Monday, August 3, 2009

The Future of Literature

Lately, with no musical outlet here in New York, I've resorted to writing. In addition to this blog, a quasi-serious observation of events and people in New York, I've been writing more descriptive pieces about people and events in my life that I hope someday to turn into something bigger. This will mostly not be published here.

I've been thinking of a way to combine the two lately. Take this blog and make legitimate. Even before I was editor of ALT Magazine in college, I've been longing for my own magazine, with a team of writers who were on the same wavelength. It was tentatively titled In On The Joke, and it would include personal essays, political commentary, and observations of people in our generation. I was fueled by Adbusters and Ian MacKaye, and my young punk-rock mindset.

Now that I am older, I don't feel that the title In On The Joke accurately describes what I'm going for anymore. Instead of promoting the ideas of a young, rebellious generation, I think we need a professional, critical look at our leaders, the world, important issues such as health care and economics, and writing that comes straight from someone's heart, fueled by passion rather than an assignment.

There is a strong difference between someone writing passionately and someone writing as an observer, to cover a news story. While the latter is important for reporting, it lacks a certain flair and importance that can move people emotionally. This is the sort of writing I'm looking for. After publishing ALT Magazine for two years, however, I'm well aware of the costs of printing.

So the question is, how legitimate is electronic publication? A friend of mine referred me to a few websites with online magazines. Triple Canopy is very similar to what I am thinking of, with themed issues (just like ALT) arranged as an electronic publication. However, as with the first installment of ALT Online, this reaches a much smaller audience.

Electric Literature
, a collection of fiction, distributes their work through paperback, iPhone, Kindle, and eBook. While it is affordable ($21 for 6 issues), I'd like to make my publication free of charge.

With the Kindle and Twitter gaining popularity, the question remains: is print media going to remain relevant? Would it be worth it to invest in printing a magazine and produce a tangible product, or is free electronic publication going to reach a wider audience? Does anyone care about online content, or do they simply skim through it?

I'm interested in your feedback, and if you're willing to jump-start this project with me, let me know. I want to find writers, designers, and artists. Anyone with something to say.


  1. Answers:

    Print, for the most part, is dead/dying. From the newsbreaking perspective, it simply cannot compete with the ever-growing guerrilla journalist population (poke around the Internet sometime for a view on just how many important stories were broken by credential-less cretins).
    And this dinosaur's pace is translating into newspaper closures, bankruptcies, and reorganizations. And it's not just papers that are suffering - Blender and Vibe both ceased publication this year, and Rolling Stone reduced its publication size to standard-magazine format last October, if you're looking close to home. But it's an industrywide trend, and its pace is only going to keep accelerating.

    But with these major powers slowly vacating the newsstands, they leave niches to be filled. I feel that physical publications can be successful in a locally-produced, small-market scenario. Referring again to music magazines, I read an article not long ago in Slate examining their embattled state (won't let me post the link here but I'll pass it along to your Facebook); one of its major points is that the pipeline between artist and consumer is no longer so tightly controlled. The countercultural movements that coalesced around genres (and, consequently, the magazines that covered them) have dissolved in the wake of the technological onslaught which is the real defining point of our generation. For all practical purposes, most music can be accessed anywhere, anytime, through a variety of different methods; the cross-pollination that has resulted from this freedom of information has made the persuasive and pompous hyperventilation of most music critics obsolete. With the advent of the Internet, our purchasing power has become unlimited.

    Excuse my own hyperventilation there! - Point being, major publications have set the stage for their mass hara kiri; and while the old guard is busy weeping over lost profits at their wake, the gates are left unattended. Perfect time to start your magazine. But the best course of action is an online-only publication first. If you have quality content and the means to get it out there - and most importantly, the ability for people to interact as much as possible with it - you will have a reader base. Folks are interested in forums to share their ideas and connect with other people, and we all suffer from the symptom of being more comfotable reaching out to others online than in person. So cultivating that feeling - and encouraging readers to build communities outside of the electronic boundaries - will further ensure your success. Publications of the future won't offer commentary on social movements and events as much as they will offer a space for them to happen. And that's an exciting thing.

    Apologies for the scatterbrained commentary, sir Kleeb. I'd be happy to contribute some writing if you'd be interested. Lemme know how things are.

    Dave Pfister

  2. Insightful article, and I completely agree. The music journalist is being phased out, and maybe for the better. When was the last time you read a music magazine? I know I can find all the information I want online. Which leads me to believe the internet is the future of print.

    HOWEVER, I don't want to rule out print as a viable medium if done correctly. Aside from pictures and text, there is something unique about a tangible product. I don't want to be another online magazine. I don't want to write reviews or cover news stories. There is already enough of that out there.

    I want to talk about important issues. I want to talk about things people care passionately about. I want my writers to feel strongly about what they're writing and promote it, not for the magazine's sake, but for their own sake. Because they WANT people to read about this topic.

    So the question remains, what is the best way to do this? I guess the beginning is online, but what sort of eye-catching things can we do to make this stand out? I'd like to bring in some artists with some talent, who can capture striking images or create amazing art that the readers will remember. It's not enough to write well anymore.

    I'll be asking a number of people to join an online forum soon so we can brainstorm ideas. You're surely invited.