On the disappearance of the Wilson Quarterly:
The subject line worried me. “The Wilson Quarterly’s Final Happy Hour,” it said. Even the rosiest interpretation—that they’d decided, say, to discontinue their occasional get-togethers—was troubling. A link to an online invitation appeared below. The editors had completed the winter 2014 issue, a best-of collection drawn from “four decades of classic essays.” A few particulars followed and then the bad news, withheld for a bit, the way people do: “This will be our final quarterly issue,” they said.
Either you’re the kind of person who wants to start a magazine or the kind who can’t understand why anyone would start a magazine. Well, Ken Layne started the magazine Desert Oracle in Joshua Tree, California, and it’s struck a chord with readers.
At Pacific Standard, Max Genekov profiles the determined desert resident who designs, edits, and ships each issue of his independent magazine himself. Following a winding path through established media, Layne landed in this scorching, brown, 8,000-person town and decided the arid West needed its own literary outlet. Unlike many publications, Desert Oracle is funded entirely from subscriptions. Readership is brisk. The reception has been enthusiastic. Subscriptions are growing, but how does one person successfully run a small publication? Like the desert itself, Layne’s Oracle contains a peculiar magic that speaks to a particular but motley breed of people.
Of the people living in Joshua Tree, Layne imagines his work is most enjoyed by the “intentional desert residents” who came out to Joshua Tree and its environs for the same reasons of secluded beauty and personal growth that he did. This is, in fact, most people in Joshua Tree—the population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to Census data—but Layne is happy to have some long-time residents of the town as subscribers and retailers. But he knew that people would be interested throughout the desert and even in the country at large. At first, Layne focused on about 10 desert towns for marketing, taking the Oracle everywhere from Sedona to Moab. He would walk into stores and interpretive centers, knowing that most wouldn’t ever work but trying to sell nevertheless. But then he would show the guide to some people and he’d “see that sparkle,” and they would entirely understand what he was going for. The Twentynine Palms Inn was one such early adopter; all guests at the hotel can find a complimentary copy in their room.
“The Desert Oracle is one of those things that is so good you want to initially keep it to yourself, but we fought the urge and ordered the publication by the case knowing that these collections of stories would resonate with our guests,” says Breanne Dusastre, the marketing director at Twentynine Palms Inn. “There isn’t anyone else out there curating and telling stories the way Ken Layne is.”