E-zines – The Future of Publishing?
Feb 24, 2002
|This article originally appeared in The Canadian Writer’s Journal (Vancouver), #13, 1996, and is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Do keep in mind that it was written when the World Wide Web was still young, so many of the ideas and links herein are no longer applicable.|
The Internet has become so cool that even popular music groups are investing in their own “sites”. It’s not surprising, then, that many publications, like literary journal Blood & Aphorisms and Generation-X pop magazine Onset, have set up their own marketing nodes on the World Wide Web.
The Web is a subset of the ‘Net that organizes information in more accessible formats. Where sound, picture and video codes have always been available over Internet lines, Web browsers –programmes that allow a user to “navigate” or “surf” the Web– present the various images, text and sounds in an artistic and instantaneously decoded fashion. The World Wide Web truly defines the overused word “multimedia”.
The most popular PC Web browsers are called “Mosaic” and “Netscape”. Together, these programmes have taken Internauts through worlds of information previously unavailable without rummaging through stuffy old libraries. On the click of a mouse, one can access a museum of Egyptology in Cairo, read a passage from Beowulf, download a brief motion picture, listen to a few seconds of any style of music, check to see if the Cambridge University coffee machine has finished brewing, and even check the orbit of the current Space Shuttle mission.
Traditionally, though, Web sites have included personal “home pages” where individuals post their photographs, pet peeves and interests. They also include information nodes like the CIA’s World Fact Book which offers detailed and updated information on every nation state, and like the World Health Organization’s home page, where one can find everything from job postings to prevalence rates for various diseases. And, of course, many companies have jumped onto the info-bandwagon by purchasing Web space for advertising purposes.
Use of Web sites (called URL’s) as a marketing tool is an immediately obvious option. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal maintains a constant watch over advertising trends over the ‘Net. Blood & Aphporisms and Onset are simply extending their print existence into the digital realm, thus garnering vital visibility. Their sites offer samples from recent issues, biographies of the editors and contributors, the option to e-mail contributions or comments to the editors, and Onset even maintains a game-like questionnaire.
But the truly exciting development in electronic publication, from the standpoint of the writer, is the emergence of the electronic magazine or “e-zine”.
E-zines have proliferated with impressive speed of late, with an Internet newsgroup (“alt.ezines”) recently established to help keep track of their number. Through the magic of hypertext, e-zines raise the art of publishing to an exciting new level, one where the word “interactive” finally begins to have meaning.
Hypertext is the process of referential print. On a given Web “page”, various words or icons may be highlighted. If the user clicks his mouse on these areas, a new page is accessed with information relevant to the stream of the previous page. Someone reading the text of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, for example, might click on the highlighted words “New Delhi” and be presented with detailed information about that Indian megalopolis: perhaps a map, the city’s history, and a sample of the Indian national anthem played over PC speakers. The link’s destination doesn’t have to be written by the original programmer, either; one could jump from A Passage To India directly to the CIA Word Fact Book’s page on India. A whole universe of paths is therefore available.
Hypertext, when structured by an imaginative programmer, can allow the user to develop his own stream of exploration.
An e-zine is an Internet site that uses hypertext to present information in a format that resembles that of a magazine. The basic magazine visuals –print size and font, types of articles, lengths of stories– have been reproduced in cyberspace. But these two-dimensional traits are where the similarities end. In addition to providing sounds and moving pictures, an e-zine allows a user to move through a third dimension, one of choice.
5IVE Candles, a popular e-zine from McGill University, makes use of the non-linear qualities of hypertext to present songs, photos and text in a consolidated poetry package. Similarly, SomePIG!, an Internet publication of the University of San Francisco, uses a mapping technique to link related poems, so reading becomes, in the words of the editors, an “active journey” through a kind of literary space. Internet types are always on the lookout for new words, so this publication has dubbed itself a “poezine”.
Is this a case of art imitating life? Books are certainly becoming less popular, while video games and television are capturing an increasingly substantial portion of the population’s attention. It may be appropriate, then, that Enterzone, a Berkely e-zine purporting to provide a space for “media art”, proclaims in its opening description: “this is the ’90s, so there’s no need to apologize for a short attention span.”
Designed with browsing in mind, Enterzone further declares, “this is a zone, not a nation state. Linger a while if you like or nose around and be on your way.” This non-conformist attitude is a common trait of Internet sites, perhaps contributing to the ‘Net’s popularity among musicians, artists and young people. There are therefore a number of on-line “publications” claiming to be the voice of Coupland’s Generation-X. An example: The Undiscovered Country, despite its allusion to staunchy Shakespeare’s Hamlet, claims to explore art “…through publication of poetry, short fiction, thoughts, musical contemplations and THC/LSD consumption.”
The unique language of Web browsing is more than an affectation. One reads a magazine, but one visits an Internet site. The accessing of an e-zine is therefore, at its best, an experience of exploration and discovery. It’s clear that if the trend of publication continues to take the electronic route, language and thought may well be forced to change, as well.
The establishment of the Internet has been likened to the invention of the printing press. Like that same information revolution centuries ago, the roles of all those involved are bound to be irreversibly changed. In the future, writers may not only be required to produce text, but to visualize the appropriate hypertext links to and from their story or article. The very structure of writing, its purpose and flow, may be forced to evolve much faster than linguists had previously anticipated.
Evan Solomon, co-founder of Toronto’s Shift magazine, was recently heard on CBC television discussing this very point. He sees no threat to his business. “Publishers are in the business of words, not paper,” he said. “MacMillan-Bloedell should be concerned, not us.” As yet, publishers like Solomon may have little use for the e-zine format since there is no practical way to charge for its subscription. Their makers use them to advertise their print magazines, or simply produce them as a labour of love, knowing full well that they must absorb the minimal costs involved in posting a regular e-zine.
For better or worse, electronic publication is here to stay. The future of print media is most definitely an uncertain one. But the medium of hypertext does not necessarily have to replace print; it may simply augment it. At its worst, it contributes to our society’s diminshing attention span. But at its best, hypertext is an oppotunity for an increased depth in education, as all the senses are brought into the consumption of a piece of Web information. No writer could dream of more.
Sidebar #1: Some Interesting Internet Sites
Some Print Magazines With Home Pages:
Sidebar #2: Internet Glossary
|Internet||Global computer network with its origins in 20-year-old military communications lines. Today, companies, schools, governments and even individuals can purchase nodes or servers on the network, from which individuals may obtain accounts.|
|World Wide Web||A portion of the Internet in which multimedia information is organized, by virtue of browser programmes like “Mosaic” and “Netscape”, in a more accessible fashion.|
|A system for sending elecronic letters between individuals with access to Internet servers.|
|Newsgroup||An area of the Internet, much like a physical bulletin board, where notices or articles may be posted, or responses to other articles broadcast.|
|Home Page||A site on the World Wide Web.|
|URL||Location code for accessing a site on the World Wide Web.|
|Cyberspace||A term invented by author William Gibson to describe the imaginary environment in which Internet information is stored.|
|E-Zine||An electronic magazine; essentially a Home Page that resembles a print magazine.|
|Sidebar #3: How To Get Started|
What you need for Web browsing – When shopping for equipment, compare the technical specs with the skeletal information below. Be sure to shop around, and realize that the market changes monthly.