by Jason Snell
The sun rises and sets each day. The moon's up there every day, too, but we don't usually think of it the same way. The sun is on a 24-hour cycle (big red ball in the east, smaller hot ball overhead, big red ball in the west, then darkness), but the moon takes longer to appreciate (big gray ball, gray apple with a bite taken out of it, gray half-circle, gray crescent, black hole in the sky -- repeat until you see the big gray ball again).
Publishing is like that.
Before you think I've gone completely around the bend -- or at least before you tighten the straps on my straitjacket -- let me explain. In traditional paper publishing, a publication has to pick a schedule and stick to it. Most newspapers come out every day (perhaps in staggered editions), and most magazines come out every week or every month. Rather than sending you 50 pages every week, the editors of Wired make 200 pages available each month. That's the format they've chosen for their material.
But when it comes to online publishing, that's not always the case. True, many print magazines have come on the Web and begun to put information on their sites in cycles that match their print cycles. Newspapers may refresh their content every day (with hourly additions off the news wires), while monthly magazines might only update their site once a month -- say, when the moon is full. From a logistical standpoint, it's a reasonable philosophy. After all, their entire production process is set up in regular cycles, beginning with the assignment of stories. The stories are written, edited, copy edited, layed out, proofed, and finally printed as part of an edition.
But online publishing can easily take another approach: the idea that the concept of an issue doesn't apply to publishers dealing with bytes and bandwidth rather than reams of paper and delivery trucks. Why shouldn't electronic publications print stories as they're finished? Why make readers wait until an entire issue is ready when material can just as easily be online now?
These folks make some good points. First, they're trying to break the conventions of publishing -- or at the very least, they're making us question what a publication really is and how it should function, divorced from the logistical need to produce a salable package for newsstands and home subscribers.
And this argument is augmented by the growth of the Web and the importance of making people come back to your site more than once a month. That way, the Patron Saint of Web Hits is appeased, as are those advertisers who are quixotically paying huge amounts of money to reach the small group of folks who are surfing the Net.
So am I ready to chuck the concept of issues and transform InterText into a "Fiction Web Site," with perhaps one new story a week added to the mix, just to keep people coming back for more?
Though I'm not quite 25 years old yet, call me a dinosaur. Go ahead. I can take it.
The beauty of any magazine, including fiction magazines, is that it is a complete package with a tangible beginning, middle, and end. We pick the order of our stories to set a tone for our issue, making sure to mix the heavy with the light, the long with the short -- picking suitable pieces to open matters, and stories that are appropriate ones with which to say "goodbye" for two months.
In other words, though we live in a world with technology that allows us to break the barriers of conventional publishing and destroy the concept of the issue if we really want to -- I don't want to. Not only does the concept of individual issues let us create a comfortable, standard format, but it also improves the chances you'll like what we send you. Sure, it's possible all five of the stories in this issue won't move you, but the chances are good that a few of them will.
And most of all -- especially in an electronic world where publications are born and die in the wink of an eye -- the strength of a periodical is in its regularity. A publication, online or not, is an unknowable quantity if it doesn't stick to a publication schedule -- a moving target that readers can never be sure they're caught up with. Though there may be hardy, determined souls out there willing to invest the effort necessary to keep up with such an endeavor, frankly, we don't think that's the readers' job. It's the editors' job. Sure, for us InterText is a moving target. But it shouldn't be for you.
That's why regularity has been perhaps the biggest goal we've had in publishing InterText. We plan to be here for the long haul, and we plan on being dependable. You won't be left guessing about when to visit our Web site, or when the latest issue will arrive. We're here every other month, and have been doing it for well over four years.
This is not to say that other approaches -- say, a Web site that's an interactive "fiction clearinghouse" -- might not be useful and popular. I'm sure will be seeing all sorts of similar publishing ventures like that in the near future.
But for me, nothing beats knowing that if I go to my mailbox on Thursday, the latest copy of Sports Illustrated will be there. And if you look in your emailbox in the middle of every odd month, you'll find us.
In a world full of suns, there's still a place for moons.