Her question raises a series of issues with which all literary journals are, one imagines, currently grappling. How should a print journal relate to the web? What does the potential — and the expectations — of the new digital environment mean to the traditional subscription-based models by which the ‘little magazines’ have traditionally been funded?
I don’t think anyone’s really got a complete handle on this yet but what follows is the way that we’re thinking about it.
Firstly, the web makes writing more accessible. If you are a journal of ideas, then reaching more readers is unequivocally A Good Thing. More people have probably now read Antony Loewenstein’s essay for Overland 193 on screen than in the print edition. Those extra readers are something to be celebrated, not to be frightened of.
Secondly, reading – particularly reading intensely – is an aesthetic experience. Despite all the wonders of the intertubes, it’s still more pleasurable to read a nicely designed and typeset page on paper than on screen, particularly if it’s fiction or a long and complicated essay. Most of us use the internet for browsing and we do our serious reading in an armchair or in bed or in the bath – basically, anywhere that gets us away from the computer. That’s why a website can never – at least, not with today’s technology – substitute for a printed journal. Readers who discover Overland online will (we hope!) still want to hold a physical copy in their hands.
Thirdly, the digital revolution has already changed the nature of subscribing. For most of the twentieth century, a magazine subscriber was part of an exclusive club: unless you took out a sub, you couldn’t read the particular journal in which you were interested. Today, however, most people can, without too much difficulty, get access to full text versions of most publications (through, say, university or public library databases). Basically, if you don’t want to pay for a journal, you no longer really have to. In that sense, subscribers to Overland are inevitably becoming more like subscribers to public radio stations. You can listen to 3RRR or 3PBS for free but people who really care about what such stations are doing recognise that they should manifest that support by becoming a subscriber.
In the case of public radio, the act of subscription becomes an expression of community as much as simply a cash transaction.
An Overland sub is a little different (in that you do actually receive four copies of the journal) but it reflects the same sentiment. People who think that arguments about the politics of culture and the culture of politics are important will, we hope, continue to subscribe, even if it’s physically possible to read the entire journal without paying a cent.
That, of course, all amounts to an extended hint …