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    Pulp Magazines Struggle to Survive in Wired World

    by Simon Owens
    November 17, 2008
    The first issue of Amazing Stories magazine, an influential sci-fi publication that finally was closed for good in 2005.

    Every year Locus Magazine, “The Magazine Of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field,” publishes a year-in-review of the genre. This summation always includes a rundown of the circulation of the remaining speculative fiction magazines, sometimes referred to as the “pulps” because of the cheap wood pulp paper on which they used to be printed. In their heyday there were dozens of pulps — ranging from the mystery to science fiction genres — with circulations of 100,000 or more. But the medium steeply declined through the ’80s and ’90s, with magazine circulations for all the publications plummeting to well below six figures.

    By the 21st century and the advent of the web, most of these once-great magazines — Amazing Stories, Argosy, SF Age — had died off, leaving only three speculative fiction magazines struggling to stop hemorrhaging readers: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

    Everybody thinks that you put a website up and then suddenly it's going to be brilliant and everyone will link to it and it's going to make tons of money in advertising. That's just wishful thinking." -- author/blogger John Scalzi

    The figures displayed in this year’s Locus Magazine roundup were, as usual, not promising. Analog, the best performing of the three, had fallen to a paid circulation of 27,399, while Asimov’s dropped 5.2% to 17,581. But the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction saw the sharpest decline — 11.2% from the previous year — to a paid circulation of 16,489. Countless science fiction convention panels and online message board topics over the last decade have tried to pinpoint the cause of such catastrophic declines and learn how to stop them. Such discussions often lead to at least one person predicting the eminent death of the short fiction magazines, always seen lurking just around the corner.

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    But these publications began experiencing turbulence well before the proliferation of the web, so it’s apparent that their problems are in many ways different than the ones currently plaguing the newspaper industry — a medium that thrived until it was suddenly met with vibrant competition from the web. But science fiction magazines are struggling to stay relevant in the Internet age.

    Brave New World

    Gordon Van Gelder worked in book publishing before taking over as managing editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (typically referred to as F&SF) in 1997, a position he kept even after he bought the publication in 2000. F&SF began publishing in 1948, making it one of the oldest of the pulp digests (Analog launched a few years earlier, in 1930).

    In a phone interview, I asked Van Gelder how editors reacted once it became obvious that the web would become a major force in publishing.

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    “When I was the editor and Ed Ferman was still publisher, we saw the first big webzine rolled out,” he said. “It was called Galaxy Online, I think. It came out January 1999; it was the first highly touted online zine, and I don’t even think it lasted two months. It had real money behind it, supposedly. It had real professionals, and it came and went in the blink of an eye. And I remember Ed Ferman talking to me about what we needed to do online, and it was clear that he didn’t know. I didn’t know.”

    And like most print editors these days, he still doesn’t know. Speaking to him, it was evident that he felt some frustration with the subject. Unlike newspapers and most other magazines, which mostly profit by selling advertising space, the short fiction digests make most of their revenue off copies sold — think of them as miniature mass market paperbacks — and so Van Gelder is even more nervous than most editors about giving away too much content for free online.

    “It’s so weird to talk about, because it’s sometimes frustrating,” he said. “The web is still so new, it’s still complicated, and I adore it. I do what I can with it, but it drives me nuts, also.”

    i-08e9d286128a57aa2f1f3addb2ecd491-fantasy scifi blog.jpg
    On the F&SF blog, print mags are promoted heavily

    The magazine has taken some perfunctory steps to court new media, most notably by sending review copies to selected bloggers, launching a blog on its website, and offering some of its archived fiction online for free. But Van Gelder told me he has sent review copies to bloggers only “three or four times” and that the site’s blog is barely updated even once a month. Even the free fiction is only up for a month before being removed again, thereby draining away any potential that new readers could find the magazine via a search engine.

    Van Gelder explained that his approach so far to the web has been scattershot, though some authors have figured out how to harness its power.

    “I’ve been watching individual authors [promote online] and the three that have been successful at it are John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, and Charles Stross,” he said. “They immediately grasped what the Internet was about and they figured out that it makes much more sense to give stuff away and cause viral marketing than anything else. And it’s worked great for them. In all three cases, though, they’re writers whose work is very accessible to people who do spend a lot of time online. And you’re not hearing about the people who have tried these things and the attempt flopped.”

    Online Forums Thrive

    Sheila Williams, who has worked for Asimov’s Science Fiction for more than two decades and became editor a few years ago, claimed that the Internet “has not affected our sales in any way negatively.” Instead, she said, the downward trend can be ascribed to changes in distribution — both how and where the magazines were displayed in newsstands and book stores — which have effectively cut off the digests at the knees over the years.

    Both Asimov’s and Analog (along with mystery pulps Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine) are published by Dell Magazines, a company perhaps best known for its puzzle magazines. In fact, outside critics often complain that Dell has let its fiction magazines fall by the wayside because it has concentrated its focus on crossword puzzles and Sudoku.

    i-5d2446a2b2fad309d9643e3c10b74d4e-asimovs forum.jpg
    Asimov’s online forums

    One area where the remaining short fiction magazines have thrived is through their online message boards; for instance, Asimov’s has an extremely vocal forum community. But the editor said that despite this large surge in science fiction fans, very little of the discussion on the boards is about the genre or the contents of the magazine.

    “The forum is great,” Williams told me. “We have one of the most active forums in existence for the science fiction publications. But mostly they get on there and argue politics; we call it the basement. There’s a section at the bottom that consists of a big chunk that’s very conservative and a big chunk that’s very liberal and they go at it tooth and nail. And they hardly ever talk about the stories. There are a handful of dedicated readers that talk about the stories, but they are the minority. What I have seen in the past in the ’70s and the ’80s, there were dozens of letters coming in a month. We don’t get the letters anymore. I think back in the ’80s we had more correspondence coming in on the stories than I see in the comments on the forum.”

    Like F&SF, Asimov’s has dipped its toes into the new media pool, often releasing its non-fiction or award-nominated stories online. Williams also mentioned diving into the magazine’s decades worth of archives for content to place exclusively on the Net, and the staff has recently begun to experiment with podcasts, something that Williams said she wants to do more frequently. She asserted that the magazine has begun to expand through e-book sales, both with Fictionwise and Amazon’s Kindle. Though she didn’t offer specific sales figures, she did say that Asimov’s often ranks high within the magazine category for the Kindle.

    John Scalzi’s Method

    While speaking with these two editors, they both frequently cited the opinions of blogger and novelist John Scalzi. The science fiction writer is widely known for his success in using the web — most notably his popular blog, The Whatever — to promote his books. Scalzi has been outspoken on his blog about the state of science-fiction magazines, sometimes sharply criticizing their marketing strategies.

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    John Scalzi

    Scalzi told me the web wasn’t really the main problem for the surviving pulp publications.

    “The problems with the pulps — the big three — has very little to do with the advent of the web, though they could have done a much better job of positioning themselves when the web was younger,” he said. “I think the major thrust of their problem has been that all the pulps have seemed to be content to work with what they have in terms of subscribers and readers, as opposed to being very active about acquiring new readers.”

    It’s this constant state of defense, he said, that made them more vulnerable once the web had matured and publications across the board began to face increased competition online. Like Williams, Scalzi attributed much of the decline in speculative fiction magazines to changes in newsstand distribution, but noted that other publications had still managed to thrive despite these changes. The sci-fi mags, he argued, did not adequately adapt to the new landscape. He compared it to America Online in the ’90s when it quickly began losing its market dominance.

    “And then people started migrating to the web, and AOL started doing a bunch of me-too initiatives,” he explained. “It was member retention. They were like, ‘Look we’re doing this too, so you don’t have to leave us.’ Eventually people went ‘Yeah, there’s other stuff out here, and it’s cheaper or it’s free or it’s more interesting,’ and they leave anyway. What eventually happens with those retention efforts is that perhaps they delay the inevitable for a little while, but eventually the inevitable is inevitable. It eventually comes.”

    And now that the economic recession means nearly all media outlets will have to struggle to bring in revenue, Scalzi said it may be too late to save the medium — or at least save the print magazines.

    Publishing Science-Fiction Online

    Over the past year, Scalzi has been involved in two projects that are attempting to profit by publishing short fiction online — Subterranean Magazine and Tor.com. Both sites fall under the umbrellas of print book publishers — Subterranean Press, an indie company, and Tor, one of the largest publishers of science fiction. They have so far used the free content on their sites as a form of branding for their book authors. By paying for and posting quality fiction and non-fiction for free (they’ve published both by Scalzi) they are essentially acting as loss leaders to attract science-fiction fans into their communities.

    i-758c32a3a98089a05b084d4d61457dca-tor.jpg

    Though Scalzi seemed uncertain whether this strategy would ultimately work, he said that it would take a long-term investment before such an endeavor could become a success. He noted that most publishers who tried to launch profitable short fiction e-zines in the past have failed because they expected immediate returns.

    “When you start a new magazine you work on the assumption that the first five to seven years you’re going to be in the red,” he said. “Because you’re building an audience, you’re building a subscription base, you’re building advertising, so that 10 years down the road you’re making money and it becomes a profit center…Now the question is, has anybody done something similar to that? Because everybody thinks that you put a website up and then suddenly it’s going to be brilliant and everyone will link to it and it’s going to make tons of money in advertising. That’s just wishful thinking.”

    In this sense, he argued, if the print science-fiction magazines are going to manage to survive in the current climate, they can no longer just dip their toes into the water — it’s sink or swim.

    When I brought up both Tor and Subterranean to Van Gelder, he didn’t hesitate to acknowledge that these sites may be where the industry is heading.

    “It’s probably going to be a successful strategy; it’s the only strategy that’s worked in the last 10 years for launching a new magazine,” he said. “If it winds up in the future that every magazine is funded by a book publisher, then it’s not the worst thing in the world. And it could be that that’s really the future of the digest magazines, or fiction magazines in general. I don’t know, because I don’t think we’ve figured everything out yet.”

    What do you think? Is there a successful way for science-fiction magazines to survive in the digital age? How? Should they transition online completely or publish in print and online together? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Simon Owens is a former newspaper journalist and an associate editor for MediaShift. He currently works as an online analyst for New Media Strategies. You can read more of his writing at his blog or contact him at simon[.]bloggasm [at] gmail.com.

    Tagged: fiction forums magazine publishing science fiction
    • Chris

      Asimov’s is the worst offender, by far. They seem totally incapable of marketing outside their very small and shrinking subscriber base. I’ve read Asimov’s a long time and I can see the decline in interest among the sci-fi crowd I encounter at conventions.

    • moz

      Since I subscribe to Analog and Asimov’s via Fictionwise and get my copies electronically and read them on my liseuse, perhaps I’ve missed something important. Are these not the same magazines as the paper copies, and doesn’t that count as a response to the web?

      There’s no way I’d have paid for deadwood versions of those magazines, although I do occasionally pay ~$US0.50 or less an issue to get second hand copies in bulk. Before I had a liseuse those were the best travel reading because I could just leave them on the seat when I finished them.

      I think that sort of deal will take over from deadwood editions for people who like to read. The key things for me are no DRM and a variety of formats. ideally downloadable in bulk as a single compressed file (multiple formats makes it more likely I’ll be able to re-read them in the future). I’ll also pay for past issues if they’re available the same way.

      In case you’re curious, http://www.exacteditions.com is strictly for graphic-heavy magazines and they have to be excellent magazines to make it worth the hassle of viewing one jpg at a time online. I subscribe to Velovision and A to B there, but it’s a very tedious way to read a magazine.

      Ideally I’d be able to buy huge chinks of old content at reasonable prices (100 back issues for $100 or less, even just as rtf or text files – zipped into one lump, of course).

    • moz

      What does drive me straight to the “pirates” are authors who will not sell their works online. Sorry, but if you expect me to cart deadwood around you have to expect me to buy it second hand too. Your choice…

    • wackyvorlon

      My problem is that I really can’t see why I would buy one of the magazines I’ve seen. I’ve seen Asimovs, at least, at the local magazine store. Frankly, the quality of the printing is very poor. How am I supposed to know that the stories are worth reading?

      There’s a huge amount of bad sci-fi out there, they need to demonstrate to me that they have good sci-fi before I’ll read it.

    • I picked up a copy of Analog a few months ago. I figured I needed to get back on the pulse of pulp shorts for marketing reasons as a writer.

      The stories were awful. I liked *one*. It was also the shortest one by far.

      I remember getting a copy of Asimov’s at maybe age 12 (mid-eighties), and I still remember EVERY story in it. It was so good. But then I had a hard time finding the ‘zine again. Then, when I did, I had no money. Then they were MIA again, etc. Placement was awful in stores , and money was limited. Now, I have to make careful choices about what I buy, since I am still brokeish, but have some cash for reading material.

      I totally wasted money on that copy of Analog. I picked up a couple of other pulps in the store and flipped through them, then put them back. Nothing grabbed me about them at all. I’m now really hesitant to submit to them. What’s the point?

    • Nice summation of the issue here.

      As noted, this discussion has gone on for quite some time. Similar things occurred in the late 50s-mid-70s (sans internet) when there was a big die-off of ‘pulp’ SF&F mags. (Maybe all we really do need is another ‘hot’ cold war…)

      I really don’t think the key is necessarily figuring out how to use the web. The real key (again, as has been discussed with many of your sources before) is a new/better approach to marketing and perhaps addressing the cost per issue issue.

      At $1.50 or so, picking up each of the digests monthly was not that big a drain on the budget. Today, doing the same thing runs about $25 bucks and is virtually the same expense for e-editions. (There is no way to reconcile an electronic version price that high, none. It is simply not justified for what you are getting.)

      Same with e-books. They’re running the same (or more!) than the paper versions.

      Marketing. Promotion. INVESTING in a new audience. Lot’s of colleges have SF/F clubs. Given the numbers (above), one club subscription to each of those schools would do wonders for circulation.

    • Keith Dick

      Jenna: Your comment reminds me of a statement I remember reading a long time ago. I wish I could remember who said it — maybe it was John Campbell, but I just don’t remember.

      The statement was the response to the question: When was the Golden Age of Science Fiction? The answer: 12.

      I wonder whether you’d be so taken with that issue of Asimov’s you remember so fondly if you encountered it for the first time today.

      I think that insight can shed bit of light on the reason for the decline of magazine readership. Someone in the article said it: The magazines are not attracting new, young readers. I’ve not done any study of this, but I imagine that a lot of the reason for that is that, for many years, children have been conditioned to get their entertainment from sources other than books and magazines — primarily TV, video games, and similar media. For someone used to that, I think it would be quite unusual for them to turn to magazines for entertainment on their own.

      But that’s only part of the cause. Another part is that few of the stories published in the magazines these days are Golden Age stories, and by that, I also mean stories aimed at the 12-year-old. I’m not sure what brought about the change in the nature of stories being published. Someone mentioned that the magazines seem to be focused on retaining their readership rather than growing it by bringing in the youngsters. How much of that was the editor’s own doing vs. how much of that was due to the editors recognizing that they don’t have many young readers? I can’t say.

      If short fiction publishing is to survive, I think it has to find a way to attract a young audience. I’m not sure whether that means it has to change how the story is told or not. It might be necessary to move to telling stories in a comic book style, or even in animation on web sites, in order to catch the eye of the youngsters. Perhaps it would be enough to publish a fraction of the short fiction in that form and let it draw in the new audience and induce them to try reading traditional stories.

      Remember that the pulps are a recent phenomenon — about 100 years old (maybe a little older, but not much). I guess some short fiction was published in newspapers before the rise of the pulps, but that doesn’t extend much farther back, if I remember correctly. How did people get their entertainment before that? I don’t really know. Many probably didn’t have enough free time to look for entertainment. I imagine others who had some free time told stories to each other — stories they heard elsewhere or ones they made up themselves. So what we have to ask is: What is the next stage in the progression of this form of entertainment? I don’t really know — I’m just typing a first draft of my thoughts on this. I might repudiate the whole thing after thinking about it for a while, but this is my first reaction to the issues brought up by the article and the earlier comments: The magazines have to find a way to use modern media to tell stories of interest to an audience that includes much younger people than it currently addresses. Whether they can use the modern media as a way to attract and audience for traditional magazine publishing or have to convert completely to the new media, I have no idea.

    • Perhaps another analogy is appropriate. Record albums face new competition: iPods. From a marketing standpoint, it’s not so much software versus hardware, rather individual choice versus pre-programmed content.

      One great advantage of eBooks is that short stories may be purchased (at least on Fictionwise), and my own reader holds a hundred stories (half not yet read), basically a personal mix tape of the kind of SF stories I like (plus some award winners I plan to get around to in order to track the genre).

      There is a reasonable chance that an iTunes equivalent of the magazines could thrive, letting each of us build a personallized collection of stories at reasonable prices.

      I, for one, don’t hesitate to pay a buck for a story, where I might hesitate to pay five bucks for a collection that someone else organized (even if it saved me a little money per story).

      The interesting thing is that an Amazon practice makes great sense: tracking the tastes of others, and reading their favorites lists. When you find someone with similar tastes, you’re likely to enjoy the same styles, and you buy what they buy.

      The magazine need to ePublish stories, need to build audiences, need to groom lists of favorites and award winners and anything else that someone might choose to select their reading list.

      Personally, I like hard SF, and I tend to like stories chosen by Stanley Smith. So I subscribe to Analog. I don’t like the majority of the stories chosen by Gardner Dozois, although I keep buying them because many are award winners.

      Also, Keith Dick is right: the magazines need to appeal to younger readers, potential readers. We need to build that future audience, tomorrow’s dreamers, tomorrow’s engineers, tomorrow’s scientists.

      There must be hope for the genre: look at all the blockbuster movies, dominated by SF and techno-thriller themes. And the cons: how can SF be a dying genre when there are so many people attending these things? Go to Dragoncon in Atlanta: 30,000 out-of-this-world genre fans. The audience is out there, the media simply need to publish what they want, in a manner that allows individual choice and stylistic selection guides. Unfortunately, this is a time of transition, and none of us knows what new paradygm will work. We only know that the old ways are dying.

    • Keith Dick

      That’s an interesting point Stephen mentions — the point of making your own choice of stories vs. letting the magazine editor choose the stories.

      For myself, one of the things I value about the magazines is that I want to have the editors sift through hundreds of submissions to find a small number of stories that they feel are worth publishing. Not so much from the point of view of saving money as saving my time.

      Of course none of the editors matches my tastes exactly, but that doesn’t bother me much. Getting some stories outside my normal range of choices is good, I think. It introduces me to stories and authors I might not have found on my own. After I find an author I like through the magazines, I will seek out other work by him or her on my own, but I rarely buy something from an author I haven’t learned about through a magazine.

      If anything, the web ought to make it easier for editors to customize story selection to a number of different audiences — perhaps some “editions” aimed at younger audiences and others aimed at the current audiences, and even give the opportunity to expand beyond that.

      The trick to making that work is finding a way to make a publication on the web pay off. Most people expect stuff published on the web to be free (myself included), so directly transplanting the magazine subscription model to web publishing probably isn’t possible. Looking around at what’s happened on the web, it appears to me that it is possible to get people to pay for physical goods (books, electronics, etc.) and porn, but selling any kind of soft content doesn’t seem to work very well. Apple’s iTunes seems to be the one exception to that, though there might be others I don’t know of or am not thinking of at the moment.

      Perhaps someone smarter than I can figure out how to make a story publishing site profitable via an appropriate ad strategy, though I have my doubts about that. Perhaps someone can figure out how to make a story publishing site be an effective promotion for selling subscriptions to a traditional magazine. Perhaps there is another approach that will work.

      The magazines might be too deep in the hole to be able to afford the experiments necessary to work out a successful business model. Perhaps someone willing to risk some money on experiments will hook up with one of the magazines to try some approaches to use the web (or other new approaches) to reinvigorate short fiction publishing. I suppose the current economic hard times makes that unlikely, but we might be surprised.

    • Once upon a time, I used to subscribe to all the SF mags: Galaxy, If, Worlds of Tomorrow, Analog, F&SF, Amazing, Fantastic, etc. When these issues arrived, they got devoured in short order. How did I get started on these things? By seeing them on the magazine racks and checkout counters at just about every grocery and convenience store, where their often garish (and often much maligned) covers really stood out from the rest of the material on those same racks. Which indicates the first point: people won’t get involved with these mags unless they know they are there, that they are positioned and designed to attract the casual browser. How long has it been since I’ve seen one of these mags at such places? Years. Distribution and display space is certainly one item that is causing the decline in their readership. What would it take to attract the casual reader today? In lieu of suddenly being able to place the magazines everywhere due to some miracle change in distribution methods, perhaps something like a YouTube presence or ads placed on Amazon or some of the most popular blogs – not cheap, but somehow these mags have to make their presence known.

      How many SF mags do I subscribe to today? Zero. Why? Almost all my current SF reading today is novels, with only a rare (and usually single-author) anthology in the mix. The reason for this is something that Analog’s AnLab highlighted a long time ago, namely that longer pieces are typically more popular due to the fact that there is room to fully develop characters and environments. The SF short story is an extremely difficult form to do well, due to the inherent needs of SF to build entire worlds that the mainstream story can just take as background givens. In testament to this, I can rattle off literally a hundred excellent and highly memorable SF novels, stories that I can remember quite clearly even though I read them forty years ago, but I would be hard pressed to name more than 10 short stories that have had a similar impact. Although having the SF mags run serials was always controversial with some segments of their readership, they were often a great draw to go get the next issue, and at one time the best novels were being initially published this way (Herbert’s Dune, for example). I don’t think there’s been a single novel published in this format that has been Hugo nominated in over ten years (someone correct me if I’m wrong). Here is one area where online publication can help, as there aren’t any space/page limitations to be worked around to fit a novel into the magazine.

      Which brings up the cost issue. The mag’s prices today are nearly equal to what you pay for a full paperback book. And the price needs to be that high to pay the authors, editors, and printing costs. Online publication, instead of dead-tree format, at least eliminates the printing costs, and allows for more flexible pricing/bundling – the online music model of price per song/story or price per album/entire magazine might make sense here. To make this work, though, would require probably several years of investment to grow the online version and get current readers of the hardcopy format to switch over.

      I’m afraid that the SF print-format magazine really is a dying animal, with almost no hope of saving it in that format. If these publications wish to survive at all, they really must embrace the web, and not in just a trivial manner.

    • One or two commenters mentioned the fact that the magazines cost almost as much as paperback books, but none of them realized that the magazines publish as many words as the average novel. It’s the same price, but with the magazine, you’re getting a mix of stories (so if there’s a clunker in the batch, you haven’t blown the entire investment, as with a novel).

      To the point of award-nominated serials in the magazines, I think Analog has serialized an award-nominated novel almost every year for the last decade or two. Many, if not all, of those novels later saw publication as stand-alone books, but they did first appear in the magazine.

      And someone pointed out the true value of the magazines, the reason people pay for them: it’s not simply the good content (though that is the goal of the magazines). Rather, it’s the editor’s work and taste. The editors of each of those three magazines all read several hundred stories every month, most of which just aren’t that good. They glean from that huge pile of stuff you wouldn’t want to read 6 or 8 or 10 of the best, stories that you do want to read (even if a few aren’t quite to your taste). That’s the key difference between “I’ll go out on the web and buy a bunch of stories” and “I’ll buy this magazine.” With the bunch of stories, you’re either buying what you already know you like (the newest story by your favorite author) or you’re taking a chance on the unknown, with no real guideposts. With the magazine, you’re getting the latest from the favorite, but you’re also getting the brand new, tasty morsels you would never have discovered on your own.

      But what form of economics is going to save the magazines? Or at least save the concept that there’s this person who’s sitting in an office all month, reading and discarding reams of dreck, so that at the end of the month, he can offer you a sampler of wonderfulness? That’s the question. Even throwing out the costs associated with producing the physical magazine, there are costs that must be paid: authors want to be paid for their work, the editor needs to be paid, any production staff (whether paper or electronic), marketing, management, and so on. It’s a company, whether the product appears on paper or on screen. And everyone involved in creating it and getting it to you needs to be paid, or else they’ll go off and do something else to put food on the table, and you’ll be out of luck. Sadly, we got stuck with the dream that everything on the web is and ought to be free, and while that’s fine for some things, and some creators who don’t need to support themselves on the fruits of their labors, there’s going to come a time when those creators either create less, and not as well, or they find a way to get paid to do it.

      Personally, I’m hoping the broadcast television model works (give away the content for free, sell the advertising). But as was said, it’s a long, slow growth process. (And in my case, I’m giving away non-fiction, the news, rather than fiction. I still don’t see how fiction is going to play out in the long run.)

      Ian Randal Strock
      Editor, SFScope.com
      Author (see uspresidents.livejournal.com or ianrandalstrock.livejournal.com)

    • I let my subscriptions to Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF lapse some years back because the stories bored me to tears. There were a couple of good ones each month, but looking over the TOC, it seemed to be the same names over and over again.

    • Sean Wallace

      Ian, the average issue’s worth of fiction in Analog, or Asimov’s, is probably 60k or less; and F&SF is probably closer to 40k, or less. The average novel is probably closer to 85k, and tends to trend higher than that. So, it’s probably not a good deal for most people, either way.

      I think one huge mistake in all this is focusing on the fiction. A magazine is much more than just its fiction. It’s everything rolled up into one . . . and the question is not if fiction magazines can or will survive, but should they be something else entirely: entertainment magazines. People want to be entertained . . . I hope.

    • William C Bonner

      I used to subscribe to Analog, and had done so for most of 15 years.

      In my last move, nearly 5 years ago now, I attempted to get the address changed to my new address for several months before I finally gave up.

      All of my other periodicals had methods of updating the information via the web, but I had to physically mail the information to an address that was hard to find to begin with. (The information was printed supposedly for the postmaster.)

      After wasting several stamps I gave up and let my subscription expire, and the post office eventually stopped forwarding them.

    • I think it’s funny that the photo of John in the article is larger than any of the magazine covers depicted.

      —Gordon V.G.

    • I’m surprised that no mention has been made of podcasts. StarshipSofa.com has become a magazine in audio form, and Escape Pod (along with its sister podcasts) pays for its stories at a rate comparable to the pulps.

    • Sean: a magazine that contains nonfiction as well as fiction? What a shocking idea.

      Actually, that was what I was doing with Artemis Magazine, and yes, I agree that we’re selling entertainment, not just fiction. It’s just easier to talk solely in terms of fiction (but hey, I read non-fiction books, too).

      I think the larger issue is fiction in general. Aside from us and the mystery magazines, nobody thinks to read short fiction anymore….

    • This topic is a monster, both in terms of the problems the magazines face and the proliferation of electronic challenges from which authors and publishers may choose. I think the core issue isn’t the magazines — it’s the delivery of content. When readers get what they want the way they want it, the means define themselves. The Web is redefining the means by delivering the content for nothing, instantly. How does anyone compete profitably with that?

      Finding a profit model for publishing fiction electronically is the turbulent task of the present. It’s part of the larger problem of ownership of rights in the instantiations of ideas of all kinds (think Lawrence Lessig). But those who market high-quality works by giving the works away obtain new relationships with those who read them. I think the profit will flow from the relationships, and the evolution of an author’s works over time. It’s like the software upgrade model.

      And such a model depends on the author’s skill in constructing arcs of narrative that bind the smaller components of a story, as Charles Dickens did in the 19th century with the serializations of his novels. People WILL pay to get their hands on the next scene or episode or chapter ahead of everyone else. That’s what can be charged for: the cutting edge of knowing.

      This of course kills the standalone short story except as a teaser for an author’s talents. The long series wins. Think DVDs and television shows. Authors are faced with some real challenges in weaving bundles of story within settings and long-running arcs. These forms, I think, stand a better chance of getting some profits in the electronic world.

      It’s also possible that those who can find and point out the good works in the vast tide of crap floating in the Web will assume roles of much greater importance than they have so far. They become our navigators and facilitators, turning us on to those exceptional works that deserve wide attention. Many readers would pay such a navigator to save themselves the time and effort of Googling every blooming thing halfway from hell to breakfast. Do magazine publishers and editors feel that shifting into such roles might open some new opportunities for gain?

      Also, consider the tie-in aspect of it all: the story begets the video series begets the computer games, and so on. The author now can command significant leverage, if only these things can be grasped and exploited. I’m not good at this stuff myself, not yet, but I’d like to see it happen more for all of us, authors and publishers alike.

    • These discussions seem always to assume that the big three should be profitable. Of course, that secures them — but maybe it’s a feature of a maturing art form that profitability is elusive. We are all accustomed to not expecting _Poetry_ or _Ploughshares_ to be profitable; nor do we expect them to have large subscriber bases. I can make similar arguments for other art forms, too — think of theatre, where the art houses are always broke (the real action is happening at places like Rattlestick and Playwrights Horizons, and just as the average Star Wars fan has never heard of _Analog_, the average person at _Phantom_ has no idea what or where LAByrinth Theatre is). Perhaps we should start thinking of the big three as little literary magazines, and stop gnashing our teeth, and encourage them to become non-profits housed in a university somewhere.

      cd

    • I work in the Western genre and I’m a believer in the Net for publicizing fiction. My most recent short novel Misfit Lil Cleans Up, fifth in a series about the lead character, had a publication date of October 31. The hardcover book, in the Black Horse Western series, had a short print-run designed for the lending library market, where every copy supposedly gets read a hundred times. By November 11, the London publisher was no longer able to fill orders (that is, within seven working days). The only known publicity the novel had was an entry at the publisher’s website, mention online in an article on noir westerns (blackhorsewesterns.com/bhe11) and a “free excerpt” of one chapter at geocities.com/chapkeith .

    • Blue

      The magazines are declining simply because the audience of people who want to read short science fiction stories is declining. There is no magic to it.

      • gerald brennan

        O yes, I think you hit it on the head.
        I write short fiction, really good stuff, too, if I do say so (and so say the few that read it). And all published in ebook and print book format available (on order) “everywhere,” but I can’t even get my friends and family to read it.
        But I do it because I have to, and just maybe, one of these days…

    • Michael Habif

      I am writing a proposition for a class on how to increase readership for Analog. I simply wanted to thank Simon and all of you who posted for your ideas and comments

    • Greetings

      One issue why what happens to magazines is crucial to books is the all important “permission to suck”

      During the golden age magazines need for content provided a market a place for the best of scifi to learn their criaft and get paid a couple cents a word and also earn cred for the passport into books!

      Where does the aspiring writer go nowadays? Like Stand Up a writer needs a place to fail in order to succeed. Where do we provide that venue in web 2.0?

    • I know that print magazines are getting harder to find. I used to buy BlackGate at my bookstore–now, thankfully they are looking at also selling a PDF version because my bookstore doesn’t carry it anymore–they carry Asimovs and Analog…they used to carry FS&F, but I don’t think they do anymore.

      Truthfully, there MUST be an electronic way for me to get these magazines. I read Baen’s Universe online–and I usually order it on occasion, rather than subscribe.

      Yes, I love print–but I only buy a magazine here and there and they simply aren’t available in airports or many bookstores. If I were an editor of a magazine today, I think I’d sell stories by the story after an issue comes out. That way, when one story stands out or gets good word of mouth, people can come and buy that story. I hate buying an entire magazine for one story–but just about anyone will read one story.

      I know my online book club works that way. Lots of them don’t want to subscribe or read an entire magazine. But if I refer them to a single story in an online zine (usually a free one) they’ll go check it out.

      For those magazines only in print–or only offering entire magazines–pls, make individual stories available. I’m more likely to try one or two stories for fifty cents than I am to buy an issue.

      Good topic and discussion!

    • PULP FICTION is alive and well. For further information, see:

      http://www.mottimorphic.com
      PULP WINDS: http://tinyurl.com/ygzpaq2
      THE PULSIFER SAGA OMNIBUS EDITION: http://tinyurl.com/y9zphfd
      THE PULSIFER SAGA OMNIBUS EDITION (large print): http://tinyurl.com/ybabaym

    • PULP FICTION is alive and well. For further information, see:

      http://www.mottimorphic.com
      PULP WINDS: http://tinyurl.com/ygzpaq2
      THE PULSIFER SAGA OMNIBUS EDITION: http://tinyurl.com/y9zphfd
      THE PULSIFER SAGA OMNIBUS EDITION (large print): http://tinyurl.com/ybabaym

      NEW BOOKS RELEASED
      December 09: For Immediate Release

       PULP WINDS, the long-awaited collecton of short fiction, verse, and Forteana by TGS author Wm. Michael Mott, has been unleashed for mass consumption! With introductions by Walter Bosley, Brad Steiger, and Gerald W. Page, these tales will take you from the antediluvian world to lost cities beneath the earth, onward to other planets around distant stars, and even to the Dark Ages, the Old West and the High Seas. New twists on mythos and madness are intermeshed and presented in these yarns of terror and adventure!
      Profusely illustrated, and reminiscent of pulp fiction and verse of a bygone era, PULP WINDS is a literary adventure of a type scarcely seen today! These literary gems are not in the modern vein of politically correct, emasculated tales of slow pace and boring introspection so common today, but are fast-paced, pulse-pounding accounts of action, horror, love, hate and gore! Presented in a large-format for easier reading and for viewing of the artwork, the design is reminiscent of the pulp magazines of an earlier, bygone era.
      Those of you familiar with Mott’s non-fiction Fortean research will find familiar themes from the realms of the unknown interwoven into, through, and beneath these stories, like the currents of a deep black subterranean river of mystery, glimpsed and occasionally revealed in all its weirdness and terror, before plunging beneath the surface again. Also included is an article on Fortean matters along the lines of the research presented in Caverns, Cauldrons, and Concealed Creatures, Mott’s definitive non-fiction opus on high strangeness, hidden beings, and real-life mysteries. Some of the stories and poems in Pulp Winds have also appeared in Lost Continent Library Magazine, Planetary Stories, and elsewhere, but have never been gathered together into a single collection before now.
      If the reader finds occasional hints of the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Book of Skelos, the Eltdown Shards, the Necronomicon, and yes, even the mad musings of the Shaver Mystery in these tales… It is no mere happenstance!
      BLOOD AND THUNDER has returned to the literary realm. PULP WINDS will satisfy your cravings for fast-paced, haunting adventures across time and space! Click on the cover art at mottimorphic.com to order your copy now!

      The PULSIFER SAGA OMNIBUS EDITION IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE!

      The PULSIFER SAGA OMNIBUS EDITION is comprised of two complete fantasy novels, illustrated by the author and unlike anything else out there today!

      In the first novel, PULSIFER: A FABLE, we meet fantasy fiction’s new and outrageous hero…or anti-hero. He’s not politically correct, overly heroic, or even overly endearing…but he is uproariously entertaining. Meet Calim Pulsifer-thief, rogue, womanizer, and confidence man-and, in spite of having earned the enmity of wizards, warriors, and women, always his own worst enemy.

      Extricating himself from one outrageous misadventure after another in his quest for vengeance and survival, the outcast Calim Pulsifer leaves a trail of mayhem and mirth across and beneath a frozen, monster-haunted world. Political correctness goes out the window as the ultimate trickster and adventurer takes the stage. Fantasy-fiction readers and role-playing fans alike will find these novels provide a thrilling, belly-laughing reading experience. This first novel in a new series will leave the reader gasping with laughter and asking for more!

      In the second novel, LAND OF ICE, A VELVET KNIFE, Calim Pulsifer, the ultimate rogue and adventurer, is back with a vengeance–primarily fleeing vengeance, seeking vengeance, and repeatedly bungling, bamboozling, and bluffing his way from one outrageous situation to another.

      As in the first novel, in spite of having earned the enmity of wizards, warriors, and women, Pulsifer is once again his own worst enemy. Fighting, scrabbling, and conniving in his quest for vengeance and survival, the outcast Calim Pulsifer leaves a trail of mayhem and mirth, delving into the bizarre depths of a subterranean realm like no other. Adversaries and lovers, unhuman and sorcerous creations of an ancient wizardry, and innocent bystanders alike–all are touched by the wake he leaves, and only the force known as Equilibrium knows how things will finally balance out, for even multiple hells hath no fury like several women scorned….

      Once more, political correctness is trampled and discarded altogether, as the ultimate trickster and adventurer takes the stage.

      Readers of Wm. Michael Mott’s pulp fiction and Fortean/paranormal research works will find many familiar themes here, interwoven with a humor which is at times sophisticated and at other times ribald and slapstick. Fans of Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, and George Macdonald Fraser–maybe even of John Kennedy Toole!–will enjoy these non-stop humorous adventure novels.

      The OMNIBUS EDITION is available in two formats: standard size, and large format for easy reading!  Links to both versions are also at  mottimorphic.com.

      A Note from the Author:
      TGS is the ONLY AUTHORIZED PUBLISHER of the novels of the Pulsifer Saga. Another publisher, who NO LONGER HAS ANY PUBLICATION RIGHTS TO THESE WORKS, is still offering them for sale at online booksellers at greatly inflated prices. Not only are they still providing these works illegally, but they are offering them on extremely substandard materials which age and yellow far too quickly, and cost far too much per volume. I would ask most sincerely that you ONLY BUY THESE NOVELS FROM TGS, THE AUTHORIZED PUBLISHER, once they are available. You will receive two books in one volume and also a MUCH HIGHER QUALITY PRODUCT. Also, by buying this edition from TGS you will be honoring the author’s wishes and not putting ill-gotten gains in the pockets of an unethical publishing enterprise. You can still see reader reviews at various links online, but PLEASE don’t put money in the pockets of those who are publishing the books illegally. Reviews are also at the product pages for the new volume. The new omnibus volume will be larger, of higher quality, and more attractive.

      Please support struggling writers by not doing business with those who rip them off!

      Thanks very much,
      -Wm. Michael (Mike) Mott

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