When I interviewed Mark Amerika, the web was quite a new experience. Mostcomputer literate people I knew still hadn't seen it, and there wereserious rumblings in the publishing world that the industry was about tochange. How would business be affected? No one knew, but the internetwas perceived as one part miracle and one part dark threat.
Amerika read this situation and pondered a new possibility for the smallpublisher: If the internet could be leveraged into nearly free worldwidedistribution, then what advantages would the corporate electronicpublisher have that the small publisher wouldn't also have?At the time, there were no ready answers to this questioneither, but the small press incentives were compelling: free masscommunication unregulated by governments, cheap and rapid circulation ofcontent, very short production cycles, low staff requirements, low-costproduction available through personal computers, and much more.
Today, governments paranoid about unchecked freedom of communication arebeginning to put the weight of their laws into restrictions. There arelegal ruses offered to this effect; the language outlawing childpornography, for example, often applies just as easily to anything "thecommunity" finds distasteful, whether it's a religious matter, apolitical, ethnic, racial, or cultural issue. Thus goverments attempt todefault their will for restriction to the most censorship-prone segmentsof the online community, counting on the the most intolerant individualsto do the job of bringing "offensive" material to court. And while thelaws often have quite specific legal tests for prurient and indecentcontent, the tests for intellectual or artistic justification can becorrespondingly vague and difficult to prove.
It also became clear, among those publishers who wanted to be on the net,that it was time to either put out our be beaten out in the marketplace.Today, internet publishing isn't the simple, linear process it was in 1995when Amerika spoke. A corporate homepage requires a team of artists andprogrammers to maintain, all to support its professional appearance. Newopportunities have arisen for those with net skills and the money to boostthem into commercial production; capital pays for the talents of manyindividuals, each as capable as a single zine publisher, to collaborate onmassive commercial websites. If comparisons were made on appearancesalone, an e-zine today would need serious manpower and creative input tocompete effectively with the many commercial websites a typical readervisits in a day. The high-capital gloss of the web looms, luring thereader with spectacle, structure, and sensation over substance,conscience, and open inquiry. The fault is not the medium's, but ratherhow the medium is being used... just like TV.
Alt-X and Mark Amerika, however, have not gone away. They've lasted. Theinterviews have kept piling up and his reader base has grown quite a bitfrom his proud "25,000" readers of 1995. Alt-X then, as now, is an exampleof what one person and a few friends can do, to declare freedom ofintellectual pursuit first and to worry about the consequences later.Amerika's discussion stands as a promise which electronic publishers canstill fulfill if we hold to our ideals.
- Kurt Heintz, e-poets network