Last Tuesday, SFScope broke the news that Realms of Fantasy magazine was closing down after the April 2009 issue. Which means it's time for me to revisit the question of supporting short fiction.

Ironically, the last time I wrote on this topic, in an August 2007 post titled "Supporting Short Speculative Fiction," it was because the assistant editor of Realms of Fantasy had decided to start a subscription drive for short fiction magazines. A year and a half later, we can probably guess how well that worked.

So with the folding of Realms of Fantasy, writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who used to edit the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, sent out a similar plea which got picked up by ComicMix last Wednesday at Fight the downturn! Here's how... You can follow the link to read her letter, but the essence of her statement can be encapsulated in the first sentence: "If you’re really worried about the magazines, subscribe to them."

I'm not going to revisit the question of the economics of short fiction; those who are interested can go back to my November 2005 post Thoughts on the End of SCI FICTION and the Status of the Short Fiction Market. Instead, I'm going to add my own plea to the ones already out there, and note an interesting experiment being done by Apex Magazine.

First of all, as always, I remind people who like my stories to consider subscribing to Analog. Most of my stories have appeared there, including all the stories collected in I Remember the Future. If you like my stories, you'll like what you find in Analog. (And a shout out to [ profile] fizzixrat, who has informed me that he is subscribing to Analog!)

Secondly, I want to boost the signal on a fascinating announcement made today by Apex Publications. Apex, which publishes my book, has been publishing Apex Magazine since 2005. It started as a print digest, and then in 2008 they moved it online as a free website. The website included all of the same fiction, but didn't have the same look and feel as the digest.

Well, for those readers who liked the digest and want to support the magazine, they've announced that starting with this month's issue, they are offering a PDF version of the magazine for those readers willing to pay for it. For $2 an issue, or $12 for an annual subscription, readers of Apex can received a PDF emailed to them which has the look of the original digest, including a cover and full-color art.

I like this idea a lot. Apex keeps their fiction available to readers on the Internet for free, but at the same time, they've created an appealing product for those readers who liked the digest. Furthermore, they're giving their readers the opportunity to show their support for the writers and artists, as they note that the money raised by selling the PDF is going to them.

I'm hoping that this business model works out, and helps stave off the death of short fiction markets that people keep predicting as we see one market after another vanish away. I have subscriptions already to Analog, Asimov's, and F&SF, and if you'll excuse me, I'm off to purchase one from Apex as well.
Yesterday, Douglas Cohen, the assistant editor of Realms of Fantasy magazine, decided to start a Subscription Drive for the short fiction markets that publish science fiction and fantasy.

Cohen quotes from the latest report in Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction Collection, which points out that the circulation of the short fiction magazines continues to drop. Cohen decided to do something about it. His post is a general subscription drive for all the short fiction magazines. He's hoping to encourage people to support them and keep the world of short speculative fiction alive.

I don't know if my own link back to his post will help, although I do encourage people to read what he has to say. As many of you know, I'm a big supporter of short fiction and would like to see the markets for it stay in business. I've said so before.

For example, in November 2005, I posted a similar plea under the title Thoughts on the End of SCI FICTION and the Status of the Short Fiction Market. I went into the details of the economics of short fiction magazines, pointing out that there were only five categories of places where short SF/F could be found, and that all five are in some sort of danger. It seems that what I said back then still fits today:

In the end, if you really enjoy reading short science fiction and want to see it continue, you ought to subscribe to the magazines that publish it: Analog, Asimov's, F&SF. If you find yourself visiting a webzine regularly, you ought to click the donations button at least once a year, and give them what you would pay for a year's worth of stories.

And this goes for aspiring writers as well as readers. Because if you harbor a hope of one day appearing in those pages, well, the only way those pages are going to exist is if people keep supporting them financially so they stick around.

(Thanks to [ profile] stevenagy and [ profile] jimvanpelt for pointing me to the original [ profile] slushmaster post.)
A while back, I commented on the death of SciFiction and the question of how short science fiction might survive. I'd like to revisit that discussion in light of an announcement that was made yesterday.

A group of science fiction writers and editors led by William Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans have started a new quarterly webzine, Helix, which debuted yesterday. I haven't had a chance to delve into it too deeply so far, although I know quite a few of the people involved, including people who have blogs here on LiveJournal. The philosophy behind the webzine, described in their editorials, seems to be rooted in the whole Dangerous Visions concept, to have a place where writers can publish stories that the regular markets don't want to publish due to their controversial nature. They also note that they don't plan to be a commercial publication; in other words, the stories are offered for free, but they're hoping that people will donate. And finally, despite their uncertainty over whether or not they could end up paying a professional rate to their writers and staff, they wanted to put together "a professional-quality online magazine."

From what I've seen, they've definitely succeeded on the first and third point. Helix looks like an extremely high quality zine. The one story I've read so far is readily described as controversial, bordering on taboo, and it impressed me enough to recommend it for the Nebula Award.

On the second point, of course, the concerns I brought up in November 2005 are still present. Obviously they're succeeding at not being a commercial publication, but my concern is about the lack of commercial publications. Back when I commented on the death of SciFiction, I noted that no one other than Ellen Datlow as far as I knew was making a living off of editing a fiction zine on the web. For the moment, Helix's existence doesn't change that proposition, and the editors even admit as such. The fact is that none of the participants are making a living out of this website yet, nor is it paying anyone's salary. Nor do they expect to in the near future. But it's an interesting experiment, and I think a lot of us will be tracking reports of donations (assuming they release any of that information publicly, like other sites sometimes do).

There's also the question of just how much is this a science fiction magazine or equivalent when -- for the moment -- no one can submit to it. In fact, their own site displays a contradiction in their philosophy.

Let me quote directly from William Sanders's editorial:

"One, Helix would be a place where writers could publish things that none of the regular markets wanted to touch, either because they were too edgy or controversial or, as sometimes happens, simply because the authors were too unknown. [italics mine] (Another growing problem, the inevitable result of the Dying Of The Light; with fewer and fewer pro SF magazines, there aren't even enough markets for all the established pro writers, let alone the new kids on the block.)"

And now let me quote from their submissions guidelines page:

"At present Helix is taking contributions by invitation only. We are not considering any submissions. We are sure you are very talented and your work a delight to read, but we already have sufficient material for upcoming issues on our quarterly publishing schedule and until we are more solidly established we do not want to acquire a backlog."

On the one hand, Sanders says in his editorial that they also want to publish stories that the other markets won't touch "simply because the authors were too unknown." On the other hand, it would appear that they themselves aren't ready to look at authors they don't know either. In some ways, this is much more like an invitation-only anthology than like a quarterly magazine.

So how does this differ from some yahoos just posting their stories on the web?

The difference is in the names. Remember when almost no one thought people would want to read fiction delivered in an electronic format? Then Stephen King released his novella "Riding the Bullet" and it was a bestseller. Frankly, it takes someone like King to pave the way.

In the same light, when you see people like Richard Bowes, Adam-Troy Castro, and Janis Ian offering their stories on this site, it's a far cry from a bunch of yahoos. The people behind it have established credentials in the field. Presumably, they and the editors know that these stories are of professional quality, and so they feel no qualms about posting them on the site.

So here's my hope: that Helix will provide a new business model for short fiction, and that the editors will figure out a way to start reading unsolicited submissions, while at the same time paying professional rates to their writers and a living wage to their staff. Because that would be a good sign that short science fiction will not end up as a dead art form of the past.

Copyright © Michael Burstein
Yesterday's post about the seemingly skewed readership of the SCI FICTION webpage generated a number of comments from people indicating that they had never even heard of SCI FICTION until I noted its demise. Some were even regular visitors of the Sci Fi Channel website.

My first reaction was one of slight astonishment. The people responding were regular consumers of science fiction, and we're talking about a webpage that over the course of the past six years earned three Hugo Awards, four Nebula Awards, and a World Fantasy Award for their writers and editor. So how is it that there are people who hadn't heard of it until now?

I don't know the answer, but I can take a few guesses, although some of them are probably wrong.

First of all, I don't recall SCI FICTION doing much advertising, or having much of a presence at conventions other than the Worldcon. As I noted before, the Sci Fi Channel seemed to view it as more of a loss leader, a way to bring people into their website by offering content not related to their shows. (To their credit, they are still doing this quite nicely with their Sci Fi Wire short news pieces and their nonfiction news and review page Science Fiction Weekly.)

Secondly, despite the inroads the web has made over the past few years, in some ways it's still a very small part of the overall culture. True, everyone reading here is on the web, but a lot of people may not have been using the web as their primary tool to seek out short stories (such as [ profile] docorion who, bless his soul, noted that he "subscribe[s] to Analog", but had never heard of SCI FICTION).

There's also fragmentation. A lot of places provide short fiction on the web; the more that exist, the fewer people any one webzine can draw. It's like the fragmentation of television into many channels. The series finale of Friends didn't draw nearly the numbers that the series finale of M*A*S*H did, because there were so many more options for television viewers.

As for my original lament, it's possible that I'm looking at a very skewed sample. Right now, I get most of my on-line interaction via my LiveJournal Friends list, and I do try to keep everyone in my Default View, just to get a feel for what's going on in people's lives -- even with people whom I've never met but who "friended" me because I write science fiction. (Hey, if you're curious about me, I tend to be curious about you.) Now, the nice thing about the Internet is that it has allowed formerly isolated writers to form communities for support and discussion. But because of this, when I dip into my Friends pages, it often seems as if everyone in the world is a writer or aspiring writer of science fiction -- and I know that that isn't really the case.

So in the end, the main reason that I may have been assuming that only current and aspiring writers were lamenting the demise of SCI FICTION is that many of the people whose blogs I read regularly fall into that category.
When I posted a few days ago about the loss of SCI FICTION and the state of the short fiction market, I left out a few thoughts that I felt were more controversial. The reason I did so is that I don't want to be one of those doom-sayers who keep predicting the death of science fiction. As Gardner Dozois tends to note in his annual Year's Best collections, every year people predict the death of science fiction, and every year it trudges along.

But there is one thought that I've now decided to share. With all the Internet discussion lamenting the end of SCI FICTION, it occurred to me that I haven't seen one post from anyone who isn't either a writer, aspiring writer, or an editor.

In other words, I haven't seen a single reader or fan -- defined as someone who simply reads science fiction, and has no desire to write it -- post about how upset they are over the loss of the webzine. I'm also on a few fannish email lists, and I haven't seen any expressions of concern there either.

Am I wrong? Are there any laments about the end of SCI FICTION coming from people who self-identify solely as readers, or fans, who aren't either professional writers or aspiring writers or editors? Is there anyone out there bemoaning its loss simply for the stories, and not also for the fact that they've just lost a lucrative market for their fiction?

If not, that's a chilling thought to consider. Because it would imply that the only people who really care about short science fiction are those who harbor thoughts of make a living from writing. And there's not enough of those to be the audience.
By now, most people reading this are aware that the SCI FICTION webpage is coming to an end. Over the weekend, they posted a message on their front page announcing that they would discontinue SCI FICTION by the end of the year. They also posted a farewell message from Ellen Datlow.

A lot of people have expressed their disappointment, frustration, and outrage on the Internet. The fact that SCI FICTION, as far as I can see, has never been a money-making operation, but simply a loss leader to bring people to the Science Fiction Channel's website, seems to pass people by. They look at the high quality of fiction that it has published, and the awards that it has won, and seem to feel that such things should be enough to keep the webpage going.

Read more... )

In the end, if you really enjoy reading short science fiction and want to see it continue, you ought to subscribe to the magazines that publish it: Analog, Asimov's, F&SF. If you find yourself visiting a webzine regularly, you ought to click the donations button at least once a year, and give them what you would pay for a year's worth of stories.

And this goes for aspiring writers as well as readers. Because if you harbor a hope of one day appearing in those pages, well, the only way those pages are going to exist is if people keep supporting them financially so they stick around.

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