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SF Mag Circulation Declining

Warren Ellis looks at the sad state of science fiction magazines. Cory Doctorow responds with potential solutions:

If I were running the mags, 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. I’d podcast a second story, and run excerpts from the remaining stories in podcast. I’d get Evo Terra to interview the author of a third story for The Dragon Page. 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.

Sure it’s lot of work, and a huge shift in the way the mags do business. But hell, how many more years’ worth of 13 percent declines can the magazines hack?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

7 Comments on SF Mag Circulation Declining

  1. I agree with Teresa Nielsen Hayden (partially because disagreeing with her is an exercise in futility). The future of short fiction is in something other than pulp magazines on a bookstore shelf.

    Anthologies and e-magazines I suspect are going to be the vehicles by which short SF survives.

  2. Right now, it is possible to receive an electronic subscription to Analog and Asimov’s at about the same cost as the subscription for the hard copy. It seems to me that if the e-sub was offered as a free service to people who subscribe to the hard copy edition, then that would increase the circulation.

  3. Michael,

    In that case, if the readership decline stopped – or even increased – what would the publishers have to gain? More eyes on the stories is nice, but more money in the wallet is better, no? They are a business after all. Or, are you saying that higher readership means more money down the road? Perhaps an e-subscription at reduced cost is a good compromise? Seems to work for Baen…

  4. My two cents:

    F&SF needs a better cover editor. Really. It’s been a lackluster looking magazine for five years now.

    I think the mags would do better to treat each issue like an anthology. More themes and tropes explored. Too many issues of Asimov’s lately have felt like sloppy slap-togethers.

    And Asimov’s big Anniversary Year issues were pretty sad. A lot of unfocused short stories and thinly veiled allegories.

    There has very little New Space Opera, Slipstream, or New Weird represented either. The mags seem to want to be the old guard, which is Planned Obsolescence on a grand scale.

    The main reason I dropped my subscriptions to most SF mags is because it wasn’t worth the investment. I buy maybe five Asimov’s a year, usually based on who’s in it or a neat-sounding blurb on the Coming Soon page.

  5. John,

    If readership increased because more people were buying subscriptions, then that would be more money in the wallet.

    Right now, anyone can subscribe to Analog or Asimov’s in one of two ways. You can receive it as a hard copy magazine (which I do) or as an electronic magazine. I’m not sure if the e-magazine is actually something you can subscribe to, or if it’s something you have to purchase one issue at a time, but the possibility of making it into a subscription is there.

    The problem is, a lot of people, especially those who might want to read it as an e-zine, are unaware of that fact. If the e-zine sub were tied into the hard copy sub and advertised as such, it might convince those folks to subscribe.

    Right now, many people who read short fiction online tend to be more willing to pay for a subscription if all it does is provide access to a website. They’d be more willing to pay for money for a copy of their own, which they could carry around in some sort of electronic reading device.

  6. D’oh! I misread your original comment, Michael. It makes more sense now. :-S

  7. Most of what I’ve seen in the magazines has not grabbed me. The writing seems weak and harkens back to the good old days. The only one I bought in recent memory was the Asimov’s with Charles Stross story in it back in January. And I’ll admit I didn’t care for that story – I bought it just for the name recognition.

    The editors need to stop looking back and start looking around and forward.

    To do that, I’d suggest online subscriptions, and if they’re at the same price as the paper book, it ought to allow access to the archives, like SJGames Pyramid Magazine or the Economist.

    I’d also suggest a strong effort to find strong new writers. I’m not sure how one would go about that.

    I’d also suggest getting some mid- to high-list authors writing stories for the magazines. That could get folks attention and at least spike the subscription numbers.

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