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Digital Publishing
Dragon Editorial
by Steve Winter

When I was a kid in Iowa, we had a rope tied to a tree branch that hung out over the Mississippi River. The tree was atop a low bluff, so from the rope to the water was about a 10-foot drop (but it felt like 30 feet to my 10-year-old self). You could swing out over the water and, as long as you held onto the rope, feel perfectly secure. Or you could relax and swim in the cool, refreshing embrace of the river.

Between those two states, however, was the moment when you were plunging toward the water at ever-increasing speed, flailing your arms and legs and probably screaming your lungs out. That brief interlude was far more thrilling, and more frightening, than the stable conditions that sandwiched it.

Welcome to the digital age. Get ready to let go of that rope.

Publishing was a stable business for centuries. Then along came the digital revolution, and traditional publishing found itself swinging out over the river. Major booksellers are going out of business. Newspaper and magazine publishers are shutting their doors. Everyone is trying to figure out how to convert a traditional publishing business to the web without going broke in the process, and plenty of publishers are going broke in the process. Even those that launched in this brave new age as pure web endeavors are stalling almost as fast they took off.

Every publisher is faced with the decision of when to let go of that rope. Simply hanging on is becoming less of an option all the time. It’s not always apparent whether the water is warm or cold, deep or shallow, but it’s pretty clear that it’s moving swiftly.

The transition from letters and pictures on paper to strings of 1s and 0s in the cloud calls for reexamining a lot of ingrained “truths” about publishing. The one that most closely affects us is this question: what does it mean to “publish a magazine” in digital form?

Much of what people visualize when they think of a magazine has little to do with content but a lot to do with the fact that until the digital age, magazines were always printed on paper. The image of a magazine as an object that lands in your mailbox or newsstand once a month lingers even after paper is removed from the equation.

The screen is not just a sheet of paper in different form. Its possibilities and limitations are wholly its own. Digital delivery is such a game-changer that even the word “magazine” is called into question. Some of you may have noticed that we seldom refer anymore to “Dragon and Dungeon magazines.” Instead, we refer to “Dragon and Dungeon online.” It’s emblematic of the situation in electronic publishing that no new word has arisen to replace magazine, even though one is clearly needed. (Simply tacking an “e” onto the beginning of a word is becoming tiresome. We should be able to do better than that.)

We’re committed to digital publishing for Dragon and Dungeon online. This medium offers many possibilities that we’ve yet to explore and raises questions that we’ve yet to answer. Is a web-based periodical that publishes stand-alone, unbundled articles still a magazine? If so, it’s a different model for the 21st century. If not, then what is it? Regardless of your answer, it’s here to stay . . . until the next new form comes along.

We’d like to hear your views on the advantages, disadvantages, and unexplored possibilities of digital publishing, especially regarding Dragon and Dungeon online. Use the comments field below, or drop into the forum and share your thoughts.

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