Thursday, May 28, 2009

Paper Vs. Computer

I have seen this topic quite a bit lately and I thought I would throw my plug nickel at it. After all where is the industry going? What is the ultimate goal of the writer? How do editors, writers and readers see the end product differently?

As far as the first question goes, there is no doubt that the entire industry is floating, on a speed boat with the throttle stuck in high gear, toward the electronic mediums. You can look at the newspaper and magazine industry for this. Time magazine gets ten times as many readers online than they do in their print journal (and the material isn't the same). More people read the Drudge Report than the New York Times, even if they just skim the headlines. So what does this mean to the industry. Will paper be a thing of the past in ten years. Probably not, but it might be harder to find a paper copy of your favorite book in a used book store.

I have worked in print magazine in the past and I can tell you that getting the layout just right for the printer is a pain, big pain. I don't don't have any experience with the electronic layouts, other than this blog, so I asked someone who has experience with both. Jason Sizemore of Apex Publications has had a successful Pro-market magazine and a successful Pro-Market e-zine. I asked him which took longer to produce, the print issue or the e-zine, or if it was a wash. He responded with "(It)Takes me way, way less time to prepare a digital issue of Apex Magazine as opposed to when it was in print.” This got me thinking of the magazine from the editors POV. If you are giving the authors the same money, and reaching more people, it takes you far less time which in Jason's case gives him more time to focus on the Book part of his business, why wouldn't you go to an online format. Sure I miss the paper editions, but printers cost money, a lot of money so from the editors point of view I can see the online edition being advantageous.

From the writers point of view I would like to think we have two goals in mind, get paid for our work and have as many people as possible read that work. It isn't like in the 1950's where every household in America subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post and Every teenager had a subscription to the pulp magazine of the day (and every Uncle had a subscription to Playboy). Now people aren't relegated to two or three channels on television and the radio. We don't sit around on Sunday afternoon and sing along to Cousin Bob playing the piano. Times have changed and while people still read, and some of us read a lot, most don't read as much as they did 25-50 years ago (although most read more than they did 200 years ago when your choice was The Bible or The King James Version of The Bible.

We want to get paid so we submit to the pro markets. Fewer and Far between. A lot of very good, and well known, writers are competing for those few slots. These are the writers that actually make a living with their craft. Most people don't make it to the pro-markets and those that do usually don't make it into one, maybe two a year. This isn't enough to make a living from either, not like it used to be. I am reminded that Robert Bloch could sell an 8,000 word story to Weird Tales for a penny a word and live for a month on the procedes. Try and do that now. For most of us that would only pay for our internet and a couple of Happy Meals at McDonald's.

We also want people to read what we do get published. The internet has made this amazingly easy. Just post a link and most people can read 90% of the online content. Sometimes you might have to pay a token amount to the magazine to read the latest online issue but his is a far cry from the cost of the paper issue. Still, I prefer to have my hands on a paper copy. One of my favorite magazines in the 90's, before the internet truly had a foothold in every day life (and my modem speed was an amazing 14.4 bps) my favorite magazine was a small horror mag called Haunts. It was well done in a digest sized format and glossy covers. I still have a couple of copies (possibly the only ones in existance) but I still have them; the magazine hasn't been published in 12 years. In twelve years most of the online magazines we submit to will be gone and replaced with newer, shiner, faster versions that push the same types of stories that we are selling or trying to sell to them now. The stories we had published on the old versions, no doubt will be gone with a couple of months or maybe a couple of years if we are lucky of the magazines downfall.

I am still trying to gauge the readers desire to read online versus paper. There are a lot of variables. I prefer to read in bed or in a favorite chair, in the car, under a tree. This doesn't make for electronic reading the best option. New e-readers are trying to bridge this gap but for most people the price of the readers are prohibitive so until they start to lower the price (and lower the price of the download prices, which in many cases are just as much or more than a paperback copy) they are going to have are going to have a rough start with the general public, especially in this economy. Still, most people, it seems don't mind reading, at least in short bursts, on a computer screen so as we become more used to this it will become less of an issue. I really think that if the cost of the e-readers gets cut in half (does anyone remember the first DVD players. I bought my first one for $250 dollars. The last one I bought cost $80) more people will be likely to buy them and the stigma that has become associated with online publishing will start to diminish.

I could go on but this post has gone on long enough. I guess, that I would still rather see my work in print and I applaud the magazines that give the reader the choice (it seems that the very small press magazine is ahead of their bigger print brethren on this issue). Overall, I would just like to be paid a fair price for my work and see as many people as possible enjoy it, however that may be.

21 comments:

katey said...

A very well thought out post, thanks for that. I think your final sentence strikes at the heart of the dilemma. When we really sit down and ask what matters most, that's it.

It's taking some trial and error-- and as you say the small presses are really taking care of it-- but we'll get to the happy medium. Kind of exciting times we live in, really.

Just that it's a pain, too. Ha!

Aaron Polson said...

Thanks, Jamie, for articulating the debate with some very fine examples.

While Sand is put together in the simple, old-school way (photocopies and staples), it takes sooooo much time to put out an issue. We're just a small-potatoes operation, too. I can't imagine the effort to put out Cemetery Dance. No wonder publication schedules fall behind.

I know I'm not going to make my living as a writer. My focus now: write well and be read well. That's the real legacy, after all.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Katey- I hope there is a happy medium where pay and profits and readers can come together.

Aaron- the mag I worked at put out two issues a year. It was 108 pages per issue and took four months an issue to put together on student time (and an un-godly amount of time from James Reed and the main poetry editor). I couldn't imagine doing that every month, or week as the newsweeklies do.

I think, in the end you are right, it is the legacy and not the medium that we are leaving behind. good point.

K.C. Shaw said...

Excellent post! I think a large part of why big print magazines aren't making the move to online so successfully is that they can't figure out a good way to make money online. ereaders will definitely be a help to them when they come down in price, if they're smart enough to make issues available in good, readable formats (my Sony will let me read pdf files, but often the text is very small). Smaller publishers have less to lose/less overhead so they can afford to take risks, usually.

It's going to be very interesting in the next few years, just seeing how much things change. I'm willing to bet that magazines are going to go in directions we can't even imagine right now.

Jamie Eyberg said...

K.C.- So many print magazines, literary publications particularly, survive solely on donations, not subscriptions. Others are what is known as a loss leader for the book imprints that they have. They are willing to publish the magazine at cost or little profit as a vehicle to sell the higher profit books (and not much more profit at that) that they produce.

I think you are right that it will probably go in directions we haven't thought of yet, and I think it will be the small press that leads us there.

Natalie L. Sin said...

From a purely selfish level, its nice to have both since I can't afford more than two magazine subscriptions (Shroud and now, Necrotic).

That said, it would be nice to make more than "Happy Meal" money. Or, in my case, Korean Boy Band cd money.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Nat- Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong time period.

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - I agree - the small press will lead us there because they can afford to take risks (not so much capital riding on it). I'm ready to try something...

Jamie Eyberg said...

Mr. Polson, we are all ears.

Catherine J Gardner said...

Excellent post, Jamie. I'm sure the price of ereaders will come down very fast in the next couple of years, plus they'll improve the technology and thus make them more tempting. I'll be interested to see what then happens.

Plus, wouldn't it be wonderful if all magazines went online but you could pick up a print copy if you wished on one of these:

http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/blackwells-book-demand-printer-retro-kindle-rival

Jamie Eyberg said...

Cate- Very cool machine. Thanks for sharing the post about it.

Danielle Ferries said...

There are so many more pros for online but I still prefer print. I love buying books and love curling up on the lounge to read a book. I hate reading from the screen, but I will go that way if its the only option.

Benjamin Solah said...

This debate has really got me thinking. Thanks to you and Aaron, mostly.

Logically, online seems better because you're more likely to get read but the romantic side of me doesn't want the opportunity of reading something in print (not an eReader) to go away.

Flash fiction and online fiction seems to work well. 52 Stitches I think is a promising example of this.

Whereas novels are the other end where I'll only read them in print at the moment.

The medium short stories can sometimes be read online, and print on the rare chance I get hold of one but there is always the option to print out something you find online.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Danielle- there do seem to be more pro's, from all angles for the online right now. I find this a little sad but not unlike the experience that they had in the early part of the last century going from horses to cars. Riding a horse is a much more organic experience but the car is much more expedient. People still ride a lot of horses around here, but not in a utilitarian way.

Benjamin- I like what 52 Stitches is doing because we can sample them online this year and, if I remember correctly, we can have a hard copy next year to relive the stories away from the computer.

Benjamin Solah said...

I am so buying the printed copy of 52 Stitches.

Jamie Eyberg said...

That makes two of us.

BT said...

Make that at least 40+ of us as I'm sure all the contributors will want one.

I think I read on Aaron's blog that he's getting around 250 hits a week so it could be a lot more.

As for the current debate about print v online. I think the major changes are a little way off yet. The rules are still being considered as are the tools the game is to be played with - and, of course, how business can still make a dollar out of it.

I'm still waiting for the ereaders to go global, and to be almost free. I expect them to go that way at some point and for companies to make their money through the content - which will be better for us writers anyway.

The whole industry will contract as there won't be so much money to go around. It will be like the beginnings of the computer age where lots of little companies did bits and pieces but then someone will practically give away the tool and everything will follow - Bill Gates and DOS.

Money will be made on volume sales, and content.

Writers will no longer receive huge advances - not even the celebrities, and options for print runs will become an add-on to a book contract rather than the central point. POD will become king in the paper world.

But I stress, I think this is still a little way off yet.

Carrie Harris said...

And part of the issue is that I think that a lot of readers are polarized by it all. I don't know about the rest of you, but I know people who are rabidly opposed to reading online, so much so that when I sent them a copy of my manuscript to read, they printed the whole thing off. There are others that prefer to read online and haven't picked up a book or magazine in years. I straddle both sides because it seems silly to buy a newspaper that I'm only going to throw away, so I read news online, but I like print books.

It would be great to provide both options, but in most cases I think it's just not feasible. Or have supporting content in each medium to try to induce people to cross the Great Divide. ;)

Jamie Eyberg said...

BT- I think we are on the same page. I see a lot of that coming around too, either that or companies like Random house or Simon and Shulster selling them (e-readers) in packages with 15 books for free or possibly a subscription service.

Carrie- I can't read a book online. I have to print them out. Short stories I can handle, books not.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Thanks for the insights into paper vs. computer. That was well done. I'm with you. I prefer to have a paperback in my hands but I think ultimately we are along for the ride. An old friend published his first novel through Lulu.com and I had no problem downloading (for I think 6.95 US) and reading at my computer. It's not so hard for me to read in small burst during the work day as I have to sit in front of a screen in my office...but I wouldn't want to do it all of the time. Perhaps if people are going to be forced into the download route, all they will have the patience for is short/flash fiction?

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I still much prefer paper...if I had a Kindle-type thingy, I would probably be on the fence between the two media, but I just don't think of a monitor as a reading device.