At Arisia: whither short fiction and magazines?

I had to leave Arisia around three this afternoon, because tomorrow is a work day. I attended one particularly thought-provoking panel discussion, “the Changing Face of SF/F Magazines,” on the future of future of paper-based magazines. The panelists included two publishers, one of whom publishes online and the other of whom publishes on paper, and two authors. All the panelists agreed that it’s becoming more difficult, financially speaking, to publish a magazine devoted to short fiction — costs of paper, printing, and distribution keep going up. The consensus among the panelists was that eventually we’re going to see paper-based magazines die out in favor of some sort of Internet-based printing and distribution system.

But the panelists reached no consensus as to what is going to replace paper-based magazines. You can find Web-based science fiction magazines, but they typically don’t have enough money to pay authors well (or at all). There are authors, like the writers’ cabal behind Shadow Unit, who self-publish some of their work online and solicit donations. The panelists agreed that authors now have to worry about “branding” themselves; readers don’t just buy a work of fiction, they tend to buy an author’s “brand.” But no one was willing to predict the future of fiction periodicals; and all the panelists agreed that it was going to become harder to earn a living by writing short fiction.

The discussion broadened beyond paper-based magazines, and turned to books:– paper-based books are facing the same economic realities as paper-based magazines. There was more consensus about the direction books are going in:– books are now being published in multiple formats (e-books, other downloadable files, print-on-demand, and traditional books), and that trend will continue. But the situation is still very much in flux, and no one knows quite how it’s going to turn out.

I wonder if the monks who were scribes had these kinds of conversations among themselves when Gutenberg started printing books on his printing press.

3 thoughts on “At Arisia: whither short fiction and magazines?

  1. Leon Clarke

    G,day I love what is happening with e-books. Monks would have just loved the idea that all the songs, poetry, and stories could be recorded and passed down to others. Bards and songs where the only medium preceding them, and so the internet receeds the printed book eventually.

    I personally love sci-fi horror writing. It is a select theme and so does not get much in the way of funds spent on it. Still the internet makes it possible for every book, comic and movie to be freely available at my fingertips.

    Leon — The advertisement for your product that you included in this comment has been removed per this blog policy: “Comments must be non-commercial and on topic.” Yes, I am a big bad meanie. Please do not use your Web site URL again or your comment will be instantly nuked. Aside from that, great comment, thanks. — Dan

  2. UU Jester

    I have three podcasts for short sci-fi and fantasy fiction that I subscribe, too. They fill the spot I used to have reserved for short story anthology magazines. Escapepod is good. I also enjoy Clonepod, though it is geared toward a younger audience.

  3. Dan

    Craig — Thanks for mentioning sf/f podcasts. Unfortunately for me, I have tinnitus and using ear buds or earphones makes it worse, so I don’t do podcasts. Fortunately, publishers are finally beginning to understand that they need to provide material to us in the media format we prefer — podcasts for you, text (paper-based and Web-based) for me, video for someone else.

    Churches, please take note: Increasingly, people are going to want to read/listen to sermons in their preferred format, so those of us in churches are going to have figure out how to provide text sermons (Web-based, email-based, and paper-based), audio sermons (podcasts and on physical media like CDs), and video sermons.

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