It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in trouble. Daily newspapers are in fail mode with declining advertising revenues and readership. The majority of readers today would prefer to get their news online, which they consider more reliable and more convenient.
Greg Sterling, an online marketer whose blog I read often, heralds the day for magazine publishers as well. Sterling believes that e-book readers may actually save the magazine industry.
I of course believe that online publishing has seen its advent – for more than just newspapers and magazines. In the past 3 or 5 years, we’ve seen more and more literary journals appear online. But we haven’t really seen a subsequent decline in print journals. Will we?
The Economics Of Print Vs. Online Publishing
Let’s face it, the cost of printing isn’t getting any cheaper. In fact, like most things, it’s going up. And that means a higher price for the end consumer. Many print journals succeed as a result of grants and donations. But in a recessive economy it is more difficult to get donors to give.
However, there is not much cost in producing an online journal. Certain delivery systems are free. But even if a foundation or publishing organization chooses to spend money for publishing online, they will often get by with fewer expenses in the long run than a print journal. It costs just $10 a year to own a domain name. Other than that, there are no necessary expenses. While content management systems can be an expense, many of the best ones are free – WordPress, Joomla, Drupal. et. al.
Given the cost difference between online publishing and print publishing, even if a journal lost half its donors and half its grant moneys, it would still do better financially by publishing online.
So Why Aren’t More Traditional Journals Publishing Online?
If the cost is so cheap for publishing online, why aren’t more publishers doing it? I think, honestly, there is still some trepidation where online publishing is concerned.
Many traditional publishers do not want to be the first to make the move. Understandably, if something goes wrong in the transfer then it will be a huge blight on their reputation. Still, many traditional print publishers in the literary world are slowly making the move online. The Kenyon Review has a blog and an online version of its journal – even if it is a small capitulation. And KR is one of the few online poetry publishers with its own domain name, proving that the journal editors are more adventuresome than many of their peers.
Still, when it comes to online publishing, most traditional print journals and their editors have a blog, but that’s about it. They are still publishing in print. Most online journals are new presences in the literary field with no print counterpart. Of the traditional print publishers who have blogs, most of them are using Blogspot, the Internet’s largest free blog host, proving that they have not fully committed themselves to online publishing.
I think all of this proves that there is still a literary readership stuck on the delivery systems of the past and not yet ready to migrate to the new platforms. That’s to be expected. Most revolutions do not happen overnight, but gradually drag themselves to the forefront one devotee at a time. While we are getting there, we aren’t there yet. But there is time.
Where Is The Breaking Point?
The newspaper industry still has not met its breaking point. But it’s getting awfully close. The Chicago Tribune filed a Chapter 11 late in 2008, unable to profit from the advertising it sells. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the first major daily newspaper to move to an exclusively online edition earlier this year. I think that’s good news for the newspaper industry, but it will be a couple of years before you start seeing a mass exodus of newspapers from print.
Will this also happen to literary journals? I think so, but the timeline will likely be different. Newspapers are a much more mainstream form of publishing. Literary journals, while they have their place, are not on the average person’s reading list. Until the universities and foundations that fund them get to the point where they are losing readership and funds due to increasing print costs and competition from their online counterparts, I believe we’ll continue to see print journals arriving in our mailboxes.
Another thing that will likely influence the decision of journal editors and publishers to move completely to an online publishing platform is expanded opportunities in the delivery systems. While The Kindle has certainly opened doors in some ways, it has its limitations. The Sony E-book Reader may offer it some competition. But journal readers may have different tastes than your average electronic reading fan. It remains to be seen what literary readers will demand in the way of electronic formatting.
When the breaking point does finally come, you’ll see print journals with a long history and tradition suddenly moving their print offerings to a completely online platform. They’ll include a blog, of course, and some may even offer multimedia presentations in addition to their more traditional “print” offerings. Another development could be – and I hope so – a way for readers to print and bind their own journals POD. The technology is presently available. We need only tap into it.
What Is The Future Of The Literary Journal?
I think the future of publishing is vibrant, possibly more vibrant than ever before. New opportunities arise every day. Publishing will likely expand into “social publishing” as Web 2.0 opportunities increase and more people learn to use them. The Language School’s emphasis on reader cooperation and communal creation have much better prospects for online publishers than print as certain technologies, like wiki for instance, are built with that type of publishing in mind. Unfortunately, most creative producers of online literary publishing are, like most industries, outside of the mainstream power structure. The leaders in electronic publishing are not at the leading foundations and universities with firmly entrenched reputations in the literary field.
In summary, the future of literary publishing is now at our doorstep. Will be greet it with a smile?