Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Literary Magazines and Online and Print Literary Communities

Daniel Green at The Reading Experience reacts more negatively than the Bitch, to say the least, to the news of Laurence Johns' new literary venture. He concentrates on a point the Bitch skipped over, Johns' statement made in answer to the question, What on earth would possess anybody, in the age of user-generated content and online communities, to engage with the expense and practical difficulties of a print magazine?: 'Reading is not something you do in front of a computer'. Green pours scorn on such a statement, pointing out that plenty of us are doing that just now, engaging in debates about literature at our computers.

Well, this last is true, of course, but one would hope that To Hell with Publishing will include a substantial element of online activity, as do US McSweeney's and innovative UK publisher Salt. Green says:
If Laurence Johns was truly interested in bringing readers to writers, he'd save himself money, and inevitable failure, by publishing those stories in a form accessible to readers who do spend at least some of their time "in front of a computer" but are nevertheless "people who love reading."
My reactions to this are mixed. Having once published a print literary magazine (in the days just before literature took off on the web) I have always said precisely that, that I would never do it that way again now that there is the web. But then, as Johns says, people do like a book to hold (and take to the bath), don't we? And how much of what we read online is literature, the primary thing, as opposed to debates about literature? And isn't it actual books which are generating discussion online? And as for community: well, I love this online literary community, but isn't it primarily a community of readers, rather than of Johns' concept of readers and writers interacting - and isn't it in the main reacting to the output of the mainstream publishers which, as we have established, are instrumental in suppressing our writers' most innovative and challenging work?

In the midst of all this comes news today of the possibility of an Arts Council-funding threat to one of our longest-running print literary mags, the London Magazine, which DJ Taylor, echoing Johns, claims 'prints work of genuine merit that would otherwise have difficulty finding a publisher'. Well, again, I have mixed feelings. Having once been published by the London Magazine I have a reflex reaction of loyalty, and I'm with Taylor when he points out that it's outrageous that such a project should suffer - nay, be killed off - for the sake of the Olympics. On the other hand, I have to say that the story I had printed there, and indeed any of the stories I have had printed in traditional print lit mags, have never had the kind of international attention given to those I've had published in an online magazine.

I can't help thinking that there has to be a new model (which maybe the London Magazine could embrace), a blending of the virtual and concrete literary worlds. I suppose it remains to be seen whether Johns' venture will be one answer.
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