Signals 18

Mar 6, 04:48 by Bluejack
Comment Below!
Mar 6, 15:23 by Ursula Pflug
This is great, Kathryn. Not just true, but proactive.
Mar 6, 16:00 by Nader Elhefnawy
I'm glad to see a piece that considers the impact of economics (macro and micro) on the genre. Economic life can and does strongly impact the vitality of the arts, the content that is produced, and the form in which it appears. (In fact, I wrote quite a bit about this in an essay over at The Fix last year, "'The End of Science Fiction': A View of the Debate.")
Mar 6, 16:25 by Lois Tilton
I come down on the negative side, but then, I always do.

I see print fiction disappearing, except for the few Bestselling Names, while the internet becomes a sort of small press ghetto of the unpaid and underpaid. If there is a lesson from the last couple of decades, it's that people aren't going to pay for internet content.
Mar 6, 16:50 by Nader Elhefnawy
Agreed on that point, Ms. Tilton. I devoted half my essay to the issue of business conditions--which I saw as increasingly problematic since the 1970s.

Whether or not writers can live by their work matters to the field's vitality. It also matters whether those who can't write full-time can live by day jobs allowing enough latitude for them to get some decent writing done. The conditions of the last three decades have worked against writers (excepting the rare superstar) on both counts, and I think the present situation is likely to make things worse.

For all the talk about the future of the publishing industry, I expect to see band-aids and PR spin, not the "leadership" and "innovation" we so often hear about but so rarely see.
Mar 6, 17:37 by Bluejack
"people aren't going to pay for internet content."

How true.

We're trying to figure out how to keep IROSF alive and still pay authors even now. So far, ads are insufficient, and donations are negligible.

I've always intended to institute a flexible subscription model, but the general wisdom is that people won't subscribe. On the one hand, I'd rather reach more people; on the other hand, we can't keep pouring money down the drain indefinitely.

Right now we're looking for creative ways to keep our office AND pay authors, but we're one financial setback away from having to make drastic changes.

I've promised Stacey that we won't actually close shop on a moment's notice like some more prominent magazines I could name, but it's tough.

Mind you: if it were a full time job, I'd have a lot more time and energy for "leadership" and "innovation." We've all got crazy schemes and bigger plans, but since we're working 60 hours a week to stay on top of debt, that's not so easy to make happen...
Mar 6, 18:09 by Nader Elhefnawy
Entirely true, and I certainly hope no one misconstrues my words about the issue. As a writer who has published here for the last four months straight, I absolutely appreciate the opportunities that IROSF has provided; the many good pieces I have had the chance to read here; and the effort that it takes to get all this together and keep it running. (Indeed, I should probably acknowledge the omission here: I should have said writers and editors, instead of just writers, when speaking of the ability of participants to make a living from the field as relevant to its vitality.)

The lack of leadership and innovation I had in mind was not that of plucky individuals trying to do something new, and putting their own money on the line to do it, but the suited half-wits who have run the publishing world (and the rest of the economy) into the ground.
Mar 6, 18:16 by Lois Tilton
I look at print journalism as a model, and newspapers are either circling the drain or on the way down. Readers have gone to the internet - newspapers have in many cases driven their readers to the internet - where they expect the content to be free, and in response the print papers have offered less and less to attract them. Negative spiral ensues.

And where will the content on the internet come from when all the professional journalists are laid off?

And how is this different from fiction?
Mar 6, 18:36 by Nader Elhefnawy
Print journalism's bad times are well known. But the fuzziness of the line between print and other journalism is a crutch on which it can fall. Go to the websites of the major television networks, and you can find print-style articles. It may not be the very best such journalism, but it is something which could keep this viable.

Print fiction can't fall back on overlaps with other media in quite the same way.

In any case, we should consider the economic problems that afflict them both, not least of them that publishing has always been a low-profit business, viable only so long as the people running them have had a motive besides simply getting a plump next-quarter report. The attempts of short-sighted CEOs to turn them into something else have consistently proven self-defeating.

Nor do the more general economic hard times, or the broader consolidation of these businesses in fewer hands, or--any of a thousand things far too long to list--help.
Mar 6, 19:26 by Todd Treichel
"I see print fiction disappearing, ...people aren't going to pay for internet content."

If there were no print fiction, possibly this would change people's willingness to pay for on-line work. Not that this is where I hope things head...

Also note: people do pay for fiction for electronic readers.

What the internet is and how it looks will change too much in the coming years for me to be too comfortable with any one projection about how people will interact with it.
Mar 6, 21:18 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
It saddens me how quickly this discussion devolved into the negatives--the very thing this column is designed to fight. If you people believe the industry will fail, you'll stop supporting it and you'll convince others to do the same. Then it will fail.

It takes positive effort to keep publications like this one alive, as Bluejack says. They're struggling, but continuing. Support them. Stop guessing that we'll all fail. Publishing grew in the Great Depression. Book sales according to the most recent figures remained static in 2008, one of the few industries that didn't drop. In fact, the only bright spot in Harlequin's parent company's business report at year end was its book sales. Same with Amazon. It was one of the few companies that did better than expected.

So seriously...the negativity hurts rather than helps. Being realistic is fine, but predicting that everything we love will go away only feeds fear.
Mar 6, 21:36 by Lois Tilton
Perhaps fear would be motivating. Perhaps it could overcome complacency and apathy.

I seriously doubt that negative predictions will make the industry fail, or that positive thinking will keep it afloat.

The value of negative thinking is in identifying patterns of failure, so as to do otherwise.
Mar 7, 00:37 by Bluejack
There's an interesting phenomenon in macro economics which underlies just about all of the "bull/bear" market trends: the future outlook (positive or negative) is inherently self-fulfilling.

If investors are generally positive they invest; and the fact of investment promotes market growth which results in successful investment. The reverse dynamic is equally prevalent (and quite visible right now).

But the same is not so true of microeconomics or vertical market dynamics. There is a change in the way people think about information, which broadly includes entertainment. Without a physical manifestation (book, record, dvd, etc.) there is less sense that a "purchase" is meaningful. Most people buy a book for the experience of reading the text: however, they have bought, and now own a book! If you buy it on eReader you have the text, but it's barely even clear that you own it. You have purchased certain (but by no means all) rights to use it.

My conclusion is that we (those who make our livelihoods in the industry (or want to)) need to find or create an entirely new vertical economy by which consumers successfully underwrite the creative process. Subscription models and advertising revenue are mediocre adaptations of traditional economic models.

Personally, I have some ideas that I hope we find time to experiment with at IROSF that move beyond these models. But whether I can afford to spend the time to experiment or not, I hope that someone stumbles upon the successful micro-economic model for our industry. Cory Doctorow's reputation economy built on a post-scarcity macro-economic climate is simply not stepping up, and barring some very inventive hustle, it's hard to survive on reputation alone.
Mar 7, 00:46 by Lois Tilton
I don't see this problem solely as publishing industry-related. I think it applies internet-wide, with very few exceptions.

One of them is porn. People have always been willing to pay for online porn.

I think this shows that it's a demand-related issue.
Mar 7, 01:07 by Bluejack

Absolutely true; the Internet is affecting the entire information economy. It's the publishing vertical I'm particularly interested in working with. Different verticals within the information economy may find different solutions.

This does not contradict your statement, but an interesting side note: I have heard that with the prevalence of free porn, the internet porn industry is faltering and/or resorting to non-traditional paid interactions. (I'll spare you the details.)

In fact, it's an interesting case because when it comes to porn, quality is generally beside the point. The solution that will work for publishing (finding ways to support the necessary infrastructure for quality content) may be quite different from the economics of pornography which will probably follow a supply and demand approach which increases value based on the scarcity of supply for unusual fetishes, coupled (ahem) with the intensity (as opposed to commonality) of demand on the part of the consumer.
Mar 7, 02:02 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Lois, I'd love to see some statistics in your argument and quotes and proof instead of your "sense" that things are going to go bad.

By the way, your attitude on this list has already prevented several people from linking to the article. They are in the industry, know that what I'm saying is true, and don't want people to lose track of my argument for yours.

I can't tell you how this saddens me. I had hoped that people would link to this so that subscriptions would rise. Now it's not going to happen--at least as widely as I had hoped.

Mar 7, 02:05 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I'm pulling this part since I don't want to argue the negative.
Mar 7, 02:34 by Lois Tilton
Perhaps you should have closed the comments, then.
Mar 7, 03:14 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Lois, look. You won the battle and lost the war. When this column appeared, I e-mailed a bunch of industry pros who blog, asking them to link to it. Today, I received 6 e-mails about why they can't link. All six cited your post as potentially harmful. Which proves my point about how negativity hurts. Reality isn't harmful. Right now, things are tough, but if you look at the numbers, publishing is faring better than most industries.

What saddens me is that those six people blog extensively and have a huge following. Their readers follow links, but they won't follow the links here.

I will continue to write articles in various places, working to promote the industry I love, using reality, facts and statistics--pointing out where things are tough and where they're not.

However, I'm not going to lose my writing time to a comments section when I've made my case in the article above.

Mar 7, 03:58 by Lois Tilton
I'm not fighting battles or wars here. I have no agenda. I have an opinion. I expressed it.

I wasn't aware that you were fighting a campaign and enlisting as allies a bunch of delicate flowers so easily wilted by a simple negative opinion.

Clearly, the next time you do this you ought to close the comments so as to avoid the possibility of a little dissent and its disastrous consequences.
Mar 7, 04:17 by Bluejack
FYI: Author's don't actually have the ability to close comments, so Kris couldn't have done so. I suppose I do have that ability, and while I regret the loss of links, I do actually prefer a healthy debate.

Perhaps I'm not as sensitive to how people view it as I should be, but this particular conversation strikes me as healthy. I've seen a few flamewars in my time, and this aint it. (Which is not an invitation, you people!)

Mar 7, 05:17 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
You have an opinion, Lois, with no basis in fact that I can see, since you have cited no facts.

To cite newspapers as your example compares apples and cats. Fiction publishing is not the same as newspaper publishing.

And here's a fact: Newspapers in the United States are in dire, dire straits for a variety of reasons, not the least the inability to adapt to a changing marketplace. Newspapers in other countries, like Britain, are thriving. And they have the internet there as well.

And yes. I am on a campaign. I want people to understand how this business works. I have been a publisher, an editor, and a fulltime freelance writer for thirty years. I know the ins and outs of book and fiction publishing. I know the economics of it. (I was also a radio news director and a reporter. I know the economics of American newspapers as well.)

I hate the way that people are saying "It's dying" with nothing to back it up, particularly when that's clearly not the case. Publications like this one struggle because the economic model isn't clearly defined yet. In ten years, the internet models will have shaken out and the way to profit on the net will be clear (or clearer).

But publications like the Dell magazines are doing fine. In fact, the changes there and at F&SF are smart changes in response to the economy. You don't wait until you're in trouble to make changes. You make the changes up front, anticipating a down year. (Most of the print mags have made their changes in response to an increase in shipping charges, not due to losses.)

This article is a campaign. I want people to stop being afraid. I want them to know they have the power in this industry. Readers hold all the cards. If they like something, they need to pay for it because publishing is a business that exists to make money. So if you're worried about losing your favorite magazine, support it with your dollars. That's the best way to ensure survival.

As for delicate flowers--you made me chuckle. These are high powered folks whose names you'd recognize. Editors, publishers, folks like that. Not a writer among them. They're not delicate flowers at all. However, they're fighting the same battles I am. There's enough of this Sky Is Falling rhetoric on the web. They don't want to encourage it. Why should they? They're running businesses. They want their readers to know they'll be in business a long time. They don't need (unsubstantiated) claims that their businesses are failing on their websites.

Yes, I complained about the negativity. I did expect it. Not just the third post in. Had it been about 20 posts in, we would've gotten our links. <sigh>

And let me say, for the record, that the column coming up in April was written before this discussion....

Mar 7, 14:28 by Nader Elhefnawy
I'm not happy with the course the dialogue has taken. Too much of it seems to revolve around "attitude"--positive, negative, etc. I don't like the implication (likely unintended, but I think everything should be on the table here) that anyone who sees reason for worry should just shut up because it's bad for business.

I'd rather we stuck with a focus on the facts of the issue, the evidence, both good and bad.

We should also, all of us, admit that discussing this business is especially problematic because publishing is rather secretive about the data. (Think about the haphazard manner in which bestseller lists are compiled.) And while it may not be pleasant to admit this, the authority of industry insiders is not something that the public can simply take for granted--in any business. Even assuming their reliability, there is that matter of self-interest (and established habits, and sometimes, wishful thinking) that has already come up. Insiders, in every industry, routinely make disastrous decisions--as I hope everyone realizes looking at the current mess.

This does leave anyone trying to get a big picture of the situation having to go by "sense" sometimes--though we should also acknowledge the limits of that.

Are there some sectors of publishing that are doing all right? It seems so--though not always enough to satisfy the inflated profit expectations we see in this age of runaway short-termism. Might people read more? I think they might, though it doesn't necessarily translate to the benefit of online publishing without that workable model that's come up here. Might someone develop a workable model for economically viable online publishing? I dearly hope so. In fact, I speculated a bit about how this might happen in the article I mentioned earlier. But if (or if you prefer, when) it does come along, it will have been a lot slower in appearing than anyone anticipated back in the '90s--a full decade ago at this point.
Mar 7, 14:29 by Lois Tilton
And now your relentless scolding about defeatism has stifled what promised to be an interesting discussion about the economics of the internet, lest High Powered Folks be offended.

Mar 7, 15:54 by Lois Tilton
Nader: There seem to be two distinct issues here.

One, is the future of publishing shifting from print to electronic?

Two, is there a viable model for profitable electronic publishing? Which seems to be a subfield of the question, are there viable models for profitable electronic businesses?

Clearly, there are profitable internet enterprises. It remains to be seen if these models can be applied to publishing, to the benefit of authors. Models that favor booksellers, for example, don't necessarily benefit publishers or author.

Out of all the rush to electronic publishing in the 90s, I see that Fictionwise was a survivor, to the extent that it was just sold to B&N. Of course its future success may depend on the survival of B&N, whether it will follow Borders into bankruptcy. I note that the Fictionwise sale didn't cause the price of BKS stock to rise; it is a very minor element relative to the whole. [It has fallen about 40% over the last year, which, relative to the market as a whole, and to Borders, isn't doing badly.]

Here is a link to this story.

Mar 7, 15:55 by Marti McKenna
From where I'm sitting, this is still a pretty interesting discussion, and I hope no one feels stifled (I don't actually see any evidence of that, quite the contrary, in fact), but I do think it's sad that anyone--high- or low-powered--is reluctant to link to an article due to the debate it has spawned.
Mar 7, 15:56 by Lois Tilton
First thing this morning it seemed to be stifled, but it appears now that we are on again.
Mar 7, 16:22 by Dana Paxson
I found this thread thanks to Marti McKenna's link in Facebook, and I find the discussion vital. There are a lot of different kinds of readers here; I'm an occasionally-sold writer who decided to access his inner software geek and develop some new modes of publishing for myself. That category doesn't exactly match anyone else's, so what I have to say might seem to be irrelevant. I don't think it is.

The print publishing industry is undergoing some extremely confusing changes, and for a writer like me to find a niche there for my work would probably take a long time. I don't have a long time -- I'm 66, and I can't wait as long as it might take me to be able to write the things I want to AND get them published in the traditional model. Besides, that traditional model is a fast-moving target now, right? Finally, my writing is simply not for a broad market, a fact I've had to absorb over the past decade.

My reaction to the sweeping changes: I pour my resources into the electronic world, where I can move effortlessly in writing, structuring, presentation, promotion, marketing, and distribution of my work, all done my way. I love doing all this. I don't make a living or even any money at all, but I get noticed, and eventually that's worth something.

I would hope that the existing and fast-changing world of fiction publishing will pay close attention to the Cory Doctorows and others who experiment out here, and skim the things that work for their own transformation. It's like the old Chinese character for 'crisis': danger + opportunity. The opportunities are everywhere, and when those new business models (and authorship models -- yes, those too are changing) emerge successfully, many of us may yet find some stability -- and profit.

For a link to a review of my work, try: Juiced on Writing.

Mar 7, 17:54 by Marti McKenna
Just to add to my earlier thought, because I'm still thinking about it:

What bothers me about the choice not to link to this article because of the negativity expressed here is that this *is* a debate, multiple facets are being discussed, and I believe that intelligent people have powers of discernment.

On the other hand, I am all about the positive message in this article, and the idea that thinking and talking about the opportunities presented by the changing world is the thing that's going to get us to the next step. And I believe that focusing overly on the negative is not helpful, and is likely harmful, to any endeavor.

Mar 7, 18:11 by Bridget McKenna
I look at print journalism as a model, and newspapers are either circling the drain or on the way down. Readers have gone to the internet - newspapers have in many cases driven their readers to the internet - where they expect the content to be free, and in response the print papers have offered less and less to attract them. Negative spiral ensues.

And where will the content on the internet come from when all the professional journalists are laid off?

This argument reminds of the scene in "The Player" where a bunch of producers are sitting around debating whether writers are necessary. One produces a newspaper, saying they can get all the stories they want out of the morning paper, so they don't need writers. The missing information in that claim is "Who's going to write the script?"

Writers still write all the news stories you read on the Net. I've been reading my local paper online for some time now. Print sales being down, many if not most newspapers have online editions, which feed us the ads that pay the writers and editors. And there are lots and lots of well-written news articles and features, same as in the print edition. Who's writing them if not professional journalists? And when I go to the BBC or Google News or anywhere else on the Net to get my news fix, those stories also have been written and edited by someone. It's not writer and editor jobs that appear to be in danger, but those of compositors and pressmen and distributors as the new model takes hold and increasingly pushes out the old.
Mar 7, 19:26 by Lois Tilton

Mar 7, 20:10 by Marti McKenna
LOL, I have to say, my first thought was "Doomsbury!"

However, I posted a similar Tom Tomorrow to my Facebook yesterday. Yes, the problems are real. The question is: What are we gonna do about it? What are the new paradigms that are going to come out of this? I don't buy that writers are obsolete, and someone has already pointed out that making a living at it has always been tough. But I can (and do) donate to sites and authors that provide content I like, even though I don't have to, and I think that if more people did that--in any amount, in any frequency--it could only help.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of genius ideas come of these difficult times. Go humans!
Mar 7, 20:20 by Nader Elhefnawy
Lois: I'm certainly sensitive to the difference between what's good for booksellers and what's good for writers, and I hope I wasn't understood to imply otherwise. (I read the article by the way; incidentally, the article I earlier mentioned tried to put the e-book discussion into some perspective.)

Bridget: Agreed. Writers do produce the Net material, as I mentioned earlier. And the reference to "The Player" is well taken. Hollywood has always been notorious as a place where writers get marginalized, a point of which the recent strike reminded us. (The favoritism toward reality shows--not that they're not written; their pathetic situations are of course staged--is partly due to the fact that they use non-union writers.)

Marti: Sadly, it's SOP for people in any industry to try and silence criticism.
Mar 7, 20:34 by Bridget McKenna
As a strategy, doom and gloom only tends to produce more doom and gloom, for whatever my opinion's worth. I believe humans have goal-seeking nervous systems (per Miller, Galanter, and Pribram's T.O.T.E. model as outlined in Plans and the Structure of Behavior ), so we tend to filter our experience for more of whatever we're focusing on. Instead of "acorn hits head, mouth utters falling-sky warning, tests for proof of imminent world catastrophe" a better model might well be "goal to see solutions generates tests for solutions until solution is reached, then sets new goal for even better solution and begins testing again."

So yeah, let's hear it for genius ideas.
Mar 7, 21:17 by Lois Tilton
Dana makes a valuable point. For many of us, success in publishing is measured in money. For a lot of other people, though, it isn't.

The blogging world is full of writers who are happy to provide content without being paid for it. But I fear that this can make writing seem like something for which the providers are not paid.

I know of quite a few journalists who were in Rick Redfern's position, offered buyouts. Who is writing their columns now? Nobody. They aren't being written. The newspaper is skinnier. Likewise freelancers like book reviewers. Fewer reviews commissioned, lower payment for them.

This is a pattern. People used to say "Information wants to be free." But I think it is, "The internet wants information to be free."

For a lot of people, this is fine and good. I'm just enjoying the latest issue of FLURB. It's free of charge. The authors seem to contribute their stuff free of charge. Everyone seems to be happy.

But is it a business model?

Mar 8, 00:14 by Blue Tyson
Actually, Lois, there is plenty of free porn like free fiction (pornotube, youporn, etc., etc.).

Buying author's books in the first week would be ok, if the trend to do so many hardbacks hadn't happened (being well over $50 here). If early sales matters so much, why that trend - wouldn't seem to make sense? Neither do hardback priced ebooks at the same time, something else that will lower sales or make people wait.
Mar 8, 00:34 by J Andrews
The most excellent Bluejack said:

FYI: Author's don't actually have the ability to close comments, so Kris couldn't have done so. I suppose I do have that ability, and while I regret the loss of links, I do actually prefer a healthy debate.

From what I've seen, it's uncommon for an article on IROSF to get so many comments. So this may not have come up before. But I think it would be very helpful to have threaded comments. Then when there's a conversation going in the comments, it won't necessarily drown out what other people have to say. And some people who may be intimidated or even just uninterested in the big conversation that seems to be going on, could push it to one side and have their own say outside of that thread.

Having threaded comments would mean an article could spawn several conversations, rather than one conversation interspersed with other comments and thoughts that perhaps get ignored not based on their lack of merit, but just lack of volume.
Mar 8, 00:46 by J Andrews
Nader Elhefnawy said:

Go to the websites of the major television networks, and you can find print-style articles. It may not be the very best such journalism, but it is something which could keep this viable.

Print fiction can't fall back on overlaps with other media in quite the same way.

In similar ways, it can. Sci-Fi channel's website had a fiction section for awhile. And now official websites to specific shows have online content that's fictional. It might be a character's blog, an entire online storyline, an online chat with a character, or something else. Maybe it's the show's writers doing it, but that's still extra fiction writing being done, so someone (I should hope!) is getting paid for it.

At last year's Wiscon, Maureen McHugh's GoH speech was about her recent work on Alternate Reality Games. That's fiction being written that's taking advantage of and working with new forms of media.

There's fiction out there, in various media. It just may not closely resemble the traditional 5,000 word short story written by a single writer, edited by a single editor.
Mar 8, 00:51 by Stacey Janssen
Having threaded comments would mean an article could spawn several conversations, rather than one conversation interspersed with other comments and thoughts that perhaps get ignored not based on their lack of merit, but just lack of volume.

This is a fantastic idea. I anticipate looking into it further.
Mar 8, 01:25 by Ellen Datlow
I've posted a link from my own blog-I don't see why publishers/editors wouldn't want to link to it.
It's spawned discussions on my own blog. I'm not having as much trouble selling original anthologies as I thought, even with the economic meltdown. The YA market for them is still strong.
Mar 8, 01:26 by Ellen Datlow
Anyone know how I can delete my email address from these posts? Help! Never mind did it by changing my account..however it doesn't look like it's possible to delete posts so you're all stuck with this blather. Sorry.
Mar 8, 01:37 by Bluejack
Having threaded comments would mean an article could spawn several conversations, rather than one conversation interspersed with other comments and thoughts that perhaps get ignored not based on their lack of merit, but just lack of volume.

Yeah, the concept is built in, just haven't done the view for threading because, as you say, it often doesn't go on like this.
Mar 8, 01:40 by Bluejack
And then this is a whole fascinating side conversation:

Ellen Datlow said:
I'm not having as much trouble selling original anthologies as I thought, even with the economic meltdown. The YA market for them is still strong.

There appears to be a mismatch between what people pay attention to and what actually sells. Not that there's anything new in that.
Mar 8, 02:53 by Wendy Delmater
As an internet-only magazine publisher and editor, I am here based on Ellen's post on the subject. I publish the magazine because I love the genre. Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven's patorn, loved the music. You cannot live off of what we pay, but we are a paying market. It's not exactly a business model, but things are in flux. When the dust settles places like <i>Strange Horizons</i>, and--yes--<i>Abyss & Apex</i> will be able to surf whatever new wave of business models arise out of the net-based publishing industry.
Mar 8, 03:44 by Ellen Datlow
I think it's important for writers to diversify and really check out the markets. I'm not saying get out of writing sf/f/h at all but do check out the children and teen markets.

I'm in a better position than a lot of other short story editors in that I've been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror; middle grade, young adult, and adult short stories.

I know plenty of writers doing the same and they're selling their work. (novels and stories)
Mar 8, 04:17 by Eric Marin
Thanks for this piece. Linked.
Mar 8, 04:24 by Jeff Soesbe
As a beginner in this whole writing gig, a hemi-demi-semi-pro perhaps, and a short fiction person at that, I find myself fairly excited about all the possibilities to sell stories out there. There's certainly more money-paying opportunities than I can easily keep track of.

But I already made my peace with not being able to make a living writing short fiction, so that could be coloring my attitude as to what's acceptable pay for me.

Overall, I agree with Kris. There are a lot of places, many fairly inexpensive, where I can find good things to read. There's a lot of places where I can sell a story. Good work will find an audience. Especially now, when information propagates so quickly.

All that's left is to do the work, and make it as good as I can.

- yeff
Mar 8, 14:04 by Jetse de Vries
The thrust of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s article is how to help SF writing markets survive. It threatens to get sidelined to ‘how do (short fiction) authors survive’. While I greatly sympathise with authors (sometimes I try to be one, myself), I think it’s of the utmost importance that there are viable, paying markets in the future (those authors who are willing to publish for free are already doing that, anyway).

So let’s focus on that.

Typically, the first comments that come in discuss, almost entirely, the negative side. It’s a mindset that seems endemic in a large part of the written SF community: it prefers to focus – highly overfocus – on the negatives, and ends up discussing the negatives so much (or even the right to discuss the negatives), that nobody even tries to come up with solutions.

Make no mistake: I am not denying anybody’s right to discuss the negatives: I believe in an open and healthy discussion. However, by mentioning only the negatives, without even trying to come up with possible solutions, the discussion is far from healthy. It becomes a moanfest.

So I’ll try to put my money where my mouth is.

Back at last year’s WorldCon, Jim Minz told me that while the sales of Baen’s e-books were still a small part of the company’s overall sales, they were the ones that showed a consistent growth throughout the years. It’s not the spectacular 3-digit-or-more growth numbers of the interent bubble of yore, but a solid, low 2-digit number growth.

That seems to be the model that shows the most promise: while continuing to survive on the physical, paper book producing part, there is an increased focus on the internet side and e-book sales.

Just look at what Tor is doing: they launched Tor.Com beta, where they put up free short stories, blog post on a wide range of topics, free comics. This together with the physical part of Tor that continues to publishes paper books.

A few other models that come to mind: Clarkesworld Magazine, Subterannean Press: apart from the e-version, there needs to be a physical component, something people are willing to pay for.

Combine this with a strong presence in social media like FaceBook, Twitter and MySpace, and you’re increasing your chances of expanding your audience.

Hence, SF magazines should emulate that model: make more material available online for free, while generating more interest for the physical product (which has to be bought). That means a broad range of material: not just short stories, but articles, interviews, opinion pieces, reviews and more. More visual arts: cover paintings, illustrations, if possible even comic strips. Add podcasts, and – if possible – video content. Try to aim for a crossover audience: people who will not normally run into written SF, but might be lured to the site with interesting content.

Then, as the visitor numbers increase, you might get them to buy electronic versions of your product. By gradually shifting the paying audience to the electronic version, which should be cheaper to produce, and be made available in a variety of formats, DRM free, then you’re paving the way to survive as an electronic publication (which can still release ‘special editions’ on paper).

What we also need to realise is that also on the internet there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Twitter was already running for over three years before it’s now ‘exploding’ on the internet. Popular blogs like Boing Boing and Scalzi’s Whatever also took long years of putting up good content before the numbers grew to what they are today.

Similarly, it will take time to build up a significantly large online audience. Hence a model with its feet in both worlds: surviving with the physical magazine while simulataneously trying to lure in new readers over the internet. The latter needs a lot of effort, investment and patience, but seems the only way forward for now.

Also, I strongly suspect that written SF needs a major phase shift in content, as well. For my day job I train a lot of young people (in working with our company’s product), and the utmost majority of those are not interested in the gloom and doom tone that is so dominant in most written SF of the past decades. These people have a future to build, and they’re not interested in reading book after book, story after story where everything goes down the drain. And they won’t: if written SF turns them off, they will go to (actually: stay with) other media. And as some of you know, I’m trying to make a change in that regard.

In that respect, look at Futurismic: it mixes blog posts about the near future (that have a good balance between positive and negative) with fiction, comics and opinion pieces. They have ads, but minimally intrusive ones. They seem to be holding their own, so far.

In short, there are new developments, new models being tried out. Instead of bemoaning SF’s fate, I recommend to check out new models, provide feedback and/or support them, and think towards solutions.
Mar 8, 14:19 by Nader Elhefnawy
J. Andrews: while tie-ins like that do represent short fiction, I don't see that as really an analog to my example. (I admit to a skepticism about tie-in stuff, but where volume is concerned--we're simply not going to see as much material.) The fact that SCI FICTION was shut down (and I invite Ellen to correct me if I've got this wrong) does reveal some of the problems with such efforts.

The lack of prospects for making a living at short fiction does not mean the end of short fiction-but many would argue that it has come at some cost to that field. Orson Scott Card certainly mentioned it when launching his own, higher-paying magazine. It's also worth noting (and again, correct me if I've got this wrong) that part of the reason Omni was able to play a special role in '80s fiction was its relatively high pay rates.

We also see that people do go where the opportunities are, and that has its costs too--for instance, the tendency toward overlong books we've been seeing lately (and the greater pressure to overextend a series), which are regarded by many as not a healthy thing. (Indeed, Charles Stross recently discussed the issue on his blog, though more with the end of explaining than attacking or defending it.)

I don't want to belabor the point, but let's not pretend money, careers and related opportunities are irrelevant; that the industry can be considered economically viable without its paying the people actually producing the material; or for that matter, assuming that the rise of the e-book (still very much an adjunct to print) is an accomplished fact. (I think that technology will be relevant, but it's still very much in the teething stage, and the Kindle in particular leaves much to be desired.)

I am, however, interested in the continuing strength of the YA market in this area, something I've often heard about but haven't really heard anyone elaborate on. (I'm not likely to take a crack at it anytime soon, but would be curious to hear any thoughts anyone here has about that nonetheless.)

Incidentally, I've posted links to this discussion in the forum at The Fix, and (admittedly less trafficked) on my own blog as well.
Mar 8, 18:23 by Bluejack
For the curious, here are some links to these other really awesome resources that everyone should equally support:

The Fix

Mar 8, 18:48 by Ellen Datlow
Nader Elhefnawy: "The fact that SCI FICTION was shut down (and I invite Ellen to correct me if I've got this wrong) does reveal some of the problems with such efforts." The Sci Fi Channel was sold three times over the six years I edited SCIFICTION. The original vision for SCIFI.COM (from the time I started working there) and the end vision (currently as owned by GE-NBC) changed radically.

So it's a special case and nothing much can be gleaned from its closing (or existence)other than corporate intentions are fly by night depending on the corporation.

Nader Elhefnawy: "It's also worth noting (and again, correct me if I've got this wrong) that part of the reason Omni was able to play a special role in '80s fiction was its relatively high pay rates."

Money certainly helped attract sf writers who hadn't been writing short fiction (like Silverberg) and initially attract some mainstream writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, William S. Burroughs, T. Coraghessan Boyle, et al.

It also got writers pay attention to a new market quicker than they would have, but the down side is that the core sf audience took wayyyy longer to warm up the newer writers being published on OMNI.

eg. William Gibson never won an award for any of the seven stories (two of those collaborations) that we published. Only one was nominated for a Hugo ("Dogfight," with Swanwick and published in 1985--four years after "Johnny Mnemonic," the first published in OMNI). No story from OMNI ever one a Locus award. (IIRC)

Basically, OMNI is sui generis--it was the only slick magazine to combine science fact with science fiction in an attractive format.

Ever since OMNI I've been able to attract top writers to the magazines/webzines and anthologies I edit without the high pay rate--although sometimes I'll able to pay more. You don't need a high payrate to make waves but it helps to start off with one.
Mar 8, 19:50 by Nader Elhefnawy
Thank you for the clarification on those two points. (I'd heard more than one story about how things have played out over at SCI FICTION, hence the qualification; no incivility intended, of course.)

A couple of things that I think will help the process of getting online publishing closer to where it would like to be:

* Better economic times generally. It's likely to mean more wriggle room for every approach. It may also make it more likely that those viable models will pop up, simply because a substantial body of (admittedly, controversial) economic analysis holds that new ideas sit on the shelf when times are bad, and become a lot more commonplace when the investment climate's more attractive. (Of course, opinion on the odds and degree of such a development's contentious.)
* Favorable technological developments that make online stuff simply (physically) easier to read for lengthy periods, like more widely available, convenient smart paper (this could be pretty near); and maybe the kind of print-on-demand tech we were talking about ten years ago (but which even Gardner Dozois, who was enthusiastic about the possibility, no longer expects to be imminent, though it would be really handy). (In fact, I'm kind of surprised to have not heard more about this inside this discussion.)
Mar 8, 22:06 by Sean Wallace
Print-on-demand, unfortunately, doesn't quite work well enough with regards to online magazines, to sell enough copies to make it worthwhile, both in terms of time and energy. The numbers simply don't make it viable. It's easier to do best-of compilations, like Baen's Universe, and OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and sell thousands of copies, traditionally, and cover your expenses. That's what we're doing with Fantasy Magazine later in the year.

Other than that, print-on-demand is just fine, and I've been using it for years, now. But an audience to buy monthly compilations, compared to an audience who will buy a best-of, is simply not there, currently, and it isn't worth setting up as a revenue stream.

Creating brand awareness, and leveraging that to sell product seems like one possible way forward.
Mar 8, 22:15 by Sean Wallace
With regards to online markets, and this comment: "the internet becomes a sort of small press ghetto of the unpaid and underpaid," I'm afraid that I don't come to that conclusion, considering that there's any number of print zines that might also fit that statement. There are ghettos online and in print. :p but moreso than that, there seems to be an increasing number of online markets paying the same or more than print magazines, and sticking around for some time. (Examples: Chizine, Clarkesworld, Cosmos Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Subterranean Magazine, and more arriving)

Some have been around since 2000, and even in one case, earlier than that (Chizine). So, what is the problem here? Markets are proliferating, paying more than print, and are reaching quite a lot more readers than they ever could on a newstand . . . I'm not quite sure why anyone would be grim over this.

It's a Golden Age, so far as I'm concerned :p
Mar 8, 23:10 by Lois Tilton
One could argue that the current range of payment for short fiction in print amounts to "underpaid," as well.

But your own examples would seem to agree with me that online markets seem to be on the ascendant and print zines in decline.
Mar 8, 23:27 by Sean Wallace
I might be concerned about the current range of payment for print magazines only if circulation was the same as it was ten, or even twenty years ago. But it isn't, and most print zines have shed considerable numbers of subscribers. Example: when you figure that Asimov's had 52,000 subscribers in 1995, and by 2005 it had just 18,000, paying higher rates doesn't seem to make much sense, at least for those markets, so they've been frozen, basically.

From the perspective of authors, and readers, however, this is a great time, for online markets, though for publishers trying to figure out a business model that works, it's a challenging time :p
Mar 8, 23:49 by Lois Tilton
The fact that the printzines can't pay higher rates is evidence of the problem. Not just the drop in subscribers, but the increased costs of just about everything.

Internet zines don't have a lot of those costs. But most ezines don't seem to have 18,000 regular subscribers, either.

Strange Horizons is one of the longest-running and most successful ezines. They say that their annual budget is $18,000, of which 1/3 comes from their annual fund drive, if I understand their statement correctly - $6000. The 18,000 subscribers to Asimov's pay $33.

It's an operation on an entirely different scale.
Mar 9, 00:20 by Sean Wallace
I would certainly agree that that's the biggest problem with online magazines right now is getting the number of readers that corresponds with the digests, right now. Online can compete with print on a number of levels: pay, response rates, online submissions systems, and some probably do beat the digests with readers, but it's an improving situation, I think. (I would bet gets a load of readers, for instance).

It's really an academic discussion, with regards to business models, in any case, revelant perhaps only to the publishers. Readers and authors don't care about them, I'd imagine. So I'm not too sure what place they have in this, beyond wondering what works, or what doesn't work, but the thing is there's not one successful method, there's many, and it's probably going to continue being diverse.

The problem (and solution) perhaps occurred a long time ago to advertisers, if the "eyes" are going online, then perhaps they should follow . . .
Mar 9, 00:29 by Bluejack
It's potentially worth comparing internet publishing to television. People have been getting their TV entertainment "free" for decades. There are pay-per-view models that work for specialized content (no, not just porn). There are subscription models that work for better quality (cable). And there is advertising.

Fund raisers (PBS) are effective in some markets for one or two channels.

Television is suffering some of the same blows that the combination of traditional and internet publishing are: declining ad revenues, and diminished viewership due to increased competition.

But surely, increased competition is a some kind of sign of health!?
Mar 9, 02:19 by Lois Tilton
Authors should certainly care about business models if they care about the health of the industry [isn't this where we came in?] If business models aren't profitable, how viable can they be? If the business models aren't viable, how long will they be in a position to pay authors?

Online venues have competitive advantages in terms of costs, but how many are profitable - after paying all expenses including fulltime salaries of editorial staff?

Mar 9, 02:48 by Sean Wallace
I generally find that authors take into consideration many other factors, not business models, when they are trying to make a decision where to place their stories. (I'd done a poll of FM authors last year to figure what went into their decisions). I don't think anyone actually sits down and tries to figure out how or why a magazine is in business. It's attributing way too much.

I should point out that many online websites don't pay anyone full-time salaries, and a lot of them treat the cost of the website as a marketing expense. (Profit doesn't play into this at all, though break-even is nice.) Fiction has, in some cases, become a component of a marketing tool, to sell books or merchandise. I don't think the traditional business model, of using fiction to drive subscription revenue, or advertising revenue, and the like, is currently sustainable, online, at least for short fiction. The problem is that too many businesses are striving to do that, and failing to understand the internet.

Publishers have to look at other ways to leverage the value of their content, whether it's nonfiction or fiction. Or, in some cases, they don't have to, like Strange Horizons, making a very good argument that the community needs them, via donations; or Chizine, which acts as advertising for Dorchester Publishing. (Which comes back to a marketing expense . . . why pay thousands of dollars for print advertising when you can finance a short fiction website where your demographic visits?)

This has all been clarified, I think, by Jeremy Tolbert, from last year in which he identified four or five different business models, and used examples. (Does anyone have a quick link to this?) A business model does not, however, have to have a profit-center to justify it being a business model, of course. It depends on its goals.

There's nothing doom-and-gloomy to argue about, in any case. The market is changing, let's hold on tight, and enjoy the ride.

Mar 9, 03:21 by Lois Tilton
The market is certainly changing, for better or worse. And change is destructive as much [or more] than creative. Some will go under, some will come up on top.

Mar 9, 04:01 by Bluejack
Yup... I'm the professional googler here. Five Unconventional Zine Ideas by Jeremy Tolbert
Mar 9, 04:17 by Sean Wallace
That was one of them, though not the one that I was thinking of. There was also, from Simon Owens, this one: The Rise of the Genre Ezine

and this one from Scalzi, of interest: The Big Three

If I find the one that analyzed all the business models, in great detail, I'll post the link.

Mar 9, 04:40 by Daniel Powell
I agree with Kristine.

She wrote an article that I feel is nothing but sensible. In this trough of economic prosperity (man, I had a good talk with my old man today about the last major DOW dip in the '70s), I still see a lot of tenacity on the part of some enduring publications in the spec. fic. field.

Richard Chizmar recently wrote a great note on his renewed passion for publishing spec. fic. over at Cemetery Dance. I look forward to seeing what Shock Totem is capable of, and I recently took out a subscription to Doorways. I read the hell out of Apex, Abyss & Apex, Chi-Zine and Strange Horizons.

I think the market needs expansion--of course it can grow--but I also think that we're (we, being the short spec.-fic. community) doing fine, all things considered.

Word to Kristine on this one, and that's my post and link to it.

Mar 9, 04:41 by Jeremy Tolbert
Sean, I think the post you're looking for is this financial models post.

(I hope i got the code right there. This comment form needs a preview button.)
Mar 9, 04:47 by Jeremy Tolbert
I should add, given my participation as the new managing editor of Escape Pod, is should be clear where I think the action/potential is right now. 25,000 listeners, and they're not the same people reading the magazines. They're younger, for one. But I think there's a lot of potential for the podcasts to act as a gateway to the print zines.

Escape Pod pays for itself with the donation model and some sponsorships, by the way.
Mar 9, 05:04 by Daniel Powell
You know what's interesting? People want content.

I subscribe to One Story. They send me a single story in a colored magazine every two or three weeks. I seriously keep one in the car in case I find myself in an emergency traffic jam or I have to get my oil changed. It's a quick attention diversion.

Anyway, I was finished one at the Jiffy Lube on Baymeadows Road. It was an ok story. There was a guy across the lobby who was bored, so I gave it to him. His face lit up and he tore into that story.

When I left, he was still into it. Now, I'm giving up my subscription to that magazine. It's only about a 50% hit rate on decent stories. Ones that I enjoy.

Still, I like what they're trying to do, and I think it's a great model. I'm trading that subscription for a year of Doorways Magazine.

But I think the discussion should be about how the reading community can get content.

JeremyT's post is proof positive that it can be done.

Readers, by the way, need to be a sizable chunk when it comes to submitters. The same people that write in the genres need to purchase in the genres. Take your first sale, and spend it on a year's subscription.

You can't have it both ways, regardless of how sparkling you think your prose sounds.
Mar 9, 13:15 by Jason Ridler
Interesting debate. For another look of success against the grain, I wrote a piece for Dark Scribe on how Jeanne Cavelos started the successful Abyss imprint after the horror boom went bust in the early 1990s. While the situations between now and then are not necessarily analogous, it is a tale of success in publishing during a period when horror was considered a form of the plague.

Mar 9, 14:01 by Lois Tilton
My recollection is that Abyss began in 1990, near the end of the horror boom, not after it.
Mar 9, 16:48 by Sean Wallace
Jeremy, that's exactly the post I was looking for, though it seems to be missing one business model, basically allocating the website as a marketing expense, for whatever reason, by the publisher . . .
Mar 9, 19:29 by Jason Ridler

Not according to Jeanne. It was in its wake, when Dell was dumping horror writers and about to give them all the flush.

Mar 9, 20:40 by Lois Tilton
I must of course credit what Jeanne says, and I have no trouble believing that Dell had figures indicating a decline in sales by 1990.

But as I recall, authors were still selling to other houses for another couple of years, although the numbers were already going down. My 2nd horror novel came out in 1993, and I've always dated the bust to that year, or maybe 1994. If I still had my records from the HWA Hardship Committee, I would be more sure of the dates.

Mar 10, 01:44 by Ellen Datlow
It ended in 1995--my second anthology sold to Jeanne at Abyss, but was orphaned (three times pre-pub) and ended up as Dell horror. Abyss was gone by 1996. So it lasted about six years. Along with some very fine titles, there were also execrable ones.

>>>My recollection is that Abyss began in 1990, near the end of the horror boom, not after it.
Mar 10, 16:59 by Abby Goldsmith
I agree 100% with everything Jetse said.

I'll add this: Personally, I see fiction readers as a growing market (or at least a stable market), but short story readership is dwindling. I'm not trying to be negative, but I'm expressing my honest belief. As Jetse said, there are ways to reel in more readers--offer free content, more dynamic presentation, visuals, etc., in the burgeoning medium of the internet. The readership is still out there. If you love short stories, seek and you shall find.

What's eating the short story market? In my opinion, it's more than the sum of distribution woes, economic woes, and the internet stealing our free time (although those factors play a part). I haven't performed an official survey, but I know at least 100 SFF readers, and they almost universally prefer buying novels over short story collections or magazines. If they're going to pay for fiction, they want a story that involves them for more than an hour. We have a lot of other things vying for our attention.

Does it make economic sense? Maybe not. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch said, you get more bang for your buck with a magazine subscription. But what about personal satisfaction? You might pay $20 for a DVD of your favorite movie, or you could pay $20 for a year's subscription of short indie films. Which would most people choose?

I see many short story lovers as an older generation, hailing from the heyday of Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. This is not to say that ALL short story readers are from that generation. But the typical SFF "geek" under the age of 40 spends more time on the internet and a lot less time with print newspapers and magazine. I believe this is simply a fact.
Mar 13, 19:48 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Actually, statistics show that more young people are reading than they ever have before. YA sales are booming. And here's this from a recently released National Endowment for the Arts survey:

"For the first time in the history of the survey - conducted five
times since 1982 - the overall rate at which adults read literature
(novels and short stories, plays, or poems) rose by seven percent."

"Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in
literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent)."

Notice they define literary reading differently than sf people would. It just means they're reading fiction, plays and poetry.

Here's the entire report:


Mar 13, 19:49 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Not to mention that there are lot of short stories to read on the internet. And to listen to.
Mar 15, 12:09 by Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Regarding the worry that the internet will become a "small press ghetto of the unpaid and the underpaid," well, maybe so.

On the other hand, I'm paying 25 cents a word for short fiction for
Mar 15, 14:56 by Lois Tilton
That's definitely an attractive rate.

How would you describe the business model for the site? Does the e-fiction pay for itself, or is it considered as online advertising for the printed books from Tor?
Mar 18, 16:11 by Jason Ridler
Glad to hear Tor is paying so well. Is open to submissions or invite only?

Mar 23, 01:44 by Sean Wallace
Mar 28, 21:04 by Dotar Sojat
Quite a topic.

Am I the only one who doesn't buy this whole "If its on the internet, it's free" argument?

It's only free if you're getting both your computer and your internet access for free-- which the vast majority of people are not doing. Otherwise, it costs. Maybe $100-$300 a year for the access, and then say $700 for a computer averaged out over four or five years. Way to spend $350 a year to read $65 of free stories!

Like what's-his-name said, we're competing for Joe Average's beer money, and now 'cause Joe is dropping so much cash on computers and interent he doesn't have the money to buy books/magazines to begin with.

As a complete side-note on the internet payment/micropaymen model. Back in the late 90s when the internet was going to be All That, I (mistakenly) assumed that banks would offer little $20-$50 credit cards that people could use for their minor internet transactions. There were a lot of security concerns at the time, and I for one didn't feel like risking my $30K* credit limit on a $5 donation to my favorite online whatsi-hootsis. Although security concerns have been somewhat assuaged over time, they are still present in a lot of people's minds. And again, there seems to be a double-worry that places that take small transactions are going to skimp on the security.

* I have no idea how I got to $30K, but Capital One seems certain that I need that and more.
Apr 27, 00:45 by Karen Lofstrom
I buy sf ebooks. In fact, I prefer them, as they don't require shelf-space, don't have to be dusted, and don't weigh anything when I carry them on my PDA.

Alas, some of the books I want aren't available in e, or from the library. I went looking online to see if I could find some pirated versions (yes, I'm bad). In a few cases, I could -- but I would have had to download from sites with domain names ending in .cn or .ru. Or install some torrent client that I didn't quite trust, that installed other software that I didn't trust. Or give some paid "service" my credit card details. Uh-uh, no way, I don't want malware or credit card theft, along with my free error-filled raw OCR output pirated text.

There's the business model. If a *quality* ebook or emagazine is available at a *reasonable* price from a *trustworthy* source that makes it *easy* to buy, people will buy it.

BTW, reasonable price is Baen. Unreasonable is Harper Collins charging $21 for the latest Bujold, because they could. I paid, but I *hated* them. DO YOU HEAR THAT, FOSSILS AT HARPER COLLINS?
Apr 27, 16:03 by 0
Just for reference, there is a count of "labor underutilization". It's called [a href=""]"U6"[/a].
((except I can't get the link to format right . . . ))
Jun 24, 05:24 by Bluejack
The link you want is: U6

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