Here at Eighteen Bridges we tend to see things from a variety of perspectives, tending, as we do, to want both close detail and broad vision. This means that when it comes to the discussion about the future of publishing, we see it from both sides. Clearly, the digital world will continue to evolve as the primary content delivery platform (even we can speak that language when backed against a wall). To think anything else is willful blindness.
Yet there remain so many tactile pleasures available to the avid reader of magazines. Holding, reading and carrying a real magazine offers a satisfaction that screen reading cannot replicate. The feel of the paper. The weight of the magazine. Its durability and flexibility. The ability to better appreciate the art. The tub factor. Furthermore, when it comes to the kind of writing we passionately care about and want to publish - long-form narrative journalism - an immersion in the story is more likely to happen by way of words on a page than pixels on a screen. In our experience, some readers will consume a long and engrossing article on a screen, but most won't. One's pleasure and satisfaction are almost always amplified by reading a great story in paper form. You might still enjoy it onscreen, but it's a bit like eating a wonderful meal off a Styrofoam plate; nice, but not as nice as it could have been.
Still, there's no holding back the tide, and everyone in publishing knows it. Not that we particularly want to hold back the tide. The iPad is beautiful and you can bet we're going to create an app for it. We embrace the digital world. We know that much of our future readership, all those eighteen-year-olds just starting university, are about as likely to buy a hard copy subscription to Eighteen Bridges as they are to start writing essays longhand. It's just not going to happen, at least not in the numbers that will sustain a traditional magazine.
The reality, then, is that we exist along a fault line. This is why we are offering Eighteen Bridges as a digital magazine anyone can access and subscribe to for free. We hope this will attract students and a younger generation to read the content, and we make no apology for hoping to utterly addict them to the sweep and pull of narrative journalism.
But we are also hoping to have many thousands of people sign up and pay for a hard copy subscription. There are two reasons why we think, and hope, this will happen. The first is for those reasons outlined above - because some readers still simply prefer paper over pixel. The second reason is even more elementary; because the magazine won't survive without a stable subscriber base. The onus is on us (ha ha). If the content is good enough, and if we are correct in believing not only that the country needs but wants outlets for compelling and informed story-telling, then there ought to be a significant percentage of said readership with the means to either subscribe or make regular donations to the magazine. If they want it, our inside voice keeps telling us, they'll pay for it.
Donations are our third pillar, in that we hope to attract a third category beyond the subscribing reader and the non-subscribing reader, and that is the donating reader. Attached to the University of Alberta as we are, if a reader of our content, in any of its forms, decides he or she likes the product, but doesn't want to subscribe and receive a hard copy magazine, then he or she can simply make a donation to the magazine (of any amount!) and in return will receive a tax receipt for a charitable donation. This donation must be made to the Canadian Literature Centre, of which we are a part.
Will our plan work? Well, we sure hope so. We can't see any other way to cater to readers who value a paper magazine and to readers who don't, the point being, of course, that we aim to cater to readers who value great writing no matter the format in which it's delivered. If we provide the kind of fine writing and provocative stories we intend to, then our hope, our belief, is that the medium will not be the message, but that the message will be the message.
To subscribe or not to subscribe? Perhaps that's not the right question. To support or not support might better capture it. If you like the writing, and if you think our country will benefit from great writers sharing stories they're passionate about, then, well, we'll leave the rest up to you.