Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Publishing
While the information available online is staggering, even in our technological age, we cannot forget to mention the fact that not everyone in this day is ready to sit down at a computer screen and read for any great deal of time. Curling up in front of the fire on a cold day with a book in hand can never be replaced by sitting in a cold chair staring at the words on computer screen.
The costs of online desktop publishing are fairly low in consideration to those of print. Granted, one must have access to a networked computer and a decent amount of usable software, but those are things that anyone in the publishing business, print or online, will have to have anyway. The other costs that may come into play are those associated with online access. These will vary depending on your service provider; however, students enrolled in most universities will be provided access (at least while using school computers) for free. Thus, for example, the Nieve Roja Review required no startup costs whatsoever, having been published using campus services. The other positive about low costs for online publishing comes into play when distribution is considered. The distribution itself is free as well. There are no printing costs, which are usually print publishers' biggest expense, nor the waste of large amounts of paper that go along with printing. However, there are costs attached to some of the methods of marketing an online publication. Just because your publication is online, doesn't mean anyone out there knows where it is or is reading it.
It remains difficult to make any money off of online publishing. Most publications online right now are free to readers and are merely charging for ad space. However, some are attempting to require subsciptions. Much still seems up in the air in terms of what standard might come out of online publishing --what will work and what will fail. It's a new medium and people using it are still in the stages of trial and error. See Things to Consider for more information.
Although there are no or few distribution costs for online publishing, it does take a bit of marketing to get people to your site. You must register your publication with as many search engines as possible and, often, this entails a cost. However, if this isn't done, no one will be able to find your site. This process needs to be given regular attention as your description or focus changes and as new search engines are introduced. Also, other sites that have agreed to link to yours need to be regularly contacted to make sure that link will remain on their site. So, while marketing and distribution might be cheaper for the online publication, it is not without it's costs especially in terms of labor and time.
Editing is another plus involved in online publishing. For the most part, editing should and does occur before the new issue goes online. However, we've all come across several typos in print documents of any kind that weren't caught before the publication was sent off to the printer. In online publishing, there is no "final" product. Errors can be corrected in a matter of minutes (or seconds even). For example, in one issue of the Nieve Roja Review, we had a submission by a fellow grad student that detailed events that very possibly could be considered sensitive material if certain persons happened across the work. It also pointed out the private workings of an industry that many people in the public might not be pleased to read about. They weren't unethical, but merely contextual and possibly damaging to that particular institution. Therefore, the author, after the issue went online, decided she'd rather make some changes to the names, places, and descriptions used. We were able to take the work out of the publication with a notice that it would appear again in the next issue. That would not have been possible in print. In print, what's done is done once it's on the paper.
An online publication also requires constant upkeep even in-between issues. Links need to be tested regularly in order to avoid 'linkrot'. And because editing can be done at any time, there's a responsibility attached to make sure what needs to be fixed is. Meanwhile, with print, once it's printed, it's out of your hands. In addition, deadlines for online publication are merely self imposed. For print, the editors have to take into consideration that the printing itself takes a certain amount of time as does distribution. Therefore, their deadlines are fairly rigid. However, for online publishing, deadlines are good to get the ball going, but the actual publishing can occur at any time without the dependence on the time-frame of another.
Audience is a category that can be considered both a pro and a con for online publishing. While your audience is not limited to only those hit in your distribution efforts, it is also not the dedicated group of readers that most print publications can count on. So while your publication may be more widely available, that doesn't mean that people are reading it. It's more difficult to determine your readership in online publications. First, you can't know the demographics of your readers as easily as you might with print. Some people have attempted to stick with the subscription method to alleviate some of this problem, but then readership often goes down because readers can often get the same information elsewhere for free on the Internet. Counters help tell you how many have entered your site, but they can't tell you if that person stayed long enough to read anything. While you might say the same of your subscribers in print publishing, the subscribers paid for your publication for a reason and are most likely continuing to read it as long as they're subscribed. Online, it's difficult to determine not just who your audience is, but how many readers you have.
Because online desktop publishing is a fairly new field, there are no set standards deemed a quality layout format. This can be seen as both a pro and a con. As a advantage, we can understand this to mean that there's more room for experimentation. However, as a disadvantage, there's been very little usability testing done on what readers like and dislike, what keeps them there and what chases them away. So, while your content might be great, your layout could chase the readers away, and vice versa. It's still a volatile situation without any standards to rely on.
Submissions are another tough area to tackle in online publishing. For example, from a literary journal standpoint, many authors are afraid to put their material online for fear of plagiarism as well as copyright problems that may arise later when attempting to publish their work elsewhere. Copyright laws for the Internet have not been firmly established yet, and because the Internet was created with the intention of sharing free information, they appear difficult not just to enact but to get users to abide by. Plagiarism, however, is a threat for publishing in any medium, print or otherwise. Authors seem to be slow to realize this. However, because of this wide-spread fear, many have deemed the work on the Internet to be poor and the authors published there to be unworthy of higher esteemed print publications. This stereotype also keeps submissions low.
Nieve Roja Reflection
The Nieve Roja Review is an online literary journal run by graduate students in Colorado State University's English department. We put out two issues a year --winter and summer. While our readership could be large, it's hard to know just who is accessing our site and actually staying long enough to read anything. We make an effort to only publish what we consider to be 'quality' work in order to avoid the stereotype that published work on the Internet is merely trash. However, it's this stereotype that keeps many of our colleagues from submitting their best work. Currently, it feels like publishing on the Internet poses a 'damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't' scenario, yet it has definite advantages to print as well.