Photo by Reilly Butler

Book Lover, Digital Skeptic

I have exciting news for you. Are you ready?

Arcadia University is gearing up to re-launch its literary magazine, a student-run publication that fizzled out long before I was a student here.

When my advisor and head of the Creative Writing Concentration, Tracey Levine, told me about the reboot, I was instantly interested. And when she invited me to join her and other Arcadia students for the 2015 FUSE publishing conference, I eagerly signed on.

Every year the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors Conference is hosted by a different university across the country and provides attendees four days of presentations and panels all on the topic of student publications. This year’s location was Widener University.

And so that’s how I found myself climbing out of a big white van at 9 o’clock in the morning on a crisp Thursday morning in early November with Levine, three other creative-writing students, and Professor Daniel Peiczkolon, the future director of Arcadia’s soon-to-be literary journal.

As we took our seats at the big, round tables that were scattered throughout the room, novelists Joe Samuel Starnes and Nic Esposito to the microphone for their keynote address, stating that they believed digital publishing would exclusively be the way of the future.

I sat back in my chair, appreciative, but unconvinced. What can I say? I’m a print book-lover at heart.

As the hours rolled on, groups of students from universities across the country took turns at the podium, discussing the elements of digital publication that mattered most to them. Some groups talked about the hard work of getting funding to publish physical copies of their literary magazines, while others enthusiastically discussed the dazzling aesthetics they had designed for their publication’s digital platforms. As an audience, we explored everything from professional glossy booklets with crisp edges to homemade WordPress sites that utilized original photography in their headers.

And slowly, presentation by presentation, I felt myself thawing to Starnes and Esposito’s declaration.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of online publications like blogs and web-based journals. I appreciate the digital format because it really opens up creators to an entirely new art form outside of print. It also gives so many more people access to great content.  

But there’s something inside me that will always love the physical act of holding a book in my hands. I love thumbing through the sections and discovering the works in a different order every time I pick up the book. And it hurts me to think that books could be in danger of going extinct with the rise of digital publishing.

I couldn’t wait to help bring Arcadia’s literary journal to life in the best form of all — both in print and digital.

But the more students introduced us to their literary endeavors, the more I realized that just because digital publications are on the rise doesn’t mean that print books are becoming a thing of the past. I realized that even the groups that focused their talks on their magazine’s online presence also brought with them a physical copy of their journal to show. In fact, I found that the presentations I enjoyed the most were not actually the ones that exclusively featured a bound collection, but the ones that showed off both their physical publications and their websites.

By the end of the conference, I wasn’t completely on board with Starnes and Esposito, but I had a totally new take on the publishing world and the “battle” between physical and digital publications. At the end of the day, I don’t think it has to be one or the other. Instead, I believe the two can co-exist, each platform achieving a different purpose and reaching a different audience. Digital publications are generally less expensive to launch and maintain, while print issues give readers the joy of actually holding something. At the same time, if you only go digital, you limit yourself to having to produce for an audience  taking in information and entertainment through a digital lens, while if you decided to only produce print copies, you isolate the Internet market. At the conference, I learned that every magazine approaches this balance differently and every publication is unique.

And so as we climbed back into the van to travel back to Arcadia, I couldn’t subdue my excitement. I couldn’t wait to help bring Arcadia’s literary journal to life in the best form of all — both in print and digital.

Photo by Reilly Butler