This post is from 2011. Today (2019), online submissions are near-ubiquitous, and submission fees are, in my experience, even more common.
Sundry notes of the literary type ahead.
I got a rejection letter from PANK today. Fine. The address it came from? firstname.lastname@example.org. Hilarious!
One of the things worth recognizing is that the cost of submitting to a magazine is a fixed prospective cost: a cost that will be incurred and cannot be recovered. Submissions have never really been free. It’s simply that the cost (paper, envelopes, postage, etc.) has been paid to the post office, not the magazine. It didn’t go to the magazines. And I’m not saying that it should have. Freed up from (some) of the costs of submitting to literary magazines, has there been an increase in subscriptions? Has there been an increase in financial support of literary journals from writers?
No. Not at all.
In fact, submissions increase significantly. This varies from magazine to magazine, but the increase in submissions is somewhere between twenty to thirty-five percent.
The increase in submissions has more do with more people trying to be writers, getting MFAs, having to submit to more journals because of more competition, being unable to pay fees at every journal that charges them, or, if able to pay those fees, certainly not subscribing to more journals. It also just so happens that the streamlining of online submissions came at a great time: the world economy has been in the gutter for close to four years. I’m glad to be rid of the cost of paper and postage, but I’m not plunking those extra dollars down for more journal subscriptions. Yes, we keep hearing about how writers don’t have a lot of extra money, but that’s because, well, we (and you) don’t.
The fact that writers no longer pay the costs of postage to submit doesn’t mean that those phantom dollars are now a revenue stream to be captured. That money’s already going to other things, like paying student loans.