The medium & the message: Australian literary journals move to multi-platform
In a status update on its Facebook page last week, literary journal Kill Your Darlings announced a move to multi-platform publishing. In the new year, the journal will be available as an ebook through Booki.sh, online via subscription, and in its original print form – as editor Rebecca Starford told Liticism, ‘We have no plans to discontinue our paper-book production. That’s an integral part of our publication.’
Though the journal previously published three full-text articles online every issue, next year sees an extension of this: ‘In 2012, coinciding with the print-issue release, we’ll be publishing free online four or five major features of the issue. Online subscribers will access the identical version of the print book too, as well as other features, including invitations to events, workshops, special offers, etc.’ Starford said.
This announcement marks another instance of the increasing move in Australian literary journals towards online publishing, and raises interesting questions about the ways in which we now read literary journals, and the longform essays for which they are known.
Meanjin, in a re-launch of the journal in September this year, now publishes all its ‘print’ content free on their website, with the physical journal becoming essentially an anthology of the best pieces from online. Deputy editor Zora Sanders told Weekly Book Newsletter of the re-launch,
The idea is to expand what Meanjin does, rather than altering or reducing it. [Editor] Sally [Heath] and I feel that as a publication that is largely funded by public money, we have an obligation to provide Meanjin to whomever wants to read it […] we certainly have no intention of ceasing production of the hard copy journal, we simply want to expand our reach and give greater access to what Meanjin does.
The move seems to be working successfully – with the site publishing new, high quality longform content daily – and appears to put an end to the dire predictions of what online would mean for Australia’s second oldest literary journal.
When Sophie Cunningham sadly stepped down from the editorship of Meanjin late last year, there was much consternation about the journal moving online. As Peter Craven wrote in The Age at the time, ‘If Meanjin is taken online, it will cease effectively to exist.’
Yes, there are very effective magazines of opinion, such as the ABC’s The Drum or Crikey, which thrive online, but Meanjin […] will shrivel in the online desert for the very reason that the best of what it has published down the years has had claims to permanence. […] No one who cares about the literary and intellectual history of this nation wants this to disappear into the evanescence of the internet.
Of course, the concern during the Meanjin furore was that the journal would move to online only, rather than the current model which sees both online publishing and the continuation of the print journal. But the medium is no longer the message and some of the dire speculation of the recent past now appears rather quaint.
‘They have to preserve Meanjin as a magazine a kid might pick up in a library or a punter might see in a book shop. Anything else will be barbarism,’ Craven wrote. Yet, in a world saturated by digital media – and with the increasing demise of physical bookstores themselves – one of Craven’s ‘punters’ are far more likely to stumble upon a Meanjin article in a Google search, or see it linked to on social media or a blog.
While I absolutely concur with Craven that our literary journals should be preserved in their print form, it’s important also for them to evolve and innovate or risk becoming extinct. Meanjin – and now Kill Your Darlings – are showing the ways in which the two forms can co-exist. The moves to online shouldn’t been seen as frightening, or as signaling the apocalyptic demise of anything. Ultimately, they are simply a response to their audience’s reading preferences. As Starford comments,
We’re very excited to be bringing our readers Kill Your Darlings via multi-platform – we recognize that our reading patterns and habits are changing, and we want to best cater to these changes. After much feedback from our readers, industry colleagues and from our own rigorous brainstorming and planning, we made the decision to develop this aspect of our publishing program.
Though there have been debates about whether longform essays can be successful online (you can read an interesting MeanLand meditation on the issue by Jacinda Woodhead here) as Zora Sanders told Liticism,
Some of the most popular pieces have been the long essays. I know there is a lot of skepticism about reading longform online, but I think it is something we will get more and more used to, as the web gets more and more suited to that kind of reading. The point is that if the content is good, people will read it in whichever form suits them at the time. So for Meanjin that’s what we aim for, just having great writing that people will want to read either online or in the print edition. […] I imagine people will wonder what all the fuss was about in fifteen years.
Indeed, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings and Going Down Swinging have shown the ways in which multi-platform publishing can actually enhance the text rather than simply reproducing it electronically. These spaces can be utilised for more than the odd hyperlink. As Sanders notes, ‘We’ve already started offering multimedia posts (you can hear an author read their poem as well as seeing it printed, for example) and that is going to ramp up in the new year’ and Kill Your Darlings are also exploring ways of enhancing their print pieces online with multimedia embedding. Similarly, short fiction and poetry journal Going Down Swinging publish a spoken word CD anthology with every issue, and recently produced a beautiful digital-only issue, #GDS31.
A further advantage of placing journal content online is growing the international readership. As Sanders told Weekly Book Newsletter,
What we’re hoping to achieve is a high-quality daily online literary magazine, along the lines of Salon, Guernica, The Millions, and countless other examples. But the thing about those examples is that they’re all from overseas. It’s not something we’ve managed to do in Australia yet, but we certainly have the capacity and the talent in this country, so why not?
I strongly believe in the importance and worth of Australian literary journals. While there will always be a place for the journal as an objet d’art – a thing you can handle, curl up with, and display in colourful spines upon your bookshelf – our literary journals need to evolve and innovate for the new digital landscape too.
[Disclosure: As my 'About me' page makes clear, I was the online intern at Kill Your Darlings journal earlier this year. However, this development occurred several months since my departure and I had no knowledge of, nor involvement in, the move.]
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