In 1998, Arts and Letters Daily was founded on the premise that the internet might be used to facilitate meaningful intellectual communication. Since then, they’ve linked to over 17,000 articles, book reviews, and essays, accumulating a collection that serves as a thinker’s guide to the world of art and ideas. Their late founder, Denis Dutton, described Arts and Letters Daily as a “reading list — with attitude,”.
Funding of Arts and Letters Daily
Arts and Letters Daily was purchased by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002 and has been subsidized ever since, providing it to readers as a free service. Arts and Letters Daily does not rely on advertising to support its costs and rely mainly on donations.
According to Denis Dutton, the founder and previous editor of Arts and Letters Daily, it was inspired by the Drudge Report but was aimed at “the kinds of people who subscribe to the New York Review of Books, who read Salon and Slate and The New Republic—those interested in ideas.” Similar “idea-based” blogs like Abbas Raza’s 3 Quarks Daily have sprung up as a result of A&L Daily.
Robert Fulford characterized its value as follows:
What the Bloomberg service does for business, “A & LD” does for ideas. It keeps track of events, sorts them out, and informs you of what you need to know. Although it may not generate the money that Bloomberg does, its ability to build connections may prove to be more essential than the stock market over time.
Timeline of Arts and Letters Daily
Arts and Letters Daily sprang out of “Phil-Lit,” a mailing list started by Denis Dutton and D.G. Myers in 1994 to act as a symposium for articles and reviews obtained on the internet. When the list had grown to 800 subscribers, Dutton recommended compiling the pieces into a single homepage. In September 1998, they went online.
Three previous Phil-Lit subscribers, Sharon Killgrove of the Mojave Desert, Harrison Solow of Malibu, California, and Kenneth Chen, then a student at the University of California, Berkeley, assisted Dutton in running the site.
Arts and Letters Daily generated a “sister site,” SciTechDaily, in 1998, which was maintained by Dutton’s friend Vicki Hyde, a science editor and novelist whose web company housed both sites.
By August 1999, A&L Daily had a monthly readership of 250,000 people and had received accolades from USA Today, Wired, and The Observer, which named it the world’s top website, ahead of The New York Times and Amazon.com. Due to the site’s high prominence, numerous potential buyers competed for it, including online magazines Feed and Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Lingua Franca. Lingua Franca finally took over as the proprietor.
Dutton appointed Tran Huu Dung, an economics professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, as managing editor of the website in 2000. Despite the fact that Dutton and Dung had never met, they had exchanged emails.
Awards and Milestone
The Webby Awards presented Arts and Letters Daily with a “People’s Voice Award” for Best News Website in April 2002. Lingua Franca had declared bankruptcy by August, and A&L Daily had lost its only source of funding. Until October 7, 2002, when A&L Daily went offline, Dutton and Dung self-funded the site.
The Chronicle of Higher Education bought it, along with “the assets of its parent firm, which published the journal Lingua Franca”, on October 25, 2002, and A&L Daily was brought back online.
By March 2005, the site had surpassed 2.5 million monthly page visits and was approaching its 100 millionth impression.
PC Magazine named it one of the “Top 100 Classic Web Sites” in August 2007, praising it for “pulling together some of the most interesting readings accessible on the Web today.”
Denis Dutton died on December 28, 2010. Arts and Letters Daily sends “tens of thousands of new pieces to readers whose readership could otherwise be painfully limited,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
The site is still being produced by The Chronicle’s Evan Goldstein and Tran Huu Dung.
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