The Believer, after twists and turns, is back with McSweeney’s

The Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building at UNLV, home to the Black Mountain Institute, former owner of the Believer.
The Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building at UNLV, home to the Black Mountain Institute, former owner of the Believer magazine.
(Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

After a series of events worthy of a madcap satirical short story, the Believer magazine is back with its original publisher.

On Monday, news broke that McSweeney’s — which first published the venerable literary magazine from 2003 to 2015 before selling it in 2017 to the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute — had reacquired the Believer. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which runs the Black Mountain Institute, had recently sold it to Paradise Media, a digital marketing company headquartered in Puerto Rico.

According to the New York Times, which broke the story, Paradise and the San Francisco-based nonprofit publishing company first met on Friday to discuss the sale; the deal was sealed the next day. The publisher reacquired the magazine, including all assets and intellectual property, on Sunday.

“It takes enormous courage to do what Ian [Moe’s] done in reconsidering his initial purchase of the magazine,” said Amanda Uhle, McSweeney’s publisher and executive director, in a statement. Moe, Paradise Media’s CEO, had purchased the magazine in April for $225,000 in cash.

The Believer, a literary powerhouse that recently became a troubled university property, was sold by UNLV to Paradise Media for $225,000 in cash.


“When Ian understood the immeasurable gift he’d be providing generations of readers and writers by making this change, he was quick to roll up his sleeves with us and work out a reasonable and agreeable way for us to move forward,” continued Uhle. “We’re grateful for him, and we’ll be celebrating his kindness forever.”

Paradise Media took over ownership and oversight of all the Believer’s content on April 1; the transfer was to be finalized this month. Its plans changed when writers and fans began criticizing the new owner after discovering a clickbait article titled “25 Best Hookup Sites for Flings, New Trysts, and Casual Dating” on the Believer’s website.

Moe listened, and after learning about the complexities of print publishing, decided to sell the magazine back to McSweeney’s at a drastically reduced price. McSweeney’s would not disclose the exact amountbut said Paradise “effectively donat[ed] a large portion of their original purchase to the cause of getting the magazine back into circulation.”

Shenk, the author of ‘Powers of Two,’ resigned as the leader of the Believer magazine and the Black Mountain Institute after a video incident.

The purchase was possible thanks to three unnamed donors who covered the cost of the magazine’s asset transfer, the publisher said.

“I feel fortunate to be in a position to help McSweeney’s, and I can’t wait to see all that The Believer will do under their leadership,” said Moe in a statement. “I join all of those who expressed their desire this past week to see The Believer remain in print, and everyone here at Paradise Media agreed that the best way to make that a reality is to return the magazine to the place where it began its journey.”

Since its founding under the auspices of McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers’ independent publishing house, the Believer has published fiction and essays by some of the most prominent literary voices, including Zadie Smith, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Lethem and Richard Powers, alongside newer writers it helped discover. Its purchase by UNLV in 2017 furthered the aim of building the Black Mountain Institute — and by extension Las Vegas — into a national literary center.

The purchase comes after UNLV abruptly announced in October that it would stop producing the Believer due to financial challenges brought on by the pandemic. The news followed a series of allegations against the magazine’s former editor-in-chief, Joshua Wolf Shenk, in the months after he exposed himself to staff during a video meeting last year.

McSweeney’s will be fundraising to support publishing the magazine. The Believer’s homecoming issue will be released in November.

Hired by UNLV to make it a national literary powerhouse, Shenk’s five-year tenure was marked by a string of complaints over unprofessional behavior.