There seems to be a consensus forming in Australian publishing circles that 2010 will be the year when the e-book goes mainstream.

That’s the context for the first essay in Overland’s ‘Meanland’ collaboration with Meanjin: Margaret Simons’ exploration of current and future reading practices.

Overland’s exploration of what the digital future might mean for a progressive literary journal extends beyond Meanland into experiments of our own. These days, the various controversies debates in the Australian small press scene tend to flare up on social media platforms long before they manifest anywhere in print: certainly, Overland’s recent reconfiguration of its group blog was shaped largely by arguments that took place online.

Nonetheless, Overland 198 makes, we think, a strong case for the viability of the print journal, at least in the short term. The three stories published here are very different from each other but they are each excellent in their own way – and none of the digital formats so far available in Australia would present them as effectively as paper.

Likewise with the essays. Raewyn Connell’s essay for 198 – part of our ‘towards 200’ celebrations – suggests some lessons the Left might draw from the past. The online environment fosters brevity and immediacy rather than deep absorption, and so it still remains easier to ponder a thoughtful argument like Connell’s on the printed page rather than on screen.

Nonetheless, with publishing changing so quickly, it’s foolish to make anything other than a tentative judgement as to how literary journals might develop. Overland is, after all, a project rather than a format, and it must be ready to evolve.

We can, however, be confident that Overland’s traditional preoccupations – social justice, democracy and the politics of culture – will remain just as important, irrespective of how people do their reading.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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