Tag Archives: market

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.

Dead publishing houses and digital reading

Some booky gubbins from over the weekend … a sad bit of news that caught my eye on the SFBC blog is that Perseus Book Group is axing a few subsidiary houses in their acquisition of Avalon, one of which is Thunder’s Mouth Press.

In my fortunate position of getting sent more books than I have time to realistically read, it’s a rare occasion that I lash out my own cash on one, but two of the books I bought in the last year were Thunder’s Mouth titles: Sterling’s Visionary in Residence collection and Rucker’s Mad Professor. There’s a lot of these amalgamations happening in publishing at the moment, and I wonder how this will pan out over time – the Long Tail hasn’t yet kicked into the book market the way it has music.


Some bibliophile at The Guardian got given a demo unit of iRex’s forthcoming Iliad ebook reader to try out for a month, and seems to be fairly impressed by it – although he reckons it’ll be a long time before they kill of the print book business, which is something I’ve always conceded and which has been stated by minds far greater (and more versed in the technology and economic ramifications) than mine. But as reflects the item above, the following statement is interesting:

“It won’t destroy bookshops, any more than the much more advanced music-download business has destroyed albums.”

I can only assume the gentleman hasn’t seen the sales figures for the music industry recently – the album is indeed dying as a format, as is the bricks-and-mortar music outlet. The effects will take longer in an industry like literature, where pace of change is by necessity that much slower (books take time to write and edit after all), but if there is a truism in media these days, it is that “technology disrupts markets – inevitably and irreperably”.


Finally, we have the one and only Bill Gates proclaiming that reading will eventually go entirely online. There’s no timeframe mentioned, of course, and it’s probably a tautology to all but the most agressively technophobic. But Gates has scored well as a futurist prediction machine in the past – his book The Road Ahead, published in 1995, was stunningly accurate as far as such documents go – though not without some prophecies that look remarkably silly in hindsight.

We’ve got a long future of paper books to come – with POD technology making short runs more practical and affordable, there’s little reason that science fiction should suffer the effects of change any more than the greater market as a whole. But as the Guardian fellow says, we will start to see ebook readers in the hands of the ubergeeks – Stross’s “Slashdot Generation” – very soon, and the first increments of change will begin to unfold.

If I had £500 spare, I’d happily be one of those technology pioneers – indeed, should anyone from Sony or iRex be reading, I’d be more than willing to evaluate and critique their product for them over a lengthy time period …

A multi-million reader science fiction market

Via the inimitable Jason Stoddard comes news of a genre fiction con that anyone with a serious interest in promoting their writing should consider attending – if only for the fact that the magazine sponsoring it has a claimed readership of 5 million (yes, million) people.

Of course, the Chengdu convention, like the magazine in question (Science Fiction World), is based in China, which may put it out of your financial league – unless you plan to bolt it on to your attendance at this year’s Worldcon in Japan, in which case the power of my searing jealousy will keep you awake for weeks to come.

But fear not, my economically-challenged friends! Because they’re planning on running the Chengdu convention virtually in Second Life in parallel with the meatspace version, which means the financial issues aren’t anywhere near as bad as they could be if you have access to a broadband internet connection and a reasonably pokey computer.

I assure you that I’m going to be there with bells on – and hopefully by then I’ll have my own little patch of SL land developed enough to entertain visitors who tire of panels …