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From Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals

Perhaps the most interesting shift is the growing number of premier print magazines, such as the Iowa Review, AGNI, and the Literary Review, that are expanding their content with poems published only online. Sven Birkerts, the editor of AGNI, says he and his colleagues find that the journal's online counterpart "begins to create its own atmosphere. The taste extends in ways the print version does not. Things that are somehow lighter—it's easier to imagine them going online. Length is a consideration. If someone sends a four- to five-page piece, something dense, then we'll want to put it in print so that it can live in a person's hand and have that space." He champions the Web Exclusives portion of AGNI as "an opportunity to take a chance on younger writers" (adding that the opportunity exists, of course, in the print version as well).

I know what he's talking about; I've been one of those younger writers. After three of my poems were published as Web Exclusives, I began finding those texts everywhere: in community Listservs, on the LiveJournal pages of high schoolers, thumbtacked to dorm-room bulletin boards.

When I mention this phenomenon to Birkerts, he pauses. "Philosophically," he says, "I'm of two minds about this. Proliferation is what every author is after. Yet too much proliferation undermines the authority and prestige of the printed material, as the poem becomes part of a flow—a generalized cultural avalanche."

The Internet as avalanche. Do we run for dear life? Or do we catch a ride down the side of the mountain? "I guess what authors have to do is what authors have always done: Make the poems stick," Birkerts says. "Not only to the page, but to the reader's eye—an eye that is now used to flickering rapidly over cyberspace."

Sandra Beasley won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for Theories of Falling, selected by Marie Howe. She is working on a memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life, forthcoming from Crown.

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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From Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals (May/June 2009)
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