Friday, October 26, 2007

Some scary numbers

Author Warren Ellis has listed some circulation numbers for some of the BIG speculative fiction magazines right here. We're talking Azimov's Science Fiction, Analog, Interzone and Fantasy & Science Fiction.

These numbers do not look good.

And worse, I can't offer any hope for short story writers and editors and publishers.

The fact is, short stories have not been a popular form of entertainment for a long time, since at least the 1960s. Yes, short stories did survive, and some good ones have been turned out, but the heydey for short stories has been over for decades. And things have only gotten worse in the last decade or two.

Why is this happening? I personally think it has much to do with technology. First you had television (and to some extent cinema), and nowadays you've got the Internet. Technology has created too many forms of entertainment, and distractions, for everyone to be able to watch or read everything. There used to be a form of bonding when you could turn to someone and say, "Hey, did you catch such-and-such show?" or "Hey, did you read such-and-such book?" A lot of that's gone. It's still there to some extent, but that entertaining, even intellectual, bonding, is harder to find (though it's probably easiest to find on the Internet, fulfilling a vicious cycle).

I am not shooting down television or the Internet. Both are fine mediums in their own ways. But print mediums have an extremely tough time competing with them.

I'm not sure print mediums can compete nowadays, though there is still life to be found in short stories, especially online. And the book publishing industry is churning out more novels all the time, though they seem to be playing the lottery, always hoping for that next big seller (though, even there, I'm always hearing about how the best sellers are actually losing money for everyone).

So what's to be done? First, I think writers and editors and publishers need to stop living in denial. They need to stop thinking, "Oh, things will be better next year or quarter or decade or whatever." They need to stop bitching about TV and the Web, and start doing something about it (though some are). They can't compete directly, so what to do? Only one thing. Join thy enemy.

Plenty of magazine have made the leap to the Internet, but I don't see them doing anything groundbreaking, just another Web site with a list of their upcoming stories, yaddy yaddy, bore me to tears. Most of the real innovative work seems to be coming from the smaller presses. They are trying new things, shaking it up a little. One of my favorite examples is Every Day Fiction (check them out if you haven't already).

As for writers, what we can keep doing is working on the best stories we can and seeking new markets. Those markets might not be in magazines. New markets might be in anthologies or for video game companies or podcasting or something else no person has even thought of yet.

I will tell you this: Short stories will survive. The heydey might be over, it might come again, it might not. Who knows? But there will always be some market out there somehow.

1 comment:

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Yup. You can say dat agen.

I'm thinking two thoughts:

Short story magazines - perhaps all magazines for that matter - should go to the Internet. Well, I guess the girlie mags wouldn't make sense, but you get what I mean. Unless they, too, went interactive. Anyway, I digress. New startups are almost all online, but smart ones still offer a print option. People will still read an online mag, online short form fiction (as evidenced by EDF and the popularity of flash fiction). Newspapers are dying, too, finally recognizing life on the web will eventually be the only life.

The real market, the future best market, for short genre stories - in my opinion - is in anthologies (and collections, but those need some early legwork). Anthologies offer readers a (basically) known commonality (a theme), a known commodity (at least one recognizable name, either loved publisher, discerning editor, or selling author), a known atmosphere (no or few - and definitely targeted - ads; no off-genre/topic/theme stories - there may be duds, but they'll all be about what the cover says they are), and a known product (that's for the folks like me - those who still like to carry a 'real' book, a book I can stick in a pocket and read in a tree in the forest while on a hike no where near wifi, a book I can carry on the plane or to the deli and have the cover catch an eye and get someone interested in a new author).

Look around. We see the large sf/f mags losing customers. They are the old guard. Even with web presence, they do nothing new. Baen's Universe has the best chance of success. We see the small press mags - they're all just about anthologies. Either the issues are themed or the guidelines of what they'll print are too specific (as stated by yourself in an earlier post) to allow anything but what they describe.

Short stories aren't dying. Not even close to their death beds. Not in today's society, a society where everything moves more quickly, changes more rapidly, and enthralls less and less every day. Everyone is constantly searching for that next quick distraction from life, next laugh (even faked), next momentary relief from boredom, insanity, stress, fear, anxiety, textbook lives.

I'd actually start fearing for the imminent death of the doorstopper tomes. Their time has got to be coming up soon; it's the cycle of things. Personally, I'll miss them - I love them. The good ones, of course. As for the bad ones - well, I don't read the long or short versions of those.

I think I'm going to cut and paste this to my blog - von Darkmoor has out down himself this time. ;)