Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Online vs. Print Journal Models

With the announcement that Shenandoah will follow other literary journals in ceasing print publication and moving online, I am thinking about the pros and cons of each method of distribution.

As a reader, I prefer the portability of print. Today is sunny & 60 degrees. I'm taking my daughter to a park. I will throw a recent issue of Field in my bag to take with me. I don't have the capability to get the internet everywhere I go. Nor do I want to take my laptop with me everywhere just so I can use the wi-fi to read a journal online.

I do most of my work on a computer. I don't want to have to do all of my recreational reading on a computer. I will read a print journal cover to cover because I can bookmark where I left off. I can take it everywhere. Simply taking all of the content of what would have been a print issue and putting it online with links from a Table of Contents is all well and good in theory, but I have to ask:

  • How many people actually sit and read all of the contents of an online journal that publishes several authors/genres per issue?
  • Even the ones you like?
  • If you have to take a break before you finish reading the issue, how do you remember your place when you get back to the issue? Do you make a sticky note about it?
  • Do you read it straight through or pick and choose which authors you want to read first?
  • Do you read work by the names you know first?
  • Do you read the work by names you don't know?
  • Am I out of the ordinary for being the kind of reader who reads a journal straight through, front to back?
Don't get me wrong. I love online distribution methods. Writing featured online can potentially reach far more readers than that featured in a "print" journal -- even the journals with the highest number of subscribers.

But, thinking one can simply transpose the contents of a print journal to electronic format? No way.

To me, the best format for online journals is one that regularly publishes a single author -- such as No Tell Motel and Anti-. Online distribution is great for this sort of format, especially when the publishers are well-versed in the capabilities of social networking. Even better if the authors published by the online journals are good social networkers as well.

I agree that it's not fair that people's attention spans (mine included) are so short that they won't sit and read through an entire issue of an online journal, nor will they click on every single author listed in the electronic TOC. Of course, there's no guarantee that people will read a whole print issue all the way through either.

But given the choice between sitting out in the sunshine reading a print journal all afternoon or sitting and staring at a computer screen all afternoon... I know what I'm gonna choose.


Giulia said...

Yep. When I heard this recently, I thought: I'm not going to read it. Period. That's it. I'm not a Luddite; like you, I am online enough (already). I don't care anymore if I "miss" something online. I give up.

On that note, I hope you had a good time outside today.

Reb said...

I think Shenadoah is going to really expand it's readership with this move (and manage to stick around a lot longer). It's going to be really great exposure for their writers.

Have you seen any of the eReaders? I have a Nook and absolutely love it. Now I don't have to lug around books, it's really great. It's lighter than most books too. I read it outside, at the park, coffee shop, airplanes, car, anywhere I'd take a book. If I did a print journal, I would definitely do a eBook format too. If I get some time, I might do periodic eBook versions for NTM.

Greg said...

I never read "everything" in a print journal either. That said, I agree with your points about portability and the pleasure in general of paper, ink, etc. Still, if it's a choice between online and no mag, I'll go online with it. I wouldn't be too hard on the publishers of Shenandoah; they are facing the same economic crisis that has forced many pubs & entire presses out of business altogether.

Bernadette Geyer said...


I admit I haven't seen any of the eReaders. Thanks for bringing in the online viewpoint.

I do agree that online publications do have the ability to reach many more eyes than print. Definitely cost-saving as well.

Perhaps I will one day bite the technology bullet and get an eReader. I agree that "lightness" is a factor when I'm selecting books to take on trips with me.

Has anyone done a listing of journals that do eBook formats?

I just hope that lit journals making the move to "online" journals are considering how different the two mediums can be. It's not just simply putting everything online that would've been in the journal.

There are vast new capabilities with audio/video and podcasting that they can get into as well.

As with Facebook and Twitter I suppose I will perhaps have to move into modern times by exploring the eBook options out there.

But, I still feel like eReaders are so new that if I commit to buying something, it will be obsolete in a year or two and I'll have to start the search all over again for a substitute (as happened when I bought a Handspring right before Palm took off and then was followed by the Blackberry).

Bernadette Geyer said...

As a footnote to this... I just checked and Shenandoah isn't even on Facebook. They will definitely need to ramp up their online marketing/social networking skills if they want to properly market their online journal.

Perhaps a little online marketing know-how might have expanded their print journal's readership... If your literary journal doesn't have a presence in the social networking world, don't be surprised if you can't expand readership.

Print journals need to be savvy with marketing themselves on the internet.

Online journal or print journal, you need to be marketing savvy -- period.