Les Semaines

January 29, 2005

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal


A Rant: Online Versus Print Publications

This is edited from an email discussion I had in a women's poetry listserve where I was playing devil's advocate with someone who didn't believe that online publication had much to offer, and felt that there was a stigma in being published digitally. It struck me strongly that this was something the speculation fiction world had gotten through a few years back and was just now coming to be part of the discussion in the literary world.

I hope this makes sense out of context. I've tried to re-arrange and re-phrase when necessary, but as usual I'm in a bit of a rush.

Forgive me while I play devil's advocate here (really, though, I advocate for both print and online publications and now happily appear in/on either, though five years ago I only ever offered reprint rights online).
Paper Versus Electrons
Why is a print run any more of a guarantee of a magazine's stability than an online presence? Print magazines have come and gone with as great a frequency as online magazines. A print run doesn't guarantee those copies go anywhere than in the editor's basement.

Good distribution is an expense a lot of magazine publishers can't afford, and even if literary magazines get distribution, they often sit in stores and are returned, as the market for them just isn't that big. Few magazine racks carry literary journals, few chain bookstores even. It's mostly independent newsstands and bookstores that are even willing to give them the shelf space.

And print magazines are always hurting for subscribers!

Sure, anyone with web access can put up some kind of magazine, but equally I can set myself up as an editor by using a home photocopier to produce a print "literary journal" without paying much at all. Or pay for it at a professional copier for a pretty minimal expense--say, the same that I might pay to an ISP annually.

Or do POD, or some other less expensive print technology.

I can send announcements of this, trade ads with other journals, mail it around without having any more (or less) commitment than I might have online.

The Issue of Archives
Print doesn't guarantee a journal is archived anymore than than online. Those that are fortunate enough to have a university subscribe to them may, but magazines often get culled from libraries. (Also, there is the Internet Archive WayBack Machine.)

You cannot just assume that print = long life and online = short life. It's not that simple. There's no inherent relationship, especially as in 20 years neither may be found anywhere. Print publications die just as easily (and you could argue because they're more expensive more easily) than online journals.

Editorial Credibility
Regarding editorial credibility, I don't see how print automagically confers more credibility to an editor than online publication does. Surely that must be earned both in print and online.

The kind of online literary journal, where "anyone with online access" can set it up is more the online equivalent of the print 'zine, where anyone with a photocopier can set themselves up as a literary editor.

The Author's Time
As for the immediate gratification of an online publication appearing more quickly than a print one, usually online publications are faster, but not always and certainly not necessarily. It's not inherent in the two different publishing systems.

There are online magazines often have publication schedules that fill up just the same as print. Some are weekly, some quarterly, some annual. The wait for publication on an online journal can be just as long as a quick paper journal.

I agree that the ability online to link to a person's other work does confer an advantage to online publications, but there's the slower one in print of looking at publications where poets you like have appeared, reading bios and acknowledgments to find out same, etc. It's a time-honoured tradition.

Price of Publishing
Online publications do not have such a huge price advantage as you would think. Web costs is not insignificant. As well, to get a well-designed and -coded site that doesn't offend the eye and indeed is attractive and functional can be close to as difficult and expensive as it is in print [I wish I could afford one!]. Few editors have those skills (and in many online magazines, it shows [and many in print!]).

Good web design and coding and having not all 100% volunteer labour isn't cheap. It may be cheaper than paper, but good web designers/coders are as pricey as good printers.

The person I was discussing this with said that there were a lot of students and other people who were willing to do the online design and coding for free. I thought that was certainly a privileged position, the equivalent of knowing a cheap/volunteer printer sponsor. I know a lot of projects that would love to be able to tap into these "love to code" people. (I would love one of them to re-design my personal website for me, because I don't have the time to develop the skills to do it!) I work at a university myself and don't have cheap access to student designers, myself. Certainly not minimal cost. Not even for the program I run. For two of my programs I have done all the (lame) design and coding myself.

Web Presence for Print Magazines
I think that nowadays it is essential for a magazine to have at least some web presence, whether or not the publication offers online publication. People use the web to research even print magazines.

I'm getting to the point where if a paper journal doesn't have at least current masthead information online (and I don't already know it well), I'm not certain enough of their current health and editor's names to bother with the hassle and expense of mailing them a submission.

Quality and Payment for Authors
I love paper, I do, but there are now online publications that rival print. Certainly in another field I love, speculative fiction, the best-paying market for the last five years was online (it just, sadly, had its funding cut off) with arguably the best editor in the field. That publication, and others like it, have done a huge amount to break "digital stigma" against online publication in that field.

I feel certain it's only a matter of time before online literary journals do the same in the literary one.

This isn't necessarily the case that writers aren't paid any more often than it is in print. For example, I got paid $20 each for my last two online-published poems at Strange Horizons, and one copy each of my last paper-published poems (each valued at less than $20).

Strange Horizons is an independent online journal for speculative literature that believes that authors should be paid for their work. I believe their editors are volunteers. I don't know about their designers and coders. They raise the funds themselves to pay their authors. I'm not sure how much they're able to do this because of their niche, but it's an impressive model and they put out an issue weekly.

Basically, there is a huge range of quality of both print and online journals. There have some print journals that are fly-by-night and there are some online journals that very well may prove themselves to have the longevity of Poetry. After all, the print journal explosion has been a new thing of mostly the latter half of the 20th century. There has been a lot of fall out over that time. How many print journals survived those 50 years?

We've had the web for 10. It's exploding faster than print, but in many ways is still in its infancy. Let's give it some time to prove itself. There are already some online journals with a commitment to quality. Let's see what comes of them, who emulates them, who values their authors enough to pay them, who has the commitment to stick out the fundraising and schedules and all the hassle.


In other news, it's 5:45 pm and I'm still in my bathrobe! Hooray for non-dress-up days! Though I have to go and put my contacts in and some more socially acceptable clothes on as I'm going to a club to hear Imogen Heap with my best homies (Devin, Tamar, Zac, and Jim of course).

Chronicles of Sloth: Episode 11

  • Email inbox down to 296 messages (down from 335 last week, from 380 when I started tracking this, but still way up from my 231 low in late November)
  • New novel stands at 36,277 words
  • Four batches of poems to send out still
  • One more medical appointment for me to arrange and need to go get some labwork done (1 appointment attended, 1 coming up this week, 1 coming up next week)
  • There's a little lull in Clarion West applications this week. Yay.
  • Picking slowly at the 2 large stacks of CDs to ready for review
  • CD pileup ignored this week (keep/toss/add to ectoguide)
  • Tape collection diminished by 1 since last week
  • 2.5 friend's novels still waiting to be read & critiqued + one story half critiqued
  • Get framed picture of me & Jim & send to Jim's Dad
  • I need to think about the other thinks that are in my mind but not on this list
last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing


I will be hearing Imogen Heap (live!) in just a few hours.

Jim is all excited about the new Cat Power. Alas, I am not.

last week's listening § next week's listening


David Marusek's SF novel Counting Heads takes place in a future U.S. where AIs and nanotechs fabrication is commonplace. It sounds ideal--except the country is still recovering from various terror attacks (viruses, toxins, nanobots, etc.) and corporations rule the world and work for the middle class is hard to find, and society seems to be realigning into luxury and poverty classes. I found the story and plot quite intriguing, but felt a little less enamoured of the characters until close to the end of the book, when they started to come into focus. Still, excellent SF, and by the end of the novel, yes I did care about the characters -- enough to be a little disappointed with their futures.

David Almond's children's novel, Secret Heart is about a strange, small, picked-upon fey boy who senses tigers around him and what happens when he meets a girl, a trapeze artist, who is part of an old, dying circus. Charming, in David Almond's unique way.

last week's reading § next week's reading


Still can't find the lost poem, so I think it's truly lost. I did, however, write a new poem. A collage of sorts. Took it to my poetry workshop, which was of course the impetus for it.

Did a little work this week on the novel, mainly on Thursday's timed writing and with Karen at the coffee shop.

Haven't moved forward on other things.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: old journal

Friday, August 23, 1991
Edinbugh → Toronto

Got to the airport in plenty of time. Flight long, uneventful. Vacant youth beside us, letting us in and out and playing his walkman [remember those?] loudly and gameboy just as beep beep. Christina very bored and restless and drinking to get through it, me stolidly reading as usual.

Mett met us at the airport, looking tired. We took a taxi back, had tea, talked. Christina unpacked her prizes, and Matt made a lovely dinner. At 9:00 waited for Jim to phone but he didn't, so Christina called him for me. I didn't want to talk on her bill, so made him call back. Joked around briefly, teased him about not calling and the gifts Matt had waiting for Christina.

Talked for a bit, looked at Christina's books, and crashed.

last week's old journal § next week's old journal

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