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From Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals

Today, I wholeheartedly disagree, in part because the technology has evolved. In the heyday of Yahoo, Web sites were indexed by category. Search for "poetry magazine" and a journal came up only if the editor had taken the time to seed the appropriate HTML meta tags. Now search engines catalogue the entire verbiage of a page—if someone Googles your name, up pops your poem or story or essay. For every reader who tracks down the Kenyon Review in his local bookstore, there are ten who don't have access, don't have money, or need a medium they can surreptitiously read at their office desks.

In other words, modern writers are increasingly defined by the work they have available online. Those serious about developing a career have to think about managing that virtual dimension. And the most powerful, direct way to do so is to engage the medium—read online journals, evaluate them, and send them work you're proud to have associated with your name.

If you're not convinced, don't believe the hype; believe the numbers. Since Bruce Covey launched his online magazine, Coconut, in 2005, he has monitored visitor traffic. "A new issue of Coconut gets about ten thousand unique page views in its first two weeks," he reported recently. "Readership has increased with every issue. We have readers in Japan, Korea, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, the Philippines, Qatar—all over the world."

Today's best online journals offer innovation as well as visibility. Linebreak pairs each poem with an audio file—the poem as read by another poet. Drunken Boat bills itself as a multimedia journal that curates sound and video alongside poetry and prose. No Tell Motel features a new poem five days out of every week; Anti- includes twenty "feature poets" beyond its biannual publishing schedule. Even journals that mimic the conventions of a print format—such as Memorious, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Mezzo Cammin—use their Web sites to provide easily accessed, well-organized archives. Slate has even created the Fray, a virtual space where readers can publicly respond to poems and essays.

One journal frequently cited as a leader among online venues is Blackbird, which is hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University. Each biannual issue includes poetry, prose, nonfiction, reviews, and features, formatted in a warm color palette with sepia-toned photographs, which visitors can explore using easy-to-use navigation bars. It doesn't hurt that Blackbird is among the few journals, online or print, able to offer honoraria to its contributors.

Reader Comments

  • Jendi Reiter says...

    Great article. As the publisher of a web-only resource (WinningWriters.com) I'm very happy to see online publication getting more respect. The poetry and prose of our contest winners reach 25,000+ subscribers through our e-newsletter; not a lot of print mags can say that. Though I do like the poetry book as an art object, a web presence seems crucial to building readership.

  • LaLoren says...

    A little slow in coming, but I'm glad online is finally getting some recognition. Yes, great publications have been around for well over a decade, and the downside of this is now that the "venerables" are coming online, they will again overshadow those original online only journals that brought respect to the medium. I started editing for my first online publication in 1999, and, yes, back then I still saw publishing online as a second choice. However, about 5 years ago I started working to get all the stories I'd originally published in print that were now sitting in contributor's copies in the back of my closet (with the rest probably in a dump somewhere), published online. Those stories now enjoy ever lasting life and every now and then a complete stranger will e-mail me about having just discovered one of them.

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