News: The life and times of a startup magazine
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The life and times of a startup magazine... and the decline and fall of the majors. Warren Ellis recently posted a (hopefully) inflammatory post about Science Fiction Magazine Sales in 2006, data culled from Gardner Dozois' YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION anthology: Asimov's at 15k, Analog at 28k, F&SF at 18k, Interzone at 2-3k.
Someone recently said to me, "Well, what could you do to save them?" And I said, well, no-one’s asking, but there’s probably about twelve things that could be done. And they said, "Well, maybe, but what I really meant was -- why try? Why not just bury them and start anew?"
In a later post, he goes on to further explain something behind the cry of "Why try?":
ASIMOV’S, ANALOG, F&SF -- they don’t think they need saving. I mean, they haven’t changed for years, have they? They’re not designed to be wanted because they don’t want to be wanted, not really. They want to be left alone to do their thing, and they don’t want any loud new people in the room.
And backing up a moment, then, more to the purposes of this post...
A few people have asked me what the twelve things that could be done to 'save' the sf magazines are. Maybe I’ll get into that next week, if the time becomes available. Half of them start with this: a magazine is a thing that must be designed to be wanted.
GUD wants to be wanted. Not by the "vox populi", perhaps--the "rags" have the larger market taken care of--but by a portion of the population that we hope is not dwindling. We've very carefully designed our magazine to be cleanly beautiful, and comfortable. In print, it's a thing of beauty--higher quality to the touch than many paperbacks, and by far greater than Asimov's, Analog, or F&SF. We use thick natural paper that's easy on the eyes and solid in the hand. GUD isn't going to fall apart from the repeated reading we hope will come. So that's a start--that's a start on half of the twelve things Warren Ellis sees as possibilities to save the big three--and in that, we hope it's something good for a startup magazine to consider, something that will help bolster us towards those esteemed (by many) ranks.
We're ahead of their game in one other way, at least--our website is not "vestigial". We like to think it's dynamic, easy to navigate, and "modern"--how many other publications personalize a downloadable PDF, or let you "build your own" by just picking one or two stories from it for a reduced price? Of course, there's still a bit of a mess--we're still learning how to represent all the content that GUD contains. One of the most common "first reactions" to seeing GUD in print (or waiting for the PDF to download) is surprise at how big it is. So while we're working to improve our web presence (and hopefully some major improvements will roll out in a few months) we'd like to think we're ahead of the curve, there. Of course, we're also always open to suggestions (which apparently also puts us ahead of the curve with respect to the "big three").
Cory Doctorow enters the fray with some suggestions for what he'd do if he were running "the mags":
I think the biggest impediment to the magazines' sales is that there's no easy way for people who love the stories in them to bring them to the attention of other, potential customers.
A great idea. "Recommend this feature" at the bottom of every page--not something we could really work into the print edition as it stands, and best to steer clear from making the PDF too crazy, but we've got teaser content online for everything we've printed. We're game. We can do this. :) Hell, we offer a free copy of any story to anyone who wants to ask for it, once. We could integrate that with "Recommend this feature" and let people "loan" their freebie to others!
By the time you've read the current issue and found a story you want everyone else to read, the issue isn't on the stands anymore and the best you can do is to try to get your pals to shell out to pay for an ebook edition.
GUD intends to keep every issue in print as long as the magazine exists. It's a little more effort in the long run, but we agree! People like hardcopy, and it's silly to restrict the ability of the consumer to purchase it to a limited time window. And we offer royalties to our contributors--every copy sold, no matter when it sells, works towards paying more; to those contributors that you're enjoying!
I'd pick a bunch of sfnal bloggers and offer them advance looks at the mag, get them to vote on a favorite story to blog and put it online the week before the issue hits the stands.
Clever. Maybe something we could do--we'd have to get author approval, of course, but it would be awesome to pull off. Of course, the first step is to find a bunch of sfnal bloggers. Anyone want to suggest some?
I'd podcast a second story, and run excerpts from the remaining stories in podcast.
Again, requires more permissions from the author--we actually did this with Item 27, a story from Issue 1. It's a beautiful story, and very well suited to podcast form (brief, one narrator, ...). We missed out on running excerpts from the remaining stories. Still, making this a more regular thing--this is definitely plausible.
I'd get Evo Terra to interview the author of a third story for The Dragon Page
Sounds good. Author interviews. Sign us up! ((though a comment on his post notes: By the way, Evo Terra is sadly no longer associated with the Dragon Page. It's now fully under Michael R. Mennenga and sci-fi author Michael A. Stackpole. ))
Hell, we've got a blog! We can interview our own authors, give them a little more press for whatever they've got going on, and give our readers (and potential readers) more insight into the works (and people) that we're publishing.
Cory wraps up with:
I'd make every issue of every magazine into an /event/ that thousands of people talked about, sending them to the bookstores to demand copies -- and I'd offer commissions, bonuses, and recognition to bloggers who sold super-cheap-ass subscriptions to the print editions.
We're doing our best, here. One big problem--we're not in bookstores. We're recently on Amazon! But we can't afford to be in bookstores with our current circulation combined with our current cover price.
Commissions, we've got--you can sell us through Clixgalore! And we're trying to expand our exposure by selling through Fictionwise, which will offer GUD in a variety of formats ( just shy of having everything together for that ). Super-cheap-ass is also a little beyond us at the moment. We put out a quality publication, and the print cost alone makes that far from plausible. My hope is we can reduce the subscription price as the number of subscriptions go up! But that will be a gradual thing.
If you've noticed any other pontification spawned by any of the above, we'd love to know! It's a big and scary question for a little startup magazine like us. :) To think! We've got 1/10 the sell-through of Interzone!
Now, Jed Hartman's personal theory is that "most readers these days don't like short fiction so much". And that may be true. But that could just be due to a lack of reach, or a lack of excitement. I think Cory's definitely thrown some excitement into the mix, and I think there's plenty of room for the short story market to grow. Hopefully, GUD can help be part of that.
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