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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Where Are Our Magazines?

   
Author Topic: Where Are Our Magazines?
C L Lynn
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I finally got heated up enough about something that I believe merits discussion in this part of the forum:


OK, so I was shopping at a Barnes and Noble in Oklahoma City this weekend and went to the magazine wall to pick up an edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as I usually do when I happen by the store. But for the first time the magazine wasn't there. In fact, I found it exceptionally difficult to find where *any* of the literature magazines were located. I finally found about half a dozen near the floor, beside the archaeology mags under Entertainment. But there was no F&SF. I picked up an edition of Asimov's instead. Fine. But b/c this particular B&N didn't have the item I came for in the first place, I drove to a second B&N, this one in Norman, a prosperous university town, and I thought surely, here, in the home of the prestigious OU, the bookstores will better represent writers and their work. I went to the magazine wall, all shimmery with half-naked actresses, chromed-out cars, and ideal gardens and living rooms, and found to my dismay exactly 6 literature mags. Yes, I counted them. There were 2 Sci-Fi journals, 1 mystery journal, and 3 literary journals. They were near the floor, under *Men's Interests*!!! And, again, no F&SF.

Point is, I suddenly wondered where in the hell are our magazines? Yes, short fiction and poetry publications are moving more and more to the web, especially the small ones, but what about the big ones? The icons that have been around for decades and are still only found in print? How is the casual peruser supposed to discover these wonderful little jewels -- as I did years ago -- if they aren't on the shelves to be found? And who, under Heaven, is reading *us*, the emerging writers, those desperately trying to cram our feet in the door by getting our names into these journals? Does a reader have to subscribe to *every* journal to find a copy anymore?

Has anyone else noticed a tragic lack of sponsorship given to our work? If the megastores, with their acres of shelf space aren't stocking our stories, who is?


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Christine
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Personally, I think the big scifi and fantasy magazines have lost their touch. They don't publish stories I'm interested in reading. I thought maybe it just wasn't my style but I hear a lot of people talk about being disappointed with them, even people who have been reading the magazines for a long time. Between that and the recession, I'm not entirely surprised that they are not on magazine shelves any longer.

If you like them, though, you could always get a subscription. It would be easier than driving all around the state.


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C L Lynn
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Recession, nothing. The magazine shelves are *packed*. When I begin to find space between the fashion mags, the home beautifying mags, the car and bike mags, and the business mags, then I'll blame the recession. The point is that as many literary journals as there are in the world, the thousands a writer has to glean through to find the perfect market for his/her story, there *should* be a MUCH larger representation on our bookstores' shelves. But there isn't.

The sad thing is, it's a supply and demand thing. Cosmo and Vogue don't lack a readership, clearly. Maybe I'm despairing, but why supply stories when no one seems to be demanding them and the stores don't carry them anyway?


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aspirit
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Borders seems to carry more fantasy and science fiction mags than Barnes and Noble does. When I research mags for a sub, I go to my local Borders. I called the Oklahoma City Borders on Expressway about how many of these mags they carry, and the answer was "Lots." The bookseller than advised me to call back between 9-10 AM on weekdays and ask for Jackie, who knows their stock better.

I was also going to suggest that independent bookstores were picking up the slack of chain stores, because some around here do. However, when I called Full Circle in Oklahoma City, asking if they regularly carried fantasy and science fiction mags, the bookseller had to put me on hold to check. She came back with "I'm sorry. It looks like we don't have anything like that." The good news: independent bookstores might be easier to persuade to change their stock.


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arriki
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But...why aren't they selling? Are they trying so hard to be "literary" that they've frozen out the traditional sf market?

I know that I'm not finding stories in the big three that hold my interest any more. I can't quite put my finger on why. Sometimes it seems to be the stories, other time it's the writing itself.The "sense of wonder" is gone, is that it?


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Cheyne
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Christine-Science fiction goes through different "movements" through time and maybe the magazines are reflecting a style that does not appeal to you personally. Or perhaps the magic is gone for you because you are learning the secrets behind the tricks.
As writers, we at Hatrack are more likely to recognize when a writer is cheating or shortcahnging us with lazy writing, than are readers who don't look at the writing with quite as jaundiced an eye.

Arriki- let's not start slagging on literary fiction again; we are in danger of sounding like literazis who look down on Science fiction.


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KayTi
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I'm pretty surprised at the look of the F/SF magazines. I received a subscription to Discover Magazine when I was a kid. It was so exciting to get that magazine each month. Slick, with pictures of stars and cool stuff. The first copy of F&SF I bought I was really shocked by. First the smaller form factor, weird. Then the book paper instead of slick. I'm sure it's there's some economic point, like they can't pay for illustrations or photo rights or they don't have the staff to come up with that sort of thing or all literary journals are done in this manner, but it was really surprising to me. I was picking up a *magazine* and the magazine in my hands violated my script for what a magazine experience entails.

The other thing that just turned me off from one of the magazines (don't recall which) was this weird insider-view essay about some conference in another country. It wasn't written in the "here's something about a conference that might be of interest to all our readers" style, instead it was more of a travel journal from one guy to a couple folks he's friends with. It struck me as really odd, and not particularly appealing. It didn't draw me in, it didn't encourage me to read more. It didn't make me eager to discover what other wonders I was going to find in the covers of the magazine. It left me scratching my head. And apparently it was the first in a series of installments! Oh my.

Anyway - that's just my griping about things. I think an overhaul could help. I don't have any trouble finding the magazines at my local B&N, though.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, I subscribe to most of 'em...but I'm usually on the lookout for new magazines I haven't seen before or haven't sampled.

Books-a-Million, where I do most of my book shopping, has its magazine racks against the back wall. You come down the center aisle, and you're right in front of the "current affairs" section. To the left, entertainment, and, past that, assorted "women's interest" stuff (cooking, sewing, and such.) To the right, "men's interest" (computers, sports, guns, cars). (How some of this divvies up this way is a mystery. I do a little of all of it, myself. In any case, it's a gross simplification of the actual arrangement.)

Right now, I find Asimov's, Analog, and F & SF in a very small section to the right, "arts and literature," on the lowest shelf, face up. (The mystery magazines, and things like Fate, are right there.) Other magazines, like Weird Tales, pop up in the racks right above it. Heavy Metal winds up a little further down, on the top rack, among Playboy and that sort. Realms of Fantasy usually turns up over to the left side, in among the entertainment stuff.

*****

Some of you probably have noticed that Asimov's and Analog recently changed sizes---they got slightly larger in height and widthy while shrinking the number of pages in depth. Being an insider at the post office, I can tell you that, despite what was said, this was probably done to accomodate their subscription mailings---the traditional digest size are too large to run as conventional letters, they don't "go" particularly well on the newer-model flat sorters, and nearly every kind of manual sorting has been eliminated, so it was either change or have your magazines keep showing up as piles of scrap paper.


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C L Lynn
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How I *wish* our bookstores carried the magazines that your Books-a-Million is carrying, Robert Nowall. I don't want to have to subscribe to every one of journals to get an inside look. It seems I shall be forced to raise a complaint at my local stores.
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Brad R Torgersen
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Oh boy, don't get me started. Oh wait, you already did!

Regarding the F&SF mags....

Subscription rates, per annum, have plummeted. Very few young readers (young, for our purposes, being 20 and under...) even know about them, much less pick them up from the stores. The usual Big Brick carriers tend to stuff them away on the shelves -- if they even bother to carry them at all. And you will never find them at the grocer anymore. Not even the slicks, like Realms of Fantasy.

Why?

I believe the F&SF magazines have gone too far in getting away from the visceral "pulp" era. And while many older authors who lived through the pulp era would probably scoff at the idea, I do think there is something to the notion that our F&SF mags suffer from a case of Literarism (Literocity? Litericiousnous?) and don't appeal to a broad-based audience anymore. They've become navel-gazing niche publications, written by, for, and about, a very tiny sliver of the consumer populace. I'd love to see a magazine publisher or even a book publisher take a whack at doing "pulp" stories -- loads of action, adventure, military-themed stuff, rock-'em-sock-'em stuff -- with maybe a handful of "high-minded" pieces now and again. Warren Lapine seemed to be doing this with the defunct Absolute Magnitude, but even that market folded.

I also think the overall public attitude, towards fiction reading, has drifted away from short work. People still buy and read novels. But average interest in short pieces has declined across the board (no, I don't have stats to back this, just a gut feel) and there might not be any way to get this back. Again, short fiction has fallen into the Literary pit, losing its broader appeal at the same time it's pushed for "high-minded" quality. Now, your average consumer wants a lot of "oomph" for their dollar, with an extended "ride", which means novels. Not short fiction.

I also also think the overall marketing and publishing model, for the F&SF mags, sucks. I mean, poor Gordon Van Gelder has to publish and run TMoF&SF all on his own, and he has no corporate backing that I am aware of. Even Analog and Asimov's rely on Dell, which is the Sudoku and "grocery puzzle" publisher -- hardly a force in fiction. Assuming Asimov's and Analog see their numbers drop too low, Dell will probably dump both of these long-time SF titles. And I don't see anyone picking them back up again. Not unless TOR or DAW or a big SF&F publishing house grabs these titles and turns them into something akin to Jim Baen's Universe.

And, no, on-line fiction is not the answer, because too few paying consumers read their fiction on-line. The Amazon Kindle seems like the first real electronic medium that even begins to approach a magazine or a paperback, in terms of ease and portability. Which is what a majority of readers want, as the majority of fiction is read at bed time, on the daily commute, before, during, and after class, etc. Places and times when most people do not want to have to log onto the computer or flip open a laptop.

So what should be done?

I won't pretend I have a magic wand, but this is what I think.

1) As mentioned above, F&SF markets need to get back to doing fiction that is aimed at and can be appreciated by a wider audience. Especially younger readers. If this means the F&SF mags get "dumbed down" from their current too-literary heights, so be it.

2) Book publishers could (should?) step in and begin their own short fiction monthlies. Or maybe just buy up the ones that already exist? The success of Jim Baen's Universe indicates that it can be done. Also, like JBU, take the best stories from the e-monthlies and publish them in regular anthologies that don't get buried on the mag shelves at the Big Brick stores, but are instead put in the regular F&SF novel section. New (ergo, young) F&SF readers don't go looking for F&SF in the mag shevles. Such monthlies would be a good place for F&SF book publishing to "farm" new talent, too.

3) Beyond the Big Brick stores, F&SF publishers should make a renewed and aggressive attempt to get back into the groceries and the other non-bookish stores. How much F&SF is on the racks at Wal Mart, Super Target, Fred Meyer, etc, etc, around North America? The real money from fiction sales isn't at Barnes & Noble. It's at Safeway and Albertson's! But people at the groceries will only buy F&SF if it gives them what they're looking for. More action, more drama, more adventure, more romance. Less dork-centered fiction that panders to (or can only be grasped by) people with high college education.

I know, I know, the above is 100% heresy.

But every time a franchise like Harry Potter or the Twilight books explodes, I look at the current state of F&SF and I shake my head. The industry -- in many ways -- is doing it all wrong, and there are very few people in said industry who seem to want to experiment with maybe doing it right? I guess for a lot of F&SF readers, writers, publishers and editors, they like the idea of F&SF forever living in a ghetto within the publishing and consumer world??

(shrug)


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C L Lynn
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Amen! I totally agree. And if it's heresy, it's about time a new method of publishing replaces the current method. We're being lost out there.

Thanks, Brad, for the passion and the helpful info.


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dee_boncci
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Well, as a subscriber to F&SF, what I think the problem is, several have already alluded to.

The thing is just painful to read because the stories are generally unappealing. I read it as research/study, and if I wasn't interesting in writing speculatiove fiction and trying to keep abreast of what's "new", I wouldn't waste a minute of my time reading it. To me, Asimov's is worse.

Maybe these guys should trade out editors every year. I suspect that part of the problem is that we're getting the selections of people who have probably read tens of thousands of these types of stories over decades, and they're probably trashing the stuff that would entertain and appeal to a more mainstream audience because they see it as too, well, "mainstream".

If you want younger people to be interested in the publications, then let younger people choose the stories maybe.

I wonder what percentage of their subscribers are people that ultimately have a dream of being published by them. I bet it is quite high.


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Brad R Torgersen
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At the risk of offending the long-time editors, dee is saying what I have been thinking for awhile now.

How many good or entertaining stories get passed over or not printed, because a given editor has seen "too much" of that kind of story, and is instead seeking something "different", and this ends up hurting market appeal? Because what's "different" for a long-term editor isn't necessarily going to spark for newer readers who aren't necessarily wanting overly esoteric or "high" pieces that require a PhD. to be read or enjoyed?


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Brad R Torgersen
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I also have to admit that I too largely read Analog, Asimov's and TMoF&SF for "research" purposes.

Once in awhile a story in one of these really wows me. "Arkfall" in a recent issue of F&SF did that. It was a true "sense-o-wunda" story and I enjoyed it a lot.

But many of the stories in the Big Three tend to bore, or are so obviously "literary" in flavor and content, they're either incomprehensible, or break so many 'rules' of fiction that I just throw the magazine across the room because if the story did not come from a Name it would NEVER have been published. And I hate those perhaps most of all.

If someone said, "Do you purchase and read Analog, Asimov's and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for pleasure?" I'd have to be honest and say, no. I read them because they're required reading for aspirants, like college textbooks.

Maybe I am shooting myself in the foot for printing that here, but it's the truth.

Of course, circulation and the economy speak for themselves. If the numbers keep going down, Analog, TMoF&SF and Asimov's won't exist anymore. And that will be a damned shame IMHO, because I think for F&SF to stay healthy as a genre, we need pro markets for the "farming" of new talent, and so that existing pros can get their GOOD short work (non-boring, non-literary, non-trunk) stories published at pro pay rates.

I dunno. Sometimes I think the short markets are just doomed no matter what happens. Maybe it'll take having no F&SF short markets at all for a few years, for a new and/or healthy crop of F&SF short markets to emerge? Backed by publishers and/or editors who are hip to the realities of the 21st century market?

We'll see.


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C L Lynn
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Brad, you wrote, "How many good or entertaining stories get passed over or not printed..." Again, I agree. Coughing up what at first was a familiar, humiliating moment for me, but that now only makes me angry -- I submitted a story to F&SF last month, mailed it Nov. 12. Got a form rejection dated 5 days later!!! Please, tell me a slush reader actually had time to read my ms before stuffing my return envelope with that Thanks, but No Thanks. I'd bet money that the admission editor was too busy during her holiday season and b/c she didn't recognize my name, didn't bother even reading the ms. I may be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

And the greatest reason I try to find the mags on the shelves in the first place is for *research* as well. I try to enjoy the stories, glean as much from them as I can, b/c the editors are obviously telling me that these are the *good* stories, the *acceptable* stories, the ones they will pay for.

How I wish we could anonymously send this thread to each of the big mags as some sort of letter. We can't be alone in our sentiments.


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Brad R Torgersen
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C L Lynn,

Gordon Van Gelder has two assistant editors helping him, so I wouldn't be sure that your manuscript is not being read. I do know that of the thousands and thousands of manuscripts The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction gets through their slush every year, maybe a tiny handful (like, four or five) get published. Otherwise, the slots in each issue are reserved for existing Names, or otherwise established authors.

One thing I'd love to see: the big markets going to "blind" reading, similar to the way Writers of the Future runs their contest. Strip all names off each manuscript and force each and every manuscript to survive the cull: be they from Names or not! I'd wager good money that a lot of pro authors would suddenly see their stuff getting bounced! And new authors would have a much greater chance. At least those new authors in the top tier whose craft is at the point where their stories can "pass as pro" without being attached to a Name, per se.


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C L Lynn
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Blind reading would be ideal, but the Names draw the little readership that the mags seem to be getting. I know I chose one copy of Asimov's over the other this weekend b/c I recognized a name on the cover. I fell for it. But you have a point -- editors would be less likely to choose mediocre and disappointing stories by established writers if names weren't taken into account.

At this point, I'm afraid I'll sound like the incompetent, egotistical writer who's bellyaching b/c she's having a tough time getting her stuff into print. I heard the writing industry is the most difficult to break into besides the music industry. It shouldn't be easy. But the journey would be more endurable, even enjoyable, if I knew my stories were receiving fair consideration, and -- to remain faithful to the subject of the thread -- if, when published, my stories would be readily available to the casual reader at the bloody bookstores. But now I'm talking in circles. I'm gonna grow some guts and make an official complaint to ... somebody.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, back in my day, 1971, I'd been reading Heinlein steady for about a year and started on Asimov and Clarke. But if I hadn't found a copy of the May 1971 Analog on a newsstand while on vacation in College Park, Maryland, it might have been some time more before I discovered their existence.

(Actually, I found copies of the April 1971 and May 1971 issues---but I could only buy one...)

*****

I know sales have declined for the SF magazines...but I've also looked at the sales of other magazines I get, and in particular these political commentary magazines I read cover to cover (right now) more often than the SF magazines. From their yearly statements, they sell even fewer copies than the SF mags.

(Some of 'em hold fundraisers...maybe the SF mags could consider doing that.)


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TaleSpinner
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But a magazine is a business and, as such, has to make money. Names sell. It would be economic madness to overlook a new story by OSC.

Their mission is not to reinvent the Golden Age, but to publish what their readerships want. They have data on that, from circulation figures and reader surveys.

Analog, for example, reports that its average paid circulation each month is some 34,000, of which about 22,000 are paid subscriptions. They also do annual surveys which enable them to understand which stories were, in the readers' opinions, the best published in the last year. Assuming editors are, like the rest of us, intelligent people, they're surely capable of interpreting such data and identifying readers' tastes and trends.

I believe that, if the trends are towards stories that Hatrack fledgling writers don't like, it's more likely we're out of touch with readerships and that we should strive to understand them rather than complain about editors and their choices.

Editors have the money and will spend it on stories they believe will preserve and expand circulation figures. I think it's our job to understand what they want and write it for them.

I think there are several factors behind the trends.

The format: For Analog, Asimov's and F&SF it's the old pulp format, cheap paper, cheap to produce. There are a lot of words in an issue, and the same number of words in a slick format would presumably cost much more because of the slick paper, and more to mail out because of the extra weight. Would subscribers pay more for the same stories in a slicker format? Probably not; you don't see the paper when you're reading a story, you see the images the author creates.

Competition: People buy mags for something to do, in spare time or at bedtime, on the train or plane, waiting for the train or plane, and so on. In the forties and fifties there was little else. But now there are many other things to do in such lulls--listen to an iPod, phone a friend or loved one, play an electronic game, watch a DVD or cruise the internet, or maybe just find someone to make love to--even sex is perhaps a competitor in today's liberated times. All these things eat away at magazine sales.

Competition plus: And, on my local mag wall, there are mags that leverage TV SciFi, featuring Dr Who, Star Trek and the like--but not FireFly :-( They're easy to read and accessible to readers who did not get themselves born early enough to enjoy the Golden Age. Given the choice between a slick cover offering stories of characters they know, and a pulp cover with corny monsters on the front, they'll pick the slick.

(And yes, that's a dilemma for the pulps. Maybe they should bite the bullet, or produce companion mags in slick format--whatever happened to Omni? Interzone has a slick-ish format and I'm not sure it helps because there are still only one or two copies of it on my local mag wall, compared to several of each of the TV SciFi mags.)

Literature: I think several stories are more literatick, and sometimes they lose me. But there are a few that I like, partly because theyr'e different, a refreshing read. And let's not forget, if literatick stories were unpopular, the editors would know from their circulation and reader survey data.

Immersion: I think this is an issue for short stories. As has been said elsewhere, people still buy books. Also, they watch movies. Both books and movies are more immersive than short stories which are fundamentally a different art form. I have a tiny data point on that: I have managed to get two of my children reading books, but they won't do shorts because "they aren't long enough". I think they feel they're investing time and want a decent reward for it, the immersion of getting to know a strange world and some interesting characters intimately.

Variety: I think it's unreasonable to expect to like all the stories in a mag. I don't expect to enjoy everything in an issue of Analog or Asimov's any more than I expect to like all the tracks on a CD by a favourite artist, or all the choices on a restaurant menu.

Just 2c,
Pat


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WouldBe
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As a practical matter, if you checked the magazine racks near in time to your post, it was near the end of the month. It may have sold out.
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ChrisOwens
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Pat,

You bring up some good points.

* [Immersion] is a factor. It takes time for a reader to grasp how the milieu works and the characters involved, and for a shorter work, by that time the story is over. Thus, there's a large segment of the SF&F readership that will stick to novels.

* [Competition] for people's time is a factor. People don't read fiction as much as they used to. They've many other outlets and distractions.

* I agree about the [format]--but I can't imagine that would be too much of a factor. A good story is a good story--who cares what paper it's printed on?

* A Big Name can attract readers, more than lesser known writers.

* [Variety] does mean that not everyone is going to be pleased. There have been a few stories in the Big 3 that I've liked, here and again. I loved 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate'.

That said, I agree with many of the previous postings as well. For the most part, I don't find very many stories that are appealing. And some are not even all THAT original.

I would love to see a half-blind submission process to ensure quality. Half the stories picked from Big Names to draw readers, half the stories picked blind for quality. Also, a rotating staff of editors(maybe guest editors as well) to ensure variety.

A pro magazine might know how to please 34,000 people. But if they published stories that appealed to the vast SF&F novel readship, along with better marketing tactics, I can't help but believe that number would grow.


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C L Lynn
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WouldBe, is your comment aimed at the original line of discussion, the fact that I could find only 6 fiction journals on the shelf? If so, then I must reply that the shelves were packed cover to cover. There was no more room to spare, no empty spots, nothing sold out. And all the journals were dated January to February of 2009. Stocked ahead of schedule. Sad. Discouraging.

I'll just have to subscribe. Save myself money in the long run anyway.


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Robert Nowall
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I don't know about the idea that "Big Names" in the magazines actually are a help "selling" them...I dug out the latest issue of Asimov's to cross my line of sight...I recognize, oh, half the names on the Table of Contents...and, of them, only one might motivate me to buy the magazine if I didn't subscribe...and Silverberg has a column there pretty much every issue.

When I picked up the abovementioned first issue of Analog, I knew of Heinlein, I think I knew of Asimov and Clarke, and then it goes down to things like The Enormous Egg and The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree, of which the names of their writers escape me right now. Certainly I didn't know any of the names of the writers in that issue...

[would you believe I misspelled "Heinlein"?]

[This message has been edited by Robert Nowall (edited December 25, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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In the last two decades since the introduction of the Internet, cell phones and other personal devices, video rentals and sales, etc. (all coming into widespread usage by 1990), magazine circulation has declined by a fifth from peak levels. Readers have other entertainment priorities impacting and reducing fiction reading entertainments.

Health, regional, and self-help magazines and book titles continue to grow faster than population growth and capture the largest market shares in print media.

Passing waiting time was the number one reason for reading magazines and digests not too long ago. Even in waiting rooms where cell phone usage is typically banned, television watching anymore is the number one pasttime for idling away waiting time. Fiction digests don't aggressively compete for pasttime interests of readers like they once did. With low circulation, they can't afford to.

It's worth noting that all the top science fiction and fantasy digest markets receive two unsolicited submissions for every edition copy circulated. They run about 20,000 copies circulated today compared with 100,000 in 1990, yet receive an average of 10,000 unsolicited submissions annually.

Also worth noting, the general library marketplace represents over 30,000 potential outlets for magazine purchases, more than a third higher than existing circulation at each of the top fantastical genre digests. Not even libraries are purchasing fantastical digests much anymore.

Who's reading fantastical genre digests anyway? By and large, my conclusion is writers and industry insiders of same, many of which have graduate degrees in English literature and/or creative writing. And in my mind, it's no wonder fantastical genre digest editors are appealing, in part, to writers with literary interests. They're a large portion of the existing readership.

Lastly, and in a different vein, roughly half of young people are lured to Web sites advertised by television and print advertising. I've not seen an ad for a magazine on television in decades, nor seen any for one of the fantastical genre digests advertised anywhere except in similar or syndicated digest publications.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 28, 2008).]


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TaleSpinner
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Interesting analysis, extrinsic, thanks.

Pat


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Robert Nowall
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I dug out the first issue of Analog I bought, much battered and beat up now, to see if the names mean anything to me. Four names came to mean a great deal to me not long after---one name, I believe, belongs to the future first editor of Asimov's---but I knew none of them when I picked it up.
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TaleSpinner
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I'm not sure if this helps, or is plain discouraging, but here's an Analog forum discussion where a Geoffrey A. Landis story is described as "a fine example of a 'pure' Analog story."

http://www.analogsf.com/aspnet_forum/messages.aspx?TopicID=207

With a pedegree that includes MIT, NASA's Mars Rover programme, a Nebula and a couple of Hugos, Landis is kinda hard to compete with -- but surely not impossible.


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extrinsic
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The decline of fiction digests has been a bitter pill to swallow. I've watched entire outlets evaporate since I first entertained the notion of writing fiction. I took heart from the rise of online digests. However, I've yet to be fulfilled by online text in the way that paper hardcopy satisifies me, nor satisified in ways that would replace my expectations with new publication methods.

Most people don't read online for entertainment. Barring, perhaps, like-minded emerging writers grazing the far-reaching orbits of the Web, the majority of readers prefer hardcopy.

There's a sea change in progress, though. If online digests are not yet in the dawn of their primetime, they're close, so close it hurts.

A recent study found that 60% of business readers read online at least two hours a day. The more one reads online, the more one reads online, in my experience. Until I'd regularly read online, I didn't think it would be as entertaining. Now, 90% of my reading is online, for work, for study, and entertainment, just because it's convenient and cheaper. Another recent survey found that 70%-plus of college students prefer doing research online compared with 9% going to libraries for paper publications. I do 100% of my research online anymore.

Online fiction isn't ready yet to make the transition to the times or keeping up with times, at least it's not appealing to the marketplace in sufficiently meaningful ways.

Most online publications have a siege and proprietary mentality. Bombarded with a fusilade of unsolicited manuscripts, limited capitalization and financing and revenue streams, no wonder they have a siege mentality. Proprietary mentality means protecting publication rights and revenue channels, yet there's room for revenue growth through relaxing proprietary reservations. And limited imaginations aren't yet realizing the existing potential of online text. Online page formating has yet to come of age for reading entertainment purposes. But new text formating paradigms on the leading edge are coming into perspective.

If. If the online fantastical genre digest will come of age, new insights, new publication concepts that build on what's known, adapting what's working in other online publication market segments will be needed. Those concepts already exist and are working, just existing fiction digest publication business practices aren't keeping abreast of the times.


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TaleSpinner
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A useful analysis, extrinsic, which rings true with me. I too love print, yet find myself more and more accepting electronic reading. With netbooks we're another step closer, because they make it yet easier again to download a pdf and read it anywhere, including and especially off-line.

Do you have any data on book sales? Are they, and the SF book market, reducing alongside magazines?

Another reason for the reduction in SF circulations occurred to me yesterday: In the 60s there was great excitement about science amongst young people like me, driven by the space race. In the 30s, 40s and 50s there was an almost naive belief that science was the magic answer to everything -- if you wanted to sell something, you dubbed it "magnetic", "atomic" or "electric".

Alongside that was the idea that we might get it wrong, or there might be unexpected side effects -- and what would it be like to be human in a scientific age? These were amongst the questions posed by SF, and there was an audience.

Now, science is taken for granted. We expect new marvels every week -- more from Apple and Silicon Valley. They're commonplace and, more often than not, they work; scientific marvels are no longer "Astounding".

There are more scientific ideas, more fantastical devices, in general fiction, because advanced technology is part of life today, squeezing the market for science fiction towards the specialists -- as you note, extrinsic, the scientists and SF writers and wannabes that seem to comprise today's audiences for F&SF.

Just 2c,
Pat


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extrinsic
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Book sales overall are flat. Marketplace growth is barely keeping even with population growth. Again, like magazines, health, regional, and self-help book topics are the marketplace favorites enjoying exponential growth. Science fiction and fantasy novels, no significant growth, static at best.

Leisure time entertainment growth is down overall. What's still holding its own is screenplay entertainments, but the marketplace is transitioning toward online movie watching. Online news media this year surpassed all other channels, print, broadcast and cable television, etc.

In general, I agree that past publications of science fiction and fantasy appealed through keeping ahead of the times and that the times have surged ahead of fiction. However, tastes have changed, too. People are more self-involved, proactive, and too busy and practical for vicarious fantastical explorations, less fantastical wish fulfillment notwithstanding.

I poll young people in school settings, family settings, public settings about their reading habits, plus check online library catalogs for popular selections. One thing has come forward, though it's a no-brainer. Reading for fun isn't cool. The Harry Potter phenomena went contrary to that, though. Same with Lemony Snickets, Stephanie Meyer's series from Twilight (1996), and a few others. The only books on library deep reserve lists right now in Young Adult selections are Stephanie Meyer's. The others are static.

During the '60s and well into the '80s, entertainment media growth centered around futuristic possibilities. By 1990, backward and inward looking came into vogue. It seems to be a rebound of the pendulum resulting from overwhelming technological progress and in part, perhaps, environmental backlash. From look what we can do to look what we did for good or ill.

Science fiction being the media of arguably imagining the possible will be in decline until it's cool again, and when we want to look forward again. Fantasy is ahead of science fiction in popularity, I believe, because it's magical without appreciable futuristic impact, more mundane (relatively down to earth) wish fulfillment and potentially more inward and backward looking. In general, fiction that reimagines the past, the good old days, is more popular as is self-involved fiction that answers emotional needs of readers and appeals to our comfort zones.


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TaleSpinner
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Thanks, extrinsic.
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C L Lynn
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Absolutely! Thanks, everyone, for contributing to the thread and volunteering your opinions and helpful insights. I knew I wasn't alone.
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Brad R Torgersen
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On-the-scene report:

Stopped off to do a little New Year's Eve shopping.

1) The Barnes & Noble at South Towne in Sandy, UT, had no SF or F magazine titles on its extensive, sprawling magazine shelves. None. All I found was three or four copies of Ellery Queen's and Hitchcock's, crammed sideways at the very end of the row, covers wrinkled and ripped. A sad sight.

2) Borders at Fashion Place in Murray, UT, had fresh copies of TMoF&SF, Asimov's, and Realms of Fantasy. All nicely displayed and prominent. Hmmm, I wonder if there is an F&SF aspirant working that store? Would not shock me. I picked up Asimov's and TMoF&SF. I think I already like the new size for the Dell-produced magazines. Larger and slimmer. TMoF&SF still has superior production value, overall. With better quality paper and a sturdier cover. I am hoping both have at least a couple of enjoyable stories, so that reading them doesn't feel so much like homework -- which is how it usually feels for me. (shrug)

I also snagged "Self-editing for Fiction Writers" and "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" from the obligatory wannabe section. Finally, I threw in a paperback copy of "Fleet of Worlds" by Larry Niven & his new collab partner, Edward Lerner.

All in all, I think I blew about $50 which I probably should have spent on sensible things. Like bills.

But it was worth it. Just like most of my SF&F purchases in 2008. Dammit, I did my part to keep the SF&F industry from tipping into the sea! For another year, anyway.

Cheers, all.


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