Welcome to it, hombres.
If it was up to me/ I would have figured you out...
In the past, it was a simple eco-system of customers (readers), the producers (writers), and the means (editors & publishers) and mechanism (magazines & anthologies) of delivering the product (short stories). This has changed and continues to change due to online/ electronic distribution.
It is what has burned the recording industry giants and has their equivalents in broadcast television and the movie industry worried. And this is pretty simple too: people don't pay money for what they can get for free.
Pandora, last.fm, and other such services have created something analogous to radio to the online music world, and itunes an its competitors are carving out viable distribution models. Smaller/ indie bands have used the torrents and services like magnatunes to get their work out either totally free or on a listen-and-buy-if-you-like-it model. It seems that in such a world, the shlock that finds its way onto the airwaves is likely to grow more generic while niche oases will thrive. Though thrive is a relative word.
Albums still sell. Walmart carries them. But looking not so far ahead, bands will have to provide compelling reasons for listeners to buy their work in 12-18 song bundles. Maybe conceptual albums like Floyd's The Wall or Coheed & Cambria's work will become more common. Or maybe groups will market albums in interesting formats with great artwork (LPs are the perfect media).
But the music industry isn't what I want to talk about. Genre short stories are.
Many blogs have noted Baen's plan to cease publication soon. I think I first saw the news on Tor.com. About the same time I same similar news regarding Farrago's Wainscot. A glance at Ralan's market listing shows how many magazines have gone under recently.
SF has it's Big Three professional print publications: Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF. They don't seem to know how their business model works in relation to the web and the fear is that what we see in these three are the last lumbering dinosaurs, still alive, but caught in tar pits from which they cannot escape. Unless --and, yeah, the analogy lacks proper transistion... shhh, don't tell Egri-- they evolve.
There are a lot of places online where you can get your genre story published. Published in the sense that someone acting as editor decides to select your story over others and make it available for readers, often simply on a blog-style website 'zine'. This is nice, but it's not really being published. And, in the long run, it hurts everyone. Being published should be that someone PAYS the writer for her work. And the above paragraphs about the music world are offered as contrast to the genre short story world. No one is downloading Sandkings or The Mist over bit torrent. Okay, they might be, but that really isn't the problem.
When a reader has access to a lot of OK stuff online a couple things happen. They make due with it. They might even find something decent occasionally. Or they tire of sub-par content and turn to the professional or reprint anthologies in the bookstore. Or they tire of short fiction completely.
Not a lot of people read short SF&F. How people will read their fiction ten years from now may look quite different. If short genre fiction is to survive outside of a few big name writer-filled anthologies, it will take markets that pay writers and deliver content to readers in whatever form they desire.
Readers should pay for fiction, or fiction could be subsidized in the same way as National Public Radio. We can use Open Source techniques to do interesting things like creating work that is derivative-friendly (so you don't have to wait 80 years to write The Wind Done Gone), but unlike musicians, who may find they need to give away their media and then make money via touring and merchandise, writers make money by the word.
.05 cents per word is professional pay, so a 5000 word story nets the author $250 bucks, or put another way, it costs the market $250 to buy that story. If a monthly magazine publishes 10 stories per issue and has a strict 5k word limit, that is about 30k per year just to pay the writers. We haven't gotten to the editor's pay, artists, costs with getting issues formatted and printed.
Many have turned to PDF to create professional-looking magazines at minimal cost, which helps. If a market settles for paying semi-pro rates of .03 cents per word, that drops the per story cost to $150, issue $1500, yearly to $18000.
That's not anything to look down on. Given the survival of the Semiprozine Hugo Award, this sort of a market could make a name for itself, win awards, and contribute to the health and survival of short genre fiction.
A market selling yearly subscriptions for $12 would need to sell 125 subscriptions a month to break even (just paying the writers). $20 subscriptions, 75 per month.
It may be worth filing for nonprofit status to apply for grants and endowments as a supplement.
Another thought I've had is tiered subscriptions:
- $12 Basic
- $20 Premier
- $30 Gold
Some extras would make the two higher levels more valuable. Preferable access to alternate revenue streams that already exist, so the extras are not money sinks. i.e. access to pod casts, rights to vote on stories for inclusion in 'years best' print anthologies, etc.
There could also be monthly subscription models, similar to one of the options over at the Online Writers Workshop.
- $8 per month, via direct debit - Supporter --> $96 per year
- $10 per month, via direct debit - Advocate --> $120 per year
- $12 per month, via direct debit - Patron --> $155 per year
Advertising could follow a similar scheme, with monthly or yearly plans. If this sounds crazy, this stop thinking like that. When my wife owned her insurance agency, we had to purchase advertising space in advance in six month blocks.
Part of the success of this type of scheme is rewarding people at these higher levels in some meaningful way. More than that though is engendering the sense that we are giving our money --and all the better if it is nonprofit, which makes contributions tax-deductible-- to something we believe in.
There are probably cool and profitable things to be done in the arena of distributing to digital devices and syndicating podcast stories to public radio, local late-night AM, or college radio.
There will always be a market as well for lavishly produced print editions, be they anthologies, year's best, or something else I haven't thought of. Treat these things as books as objects. Works of art.
With this model, ten Patrons per month plus a little advertising a a few individual subscriptions provides for semipro rates.
Organize twitter fund drives: "We're looking for 10 monthly subscriptions at supporter, advocate, or patron level"...
More to come
It is coincidence that I am making this post as M-Brane SF is trying to raise money for the anthology fund. It was the news about Baen's that prompted this post. But, I mention it because there is a magazine that can use your support. If not them, find one that you like, and support it with your financial contribution, especially in the form of a subscription. If that is not an option, write the editor and ask why not? There may be good models for giving away fiction, but they should be such that a willing supporter is able to kick-in.
I'm writing this really late. Will read through later and correct any thing that is glaring, but I had to get it out. Please check back soon for my post about the GBLT anthology, Things We Are Not.