As the fall 2013 reading period opens, I want to address the issue of online literary journals and the merits of having work published by them.
The most obvious benefit is the size of the potential audience. While print publications are, for the most part, quite limited in their press runs, online publications have the possibility of readership limited only by the scope of the Web. This potentiality is heavily augmented by the reach of social media: Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, blogs, RSS feeds, etc., where the Word of the Web spreads more quickly than the word of mouth ever could.
Another important consideration is the development of relationships with other poets, publishers, and editors outside of your immediate environs that can lead to further publication opportunities, invitations to read, and invitations to attend and/or lead workshops.
Then there is the Google factor. When a reader comes upon your work online, that reader is able to search the Internet for more of your work, an expanded bio, and your general reputation within the larger community of poetry.
Will your work be perceived as lesser in status by appearing online versus in print? The answer to that question differs with each reader. We all have that one friend or family member who refuses to enter the digital age but is that one person your target audience? Who is in your target audience? Could those individuals who might appreciate your work the most be the same people who spend their days connected to their technology simply because of its portability?
A friend says to you, "Hey, I just read the most awesome conceptual poem." You ask, "So, can you lend me the mag?" She says, "No. But I can show it to you on my smart phone." That poem is available for the reading anywhere there's wireless, immediately.
An often-heard argument against online lit mags is their quality compared to print. I find this argument to be less valid as time progresses and as the quality of successful lit mags increases with each publication cycle. What matters and is key, is the reputation of the publication, whether in print or online.
Arguably, print publication is still far more desired for the purposes of academia, but even there the gap is closing.
Granted, online publication is never going to be the same as holding that perfect-bound journal in your hands. It is, however, the path of our words, at least until an electro-magnetic pulse shuts down everyone's electricity.
I would be interested to read your feedback.