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Chicago Tribune launches Printers Row Journal

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After being downsized to near obsolesence, the Chicago Tribune Books section has morphed into an ambitious weekly journal. Preview issues appeared in last weekend's (January 29th, 2012) Sunday Trib, marking a turnaround for a moribund section that four years ago seemed destined to die.

Printers Row Journal aims to get the same literary credence in print as it does in the street, at its annual eponymous Literary Fest in the Printers Row neighborhood in the South Loop. The Trib bought the rights to the fest in 2002 and, a decade later, is parlaying the success of the live event into coverage that has been cut from most daily newspapers.

"...Our plan [is] to build a new community of readers and writers in our wonerful literary city," Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor writes. Laudable, I say.

While the vision might be greater, the masthead remains the same. Elizabeth Taylor is still the Literary Editor, Pulitzer-prize winning feature writer Julia Keller provides nuanced lit-culture insight, and they even recruited Trib icon Rick Kogan to pen a feature called "Literary Saloon." Very cool. There are reviews by former Books-section regulars Donna Seaman and Alan Cheuse, as well as lit essays by Chicago writers such as Elizabeth Berg, and Tournament of Books love from Kevin Guilfoile.

The differences are substantial. It is 24 pages long, 12 times that of its predecessor. There is coverage and previews of literary events (they're all Trib-affiliated, but who knows what may come). Each issue includes a separate work of fiction, a single story stapled and bound, modeled much like the awesome One Story literary journal, a ten-year old nonprofit out of Brooklyn that sends out a single story every three weeks to subscribers. The inaugural story is "Clover" by Billy Lombardo, which won the 2011 Nelson Algren award, which as you know is sponsored by the Trib.

Are you sensing a mighty machine rearing its monolithic powers once again? The biggest difference of this impressive revision is that its success depends not on subscribers or ad revenue, but members. The preview issue contained no ads, which will surely change. Taylor writes of their mission, "[to turn] Printers Row into a membership group to unite those who share a passion for a written word."

That's great, that's us, we want in! To get weekly delivery of the Printers Row Journal, however, you have to pay $99 a year. Yes, $100 a year. And that's the discounted rate for subscribers of the Trib. Otherwise, you pay $149.

Are you f**king nuts? Most literary journals cost $10-20/year. True, they might be quarterly, but even trade journals like Writer's Digest is $20/year for 8 issues. With that pricing scheme, who exactly is the likely demographic of the Printers Row Journal? I'm going to estimate its not the 98% of Chicago writers and book lovers I know. Then again, I am so middle class. Taylor writes about inclusivity, "Printers Row is not a fraternity built on secret handshakes."

It sounds like it will be built on membership dues. And I genuinely hope it is a success because this city needs it and deserves it. But I can't afford to be in the club.

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