So I thought to myself, “Hey, what if we did a general subscription drive, to boost the magazines for general purposes? Every subscriber counts.” The difference here is that I’m not talking about any specific magazine in danger of dying. There is no immediate urgency. Nothing right now. But like with oil, one day we’ll wake up and the magazines could very well be gone. We need to do something now, before that happens.
So I’m asking people to do two things. First, spread this post throughout the blogosphere. Get the message out. Second, if you haven’t subscribed to a magazine recently, unless you don’t have the $$$ pick one and subscribe! At least one. Saying you don’t have the time to read the magazine is a lame excuse. How many of us have books we bought years ago that we haven’t read? I do. Add a few magazines to the pile. What’s the harm? And if you just read novels, try short stories. Why have you only been reading novels, especially if you want to be a writer? Do you honestly think there is nothing to be learned from reading shorter works? And don’t tell me you’ve tried all the magazines. New ones are always starting. And when a new editor takes over the helm, in many ways that magazine becomes new.
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.
Like most genre fans these days, I’m not hugely interested in short fiction. I don’t particularly like long books either but I think that any idea worth developing is worth developing in some depth. On a purely shallow level, if short fiction magazines were to be wiped from the Earth, I don’t think my enjoyment of genre would be hugely curtailed. However, I try not to be the shallow type so I think the question one needs to ask oneself when considering Doug and Paul’s advice is, what are short fiction SF magazines actually for if they’re not shop-windows for people who go on to write novels?
Which is why, to me, the fate of science fiction magazines, to me, is somewhat academic. Or, I should say, I don’t have a lot of bias when it comes to them. Not particularly beholden to them, no particular animosity toward them (other than, of course, that cliched sort of frustrated rage at not being able to sell to them–look at me, my fury burns so hot, I’m increasing entropy! Rawr!) And it occurs to me that the move to the web not only seems inevitable, but could actually be constructive.
Like Jason Stoddard, I think the world has already changed away from print magazines and print fiction. Short of an incipient electronic paper revolution (which seems to me to be best poised as that holy grail of effective e-book readers, not the sort of disposable/collectible unique copies that magazines and newspapers are today), I don’t see them surviving in their current form. But, you know, I find the web much more conducive to reading the short stuff.
The gorilla in the room that we rarely acknowledge is that nobody wants to read short fiction. If they did, then there wouldn’t be this mess. I’ve heard and read hand waving about the changes in distribution models, but honestly, I don’t buy it. In this day and age, if you have a burning desire to read science fiction short stories, you can Google up a magazine in less than a second.
Do I think that the public could be marketed towards to encourage the reading of more short fiction? Maybe. A good marketing team can sell just about anything. Do I think anyone has the money to back a large campaign like this? No. SFWA would be the only organization that I could see such an initiative coming from, and they’re a massive joke; an organization dedicated to internal politics and rumormongering more than the decline and collapse of the industry around it.
There is no solution. The public’s interest has moved on. If you’re a writer, go write video games, movies, television, or books, in that order of popularity. That is where the public’s interest is right now, and if you don’t like it, then I’m afraid that you should probably get used to the idea that short fiction is a small, niche hobby of little importance. I’m fine with that. I find that I enjoy writing it, and that’s enough for me. Short fiction for me is a way to learn writing, but I won’t regret leaving it behind if I were to crack another (more popular and better paying) medium, or find some amalgam of several of my own.
(I may come back and add my own comments later. In the meantime, see also most of the comments in that last discussion.)
EDIT: For instance:
But how many people really love to read “speculative novels”? I love to read the novels of — for example, and in no particular order — William Gibson, Maureen McHugh, Geoff Ryman, Connie Willis, and Paul Park, among others. There are other authors whose novels I don’t love to read, but I might be willing to spend eight bucks on them in an airport bookstore for lack of choice. There are some authors I’ve never read that, if I did read read them, would probably fall into one or the other category.
And then there’s the vast majority of authors, whose novels I either am indifferent to, or actively dislike.
I’m probably a little pickier than average, but I would be surprised if most fans tastes don’t follow a similar sort of distribution. How much crossover is there between John Ringo readers and Ellen Kushner readers?
Admittedly, few magazines are as broad as all of SF, but the more major they are the broader they are, and they’re pretty much all a lot broader than my tastes — which, you will note, are not easily categorized by subgenre. If I pick up any SF magazine, there might or might not be a story in there that I like, but I can count on there being stories in there that I hate.