What’s its mission, and how did the company come to be?
Electric Lit’s mission is to ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture by fostering digital innovation, supporting writers, building community, and broadening the audience for literature.
We were founded in 2009 during a period of turmoil and pessimism in the publishing industry. Many believed new reading platforms were threatening the demise of the book. However, we saw digital publishing as an opportunity to meet readers where they already are—on their phones and online—and thereby grow the audience for literature. We were the first literary magazine to have an app, the first with a YouTube channel, and the first to publish across all platforms, pioneering a publishing model that is in wide use today.
In addition to special projects and cultural events in the NYC area, we operate two digital magazines: Recommended Reading, a weekly fiction series; and Okey-Panky, a home for short, strange writings. In addition to publishing on Tumblr, both are collected on our literary news and culture site, electricliterature.com, along with reviews, interviews, and essays. We pay all of our writers and offer all of our content for free. In 2014 we became a non-profit to better support those efforts.
Tell us about a project you’re currently developing or recently launched. How will/is it impact/impacting the tech industry and New York City at large?
Electric Lit focuses on using existing technologies to amplify the power of storytelling, and finding new ways to use digital media to create and disseminate literature. As such, we’re less interested in impacting the tech industry than we are in using the tech industry to impact publishing. With those goals in mind, we’ve serialized fiction on Twitter and Facebook, we’ve developed storytelling apps, asked authors to annotate their own fiction with Genius, and used Tumblr to publish long-form fiction with our weekly Recommended Reading series.
We are currently working on a project to profile New York City communities and neighborhoods through their bodegas. We will enlist literary writers to interview bodega owners and employees and share their stories through text, images, and audio recording on our site.
What makes New York an ideal home for the tech industry?
New York City is a cultural epicenter, the home of the publishing industry, and the birthplace of many exciting new media companies. Being around that kind of creativity is inspiring. The podcasting industry, which as little as two or three years ago was primarily a public radio endeavor, has been a particular source of inspiration for how storytelling can evolve to adapt to audience habits and desires.
What do you envision as the future of tech in New York City?
Electric Lit is uniquely situated as a digital arts non-profit. There aren’t many organizations like us, perhaps because when one thinks of the tech industry, one doesn’t necessarily think “not for profit.” But as technology is increasingly the means through which the public access art, we predict that we’ll see more organizations of our ilk in the future, in New York City and beyond. Today, technology lends itself to accessibility—a benefit of the smartphone era that didn’t exist when personal computers were few and far between. As a digital arts non-profit we are able to connect with a diverse audience in on a scale we wouldn’t be able to achieve distributing print magazines to bookstores.
Follow Electric Literature on Twitter: @electriclit