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.