.” For the poetry, it looks as though only about a third of the poems are available to read online, and the rest are only available in print. There is often more than one poem by a single author, so the site offers one of the poems by that poet to be read online. The visual art seems to work the same way- it looks like half of the art can be viewed in the online version.

(Note: I’m not sure if this is actually a model we’d totally like to emulate, because their issues are much larger than ours, and I actually like that we have far fewer pieces of work within each of our issues. I do think there’s something to be said about smaller numbers exuding exclusivity and excellence, and people like that. But given the large number of submissions we receive, it may be possible to showcase most of those chosen on our website and have a few more in each category that are only available by print.)

2. Visual Arts- I think we have leverage with our visual arts component as something we offer that many don’t. As we also talked about in class, I think it could be a good idea to offer far more visual arts pieces in the print version, and also give separate art prints to those who order a subscription. The reader could even decide which piece of art he/she could order as their bonus so that they could hang it up, etc. (This would of course have to be with permission from the artists.)

3. Also, because an integral part of our mission is the social justice piece and the Doe Fund this year, it would be wonderful to try to showcase the art from the fundraisers we have on the website and in the print version as well. Whatever is created for those could also somehow be incorporated into subscriptions.

4. Someone in class also mentioned subscriptions as an option instead of only buying one copy, and I think that’s an excellent idea. It could give buyers to save per issue by getting a subscription and it locks them in for a determined period of time, which may be more effective than relying on them to come back repeatedly each time a new issue comes out.

 5. One small detail I liked on their site that we don’t currently do is that the table of contents is clearly divided among the genres. Therefore the reader can go directly to each section (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art).

 6. Their website also mentions that they do public readings of their content in a bookstore in a Houston. I think if we could have readings from our issues at Fordham, but also at independent bookstores in New York City, it would be a terrific way to spread the word, sell print editions, and raise money for our organization of that given year.

 7. Donate Link- On home page


- Laura Smith Terry