by Vito GrippiPosted on November 17th, 2011 at 5:59 pm
Somewhere along the way, I made a conscious decision to not buy an iPhone, or an iPad, or until recently, an iPod touch (which actually belongs to my daughter). Aside from one small snag, I’ve been nothing but happy with my Android device. It plays nice with all of the other Google things I do. And I like that it’s a little geekier than the iPhone.
I originally meant this piece to cover the lack of literary apps for Android. I intended to cry that lit mags, and literary enterprises in general, show Android no love. I was going to whine how it doesn’t make sense that Android users have to miss out on the cools apps, especially when the number of Android users, and the number of Android app downloads in the 2nd quarter of 2011, surpassed those for iPhone and iTunes, respectively.
The lack of literary apps, namely lit mag apps, has been one of main things keeping me considering an iPhone. For years, it seems, I’ve been tracking the apps available for iOS. McSweeney’s and Electric Literature are two I’ve been most interested in. While McSweeney’s, to my knowledge, has never even mentioned an Android version of their app, there was a time when Electric Literature claimed the Android version of their app was “coming soon.” I visited their site often, hopeful, hitting “refresh, refresh,” waiting for “coming soon” to magically become, “now available.” It never happened. In fact, mention of an Android app has since disappeared from the site.
I’ve recently come to realize that ,while the number of literary mag apps for Android is nonexistent (we do have the Poetry Foundation app), the number of lit mag apps out there for iOS is pretty slim, too. In my mind, I had imagined iTunes to be a wondrous world filled with lit mag apps, and so, at least in that department, “streets ahead” of Android. Now I wonder if my my own consumer desire for lit mag apps is itself ahead of the market. I do wonder, though, if this lack in an acceptance of a new technological platform isn’t just another way for us to hold on to the aesthetic of print—or at least the shape of print—in what we imagine the literary journal should be. We could argue that there are still plenty of holdouts in the realm of e-books, and many journals still don’t know quite what to do with their websites (though there are stunning notable exceptions such as Born Magazine and Triple Canopy). Or, it could all just boil down to the fact that I’m obsessing over something irrelevant, something to justify the countless hours I spend staring at that tiny screen.
Then again, the overall lack of lit mag apps, regardless of mobile OS, may really just come down to money. Having a good app built can be expensive if you can’t do it yourself, and most of us can’t—yet. Years ago, many of us (writers, editors, etc.) would never have imagined that we’d be dabbling in HTML, running blog sites, hand coding ebooks, or even considering building applications to share and experience literature on cell phones. Now look at us.
As the editor of a tiny journal in a market that seems overcrowded with magazines (like mine) and not enough readers, I imagine apps could be used as a way to stand out, create relationships with readers, and create new experiences. Some of the better apps out there are already doing this with app-specific content, and even special sections for work uploaded directly through the app. It seems, though, that to find value in a lit mag app, we first have to accept that literature can, and should, also be experienced on a digital mobile device. For many readers and editors, that may take a while.
Still, prediction is always foolhardy, and it’s hard to tell if literary magazine apps will ever truly take off. Lit mags reside in a world of small budgets, lean staffs, and a niche collection of readers. Apps, if done well, can add an extra element of access or connection between readers and publishers, and maybe even between writers and editors. But that connection would come with added costs and an extra level of maintenance on top of websites, print editions, e-book editions, blogs, and so on.
There always seems to be a conversation happening about how the industry is changing. I’m not sure if I really get what that means. I think we, the writers, readers, and editors are changing. The way we create and consume art is changing. The way we communicate is changing. In the end, isn’t that what literature is, an attempt to communicate and connect? Maybe that means sometimes we have to strive to present art to audiences the way they will access it, not they way we think they should have it. Or maybe I’m just looking for ways to make smartphones feel like something more than a distraction.