Many of my stories are both printed in a magazine and posted on the Web. I’ve always asked editors to send me issues of the magazines, so I have hard-copy clips of my work to show potential clients. But as print disappears, more and more of my stories live solely on the Web. Rather than final, tangible pieces that can be permanently collected in order to show my best writing, my stories have become ethereal sets of ones and zeros that can disappear in an instant. Recently, that’s exactly what a bunch of them did.

A client of mine was bought by another publishing company early this year. My editor warned me a few weeks ago that the publication would be transitioning to a new Web platform and that my stories would be temporarily inaccessible. I thought it would take maybe a couple of days. It’s been at least two weeks now, and my stories – hundreds of them – are nowhere to be found. They aren’t on the client’s site; they aren’t on the Web. I wouldn’t be worried, except that this particular client has no “print edition.” My stories existed only on the Web. Now, when potential clients click these links on my website, they are sent to a page that says the story was not found.

My stories are gone. And I’m not sure when they’ll be back.

Meanwhile, another client gated its website and started charging a subscription for its online version. I’m not sure how long ago it did this – it didn’t tell me – so I don’t know how many of my potential customers clicked on a link, only to get a pitch to sign up for a subscription rather than my story.

A third client nearly disappeared entirely, taking my stories along with it. It was going out of business, but ended up being saved at the eleventh hour.

Of course, I’ve removed these bad links from my website. I’m hoping to have at least some of them back up soon. But the experience has taught me to grab a copy of my stories as soon as they are published on the Web, because their existence is tenuous. And yet, a copy pulled off the Web doesn’t seem as professional, or even legitimate, as a printed clip or a PDF of a magazine layout. The purpose of traditional clips was two-fold. They not only showed samples of the writer’s work, but also proved that the writer had been published by a reputable news or literary organization. A collection of clips was permanent; a collection of clicks is ephemeral. As the paper age of publishing disappears, writers need to figure out how to preserve their published work.