Literary Deathmatch: Print vs. Online

Interesting side note: That’s actually a cast of my actual teeth, there. I got to keep it after my dentist made me a mouth guard to wear at night so I stop grinding my teeth to nubs. I was way more excited about keeping the teeth.

So Hunger Mountain, the lovely journal that published “Last Dog” back in the fall, will be putting the story on their website sometime this month. I’m thrilled about this, because this means I can link to it! I get very excited about linking to things. However, I also get, like, Christmas-excited when I get a print journal in the mail. So which is better, print or online? Let us decide this in the age-old manner passed down from the gods: Compare/Contrast!

-Made of real materials, paper and ink. -Made of zeros and ones and magic.
-You can touch it, hold it, nuzzle it against your face, sleep with it under your pillow. -You can touch your computer screen, but it’s not the same, and skin oils aren’t good for computer screens.
-It exists as a real object in your house, and when your eyes land on it accidentally at any given time, you can smile and think, “Yes, I am in there. Good job, me.” -It does not exist as a real object in your house, so your eyes can’t accidentally land on it unless you “accidentally” set it as your homepage and look upon it with great ecstasy every morning when you open your browser for a month straight.
-You can show it to your grandma who thinks the computer box is a tool of Satan. -You can show it to anyone with internet access, anywhere in the world. Even strangers on your blog!
-People who want to read it have to pay money, which is great for the journal, but somewhat unlikely unless the prospective buyer is related to you or loves you very much. -People can read it for free, which means they’re more likely to read it, and that’s better exposure for the writer.
-You can find it in a library. -You can look it up on a computer in a library?
-A lot of people believe print journals are more prestigious. -Online journals are getting more and more impressive every day, so much so that many print journals are starting or have already started an online component in order to be able to compete.
-You can spill coffee on it, misplace it, lose it in a fire, or it can go out of print. -It is IMMORTAL.

So which one reigns triumphant? Well, since journals like Hunger Mountain are publishing a print journal and then also putting some of the content on the web after publication, I think I’ll take ’em both! Best of both worlds, am I right?

Really, though, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and I’ll gladly take either. I’m really partial to the actual artifact of a print publication (the whole e-book thing fills me with despair), but I also love the exposure and drastically broadened readership that comes with online publication. As far as this bias against online publication goes, I think that’s utter bullhonky. There are myriad staggeringly good online publications out there, but because they are newer (cause the internet is a newer medium than, you know, paper), they are therefore less established, and some Luddites automatically discredit them. As I said above, this bias is swiftly dwindling–or, at least, online publications are recognized as being high quality publications now, but print publications are still definitely deemed higher quality. This is partially because print publications have usually been around longer and therefore have developed a wider base of readers and more influence. A print journal that has been around since 1952 has proven itself to have more staying power than a really stellar online magazine that’s only been around since ’98. That being said, that 1952 journal better dust off its old ass and get an online presence quick or risk being forgotten.

Of course, not all publications are print-only or online-only. Many, like two of the magazines I’ve been in, Annalemma and PANK, have the main, print component, as well as separate online content. They may put a sample or two of the print content online, but the online content is largely online-only, never appearing in print. Is the online content of lesser quality than the print content? I’m asking this as someone who was in the online content for both of the aforementioned journals. And I’ve got to say that, yeah, the editors probably favor the print content more than the online content, because, after all, they spent paper and ink and glue on it, they went to the trouble of bringing it into the corporeal world. When you’re making something like that, you choose to include the best of the best. But this by no means means that the online content is anything less than Fucking Awesome. There were a few stories and poems that nudged a little ahead, sure, but it’s not like editors just slap content online haphazardly. It’s not like they just settle for anything cause, you know, it’s online so whatevs LOL.

I’m speaking to this as someone who helped found an online journal along with my fellow graduate students at Vanderbilt, Nashville Review. I was the head editor for fiction while I was at Vanderbilt, and then continued to help read fiction for a year afterwards until I just got too busy. And you know what? That shit was hard work. We decided to make it entirely online, with a future dream of a print component, for several reasons: 1) because we had limited funding and we wanted to spend that on paying our contributors instead of on expensive printing, 2) we wanted it to be free and available to everyone, and 3) the online platform made us able to include forms of storytelling impossible in print, like short film, music, oral storytelling–anything we wanted, really. We cared deeply about the journal and spent a great amount of time reading, arguing about, selecting, and editing submissions. There have been instances where we just didn’t have three stories we were totally captivated with, so we published only two stories that issue rather than throw in a third willy-nilly and have something we weren’t absolutely confident in. Also, for a young, entirely online journal that put out its first issue in 2010, we’ve published some pretty smack-ass established authors–Rebecca Makkai, Ben Loory, Jesse Ball, D.A. Powell–in addition to outstanding work from emerging writers. (Yeah, you should probably check it out.)

But I’ll get off my soapbox and just say again that being online doesn’t mean it is any less painstakingly selected and edited than print. Also, print layout isn’t a cakewalk, but HTML is a bitch. That compare/contrast table up top? One of the easiest, most basic things in HTML, but what a pain in the ass.

Anyway, I’m excited about Hunger Mountain posting my story online. They also sent me some interview questions to accompany the story, and it always blows my mind when people actually want to ask me things and hear my answers. One of the questions was about my writing process, and I struggled to answer that one for three days. I shall be addressing this in another post that I’ve already started writing, called, “Really, Stop Checking Your Email.”

So, until then, go read some quality online literary magazines, why don’t you?


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