A quibble with electronic publishing

I’m a little worried.

Just a little worried.

The majority of things I’ve had published are in print. They  haven’t earned me a fortune–five dollars here, twenty dollars there–but a least I have a copy of them. Actually, two copies of them, because most of the ” legitimate” small journals pay in copies. They publish your story, poem, essay and pay you with two copies of the issue in which you appear. Two copies placed with the others in a chest at the foot of my bed.

And then along comes the Internet. Instant gratification. Electronic submissions. Electronic responses. Usually much quicker than traditional ways.

The best story I think I’ve ever wrote was published on line. “Nadja and the Dream of Teeth” first appeared through the Dublin Writer’s Workshop in the journal The Electric Acorn.

Then it was published electronically by The Richmond Review (UK). The editor at The Richmond Review was wonderful. She asked questions, made good suggestions, and, overall, made me tighten things up.  All through e-mails. From across the pond. This was the internet at its best.

And then it appeared electronically. It was beautiful. Nice layout. Clean font. Well done. I was proud of the story and proud of its being out there.

Now several years later, the site is down. Just a blank white page. Try it. Google “Richmond review uk” and you’ll find the link.  And then a pure white page. Where is my story? Not there. Not archived. Nowhere. And it was a legitimate journal!

Sort of the same thing with another story– “Pierced.” Except the journal it appeared in didn’t disappear; it sold its domain name to a Japanese company. Try to find my story and you’ll be staring at a beautiful chrysanthemum surrounded by Japanese writing. I am pretty sure that it is not my story translated into Japanese.

So. No big deal. Two short stories that meant something to me but certainly not to anyone else. Vanished. Pouf! But what if this was important material? Is there a fear that important things might simply disappear after a given time?

I know the saying that nothing ever disappears in cyberspace, but will future researchers, historians, students all have the tools necessary to recover those things that have?

Granted there is much that is superfluous, so much that is ephemeral on the Web. Much of it–my own scribblings included– really doesn’t deserve a long shelf life. But, by caching materials away so easily are we also tossing away things of lasting value.  I don’t mean the works of a future Shakespeare or a document of “Declaration of Independence” import.  I mean things like the novelist Rick Moody’s music reviews on Rumpus or Margaret Atwood’s book reviews for The Guardian or the Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s powerful reading of “At Roane Head.”  My fear is that this stuff–which is important stuff, important aspects of our culture, glimpses into who we are–will someday disappear.  Without a trace.  Without record.

Is it the nature of blogging or on-line writing in general to be ephemeral? Is that what is the draw? Do we read it not expecting ever to go back to it.  I don’t know.

But it does worry me at times.

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11 thoughts on “A quibble with electronic publishing

  1. I often wonder what will become of all of the creative work that is uploaded to the Net, in the span of ‘deep time’. When it comes time for an Amazon or Kindle backlog to be remaindered, where does it go? Is it archived for future research? Is it simply dumped into the ether? Will some concerned rogue cube-rat make gigaflop copies on the fly, onto a chip the size of a period, ‘just in case’, followed by his/her grandson/granddaughter, to be rifled through by a half-crazed researcher 400 years hence?

    I think so. I think of the internet as a kind of safety net that is cast far and wide, that will rescue a few gems from the mountains of mud that will be blasted away by the Culture-Raiders. We’ll all be dead, the work will be public domain (because we’re artists, and we’re sloppy), and these rogue miners will be digging for a few good-sized nuggets to which they can stake a claim, in order to make a few bucks reviving the eight-volume set of The Lost Works of Bamsplat B. Bunwobble, printed two-sided, on gilt-edged, genuine Paperite, with Spam-O-Leatherine covers. $4,999.99, for a limited time only.

    As opposed to one paper copy on the floor, that slipped off of your nightstand, and is gilded with so much hair and pet dander that nobody will touch it without gloves; but maybe someone will.

  2. Having digitally printed 1-10 copies of several books (with nice color paperback covers) in order to send out to reviewers, I can still create a permanent lump of paper to squeeze into the bookshelf! I MUST HAVE printed copies as I KNOW how much I’ve lost in the eWorld…maybe I should start a “One-Copy Bookman.com” or something like that! I’m also a horrible packrat so I keep backup copies of so much – sitting in CDs on bookshelves! “Let it go Harris” I keep saying rather than “you’ll be dust soon…don’t leave a lot of crap for the grandkids to sift through in utter puzzlement and astonishment”…and so it goes…but printed books cannot be deleted with a keystroke…and I love the smell of ink on paper…sadly toner doesn’t move me but it sticks!

  3. Paper is just as liable to become lost in time, of course. (Hemingway’s suitcase comes to mind.) In fact, everything will get lost in time eventually. Including us. What we do with love is an act of defiance against the void. The fact that we will lose to the void is, in many ways, beside the point.

    • Peter, what I feel you say so much more eloquently. As Beckett once said “Fail. Fail better.” That is where we are, and, yes, our little creations are our way of thumbing our noses at the the universe. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I agree. It was so strange that my dissertation got published electronically and I don’t have a real copy of it.

    • Right. You put in agonizing work to finish your dissertation and the thought that now it is simply a bunch of coded 1s and 0s must be frustrating. I am not a luddite by no means, but I worry about things disappearing. Congrats, by the way, on your dissertation.

  5. I think the best we can hope for is that people enjoy our creations in the moment. Although, when I really enjoy something I read, I have been known to copy/paste the text onto my personal computer to save for future use. The nice thing about the internet is that, so long as you have the original copy (or any copy, for that matter), material can always be re-posted on another site. For the book I’m self-publishing, I was considering just going the ebook route, but then I had the same thought process as you. So I’m getting it printed as well. The vast majority of people will buy the ebook version, but at least I have something physical and lasting to make sure my work lives on 🙂

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