Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle is calling the decision ‘patently political’. Given that left-leaning periodicals have had their funding maintained – particularly Overland which keeps its $60,000 despite coming out only four times a year instead of Quadrant’s ten, and having a far less distinguished poetry editor (Keri Glastonbury to Quadrant‘s Les Murray) – that looks like a fair call in the absence of any contrary explanation from the Australia Council. [Update 21/12: Crikey reports the Australia Council saying Quadrant was cut for having too small a group of literary writers.]
On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of these kinds of subsidies. It’s not just my usual philosophical objections to big government (and in the scheme of big government, a few hundred thousand dollars for magazines doesn’t make much difference). The Australia Council props up nine little magazines serving a small audience for literary material. Arguably this makes it harder for any of them to get the critical mass of contributors and readers needed for a high-quality, self-sustaining literary magazine. A few of them going out of business could help the rest.
Of the nine, Australian Book Review (which is getting $115,000) and Quadrant are the two that look to me like they have the strongest chances of surviving on their own. ABR regularly seeks donations along with subscribers, but this Quadrant letter is the first I recall asking me for money, through a ‘premium’ subscription of $300. It looks like the Australia Council was displacing private effort.
Windschuttle is setting out various other options, including cutting the literary content by 30%. I don’t know about the literary content, but I think the magazine itself could safely be much shorter (I’m sure some of the regular commenters would suggest starting with the climate change articles). Windschuttle expanded it from 96 to 128 pages, but I’m not convinced the quality justifies the added length. The ‘Sharon Gould’ article simply wasn’t very good quite aside from being a hoax. It’s the kind of thing you publish when you have too many pages to fill. Nobody expects small magazines which pay their contributors nothing or a pittance to be of a uniformly high standard, but the more you publish the lower the average standard is likely to be.
The Australia Council may have made a politically biased decision, but better management of Quadrant can solve its financial problems and end up with an improved magazine too.