THE ADIRONDACK REVIEW: In your essay "Confronting Newland Archer: Digital Media and the Creative Writing Classroom," you discuss the fact that many academics look down their noses at online publications. What do you think it will take to change this attitude?
LESLIE WILSON: Online publications must keep the same rigorous standards as their more traditional counterparts. They must have a review process which includes experienced editors and/or advisory board readers. Stellar proofreading and web design influence opinions as well. Ultimately, online publications should be judged by the quality of the material they publish not their medium.
As more and more of the “old school” journals move online and more and more established writers publish in the electronic world – as they have both already begun to do – the prejudice against online publishing will continue to erode.
TAR: Do you imagine that we will ever get to the point where print books will be abandoned for ebooks?
LW: I do not believe print books – or magazines for that matter – will ever totally disappear (although I’m less sure about newspapers). People like to hold things in their hands. Many people love books. They also complain about the strain of reading off a computer screen for long form works like novels. Although technology may be able to soften this up a bit, I think print books will survive even though many readers have turned to e-books – sometimes even printing them out – and audio books.
TAR: How do you envision the future of the publishing world?
LW: I see the publishing world as being both print and digital. Some people will read work online – as I believe most people now do for news. Others will access work online but print it out to read it or download audio material. Still others will buy books from amazon.com while a few remnants will actually walk into a bookstore to buy a book the old-fashioned way. In other words, I don’t see the digital world as annihilating the traditional print world. Rather, I see an explosion, a renaissance of digital and print work available to readers in any medium they prefer.
TAR: In your essay, you write, "Electronic publishing offers organizations, associations, institutes, universities, presses, and journals relief from much of the fiscal burden of print publishing." How do you think the economics of publishing will change as online publishing becomes more popular? What do you think will happen to large print publishing companies?
LW: The consumer benefits in an electronic world. Prices to download ebooks or audio books are far below the price for the equivalent work in hard copy. Likewise, scholarly associations, institutes, and universities can publish outstanding work without regard to printing costs. Many a page of journals about scholarly publishing has been filled with complaints about the inability to make a profit in the academic world. The audience for elite levels of scholarship is simply too narrow. Nevertheless, the scholarship is important and needs to be published even if the audience is small.
I also believe the hard copy book will survive and thus the large print publishing companies. They will publish slightly shorter runs in hard copy and release titles simultaneously in digital formats – both visual and audio. Indeed, they have already begun this process. If anything, though, this move into ebooks and audio books only slightly reduces the audience for print books. What it does do is expand the audience for work. For example, my husband, who simply does not have time to sit down to read a book, will download The Da Vinci Code into his Ipod and listen to it when he drives. Doubleday did not lose a hardcover sale. He never would have bought the print book. Rather, they gained a sale because they offered the book in an alternative format that fit into his lifestyle.
TAR: You are Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Americana: The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture. Tell us a little bit about the Institute's upcoming projects and publications.
LW: The Institute is dedicated to publishing exceptional American creative writing and American Studies scholarship. We publish three periodicals. Review Americana: A Literary Journal contains poetry, prose, drama, and essays about the art of creative writing or the art of teaching creative writing. Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture contains American Studies research papers written primarily by university professors for an academic audience; Magazine Americana contains American Studies essays in journalistic format written for a general reader. We have also started a book press and just released our first title Americana: Readings in Popular Culture. 14 Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture is coming right behind it followed by three fiction titles. The press will publish American Studies and creative writing collections and single author texts.