Lambda Literary recently interviewed Julie Enszer, the co-editor of Sinister Wisdom (awesome name!), the oldest surviving lesbian literary journal now celebrating 37 years of publishing. First off, who knew? I for one did not. I had never heard of this journal of fiction, reviews, photography, and poetry before and am pretty damn impressed at its ability to continue on for nearly four decades—with volunteers, a shoestring budget, and minimal (truly a pittance) subscription fees, no less.
But I won’t be reading the content any time soon. Why? Because the journal is only available in a physical edition and I can’t be bothered mailing away for a hardcopy subscription. I don’t want to wait and I don’t want any more paper piled up in my apartment—saturation point has been reached. That may sound obnoxious to some but I doubt I’m alone. If the journal was available digitally (on the web or as an ebook/download) or parts of it were, I’d be all over it—and I’d pay for it like I do for the well-done long-form journalism at The Atavist among other digital content I consume.
But Sinister Wisdom is committed to publishing only in physical format. Why?:
“Because we love print. We love having objects to hold in our hands. We love creating things for lesbians to hold, caress, and cherish. The tradition of Sinister Wisdom has been as a journal and we are continuing that tradition. I hope that it won’t be necessary economically to move to publishing online only. Though we have just upgraded our website at www.SinisterWisdom.org and we see the web as an important way to reach people. But we also see the value of print journals. They require us to think carefully about words and arguments. On the web, publishing is a bit more ephemeral—mistakes can be corrected quickly and easily—but it is less portable. Books can go anywhere and mistakes that we make are in them forever. Book publishing is slower and in some ways more permanent. That’s why we continue to publish in print, because we want there to be a permanent record of lesbian lives and concerns.”
Putting aside any of the very real practical considerations like the additional money and womanpower needed to publish electronically, I’d like to unpack this reasoning:
“Because we love print.”: And that’s a very good reason to print a physical edition but it shouldn’t exclude a digital one as well. I love print too (note saturation point above), but I like good content more. Making the journal a beautiful object should not mutually exclude making the content accessible to the widest possible audience through a digital edition as well.
“They require us to think carefully about words and arguments.”: Any writer or editor worthy of the name thinks carefully about their words and arguments before presenting them to an audience in any format (if their name is attached to it). Digital publishing is not inherently sloppy or ill conceived. It can be, just as any physical book can be. If anything else, publishing digitally is more risky as the audience is potentially much larger and the response quicker and more viral.
“It’s less portable.”: Totally true before the ereaders, tablets, and smartphone explosion but my kindle and iphone are much more portable than a lot of the hardcovers cramming my shelves.
“A permanent record.”: Barring catastrophic meltdown, digital files are much more permanent than print. We just don’t make books (paper, really) like we used to—your average one will yellow, break, and crumble within a few years. The major libraries and universities (and google) know this which is why the conversion of their collections to digital is so important. Believe me, I’d rather be in the Bodleian with a fifteenth century illuminated manuscript between my linen gloved fingers but if the choice is between no access and digital access, I’ll take the digital.
I don’t want to pick on Sinister Wisdom. They have a lot on their plate already and maybe digital seems like one more “to do” on an already impossibly long list. Or maybe they really don’t see the value of digital publishing. But I hope they’ll reconsider. Their hope that that “Sinister Wisdom has the effect of encouraging and nurturing lesbian creativity so that lesbian writers and artists can use their work as a platform to connecting with the LGBTQ communities and with broader reader communities as well” is an admirable one and I’d like to do my part to encourage, nurture, and connect. But a lot of connections are happening online now and I think it’s crucial to go where the connections are. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to share, like, FB, tweet, or otherwise engage with this content across our various networks?
I mean, I did find out about them through a blog after all.