Dueling Columns 2 – Print vs. Online

Print or Online?

Print or Online?

Print vs. Online – The great debate

So Larina and I are once again at it. We’re going to try to be a little more regular about this, but things got in the way in the past month – birth, death, work, alcohol, nudity, football, kids, and beef jerky. Not necessarily in that order.

Take a gander at my thoughts here, speak up, add something to the conversation if you want to, and then see what she has to say over here Larina Print vs. Online

I am taking the online side of this debate. SO…let the games begin.


It used to be that publishing your fiction online was frowned upon. But things have changed. For many reasons, online publishing has gotten better, has expanded its audience, and in the process, has eliminated much of the stink. It has changed, for the better. And I’m pretty excited about it.

Here are some reasons why online fiction has blown up.

1. COST: Many print journals, whether at universities or independent presses, have decided to change to online publishing only. The recession has hit everyone and it is much more affordable to post up short stories and host it online, even if you spend money designing a really cool site. There are also many FREE or cheap sites out there, such as WordPress.com. Print costs, postage, and declining readerships have forced many publications to move online.

2. EXTENSIONS: Many respectable presses, journals and magazines have added an online aspect to what they already do in print. The New Yorker has been publishing fiction online for a long time now. Dzanc just rolled out The Collagist, a new web presence to add to its already compelling Monkeybicycle, Dzanc Books, OV Books and Black Lawrence Press. It’s happening all the time now. And that lends an air of credibility. When a publication that already wins awards, publishes the authors you love, and generally does good work decides to move online, why wouldn’t you trust that their online work would be just as good? I haven’t seen any drop off in the writing.

3. EYES: There are many reasons for publishing online, but getting new people to read your work, and getting a LOT of people to read it, is one. I recently had a story posted up at Troubadour 21 and it has over 200 hits, as we speak. Now, I doubt that all of those are unique visitors, and I promise that I did not click that link 199 times, but even if HALF of those people reading my work are new to me, I’m very happy with that. Most of us are not novelists, nor do we make a living as writers. We are not selling a million copies of our books. Yet. So for now, we have to take what we can get. You could publish in a print journal, and maybe 100 people would pick it up, maybe a couple hundred, but with the internet, there is always the possibility or more, an ENDLESS number of people that could read your work. And it’ll never go out of print.

4. IMMEDIACY: You run into somebody on the street, you chat somebody up at AWP, or a reading, or run into an ex-girlfriend at the grocery store. Honest, it was a coincidence. I don’t personally carry around copies of my work. And I wouldn’t, even if I HAD twenty copies of Gold Dust or Vain or the upcoming Shivers VI from Cemetery Dance. Not to mention the cost involved with that. BUT, I do carry around business cards with my blog on it, and my contact information. I can refer people to this blog, and subsequently, to my online fiction. I can post up in forums. I can Facebook you to death, Tweet in your ear until it bleeds. The point being, I can get you to my work, NOW. If you want to go there. If my work were ONLY in print, that would be much harder. Publishing online is a good alternative, a way of showcasing your work, and as fast and easy as a mouse click. I’ve had agents and editors read my work online and ask for a story or full manuscript before. It can be a great resource.

5. QUALITY: Like any book you pick up in a bookstore or at the library, the quality will vary. There are certainly terrible websites out there with weak writing. Just like there are published books that are empty and vague. Places like The New Yorker, The Missouri Review, The Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic, we all know those are great places to publish. But what about the lesser known journals and magazines? The overall quality of online fiction has really improved. All you have to do is chase down your favorite authors, and see what they are publishing online. You’ll see that many established, as well as emerging authors, are publishing online now. Take the following sentence and fill in the blanks. It is your new mantra.

If _______________ is good enough for _______________, it’s good enough for me.

Maybe those publications are Juked, Hobart, Flatmancrooked, Dogzplot, Keyhole, Opium, Dogmatika, Word Riot, 3:AM, Nerve, The Rumpus, elimae, FRiGG, Pank, mud luscious or SmokeLong Quarterly.

Maybe those authors are Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, Blake Butler, Steve Almond, Benjamin Percy, Amelia Gray, Roy Kesey, Joe Meno, Matt Bell, Holly Goddard Jones, Stephen Elliott or Mary Miller.

6. TECHNOLOGY: These days, we are a digital society. We are fast and furious in everything we do. We update our Facebook status, we Tweet, we build our profiles on a million forums, we blog. So it only makes sense that we publish online, that we download podcasts and ebooks. Printed books and printed magazines or journals will probably not go away. Ever. BUT…there is a demand for everything, now, in my mouth, give it to me, stick it in. Why should that be any different with our fiction? Don’t get me wrong, one of the simple pleasures in life is holding a book, be it a paperback, or a hefty novel bound in leather. I like it. I like to touch it. To hold it. But I also find myself with down time at work, a spare moment in a coffehouse or stuck at an airport with my laptop. And I’ve read so many great stories while I’ve waited. I’ve tracked down my favorite authors, such as the latest George Saunders at TNY. I’ve run across a new voice, and Googled that name after reading ONE compelling story, only to fine more online, and then a collection of shorts for sale, bought it, and attended a reading in my city. It’s all connected, and it can be very exciting.


As a reader, somebody who enjoys good fiction wherever you can find it, you wouldn’t be here at my blog if you didn’t agree with me to a certain degree. You ARE online, aren’t you? And while this isn’t FICTION, there are tons of stories over there under my Table of Contents, under the Short Story section, as well as links to other authors and their work, and some fantastic presses and online journals. So go read. Check it out. Have fun.

To the writers – don’t be afraid. If you’re such a good writer, go out and write more. And put it online. Write to a theme issue, write to a particular aesthetic, stretch yourself. Make us laugh so hard we piss our pants. Make us gag. Make us a little bit horny. Make us tear up a bit. Maybe even touch a nerve. Write a horror story or an erotic tale, dabble in noir, or the surreal, write a fairy tale, or serialize your novella. But get your work out there. I think that’s one of the best things about putting your work online. It’s OUT THERE. For people to enjoy. You can’t get discovered if people can’t find your work.

14 Comments on “Dueling Columns 2 – Print vs. Online”

  1. Pingback: Dueling Columns: Online or Print Pubs? « Significance & Inspiration

  2. Really great column. You covered all the bases as to why I enjoy online fiction. While I don’t prefer it, necessarily, I definitely see it as a viable means of getting eyes on our work.

  3. Great points, man.

    My biggest reason to prefer online over print lately is simply that I recently moved. I don’t know anyone here, and they are much more likely to click a link or visit a website than pick up something printed.

  4. It would be hard to argue with your logic, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. But your arguments may not be necessary. I’ve long said I wouldn’t care to cozy up in a chair by the fire with my laptop, but having seen my first Kindle just last week, (and yes, I must live a sheltered life out here in the country, musn’t I?) I have to say that I want an e-reader. Not a Kindle. I’m sure the gizmo I want, one you can control yourself without an Amazon account, will come soon. And I heard the cost of a Kindle is coming down due to, gasp, competition.

    But of course print books won’t fade away in our lifetime. People still produce, sell, and buy music on vinyl for God’s sake. Talk about retro.

  5. While none of my work is good enough to want to steal, there was a huge deal recently when a bunch of Angel Zapata’s stuff was stolen word for word by an overseas writer. He saw one then went digging. Turned out this guy took dozens of Angel’s pieces and sold them to other online publications under his own name. I guess that’s the downside.

  6. Some really good points here, Richard. There are two that are troublesome to me, though. One is the issue of exposure. If it’s tough to be chosen out of a crowd of print magazines, it’s ten times harder to be picked out of the truly huge crowd online. I don’t want to downplay anyone’s online success, but the truth is that hit counts are not an accurate measurement of whether or not a story/poem/essay is being read. Someone can search for “Larina Warnock” from Germany and wind up on my web site or at The Guardian where some of my poetry has appeared and the very second they realize that it’s the wrong Larina Warnock, they leave. And it counts as a hit. Even though they were there for under 30 seconds. In order to really determine a readership, you have to calculate in 1) unique visitors, 2) length of stay, and 3) how many people bookmarked it which can be an indication that they intend to come back and read it later.

    The other issue I have is around payment. This is a potentially controversial issue, but writers have been underpaid for so long that they’ve fallen into the trap of thinking, “Exposure is payment.” It isn’t. Because in six months or a year, the editor of that web site is either going to take your story down permanently (bad, bad, bad!) or archive it somewhere that you may or may not be able to find. Now, the payment doesn’t have to be cash. Advertising is expensive and an advertisement can serve as payment with a quantifiable value. Further opportunities to participate with a journal can be payment and can drastically increase exposure to a writer’s work by giving them multiple opportunities to be “picked out of the crowd” so to speak. A contributor’s copy that they can share with people can be payment (even if it’s a .pdf copy). A subscription can be payment. Too few online publishing venues think outside of the box and as a result, take advantage of writers who just want their work to be read. Bottom line: writers SHOULD be paid SOMETHING for their work. What other art form isn’t?

    Fun stuff–thanks!

  7. Glad to see people chiming in.

    @ Caleb – thanks. I don’t know if I PREFER online, and I do see a need for print, and enjoy being in print myself, but for many reasons, being online can be just just as effective, depending on your goals.

    @ David – appreciate the comments. And I too love holding a book. Maybe online fiction, especially flash, is in some ways similar to enjoying movies in the theatre vs. at home. Both are very different experiences, but are there to fill different needs.

    @ Cat – I heard about that. And that’s a shame, but we can’t let one nut ruin the whole forest, eh? And what happened to this guy or the work he stole? In the end he was found out, and the original author PROBABLY got some good exposure. But that does suck. I hope if he really SOLD them that he was forced to give that money to Zapata.

    @ Larina – how DARE you come in my house and talk to me this way. KIDDING. Let me address your comments. Rebut the rebuttal.

    Exposure. I think there are a LOT of great sites, and the discerning reader will find the good ones. In two years I’ve found many great places to publish online and have broken into several (i.e., Word Riot, Dogmatika, and 3:AM Magazine) and am still trying to get into many others. There will be eyes there. Will this reach the vast consumer audience? No. But neither will the tiny run print journals. Mass sales and readership – why that’s talking about being a popular writer, like say Stephen King or John Grisham or JK Rowling. And WHO would want that?

    Traffic. Sure, that’s hard to check. I know that Troubadour is just random hits, INCLUDING my own, so it’s probably only a fraction of unique visitors. You have a WordPress, and know we can track visitors. I believe that the hits I see each month (and correct if I’m wrong) ARE for unique visitors. Again, online won’t get you 10,000 viewers, but neither will most small press journals, no matter how prestigious.

    Payment. That’s tough. I know. But it’s just very hard to get paid for every story. Many editors are just going to go with authors they know, that will bring in readers, loyal readers. Exposure IS payment, that publishing credit goes on your writer’s resume. And it matters, it can lead to other writing assignments, editors that approach you for work, it has happened to me. And what about that contributor’s copy? Sure, it’s nice. Put it on the shelf. It’s great for the ego, the library, and to show friends and family. But what is it WORTH? Not much, in monetary value, or otherwise. It’s nice to have. There is pride involved, but I’m just as proud of my work up at some online places as I am of my print work.

    For me when it comes to my babies, the stories that I really love I want them to be placed in the most prestigious publication I can, or the “coolest” and get paid the most amount of money, with the biggest audience I can get. I’ll take whatever combination of those variables comes my way.

    And lots of artists, as well as any other line of work, give their work away. Photographers do it all the time, as do bloggers/columnists, graphic designers, bands, etc. Sure, I agree with you, we SHOULD all get paid. And paid well. But that’s just not the reality of the world we’re in.

    I think for many of us, the dream is not only to be a published novelist or short story writer, but to be able to do it for a living. To garner respect, to have a following, to entertain and amaze. Many of us would like to teach. Some us would like to edit and publish others as well. It’s all connected.

    Publishing online is just part of this complicated equation.

    Great discussion.


  8. Richard, per your comment to Larina, while many may wish to make a living writing, let me tell you that there are also many of us who have no desire for that at all. As soon as you are getting paid, you’re working for someone else. As soon as you’re working for someone else, you’re being asked to change the way you do things, be it the actual composition of your work, or via deadlines, or appearances, or whatever.

    My dream is to be read, but to write what I want, when I want, and appear where and when I want. In other words, like Mr. Sinatra, I wanna do it, and I wanna do it my way.

    Thanks, I’ll surrender the soap box now!

  9. Last year I wrote a feature on the world of online publishing. For that feature, I interviewed several top poets, a print editor from a highly-regarded (paying) print magazine, and a couple of editors of long-standing and award-winning online journals. One of the latter editors reported that they no longer submitted to online publishing markets because they didn’t count on her curriculum vitae toward 1) her PhD and 2) her tenure-track teaching position. None of them counted. Not even the paid ones. Is that fair? No. Does it make sense? No. But it’s a fact of the literary world that will change, but will continue to change very, very slowly. If someone is publishing online so they can teach, I’m afraid they may be misguided as to the reality of the teaching field. The question about contributor copies and their value relates directly to this. A contributor copy is undeniable proof of publication that can be taken to job interviews, readings, workshops you may be teaching or taking, and so on. I have actually used my contributor copies at job interviews. 🙂

  10. @ David – okay, sure, I get you. And that’s your set of priorities. If you want to set your own rules and not get paid, good for you. An editor can tell you to change a story while not paying you just as easily as one that is paying you. Although, I imagine if they are paying they certainly have more pull. More power to you bro, live the dream.

    @ Larina – oh, so you SUCKERED me into this side of the debate. I see now. 🙂 I didn’t realize that publishing online does not “count” towards a PhD. What if you win a Pushcart, or get into BASS after being online, or are in the Dzanc Best of the Web? I guess nothing that comes before the actual print edition matters? What about places that now publish online, universities. Is that just a waste of time then? That’s a shame. I’d say that if you get paid, you get paid. But I wasn’t aware of the intricacies of tenure track positions.

    And I wasn’t saying that people are publishing online SO they can teach. I was saying that people like myself are involved with many different aspects of the writing world, and part of that may be teaching.

    As far as academia, I definitely think that getting into print is a whole different thing, something I probably should have touched on. You want to be in PRINT with Missouri Review, Granta, The New Yorker, or wherever. I’m sure that many places publish these stories online after the fact, as a convenience to their readers only. And I’m glad that taking in a copy of a journal to a job interview has been a benefit. But that might be a heavy suitcase to lug around, eh? 🙂

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