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  1.  (7290.1)
    Technically, this discussion should be in the Printheads section, but it also deals with business issues. (EDIT: WARREN MOVED IT TO PRINTHEADS ANYWAY) But here goes...

    There has been some discussion in Whitechapel regarding the health of SF magazines and what the future holds for them. From what I've seen of the discussions, I don't think anybody's mentioned one of the ideas of management consultant Peter Drucker. He believed that a business' continued slide despite employees' best efforts and enormous capital investment could be attributed to an obsolete business theory.

    How does one change a business theory? It starts by asking two sets of analytical questions.

    SET ONE: Who are the customers and who are the noncustomers? What is of value to them? What do they pay for?

    SET TWO: What do the successes do that we do not do? What do they not do that we know is essential? What do they assume that we know to be wrong?

    If these questions were applied to science fiction magazines (and hell, even newspapers), what would the answers be? My partial take as far as SF magazines are concerned are:

    SET ONE: Customers--Lovers of science fiction, new readers of science fiction, people curious about SF; Noncustomers--People who can't stand SF. (Yes, yes, I know we need demographics here, but I said this was a partial answer.)

    What is of value--Entertaining and thoughtful stories, non-fiction articles related to science fiction, reviews of SF media

    What do they pay for---???

    SET TWO--Successes--???

    Essentials--???

    Wrong assumptions--???

    Maybe some kind soul can add their thoughts regarding the answers to these questions?
  2.  (7290.2)
    Interesting questions, I suppose, if a bit basic and commonly sensible...

    For instance, I like sci-fi - more as a teenager than now, but those magazines' readership would have been better back then, anyway... - but I have NEVER bought a science fiction anthology magazine. Primarily because I would rather have spent my money on comics or glossy magazines, etc., and those old issues (and new ones...) look damn cheap and boring, like an issue of The Believer does now (too much text in a "magazine" = me, falling asleep). So even rabid sci-fi readers can be attributed to the "non-readers" column, which is certainly a problem.

    I'd want some more art, or comics, or product reviews or something, in terms of value, but that's what other magazines (and the internet) already offer, so...

    In terms of Set Two, I would look at McSweeney's as something the successes do that sci-fi magazines don't. First, they're unlike any other publication out there, and they make themselves seem exclusive. Making you quarterly magazine cost more than every other magazine and making it not look anything like a magazine is certainly one way to stand out from the pack, and catering to that hipster-lit crowd is a good tree to go barking up, especially if you already have some cred in that arena. As far as what other magazines would "know" and "assume" opposite of sci-fi mags, it seems like only people who operate those other magazines would be able to say.

    Anyway, I've been picking up Wired magazine over the past year or so, and that seems like a strong starting direction for sci-fi anthology periodicals to look at, because the actual science of our really fucked up world is vastly more interesting than 50's-style silver rockets blasting off to Jupiter or whatever.

    And it might be a fanboy/Hollywood cash in, but wouldn't people buy those magazines if there were stories like Avatar: Origins by James Cameron, or Dollhouse: Activate by Joss Whedon or Fringe: Beginnings by J.J. Abrams? Yes, I'm making those story titles up, but those are the sci-fi concepts that excite me, now, so why wouldn't I want to buy a magazine like that? Especially if it cost $30 an issue and only came out once every seven months and was an old, leather bound tome one issue and a discreet flash drive the next (The 80's throwback issue would only be released on a set of six floppy discs with that months music picks on an 8-track, and people would be scouring Ebay for them because they fucking NEEDED to read that magazine.).
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeNov 24th 2009
     (7290.3)
    "SET ONE: Customers--Lovers of science fiction, new readers of science fiction, people curious about SF; Noncustomers--People who can't stand SF. (Yes, yes, I know we need demographics here, but I said this was a partial answer.)"

    I'm afraid I have to disagree.

    The circulation of the sf digests is IIRC around 20,000.

    The set of people who "like sf" is far, far higher - as witnessed by the success of sf on Tv, in cinemas and for that matter in book stores.

    The top-selling sf digest has maybe 2% of the audience of an unsuccessful sf show like Dollhouse.

    Anecdotally too, the readership of the digests is OLD. "New readers of sf" start with the likes of Harry Potter and Twilight or with franchise novels like Star Wars and then move on to more intelligent stuff (hopefully).

    One of the key problems for the sf magazines - sf readers tend to be early adopters of new tech so they're competing with novels and anthologies on Kindle, websites full of semi-pro fiction for free and even guys like Cory Doctorow who blog some of their fiction and give it away for free.
  3.  (7290.4)
    @frequentcontributor--Internet Jesus Ellis has pointed out SF magazine design fails in previous posts, I believe.

    A couple of previous attempts to do magazines along the lines you were suggesting were Omni and The Twilight Zone Magazine. Somebody can correct me, but I remember Omni's editorial slant being heavily new/pseudoscience with some high quality fiction. The Twilight Zone Magazine tied in articles about the new Twilight Zone series but it also included new fiction. The downside of tying a magazine to one SF series would be what happens when said series loses popularity. So maybe the answer might be something like the SciFi channel magazine but with heavy fiction content.

    @Kosmopolit--If the readership of the digests is old, it could be they're the sorts who hate having their literary haven polluted by the presence of "low-class media-related SF."

    Your mention of new tech made me wonder if the new model for SF magazines also needs to be giving it away some content for free on a Website and charging fees to either access more content or to order POD hard copies for those who want the physical feel of a digest. Then again, would the economics of POD be practical for periodicals?

    Media SF has the reach afforded by TV, film or the Internet, but it doesn't necessarily have the depth of the better written SF stories. Whereas the situation seems to me reversed for SF stories, with lots of depth but not enough reach.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeNov 25th 2009
     (7290.5)
    If they were inclined to try it, the sort of companies that might be able to pull off the sort of sf magazine we're talking about would be the owners of syfy or the Discovery Channel - multi-media brands that already have pretty heavy web presences and could cross-promote with their other products. so the magazine has a feature on the new series coming up on syfy, syfy promotes the magazine on its website and in promo spots.

    But why would they be so inclined? At least one, maybe both, of the major magazine distributors in the US went broke last year.

    The same factors that are hurting the newspapers are hammering traditional magazines too.

    So maybe we need a different paradigm - a web site that offers material for free online and that also offers e-books, POD books and Magcloud magazines.

    Could you add a degree of customization to Magcloud offerings so people could get all the month's new fiction; or all the art; or all the fact pieces or a selection of the most popular works across all sections or, say, all Warren Ellis contributions?
  4.  (7290.6)
    He believed that a business' continued slide despite employees' best efforts and enormous capital investment could be attributed to an obsolete business theory.

    Show me the best efforts and enormous capital investment in the core SF magazines, please.

    With a few pairs of rose-coloured glasses on and a bit of selective presentation, you could possibly show me best efforts. I could take your argument apart in five minutes or so if I were in a bad mood. Fifteen if I were in a good mood.
  5.  (7290.7)
  6.  (7290.8)
    @warrenellis--Okay. I admit that it was foolish to claim Drucker's analysis could be perfectly applied to explaining the decline of the SF magazines. The management of the SF magazines have skipped the pour resources for resuscitation phase and clearly gone for the cargo cult approach to increasing circulation. But the questions Drucker raised are still valid even if commonsensical and still need to be answered. The current set of assumptions that the SF magazine publishers operate under clearly are not working.

    If this helps, in applying Drucker's thoughts, is there anything that works in current SF magazine publishing that can be built upon?
  7.  (7290.9)
    The current set of assumptions that the SF magazine publishers operate under clearly are not working.

    ...if you're intent on running a business that grows.

    The simple fact is that these people are, by and large, simply operating a niche service for a clientele that drops year on year for many reasons, not least of which is that their customer base is dying of old age. There's no other explanation that fits the facts that these magazines represent. They're genuinely not interested in new readers. They're there to keep the lights on for the old guard until the last one drops dead.

    You see, the general assumption when looking at sf magazines is that they must cater to neophiles. And I've really come to believe that that is not the case.

    Therefore, when looking at what they "do not do": try comparing the likes of ANALOG or ASIMOV'S to, say, WIRED magazine. Or, maybe more pointedly, WIRED UK. Which is a neophile's magazine. WIRED has historically enjoyed crossover with sf, for obvious reasons. A compare-and-contrast between WIRED UK and any SF magazine would be interesting in a number of ways.

    The one that really fascinates me is INTERZONE. I really want to know what their circulation is. (Also worth noting that, in the last year, its covers and cover design have been the best they've had in years.)
    •  
      CommentAuthorremotepush
    • CommentTimeNov 29th 2009
     (7290.10)
    i buy/read asimov and F&SF, but it always amazes me how much they live in the past when it comes to selling themselves. i enjoy the stories, there is some good material in those, and i am the kind of person who just really likes short stories. so in some ways i'm perfect audience. but...

    i can take out a subscription by paypal. but instead of emailing me to renew my subscription and telling me how to use paypal to do so, they send me a letter. usually i'm barely into the subscription, and i'm getting a letter saying renew now, write your credit card number on this random bit of paper and put it in the hands of the postal system. and then i get that letter every month. i just finished a year's subscription to asimov, which i didn't renew for this very reason, and even after not renewing i was still getting letters. i mean for fuck's sake, what century are we living in when someone is wasting their time sending me a dozen letters when a simple email would have perhaps done the job?
    • CommentAuthorjonlaidlow
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2009
     (7290.11)
    I used to think that magazines like SFX were the way to go but when you look at the reader's survey results, a large proportion of their audience (people who like SF film, tv, games, etc) do not read SF/fantasy books or short stories. But why not? Wouldn't a combined SFX/Interzone be a great thing?
  8.  (7290.12)
    Wouldn't a combined SFX/Interzone be a great thing?

    I think that's what the semi-recent revival of AMAZING STORIES was after. (Was it AMAZING or ASTOUNDING?) Obviously, we know how well that worked out.

    (I also think the reviews section of INTERZONE is by far the weakest part of the magazine, but that's just me, obv)
    •  
      CommentAuthorspinnerin
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2009
     (7290.13)
    It seems like there's a huge amount of opportunity here in terms of what could be done with a modern SF magazine, since as stated above the big 3 seem to have happily settled into their rut. Things like what Warren mentioned with Wired & Wired UK, or something with Coilhouse's photos but short-short fiction instead of the articles. Or a Shojo Beat -type serial anthology magazine where all the stories are SF and porn. So what are the most interesting experiments to check out right now? And what hasn't been tried that we want to see?
    •  
      CommentAuthorremotepush
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2009
     (7290.14)
    i was buying interzone for a while, something about the format just never works for me.
    as for the reviews, the fact the film reviews are always out of date seems entirely pointless.
    i don't tend to bother reading the reviews anyway. isn't that what the internet is for?
    if i am buying a short story magazine i want short stories.
  9.  (7290.15)
    @jonlaidlow--It seems that the common thread among the people who don't read SF books or short stories is that they obtain their SF fix in a more sensually immersive manner. Instead of just using their eyes to read, they can hear and watch movement (films, TV) or even interact with what they're seeing (games). SF magazines as currently conceived offers stimulation primarily on an intellectual/general emotional level. I'm stumped on how to increase the sensual content of the experience of reading an SF story.

    @remotepush--To some degree, the Internet does satisfy the need for review information. The question you need to consider is what sort of information you seek in your review. If you're looking for just "do more people like Story X than hate it"-type information, then the Internet is great for that. But if you're looking for a trustworthy voice that can point you to a story you might not have known about, discuss the themes of the story or even some of the story's background, then a well-crafted review can be a stimulating essay in its own right.

    @warrenellis--Layout comparison between new issue of WIRED and issue of F&SF

    WIRED--Wide variety of layout formats on many pages, suggestive of surprises and new information throughout the issue

    F&SF--Simple columnar format, broken up by either number of columns or occasional cartoon or advertisement. Suggests cheapness of 1920s SF magazines, academic or literary journal.
  10.  (7290.16)
    I guess I'm the patient zero being discussed in all these statistics so let me add some data in the interest of seeing the print magazine we are all envisioning.

    I would love a glossy magazine with ads from SF of all media and genres.

    I would like that magazine to either have Hard SF Fantasy excerpts from books or complete short stories from Nebula winners. I have ZERO interest in authors whose claim to fame is Top Seller status. Stabbity-stabbity, pee on it, light it on fire, repeat.

    Porn would be welcome although this is a field rife with splintering (what I find sexy may be a turnoff to other fans and definitely vice versa.)

    if 20% of the mag had Wired's informative real-tech/trends and 10% GQ's gadget obsession, that would still be very cool.

    Book reviews trump Movie reviews for me too, though taking Movie Previews may pay for the Mag (behind this veil, ladies and gentlemen, lie horrors.)

    I have only ever collected GQ, Heavy Metal a few American rags and comics. Despite my devouring of Scifi Fantasy (about six books a month) I have never felt the need for one of the current crop of Sci Fi mags.
    I find online content vastly inadequate, no insult to anyone working in that medium, Coilhouse doesn't do it for me. I'm not a steampunker or the target audience, I'm sure.

    So I want a mag, and will pay for the one that doesn't bore me with rehashings of stories Ian M. Banks can do 200% better. Take the money I usually spend on GQ, please. *holds up hard USD*
  11.  (7290.17)
    This seems to be converging inexorably on the idea that it's time for a proper relaunch of OMNI.

    Yes, it went to shit in its final years, and there would undoubtedly be newsstand distribution problems were it to come out now from the same publisher - OMG PORN!!!! - but it really did follow the model that's developing here. A good balance of science fiction and science, with a broad enough range of topics in both to appeal to a wide and well-educated audience, and some of the sharpest art and design of its day.

    Relaunch it (or something like it) and tie it into a Web presence with the same values. Limit the crossover between the Web material and the printed material to no more than 25% - maybe primarily the staff-written/recurring features - and don't make the Web site a loss-leader for the magazine; put material on the site that's just as good (or nearly) as what makes it into the print version. Use the Web site for the perishable stuff like film reviews. Maybe a slightly tiered payment system for the contributors, say a 5% kicker if the material's used in the print version, 5% more if it's featured across both platforms (as above, limit that to one or two an issue).
    • CommentAuthorChadbourn
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2009
     (7290.18)
    I feel you're probably looking at issues that are too product-specific. The real reasons why anthology magazines have been in decline are probably societal and quite simple. An anthology magazine is a massive investment of time. When I read Wired and New Scientist, I skim, speed read and pull out pieces that connect instantly. Anthology magazines don't work well with that kind of approach - they need to be consumed in an immersive manner, which is a time-suck.

    It's a regular line among publishing folk that The Lord of the Rings would never be bought by a modern publisher if Tolkien offered it today. It was designed for people who had experience of a society that still had horses and carts on the roads. Anthology magazines were designed for a society that had free time.

    You need to have a strong impetus to dedicate time in our current world. As one of the posters above mentioned, brand recognition works - James Cameron, Joss Whedon etc, but new writers and rising writers are going to struggle to gain attention, unless there's some kind of buzz, and they provide the bulk of the stories in anthology magazines. And having one big name writer at the front as a hook just isn't cost effective for most people.

    The way we consume stories is changing rapidly. The biggest issue for writers now is to brand themselves effectively to grab attention (something Warren has clearly been doing for years). Simply offering "stories" for sale isn't enough. Stories are everywhere and cheap in our culture these days. And that makes most anthology magazines a product that is not particularly compelling at the very basic level.
    •  
      CommentAuthorwarrenellis
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2009 edited
     (7290.19)
    You need to have a strong impetus to dedicate time in our current world. As one of the posters above mentioned, brand recognition works - James Cameron, Joss Whedon etc, but new writers and rising writers are going to struggle to gain attention, unless there's some kind of buzz, and they provide the bulk of the stories in anthology magazines. And having one big name writer at the front as a hook just isn't cost effective for most people.

    Agreed.

    Which also speaks to other things I never understood. Yes, all mediums and genres need new writers, and a place for them to learn their trade. I do not, however, believe that every magazine needs to be that place, nor that new and rising writers need to provide the bulk of every anthology magazine.

    This, perhaps, comes around to the whole "business theory" thing at the start of the thread. There is no sf magazine that says, "you know, I work for this magazine, not the community or the genre. Why aren't I working out a way to creatively finance a year's worth of pieces from Known & Popular Writers X,Y and Z, taking them away from the other magazines, restructuring the magazine to effect that, and New Writers 10 through 200 can go someplace else?"

    ("And after that, why aren't I coming up with a dozen other schemes?")
    • CommentAuthorChadbourn
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2009
     (7290.20)
    You know, that does go back to the "business theory" notion, because the pay on most anthology magazines is so piss-poor that most pro-writers can't justify the time to be working on short fiction - unless they have an absolute creative urge to write a short story, or are trying to build up enough material for a collection (which publishers rarely touch these days anyway). It's more cost effective to put the time into a new novel/TV series/movie pitch.

    If a proper living wage was paid for short fiction (and not what publishers laughingly call "market rates"), then they could publish a magazine based around "Known & Popular Writers" and I bet it would sell. The most vocal argument against this is all the new writers who feel it's a way of shutting them out, but in this day and age there are plenty of ways to learn their craft and get their work in front of an audience. Gollancz picked up "The Lies of Locke Lamora" from Scott Lynch from a sample chapter on his blog that an editor haphazardly stumbled across.