Some months ago, we decided we wanted to try to get comprehensive coverage of award nominees. We missed that almost entirely with the Philip K. Dick award, and we didn't get our Nebula issue out before the actual awarding of the awards, not to mention coming in a couple of reviews short. Let me reassure all readers: the occasional variable publication of IROSF and any shortcomings in content are entirely due to things like day jobs! The response to my recent call for reviewers was overwhelming.
In any case, when it comes to comprehensive coverage, maybe this year's Hugos will be the "third time's a charm" issue.
Of course, there's actually a bit more use in getting the Hugo reviews in ahead of time: Hugos are voted on by members of WorldCon, which is something akin to a public election. The Nebulas undergo a somewhat more nebulous process:
First, the rank and file members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA, often pronounced Siff-Wah) recommend works they believe to be of merit.
From this process a preliminary ballot is drawn up, consisting of all works receiving 10 or more recommendations.
Secondly, SFWA members use this preliminary ballot to nominate the finalists. The top five vote-getters are automatically promoted to the final ballot. In addition, a jury named by the SFWA president has the option of adding a sixth candidate to the final ballot. Despite the presence of a jury, this is not really a "juried" award— this is the entire extent of the jury's responsibility.
Finally, SFWA members vote again— using the Australian ballot tabulation system— choosing the winner.
(For the details of this process in all their gory glory, see the official rules.)
The problem with a mechanism such as this is that it is unlikely that those voting will have actually read all the candidates. The same problem afflicts the the Hugos. At one WorldCon I overheard a woman at the next table over mention that she voted for the novel that eventually won the Hugo because the author "was a nice guy."
One goal of publishing balanced reviews of all the candidates, therefore, is to give the voting public a little more information than the author's reputation upon which to base a vote.
The Hugos are commonly thought of as a popularity contest; the Nebulas might seem to be a popularity contest among professional writers. Whether or no, the Nebulas have a reputation for conservatism. Not political conservatism so much as narrative traditionalism. You'll find very few experimental novels winning the Nebulas. This year's From the Files of the Time Rangers had to be considered a drastically long shot.
Last Chance For Free Subscriptions?
We've been requiring subscriptions since IROSF opened for readers; but they've always been free. That's gonna to change soon, so get your friends to sign up in the next 30 days or so!
People often shake their heads at our business model. No ads? No subscriptions? Paid authors? How does that work?
Ads, I'm glad to say, wouldn't work in any case. Although we have thousands of readers who peruse tens of thousands of articles every month, those numbers are actually far too low to generate real revenue. Why glad? Cause I don't like 'em. If I could make enough money to break even on ads alone, I would have to do so in order to ensure that everyone who might ever want to read one of our articles could do so without hassle. However, those numbers don't add up in any scenario, and we'll just have to find other ways to ensure everyone can have access to the information they need.
So: with the next issue, we will be rejiggering subscriptions along the following lines.
- Academic: The reader may read two current and two archived articles per month, not including the editorial which will always be free. (Why make people pay for this?) There will be no charge for this kind of subscription, which is intended to make articles available to people with a one-time interest or academic specialty free of charge.
- Basic: The reader may read all of the current issue and 10 archived articles per month.
- Full: The reader has access to all of the current issue and all of the archived articles at all times.
- Combined: The reader has a full subscription to IROSF and also a subscription to our sister publication, Æon Speculative Fiction.
These subscription options will be available in 1, 2, and 5 year increments. The actual dollar values are still to be determined.
In conjunction with this, there will be some new features, such as ebook formats for various readers and platforms.
So, what happens to your current subscription? Everyone who has subscribed to date will be grandfathered into full subscriptions lasting to the next anniversary date of their original sign-up. If said anniversary date is less than two months away, it will be given a two month extention.
That's almost as complicated as the Nebula rules, eh? Here's hoping it works!
But what if it doesn't?
Look: we're committed to making electronic publishing work. We don't mind losing a bit more money along the way. Our main goal is to get good stuff into the hands of readers. But we can't just throw money away forever.
If it turns out that people just aren't willing to pay for great content, then I guess it will die. If the content isn't actually all that great, then it deserves to die. But either way, we're not going to go down without a fight.
What if you want to donate more to keep it going?
There is absolutely a role for benefactors in this business. We will make it possible for benefactors who believe this is a worthwhile endeavor to donate additional funds to help keep things afloat. While we are still in startup mode, which means volunteer editorships and a money-losing bottom line, said donations will go entirely to keeping the enterprise afloat. There will be a few perks for benefactors.
Once the business becomes profitable, which will include paying editors for their valuable work ensuring the best possible content, donations will be used to fund subscriptions for those in need or new projects said benefactors might wish to see brought to fruition.
What about investors?
We're not aiming for a non-profit status along the lines of Strange Horizons, so the prospect of investing is not entirely absurd. But we're just not set up for it at this time.
Even as I put all this down in type, I realize how it may sound rather ridiculous, perhaps even— to be blunt— grandiose. To that I say: It is always better to dream big and fail than to aim for mediocrity.