In the last few years, many prestigious literary journals have moved to a two-tier model for publishing: they maintain their print journal for the big-name authors, and create an online space to publish emerging authors. 

Granta now has their "New Voices" program, started last year, which publishes new authors online every month. American Short Fiction has began to publish a story a month online. Kenyon Review has done likewise, publishing a number of stories in an online format. Zoetrope has long published their contest winner in on online-only format. And of course AGNI might be the longest-running example, with its AGNI online section. Even the glossies have begun to glom onto a similar strategy: Atlantic Monthly attempted to sell (overpriced) short stories via an iTunes model.

These bifurcated fiction offerings accomplish a number of goals:

  • It allows the journal to highlight up-and-coming authors that wouldn't make it into the print issue.
  • Maximizes the potential revenue from the print journal (Big names sell mags)
  • Provides fresh content online, driving traffic to the website
  • Helps the biggest journals appear hip and relevant by launching burgeoning authors, rather than only publishing established authors.

I think it's telling that many of the journals that have adopted this model have been the top in the industry. Also, the top journals have the most sharply demarcated lines between established/print and emerging/online.

But this type of system has a number of problems, as well:

  • Perpetuates the stereotype that print is prestigious and online is second-grade.
  • Divides the journal brand, where some authors put in their bios "Famous Journal X" and others have to add an additional caveat, "Famous Journal X online." It's a false dichotomy — if you wrote an online piece for Esquire, you would just put Esquire in your bio, not Esquire Online.
  • Creates less of an incentive for journals to invest in a young writer, to stand behind them strongly enough to publish them in a print journal. Instead, younger writers can reliably be shuffled to the (cheaper and safer) online spaces.

I'm guessing this model of original content in both print and online capacities will slowly erode the current dominant model of Print as primary, with a website as the second-tier source of bulletin board and excerpts. Perhaps this is actually a transitional stage: we've seen virtually all literary journals ramp up their online presences in the last five years, and now we're entering a stage where journals are starting to blend their print/online production, and in the future we might see another shift.

Yes, I know about all the online literary journals out there, probably screaming at the screen right now that they've led the way. And Electric Literature and Narrative have plowed a road into that frontier as well. 

But five years ago, big literary journals were still staunchly sticking to print. I wonder if in 2015, how many big literary journals will have shifted to online only. More importantly, how many of them will be able to maintain their prestige (e.g. when you shift online, don't pull a TriQuarterly and fire all your paid staff).

Write Better Books.

Receive a free copy of "DEFEAT WRITER'S BLOCK"

when you subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit