Taking an e-stand

The inequity between electronic publications and print publications has been a brewing prejudice in the back of my mind for months now. It’s not just their respective merits, it’s the way they’re perceived, the way they’re misunderstood.

Even many webzine editors and publishers are guilty of it. The digital age has brought new and exciting ways to present the word. We live in a post-modern post-anything society with tremendous potential, yet the vast majority readers, writers, and editors appear to want their electronic publications to appear, behave, and BE just like a paper-based book. Truly, I can’t believe editors and publishers don’t realise that to compete with print publications by offering a near-identical product will mean they’ll always be running second, always the poor cousins.

A great new webzine, Susurrus: The Literature of Madness, (which I’ve submitted to the other day) is a shining example of doing something *different* with the web. They offer a reading (and viewing) experience completely unlike anything that can be done in print. And it perfectly suits their theme.

We’ve been conscious of the electronic/print rift since Shadowed Realms’ inception. We strive to find ways to suit fiction to the web, and have had a few modest successes in doing so.

Anyway, this was all precipitated by the pseudo-rant below, which is an excerpt of an email which was sent to the Aurealis awards tonight regarding entering electronic works (specifically Shadow Box stories) for consideration. It must be said that I stated this in the interest of constructive criticism and continued working partnerships, and we’re all still friends. *I hope* 😉

[rant begins]

…while I’m happy to print out Shadowed Realms stories and send them, and understand this is what awards judges prefer (and not just the Aurealis awards) based on the weight of social expectation of what constitutes the way we read and appreciate literature, I feel electronic publications are at a significant disadvantage in this system. Yes, awards are based on the merit of the story alone, but this is too simplistic an equation, as the appeal of a story is also tied to its aesthetic merits. In short, e-publications print out and send stories in bland manuscript format, whereas print publication hold that extra glamour of colour covers, illustrations, and eye-pleasing layout. It may be a minor judging consideration, but one that will inevitably affect some of the judging.

It’s all about context – the judges get to appreciate a story in a print magazine or anthology in the context of the entire package. The way the editors intended the story to be read.

While it’s true that many electronic zines merely emulate their print cousins, we here at Shadowed Realms (and especially with the Shadow Box e-anthology) are crafting stories designed for the web, or computer viewing. A good case in point is the story ‘Johnny Cash (A Tale in Questionnaire Results)’ by Ben Peek, which appeared in Shadowed Realms #4 (www.shadowedrealms.com.au/issue4/4main.htm). We spent considerable time matching the story with a layout that suited it, transforming it into something which looked close to a real US government document. Without reading it in its electronic context, much of the magic is lost. The same applies for a story by a foreign author published in Shadowed Realms #5 (‘Status: Complete’ by Leslie J Furlong) – it uses hypertext links and images which interact with the story. To print it and send it destroys the integrity of the story we published.

Shadow Box is an especially difficult product to merely print the stories and send them in.

… (the stories) are short, but have been designed with incredible literary endeavour and word conservation to still tell a cohesive and entertaining tale. Most significantly, we’ve invested a considerable number of weeks and months enhancing these stories with accompanying digital art, sound effects, and multimedia add-ons. Shadow Box is an entirely electronic publication designed to be read electronically, with all the ‘bells and whistles’.

For these reasons, I will confirm my offer of sending the judges, and yourself, a CD copy of Shadow Box, but I will not be printing hard copies of the individual stories.

[rant ends]