IIn the world of book reviews, Minneapolis-based Rain Taxi Review of Books is something of an anomaly. It comes out quarterly in print and in online editions with different content, and is one part of a nonprofit organization that also hosts the Twin Cities Book Festival; it also sponsors readings and publishes chapbooks of fiction and poetry. Its mission, according to editor Eric Lorberer, is “to advance literary culture by programs and publications that increase awareness and appreciation of innovative writing.” Rain Taxi has been around for 12½ years and celebrated the publication of its 50th issue this summer.
With a circulation of 18,000 and about 15,000 daily hits to its Web site, Rain Taxi is, as Lorberer says, “small for a big operation but very large for a small operation. We're very large from a literary magazine perspective, but small when thinking about newspapers.” However it's classified, Rain Taxi is one of the very few places a reader can go for in-depth reviews of small press and offbeat books, as well as potentially edgier considerations of trade books.
Rain Taxi was founded in 1996 by Twin Cities book people Carolyn Kuebler and Randall Heath. Lorberer joined the staff after issue one. He brought his small press contacts from the M.F.A. scene—he'd gotten his master's at the University of Amherst—and business skills from stints managing bookstores. When the two founders decamped in 1999, Lorberer kept the magazine going. Now, Rain Taxi has a staff of two and a half employees: Lorberer works full-time as the editor, alongside full-time art director and business manager Kelly Everding and a half-time assistant.
Rain Taxi's nonprofit status has its advantages and drawbacks: “We're unique as a nonprofit book review. Really, we're a nonprofit organization whose main tool is a book review,” said Lorberer. “The mainstay in book reviewing is newspapers and literary magazines. Coming at it from a nonprofit angle is a bit different. We're not dependent on a certain kind of advertiser, on pleasing people with capital.” Rain Taxi does sell advertising, but that's considered a service to literary presses and it charges below market rate. According to Lorberer, ad revenue accounts for about one-quarter of the total annual budget, which is about $150,000. The rest comes from various means of fund-raising: grants from private foundations and public sources like the NEA, subscriptions, individual donations and support from the Minnesota government. All reviewers are unpaid, which Lorberer views as a way for writers to participate in Rain Taxi's nonprofit mission.
Lorberer has pretty traditional goals in terms of the magazine's profile as a book review. “I think what's terrific about the Internet is that it does allow for an amazing immediacy and spontaneity and democracy of voices,” he said when asked about the role blogs and the Web in general plays in book reviewing. “At the same time,” he went on, “I really value the editorial process. What we value about book reviews is the measured response of a critic who has lived with the material for a bit and worked with an editor. Because we're writing about books that we think are going to last, we want to write about them in a way that's going to last.”