Why start an internet journal? Why add another voice to the cluttered and overexposed world of creative writing online? We believe that these are questions that must be considered by anyone who wants to publish literature on the web. After all, there are already thousands of online journals, blogs and websites with literary aspirations. Most of them (this website is no exception) are devoted to the commendable goal of “publishing quality literary work”. But can there really be enough good writing out there to fill thousands of empty web pages? Depends who you ask. There are many curmudgeonly internet cynics (journalists, academics, editors) who would say “No”, explaining the web is a wasteland of mediocrity, in which the cult of the amateur is destroying professionalism and quality. From the internet’s supporters (the electronic gurus, 2.0 geeks and blogists), however, we are likely to hear an enthusiastic: “Yes! Yes!” According to them, the internet is unleashing the creativity of the many and freeing us from the narrow monopoly of the professional media.
That you are reading this editorial in an online journal should tell you where our sympathies lie in this debate. We feel that there is a comfortable space for our endeavour on the internet, especially as the number of resources for writers in Asia is quite limited. Unlike the crowded marketplace of online publishing in other countries, English internet publishing in Asia remains underdeveloped. For us, this offers the great opportunity of entering a market, not nearly as cluttered with journals as in North America or in the United Kingdom. Indeed, currently there are only a handful of Asian online journals. We do not expect (nor hope) that this will continue. As Asia expands its economic and cultural influence, we are certain that interest in English Asian literature will increase. In fact, it already has.
Yes, it is true that there are a limited number of English writers in Asia, but certainly not nearly as few as the more cynical commentators suggest. And the real problem with Asian writing in English is not the limited number of its writers, but the limited number of its writers that are published. This sad state of affairs is largely the result of the economic realities of English print publishing on the continent. English publishers in Asia face similar constraints to their western counterparts, only much tighter ones. Think it is difficult to sell poetry in the United States? Try selling it to a handful of English readers in Asia. It is also true that in some cases local publishers in Asia face a certain conservatism of taste—in which the reading public prefers recognisable forms and topics. This conservatism limits a publisher’s options and further compounds the difficulties of selling literature to a limited audience. The upshot of all this is that it is only financially feasible for local English publishers to support a small number of writers.
At Cha, our goal is to bring together Asia’s underpublished writers and established ones. As an online journal, we do not face the same economic constraints as local print publishers. Indeed, with almost no operating cost, we are free to take a chance on unknown or less commercial writers, which is exactly what we intend to do. We also hope to use Cha as a forum for Asia’s aspiring writers—to be one of the places where they can go to be read and to develop. Finally, we also intend to support more established authors. Within the Asian context, even the most celebrated English writers may only have a limited readership. We hope that, in our small way, we can help bring their work to a larger audience.
In the future, we can imagine an online creative writing community in Asia just as overexposed and cluttered as those in other parts of the world. We are certainly going to do our best to make it that way.
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming & Jeff Zroback / Co-editors
4 November 2007