Saturday, May 20, 2006

Online vs. print poetry

There’s an awareness of online poetry brewing in the print media, thanks to some folks who are writing about it, talking about it, spreading the word, and so forth. There’s no indication anything will change, in terms of visibility; but an awareness of the explosion of writing, good and bad, that is out there, can’t hurt. It might just be a ripple in the pond, which is fine. The world is too big and diverse to really worry about it. It just is what it is. People will go on writing, online and in print, till they can’t anymore. If a writer is going to write, they’re going to write, even if they are trapped on a desert island and have to make their own paper and ink from palm fibers and captured octopus ink. Writing in the sand. It doesn’t matter. If the urge to write is there, it can’t be stopped. The real difference between print and web is accessibility to publication, marketing, and distribution. The web takes care of a great deal of dissemination quasi-automatically, via search engines. The writer and publisher don’t have to have a big marketing budget, buy ads in all the journals, or distribute physical copes of the journal. Print-on-demand via PDF is a feasible way of distributing copies now. It’s the next wave after the Xerox ‘zines of the 1980s, most of which were samizdat publications, hand-made, with scrounged materials, distributed by hand or cheap postage, cheaply produced and usually quite badly printed, often on “borrowed” office materials from where the producer worked. The web reproduces information, potentially infinitely, without physicality. without accrued costs and necessary distribution organizations, that print journals require. Once something is on a website, it’s Published: it now exists for all (who have web access) to peruse. This eliminates a lot of middle-man marketing, although it also means that most publications are free to the browser. Since most of the print poetry journals are subsidized by various universities at this point, the plus side of free net publishing is more accessibility to the masses; the downside is, no one’s going to make a living at it, not even the editors. Not that the print journals are profitable; mostly they arrive at zero-sum, or take a loss.

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