Thursday, June 18, 2009

Electric Literature

One more from me before I get back to my other writing. I got an email this morning from the people at this new mostly on-line literary magazine, and though we're reluctant to do publicity for people, it looks sort of interesting and has got me thinking about the future of literary magazines. So I'm going to go ahead and talk about it before I've even read it, as dubious a proposition as that is!

Most notable, to me, is the fact that they pay writers $1000 a story -- a pretty foolproof way to get big names attached to their mag, and first dibs at a lot of genuinely good stuff. How many magazines pay that much for stories? Maybe five.

Also notable are the J. Crew models licking frogs and swilling malt liquor on the website -- shorthand, I suppose, for We are not going to be publishing William Trevor any time soon. Also, We are trying extremely hard to look hip. The feel of the stories (you can get a preview on the site) seems a little strenuously outré, kind of like McSweeney's minus the cute, plus Bladerunner.

The magazine is available in every format you can think of except, it seems, audiobook. And maybe I'm old, but I'm pretty typical of many readers of literary fiction, and I still haven't shifted over to reading fiction on line, or on a screen of any kind. Partly this is because I work at a bookstore and, like an Amish wheelwright, feel responsible for maintaining the Old Ways, and partly because nothing has pushed me in that direction. I get all the fiction I need in book and magazine form. I don't have a Kindle because I hate everything about them: the heavy marketing, the undercutting of bookstores, the high price, the fact that it's another screen, and the proprietary content -- you can't share your Kindle books with friends or get them out of the library. Screw dat! I could get books on my iPod but it's too small to stare at for long. Still. I feel like maybe I should start reading on-line fiction. It's the future...

You can get a print-on-demand hard copy of the magazine, too, and if one arrives at my bookstore, I'll definitely read it. Though I'm still trying to process that woman with the frog.

The big question: how can Electric Literature afford to pay $5000 for content every issue??? Plus more to pay the guy who has to read all those jillions of submissions they're going to get, keep the office lights on, bandwidth, or whatever. It seems crazy, but time will tell. Maybe big pay for writers combined with an aggressively unstuffy look is a winning formula.

Also interesting: there doesn't seem to be a way to subscribe to the thing. I wonder why not? [on edit: apparentely subscriptions are coming soon, along with the iPhone application.]

22 comments:

jon said...

They are hoping that Ad revenues will pay the bills. There is no subscription because it has been demonstrated that the people who read stuff online don't want to pay for it, that's why they read it online. It hasn't been proved anywhere that Ads can really support such a thing, i don't think. As a writer, I only read print, or short things like this blog. As a writer, I only publish online, because I can't get published anywhere else. I'm like you, Amish. But that doesn't stop me from providing content. I feel like a hypocrite. Alas!

jrlennon said...

Well, I told my agent to send 'em a story, anyway!

I like the idea, and I don't even mind the notion of reading on non-paper. But as I've said here before, I want an e-book reader that is as useful to me as my iPod--that is, will take any format, is not tethered to a particular retail outlet, works reliably, and doesn't sacrifice too much of the experience of enjoying the content. the Kindle just ain't it, not yet.

The price is quite reasonable, though, and given an adequate delivery device, and the name of one writer per issue that I like (Jim Shepard would be enough this go-round), I'd pony up for some litty goodness.

jrlennon said...

I mean hell, a thousand bucks, that's 250 rolls of Tri-X.

Matt said...

"I mean hell, a thousand bucks, that's 250 rolls of Tri-X."

Thank you: quote of the year (thus far).

rmellis said...

Heck, it's a new car!

Einar said...

I've been a reader of Five Chapters for quite some time. As a matter of fact JRL's name is what hooked me in. How does he (Dave Daley) do it. There is no ads on his site and every book give-away I've 'entered' I've 'won.' I haven't even paid postage.

Oh, I print out the day's section, put the pages in my pocket and read it when I find myself with a few minutes to spend.

Günter said...

Pretty sure they're working on the subscriptions thing. From the FAQ:

"Can I subscribe?

"Subscriptions will be available in all formats shortly. To be notified, please add your name to our email list."

rmellis said...

Gunter: thanks for the correction; I thought I read the site thoroughly but apparently not.

jrlennon said...

Einar, the way Dave Daley does it is be convincing us to give him stuff for free! It's a labor of love...

jrlennon said...

I meant "by convincing" of course...

Einar said...

Thanks for shattering the illusion I lived under by thinking Dave Daley was somehow quite wealthy and paid his writers handsomely while providing great new fiction to his readers without so much as a dating service ad to mare the prose. I'm rather disappointed, to be honest. I enjoy 'free' content, to be sure, but I don't think professional writers should work for $0.

A great fan of this site. The three of you seem to nail it with every post, and your readers here leave insightful and useful comments. Get back to work now. A couple posts ago you doubted anyone was anxiously waiting for you to finish something new, not true.

bigscarygiraffe said...

I second above.

jrlennon said...

Thanks a lot, Einar! We'd been kind of lax for a while but have been trying to keep the blog better updated lately...I'm delighted so many people have been visiting.

Dave Daley's kind of a special case...I don't think many editors could convince writers to pony up free stories...but he is well known among writers for having hatched weird and interesting projects for various magazines, some of which did indeed pay, and all of which were great fun to do...among them the tag-team fiction series for...Newsday maybe? can't recall...and the 20-minutes pieces for McSweeney's. Stuff nobody would have written ordinarily. So he's a friend to a lot of writers, and a pleasure to work with, and I would imagine people feel great about contributing to 5 Chapters.

bigscarygiraffe, I've been trying to email you! Send me your current address if you will...

christianbauman said...

I don't know nothin' about nothin' but I know I really like William Trevor...

Anonymous said...

"It hasn't been proved anywhere that Ads can really support such a thing, i don't think."

Didn't Vice magazine work this way in the early days?

Molly said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUClJFjFEgk

Martha Nichols said...

Second issue is about to come out, complete with coverage in the NY Times yesterday. I was very intrigued after reading the Times piece, then went to the site and looked at the blog--and went ker-thunk. A style of writing I really don't like, so hipsterish and so unnecessarily look-at-me.

So now I'm not sure about the whole idea of tweeting installments of short stories.

But in my googling today, I hit upon Ward Six, and glad I did. You are all very wry and spot-on.

I am adding you to the blogroll of Talking Writing, a site I contribute to. Perhaps you'll come check us out and do the same:

http://talkingwriting.blogspot.com

To the right kind of coolness...

Zoey Kruger said...

DAMN! I'd say take the money! =] lol

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molly YEH! said...

this new fantastic idea of the 21st century and your one question is about money???
interesting.
i'm meeting with the guys tomorrow to write an article for a newspaper. anything else you'd like me to ask??

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