An exploration of how, because of technology, times in the publishing industry are a-changing.
by C.F. Lindsey, Fiction Reader
Fellow Arkanasans, let’s talk digital. We, in case you were unaware, live in a world of pixels. Life is defined by our online presences and the content which we post. Your life—as of this moment—is consumed by the words I am presenting to you on your computer screen. Let’s take a moment to marvel in this amazing process: my thoughts are being presented to you, from far and wide, via a piping of digital content through space and time to compile in front of your face in the form of constantly-firing-pixels, delineating visual expression to your cognitive reality. This is an amazing process, beyond my meager comprehension as a mere purveyor of words; however, it presents a question to me as a curator of the literary form: what is the future of literature within this digital age? Editor of the journal AGNI, Sven Birkerts—in his article “Reading the Tea Leaves: Notations on the Changing Look of the Literary”, states “Change itself is changing” (3). What does this mean for our futures, dear writers? One thing is for certain in that the future is quite simple: we can adapt to change or be swept underneath the rug of society. In the words of the Nobel Prize winner in Literature Bob Dylan, “for the times they are a-changin’.”
Now, I want to start with addressing the groaning feeling of despair that some of you, if you are anything like me, might be feeling when it comes to this subject. As someone who studies classic, canonical literature, and has an extreme love for the feel of paper between my fingers, this concept of a digital take-over can seem quite bleak. What does this mean for the classic practice of leafing through a novel or the sleek, glossy pages of your favorite lit mag? Birkerts, on the one hand, would lead you to believe that this is an abysmal move that surely spells out the doom of the literary arts as we know it. The key phrase here is “as we know it.” Is the changing of literature a bad thing? I particularly think not, but you have your own opinions, dear readers. In his article, Birkerts discusses a subway trip on his way to the airport while thinking on the matter of change. He says that this digital change “…was already in place. Every person in that car was either staring at a phone or reading pad, or standing with a faraway look in her eyes and a wire in her ear” (6). The change is happening or already has happened, friends. The way we communicate, disseminate information, speak, hear, see, the very fabric of human operation is changing. On one hand, this is exquisitely exhilarating in the means that we are breaking down barriers of differences and emerging in a world without definitions and classifications. We, the world, are becoming a community through the push of technological advancement. According to Birkerts, however, the one area that is lacking in this technological push is the literary. Birkerts discusses a 2014 article from the Washington Post by Matt McFarland discussing this lack of transformation when it comes to the publishing industry. “Technology has reshaped everything from how we communicate to how we find a mate or a job. Yet the experience of reading books remains largely untransformed, and the popularity of books has suffered in the face of flashier media formats that are perfected for our busy world” (9). Birkerts continues his discussion on this subject by stating how, without changing the way literature is presented to readers, the future will be bleak for writers and readers alike. The article, sadly, continues on this sorrowful tempo for the remainder of Birkerts discussion.
I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for some good news right now after delving into such a pit of sorrow. There is hope, dear readers. Three articles discussing the same subject—from authors Matthew Stadler, Sandra Beasley, and Sian Cain—put a more positive spin on the moves of literature in the digital age. Beasley’s article, published through Poets and Writers, discusses the growing number of online literary journals, such as Arkana itself, versus the print journals that have always occupied the literary spectrum. This growth, as Beasley states, is not only visible in the number of online lit mags popping up, but how the “prestige” of publishing is shining through the scope of these online publications. In the past, let’s say 10 years ago, the game of publishing was dominated by print with the opportunity of online publishing being scoffed at as for the amateur writer. If you wanted to play in the literary game, you aimed to see your name in print. Today, however—according to Beasley, “…modern writers are increasingly defined by the work they have available online. Those serious about developing a career have to think about managing that virtual dimension” and the best way to accomplish this is to “…read online journals, evaluate them, and send them work you’re proud to have associated with your name” (Beasley 2).
There is no doubt that literature is shifting with the times, despite the beliefs of some, and this is good news for us. Another question to be considered, though: is this shift permanent? Matthew Stadler, in his article “The Ends of the Book: Reading, Economies and Publics,” believes in another possibility. He touches very minutely on the shift to online, instead tending to focus on reading/publishing versus shopping mentalities and how we, the literary community, have to abandon the latter to protect the former. His solution to the falling popularity of literary publishing is to implement an on-demand printing system. This seems to coincide with Sian Cain’s findings that—through a survey—62% of 16-24 year olds prefer reading from print, breaking from the rising popularity of online media. Whether this model will be of any effect on the literary community seems unlikely, but is yet to be determined.
Despite anyone’s preference between print or digital publishing, one thing is certain: the scape of the literary world is changing. Magazines, such as Arkana, are at the forefront of this movement by supplying a place for marginalized or unheard voices to make their opinions and beliefs known through the literary arts. No matter the shifts in the landscape of our community, I am confident that literature will thrive in magazines like Arkana, and many others, due to the passion that is put forth by the authors and publishers alike. I look forward to seeing where the future, and the growing opportunities in publishing, will take us. Until then, happy reading, my friends.
C.F. Lindsey is full-time writer and part-time fly fishing guide pursuing his MFA in Fiction at the University of Central Arkansas. After shirking a promising law career, C.F. hopped a train before landing on a riverbank where he began writing fiction. His works have been featured in The Wilderness House Literary Review, The Wagon Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Nebo: A Literary Journal, and other online and print publications. He resides in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains with his wife and two dogs.