Small Print-Run Journals in the Digital Age

A few days before Christmas the editor’s blog at Identity Theory featured an insightful post in which Andrew Whittaker wondered what the point of small print-run literary magazines might be. Many of these journals, he notes, have at best a limited online presence; some are not online at all. In 2008 while I was employed as Online Editor of The Reader Magazine, tasked with creating a website for the magazine and the Reader Organisation itself, the problem of how much material to put online came up a lot. The fact that it was seen as a problem is instructive enough. I contacted several of the magazine’s contributors to ask if I could publish their work online, but every one refused. In one case a poet actually had ‘his’ editor contact me to explain why exposing his work to (back then) 5000 eyeballs was a bad idea. I guess that poet must be selling thousands of books and being read by millions. Or maybe not.

In fact the Reader Magazine under editor Philip Davis was quite open to trying online publication. We started a blog and began publishing back issues of the magazine online as a download and using Scribd (and I’d recommend you take a look), but after I stopped being a paid employee back in October 2008, the online development went no further. The magazine remains primarily a print journal; it is trailing behind excellent online journals such as The Rumpus and Identity Theory and finds itself speaking only to a (relative) handful of people. The Reader is a journal that measures its subscribers in hundreds yet features big names such as Andrew Motion, Seamus Heaney and Camile Paglia. That’s a terrible shame.

Here’s a taste of the Identity Theory post:

These publications put their stories above their readers. But without readers, the best story is as good as a blank page. Readers, it turns out, want different things than they did fifty or even ten years ago.

The necessities of print submission and distribution created, over decades, an entrenched sense of hierarchy, that good stories logically move from writer up to editor and back down to reader. But readers, with new online practices introduced by other media and applied to everyday life, expect a conversation with the people whose work they read. They expect a feedback loop. They expect access to literature.

This should be a golden age of literary journals. And it is, for some larger forward-looking publications. McSweeney’s, the New Yorker, Tin House, and others have found compatibility between financial sustainability and what my old boss Henry Jenkins calls “spreadability”, removing barriers to sharing content so that fans can build communities around that content.

Successful literary publications know that obscurity is the shortest path to failure.

Read more here.

Raymond Chandler Competition

The Reader Organisation is running a Liverpool-based competition to win five new hardback editions of Raymond Chandler novels. These are lovely books so if you are in or near Liverpool tomorrow (March 26th, 2009), this could be for you.

To mark fifty years since the death of Raymond Chandler we are giving away a special set of five Chandler hardbacks absolutely free! Reissued by Hamish Hamilton with their original first-edition cover art, the books go on sale tomorrow priced £12.99 each.

Visit The Reader Online here for instructions.

The Reader Organisation New Website

Over the last six months I’ve been working at The Reader Organisation developing their web presence and redesigning the website. The new site went live on Friday and although there is still work to do to bring all of the organisation’s projects into the one site, it’s working out pretty well so far. Take a look here. Now for a redesign of the blog.

Review of The Reader Online

I’ve been editing The Reader Online, which is the blog of The Reader magazine, since June 2007, aided and abetted by many great contributors and in particular by Jen Tomkins, the marketing and PR intern at The Reader organisation. Last week the blog was reviewed by online literary magazine The Roundtable Review. Fiction editor Ann Morgan listed the blog as one of her ten of the best literary related sites on the web. Here’s what she said:

One of the most well-researched and informative literary blogs is to be found here at the website of the Liverpool University-based magazine The Reader. Updated frequently and often carrying news of the work of independent publishers – always a plus point for me – the dignified and thought-provoking commentary here is a far cry from the wailing and gnashing of teeth that many literary bloggers go in for. The site also carries a selection of links to some of the more polished and intriguing literary sites on the web.

Here’s the link to the Roundtable Review. And a link to The Reader Online.

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Let Us Now Praise Varied Work

I’ve been doing some editing and consultancy work and generally getting things back under control over the last two weeks. But I’ve also been getting back into the writing routine. On Friday I had a piece on the Guardian Books blog about James Agee and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, his account of life among the sharecroppers in 1930s Alabama. And I have some exciting things coming up. It won’t be long before the publicity work for Cain’s: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint begins to kick in, but in the mean time the Key Ideas book needs finishing off, I’m going to be working on articles for 100 American Crime Writers, and teaching a couple of hours a week.

I’m excited about what we have planned over on The Reader Online, which is gathering momentum nicely. This week we have another featured poetry anthology from Bloodaxe, entitled Earth Shattering. These poems are a great way to start the day.

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The Reader Online

As of this week I’m going to be helping out at The Reader developing their online content, including the blog, which I have just “finished” revamping. The new blog will cover news about books, reading, reading groups, interviews, reviews of reading technology, and opinion pieces. As a print magazine and mothership for a whole flotilla of reading projects and campaigns The Reader has been around for a decade. It’s a slick, professional operation. But the online content has taken second place up to this point and that’s just not sustainable any more. Apart from the revamped blog a new improved website will be online soon, making it easier to subscribe to the magazine and making the job of delivering news about Reader activities easier.

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