Subscription drives alone will not save the short fiction magazines

OK, first off let me make one thing perfectly clear – I do not want to see science fiction and fantasy short story print magazines die off. It is not a thing that would bring me any sort of joy.

Secondly, let me make it clear that Doug Cohen’s suggestion that everyone make a point of subscribing to a short story publication is well-meaning and good-spirited, and that I think anyone who can afford to do so should do exactly that.

(I recommend Interzone, myself, but then I’m biased!)

But I think that subscription drives are a short-term solution that fails to look at the long-term issues.

Where have the readers gone, and why?

Subscription rates are falling; this is undeniable. And the genre needs the short fiction markets to nurture new talent; this is also undeniable.

What we are missing are the cold hard facts. Why are subscriptions to short fiction magazines dropping? Subscription drives are an admirable thing, but until the source of the problem is located, it’s like adding more water to a leaking bucket. We need to find the hole and patch it.

Now, for all I know, the magazine publishers may well be hunting for the leak. I certainly hope so. I know some of them are looking at methods of patching the leak, too, if not already rolling out potential patches and strengthening. This is a good thing.

But what worries me is this; subscription drives may cause an unfounded short-term sense of security. If publishers look at the next twelve months and breathe a sigh of relief, they may not think ahead to the next five years. Beating the wolf away from the door is great, but it would be better to chase him back into the forest.

What should we do to save the short fiction markets?

I don’t have all the answers, sadly. Alhough I have my opinions on futureproofing the genre short fiction scene, which were not universally popular when I announced them, they are only opinions – and they are the opinions of someone who isn’t a publisher of short fiction magazines. In an absence of facts, all I can do is throw theories into the air.

So here’s what I suggest:

Follow Doug Cohen’s advice, and subscribe to a magazine if you can afford to do so.

But while you’re at it, or if you can’t afford to, or even if you don’t want to, get in touch with the magazine publisher and tell them how you feel.

Tell them why you weren’t subbed before, or why you lapsed, or why you’d like to subscribe but can’t (or won’t). Give these people some feedback, and help them find a solid path to a lasting future.

You can’t fix a problem simply by throwing money at it. We need to think smarter than that.

8 thoughts on “Subscription drives alone will not save the short fiction magazines”

  1. Only subscribe to one at the moment and that’s PS Publishing’s Postscripts. Buy Interzone now and again. I look upon these sorts of publications as a cheap and convenient way to discover new authors. If I like a couple of shorts I’ll track down more stuff by the writer.

  2. Well said. Communication with customers and potential customers. Does anyone know the relationship or correlation of short fiction to the state of poetry magazines?

  3. Paul, the reason why I don’t subscribe is easy . . . I’ve never felt that I had found a magazine that interested me consistently, issue after issue, especially with just handfuls of good stories. I browse the major pubs available in U.S. bookstores, and I read a good deal more short stuff online. What makes publication is usually not what I want to read. I can forgive the occasional misfire, but the editors of the major publications generally just don’t print stories that interest me. So I’m going to wait to subscribe until I find that perfect fit: an editor that knows what I want to read.

  4. Brian has it. Why would he pay to read stuff when he might not like it? I’ve submitted stories to mags that were printing junk, and they just sent me form rejections. If editors have no ability to sort out a decent story, then their mags will fail.

  5. 1) I think many of these short fiction magazines are managed by enthusiasts rather than the more business oriented marketeers, and with such a niche market, marketing strategies are more important than ever.

    2) Its becoming more expensive to produce these magazines, and the population base isn’t growing. To pass the cost onto the customer will reduce the likely subscription rates. Could it also be that people are reading for entertainment less these days?

    3) People are becoming more internet savvy, and there are many options for short story readers and writers to read/publish short stories online, without subscribing to the paper versions.

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