According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, twenty-one percent of Americans say they go online “almost constantly.”
I don’t know about you, but if that were true I wouldn’t admit it.
We all know about the drawbacks of the internet. We have all read books like The Circle (well, I didn’t finish it) and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Politicians and plutocrats love our internet diversions. One, the internet keeps us indoors so we won’t panic about the environment (we’re not polar bears!), and, two, (some) people learn to respect the ill-informed online chat of idiots.
The internet is free. It has destroyed newspapers, but it is absolutely fr-e-e-eee! Our blogs are free, Netflix and Hulu are free (during week-long trials), Facebook is free, fake news is free, Goodreads is free, The New York Times is free for 10 articles a month, and the Literary Hub is free. Amazon has the best free book website anywhere, complete with book descriptions, short Kirkus reviews, and consumer reviews. (If you buy the books, as I do, it’s not quite free, though. Still, it is the best place to shop online.)
We bloggers curate our blogs endlessly. We are not paid. How many people are we actually writing for? Well, obviously I enjoy blogging. And yet I doubt that my readers will care if I spend two hours or ten (which I’ve never done!) on a post. Droves of Lawrence Durrell fans visited my blog when I posted on The Alexandria Quartet, and I admit it was an excellent post. But when I wrote another excellent post about the little-known Argentine writer Angelica Gorodischer’s 1983 classic, Kalpa Imperial, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin and published by Small Beer Press, hardly anyone noticed. But it’s there for my book-journaling experience, and I admit that’s why it’s important to me.
For paying book pages the internet is a harder world. The New York Times is one of my favorite sources of reviews. Recently I bought a copy of Catherine Lacey’s stunning novel The Answers on the basis of Dwight Garner’s review. After I read Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, I read and admired Jennifer Senior;s splendid review.
The Guardian now asks for money. No subscription necessary yet, but at the bottom of each article it announces, “Unlike many other, we haven’t put up a paywall–we want to keep our journalism as open as possible. Support us with a one-off contribution.”
Oh, dear, I’m not English, but I appreciate the book page. I do plan to subscribe to The New York Times but how about The Guardian? I read a review of The Essex Serpent at The Guardian before it was published in the U.S. (In fact, I bought the book in England.) And right now I m reading an American novel, Patty Yumi Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, published by McSweeney’s. Bizarrely, I read an interview with Cottrell at The Guardian.
At The Millions, in the essay “Why Literary Journals Don’t Pay,” M.R. Branwen writes ,
In the age of the Internet, people are loath to pay for content — in print or online. The decline of the print publishing industry and the constant near-collapse of the news industry has seen publishers of all stripes frantic to monetize a readership that continues to dodge online advertising and refuses to pay for any form of subscription.
Meanwhile, print periodicals — including, and perhaps especially, literary journals — are extremely costly to produce and continue to lose subscribers as readers increasingly move online. Which is not to say that literary journals have ever been financially viable. Even the illustrious Harvard Review, my literary alma mater, would disappear were it not for generous donors. This is true of all but maybe two or three journals.
It seems to apply to publishing I’m general.