The Future is Here, the Future is Now
By now it’s all too common a refrain:
You open up your hometown daily newspaper or your favorite magazine and find a letter from the publisher, which states, “Dear Reader, due to economic circumstances beyond our control, we are forced to discontinue operations as a print publication. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon you. We will convert our operation and become a full-fledged web-based publication. By taking advantage of the power of the web, we will use this opportunity to become bigger and better to best serve your needs.”
So here’s my message to you:
Dear Reader, due to economic circumstances beyond our control, we are forced to discontinue operations as a print publication. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon you. We will convert our operation and become a full-fledged web-based publication. By taking advantage of the power of the web, we will use this opportunity to become bigger and better to best serve your needs.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Okay, here’s my reality. Mobius has been a labor of love for almost twenty years. I never went into this to make money. My mission was, is and always shall be to help writers express themselves and to offer a critique of our society. Our credos has always been that writing is power and that a common ground between art and politics must be found and expressed.
Over the years, Mobius has supported itself through advertising and subscription sales. However, I don’t recall a single issue where the magazine actually broke even, which meant I had to pay the difference to the printer out of my own pocket.
Last summer, my wife quit her job and enrolled in graduate school. I am now the sole breadwinner and thus I can no longer afford to bankroll this magazine that I care so much about. I tried to expand advertising revenue, but struck out. As it was, ad revenue had been shrinking, and I was simply not able to attract any new sponsors, not surprising given the current economic climate.
But the web provides a viable alternative that means Mobius can survive and hopefully thrive.
Obviously, there are pros and cons in terms of the question of print versus digital.
Will the new, improved e-version of Mobius be better, worse or roughly the same as before?
The answer is yes.
Flippancy aside, I’d say all of the above.
First, economics won’t be an issue. Given that nobody gets paid, no revenue will be needed to continue operations, though a few bucks here and there would be nice. The only expenses are web hosting and domain fees. I’m certainly glad to not have to take the time to hunt down advertising both for a commitment to get one more ad and later to get paid.
Second, space isn’t an issue. Before, I had to reject stories I liked but couldn’t fit into the print version of the magazine, though I could post them in the previous version of the website. Now I can publish everything that’s fit to print.
Third, the magazine’s reach is universal. Previously, access to the magazine was restricted by geography. Mobius existed as a free publication distributed in Madison, Wisconsin, along with a handful of copies for sale in bookstores across the country. Circulation was 1000. Or rather, the print run was 1000, though I have no idea how many people actually read the magazine. Maybe one hundred copies were simply thrown away by annoyed shopkeepers. Or maybe another hundred copies were each read by ten separate people.
Now, anybody with Internet access can read Mobius. Word can spread through traded links, through Google hits, through word of mouth via Facebook and MySpace. Word can spread like wildfire!
Best of all, the new, improved version of Mobius is not made from paper. Trees are not killed. Landfills are not clogged. Recycling is not required.
On the other hand, the new, improved version of Mobius is not made of paper. You can’t carry a copy of Mobius in your backpack and read it in the bus. You can’t read a short story while sitting on the toilet.
The permanence of the printed word is gone.
I know the digital revolution, print-is-dead crowd will yell “bullshit!” at this point, but there is something special about the printed word. It’s tangible. It feels so much more real. With web-based publications, there’s always that if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-and-nobody-hears-it feeling.
Granted, the old Mobius website averaged about twenty hits a day, which translated into roughly the same “circulation” as before. Still, it just doesn’t seem as real if there’s no ink and there’s no paper. I’ll miss the look of the printed page. I’ll miss the feel of the printed page.
Hell, I’ll miss the smell of the printed page.
And I know some of my writers will as well.
However, the reality is a publication in a print magazine is not necessarily better than a publication in an e-zine. It’s different, but it’s not better or worse. I’ve had writers turn down acceptances from the e-version of Mobius because they preferred to be published in a print magazine, because they had their HEART SET ON BEING PUBLISHED IN PRINT .
Recently, a writer informed me that her feelings were hurt when I e-mailed her to let her know that her story had been accepted, but sad to say, we’d just made the full transition from print to the web.
Her feelings were hurt?
I can certainly understand that she was disappointed, but how the hell did I hurt her feelings?
As Ann Landers would say, this person needs to wake up and smell the coffee because this IS the future. The future is here, the future is now.
I am reminded of a futuristic, science fiction dystopia novel I wrote several years ago that never got published. At the end of the novel, a couple of characters whose very existence had been outlawed retreat into the vast cyber network to a constructed reality as rich and real (and a hell of a lot more pleasant) as their physical reality.
In a way, the same thing is going on right now. Circumstances are effectively outlawing certain print publications. But unlike the pre-digital era where publications would simply cease to exist, they can—
I’m interrupting myself right here. With the previous sentence, I caught myself about to type the word retreat. I stopped myself, realizing the correct word is migrate.
We can migrate to the Internet.
And that is what we must do. Hopefully, we can be proactive about it. Hopefully, we can establish a presence both in print and on the web before being forced to convert fully to the web. Fortunately, that’s what we did at Mobius, which meant the transition was that much easier.
Now, I promise, we will be bigger and better. There will be more fiction, more poetry and more commentary. Publication will not be haphazard, but will follow a quarterly publication schedule with new issues coming out each March, June, September and December. There will be archived material for those who came in late. We’ll work on more immediacy and interactivity so you, the reader, can get more involved. We’ll figure out how to be Kindle compatible so the portability of paper can be reclaimed.
We will do these things because there is nothing else for us to do. We will do these things because we have to.
We will do these things because the future is here, the future is now.