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.