As Narrative enters its fifth year of publication, the New York Times reports that Amazon has developed a new device called Kindle, which will allow readers to download digital books without using a computer. Meanwhile, Google is aggressively pursuing its plans to make all the world’s books available online, and publishers are moving quickly to convert their titles into electronic formats. Observers quoted in the reports debate the meaning of all this news, but to us the ramifications seem clear.
Back in 2003 when Narrative began, there was already a lot of literary activity on the Internet. There were a myriad of ezines—a term that has all but disappeared as online magazines have taken their place alongside print periodicals. Slate and Salon had been around for some time, working with the idea that an article must be a thousand words or less, and many established print periodicals offered websites with sample contents to lure readers to their offline features. There were bookstores online, led by the behemoth Amazon, and, in that now seemingly rudimentary period before the spread of blogs, there were numerous basic information sites posted by well-known groups such as Poets & Writers as well as by individual amateur and professional litterateurs. But Internet literary activity still had not achieved the legitimacy of the bricks-and-mortar literary world. Even today, with the exponential acceleration of digital formats and new channels for reading and writing, we encounter many readers, opinion makers, and arbiters of literary careers for whom the only real book, magazine, or newspaper is a hard copy.