The founding of Harper's New Monthly Magazine 130 years ago "marked the end of the old era" in american magazines, according to history. Does the forthcoming demise of Harper's mark the end of more than a magazine on the American scene? Has the American public intellect reached a point where it can sustain all sorts of hobby, service, special-interest, sexual-interest magazines -- but not the eldest of the small surviving band of "quality" magazines on general and literature affairs?
It was not so much a matter of circulation as of advertising, say the Harper's post mortems. Today's owners deserve credit for not selling out to would-be buyers who would not maintain the magazine's editorial independence. Yet they could not find the right buyer to relieve them of the drain of annual losses. A far cry from the early days when a rival magazine publisher who was threatened by the success of Harper's complained: "The owners of Harper's have no right to win the stakes; they are rich enough already."
Success a century ago was measured in 100,000 readers rather than the three times as many Harper's has today. When 300,000-plus people are interested in a quality product, shouldn't America find a way to serve them? It appears to be a case not of the vanishing audience but of American enterprise failing to be quite enterprising enough.