“After the Coup” Numbers

I’ve been asked a few times by curious folks whether I knew how many people have looked at “After the Coup” since it went up on Tor.Com two weeks ago. As it happens I do, but I needed to get permission to share the numbers. Now I’ve gotten that permission, so I can tell you that as of about 6pm this evening, Sunday, August 3, 2008, the “After the Coup” page on Tor.Com has been hit 49,566 times. Factoring out return visits, search engine spiderings and the like, I suspect the story’s been read (or at least visited) by about 40,000 readers.

By way of comparison, here are the most recent subscriber numbers for the “big three” science fiction print magazines, gacked from Warren Ellis and his annual “science fiction magazines are going to hell” screed:

Analog: 22,972

Asimov’s: 14,084

Fantasy & Science Fiction: 12,831

Combined, their subscriber rolls add up to 49,887, a number which is coincidentally very close to the 49,566 hits “AtC” has gotten so far.

Bear in mind that comparing hits to subscriber numbers is a squirrels to tangelos sort of comparison: As noted, each hit does not necessarily equal a new reader, and while there’s probably a fair amount of overlap in the subscriber rolls of the “big three” (if you subscribe to one, you’re likely to subscribe to two, etc), each individual copy of each magazine is likely to be read by more than one person. No matter how you slice it, however, the number of readers “AtC” has had so far compares very favorably to the number of readers it would have gotten in one of the big three magazines. That’s not bad considering Tor.Com’s been around for just two weeks. It’s safe to say it’s hit the ground running, and I thank it for letting me and my little story ride on its coattails.

What these numbers mean in the context of the science fiction short story market as a whole I leave to others to argue violently about discuss, but if you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to share them in the comment thread.

48 thoughts on ““After the Coup” Numbers

  1. Hate to be the one to pour cold water on your glee, but I know I account for at least five or six of those hits, just trying to download the MobiPocket format. The first few times, right after Tor.com posted it, it returned a zero-length file. I kept going back every half-day or so until it worked.

    If others did the same, you could be looking at merely Analog-size readership. Still not too shabby.

    No, I haven’t read it yet (just got through an abominably long book that the author managed to redeem at the end, and I’m reading Postsingular by Rucker on my Blackberry when stuck waiting places — yours or Charlie’s Tor.com stories are next)

  2. I don’t actually imagine that the number of people attempting downloads made a significant impact on the overall numbers.

  3. I suspect the story’s been read (or at least visited) by about 40,000 readers.

    “Visitors” isn’t the same thing as “readers”.

    Which doesn’t in any way mean that teh internet isn’t a good way to spread short fiction.

    //JJ

  4. Johan:

    “‘Visitors’ isn’t the same thing as ‘readers’.”

    Which might be why I put that “(or at least visited)” part in. You may remember it; it’s in the part you quote.

    More generally, however, I feel pretty confident in suggesting that nearly all the people who visited the link can read and are therefore readers.

  5. Congrats on those numbers.

    20K per month is:

    a testament to promotion/marketing of the Tor site
    a testament to your name as a draw
    a testament to free (quality) fiction

    and I agree that comparing monkees to qumquats or whatever it was makes it essentially invalid to compare the magazine numbers: if the big three rags had the marketing reach/dollars/etc – would they be seeing similar numbers? How would individual stories from one of those magazines do if given the same exposure? Should TOR be doing an e-zine? Should Analog go Digital?

    I do wonder a few things however. 1. How much traffic was Scalzi.com/Whatever responsible for? (I’m betting the lion’s share, maybe split with BoingBoing, but certainly could be wrong.)
    2. Has this site received comparable visits because of the link on TOR?
    3. Are you going to give up advances in favor of a couple of pennies per click-thru?
    4. Is it print that’s dead, the (fiction) magazine that’s dead, or…?

    Steve Davidson

  6. 20K per month? I’m not sure I follow where that number is coming from. the 49K figure I noted is from two weeks, and overall the Tor site have gotten a significantly higher number of hits/visitors.

    As for how much traffic came from here, I’m not sure; I don’t have that breakdown of numbers.

  7. For the record, I downloaded it, printed it up, read it and laughed my ass off. Then I insisted my 14-year-old son read it, and he did, and laughed pretty much at the same spots I did.

    Great story.

  8. I didn’t see the link to the audio version until after I read it, so I never listened, but I am curious if the audio version did comparably well to the text.

  9. No idea. Even I missed the audio version the first time I visited the page, which is why I gave its own link the next day.

  10. A few thoughts…

    If those numbers are unique visitors, I accounted for 2-3 of them (the way analytics packages count uniques accounts for time – the same person on 2 different days is usually counted as 2 uniques). I suspect that the number of actually unique people is more like 30-50% of that number. However, that’s still in the same ballpark as the subscriber numbers John cites above.

    Also, as John points out, these numbers cover 2 weeks not a full month. Even accounting for an initial rush of traffic I’d expect the visitor number to reach 65-70,000 over the month. Next, keep in mind that Stross’ story probably got similar numbers. Yes, many of the same people looked at both stories, but that’s no different than the subscriber numbers above – it’s the same person reading all of the stories in one issue. So, this ‘issue’ gets say 70,000 uniques.

    Now imagine that only 1/3 of those are actual unique people versus the same person hitting the page more than once. That’s, oh let’s call it 23,000. Right off, that’s an Asimov’s sized audience.

    If that is a high water mark in the near term because both John and Charlie are popular, well known and have new books/editions out and the number drops to half of that 70K for the next few months and my 1/3 estimate holds, that is still comparable to the subscriber numbers above.

    Finally, factor in promotion by Tor, organic growth as people discover the site, etc. It would not surprise me to see the number climb back up and eventually be 2-3x the 70,000 within 18-24 months.

    So yes, I can see this kind of site developing a very real readership for short fiction. How that plays out financially for the authors and publishers – whether stories are paid for at good word rate, whether publisher’s charge us to access the stories – that’s something that will work itself out. But the Tor site’s quite good and these numbers are certainly promising.

    PS: Oh and I liked the story too….

  11. rickg:

    “I suspect that the number of actually unique people is more like 30-50% of that number.”

    I suspect it’s more like 80% personally — I don’t suspect most people visited the story more than once, just like most people here don’t visit an entry more than once (the exceptions are commenters, who as a percentage of visitors here are generally no more than one or two percent).

    That said, the stat I have is just visits to the page, not unique visitors.

  12. You might well be right John – that would be interesting info to know. I’m going off experience on general web sites (news and commerce) and stories might well have a much lower repeat visitor rate since, yeah, I can see them being more like blog articles (I don’t blog).

    Of course, that simply makes the argument for the health of online fiction, at least on tor.com, even stronger.

  13. Do the big (big?) three subscriber numbers include individual sales?
    I think the total After the Coup numbers are closer to Johns 80% guess than the posters lower guesses. I went, I read, I laughed. Why go back?

  14. Any way you look at the numbers…….GOOD 4 YOU!!
    I don’t care if 40,000 visited or read or waiting to read or whatever……It’s still a nice chunk of people. I myself visited twice once to check it out when you first posted then today when you reminded me that i still needed to download the story. I havn’t read yet but that’s only because I still have to read OMW. It is next on my reading list.

  15. This may be the way to save short SF if indeed the magazines are dying as some claim. I downloaded both, liked After the Coup, but couldn’t finish down on the farm. At about 1/3 into it, I gave up.

    Still, 50% is a better ratio than any magazine I have seen in the last several years. I would go for a reasonable payment-for-story sort of arrangement. And authors would probably make more than the pennies per word the magazines would pay.

  16. First of all, Steve @5, it makes perfect sense to compare Monkees to kumquats. All the Monkees are in their 60s and were popular in the ’60s, whereas an average kumquat has 60 calories and is from Vietnam, where (according to Wikipedia) kumquat trees are used in celebrating Tet, which was also of note in the ’60s.

    Anyway.

    Actually I forgot the point I intended to make. Oh, yeah — Simon@17, to quote another movie philosopher, Prof. H. Solo, “Don’t get cocky.” I’d like to compliment the designer who laid out the PDF, but encourage them to resize these in the future to 5.5″X8.5″, laid out in printer’s spreads so’s I can print it double-sided, fold and staple. Thanks in advance!

  17. Downloaded and read here, though I’m one of those evil people that screws up the numbers by downloading everything free “just in case”. I downloaded every single one of the Tor free novels, for instance and have only read one. (Not counting the two I’d already read dead-tree.)

    Though John C. Wright made two sales entirely because the PDF of one of his books was sitting on my laptop when I was bored.

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I thought it was really funny. :-)

    I personally think the big SF magazines are dead men walking. I’m a bit sad about that, but not enough to renew my subscription. A better comparison I think is Escape Pod, which gets over 20k listeners even when they aren’t featuring authors as popular as John Scalzi. (I don’t think it is entirely fair to compare the readership of one of the leaders in the field to a magazine that reports numbers averaged over an entire year and tens of writers.)

  18. I am surprised I missed the audio. I love the new Tor site. I do think short fiction works best online. While I prefer reading books in print, I don’t mind reading short fiction in e format. I’m not likely to pull out a book if I am eating lunch at my desk and want to take a 10 minute break, but a piece of short fiction on Tor…

  19. I didn’t know anything about TOR.COM except for a blurb that I saw on SCIFI.com awhile back. I just checked it out after checking out this blog for the first time last week when I found Scalzi’s post about Orson Scott Card’s bat-sh*t-crazy homophobia.

    I had just bought THE LAST COLONY at Amazon.com in paperback so i was pleased to see Scalzi had a short story up on Tor.com. I didn’t realize it was a special kinda thing.

    I thought the story was actually very very good.

    I don;t subscribe to any sci-fi mags and never have so I am definitely a new reader different from the sci-fi mag subscriber base.

  20. Indeed, Mad Professah, my assumption (and hope) is that the Tor.com is bringing in a new set of readers, not only the people already reading short SF.

  21. Downloaded it. Loaded it into my Kindle. Spent some quality time laughing at the silly green man as he got his clock cleaned by a cute little alien.

    Now, I started to come here because of Tor’s OMW promotion, then I ended up going to tor.com because of your link. Not sure who’s promoting who anymore. All I know is I’ve read a lot more this year than I did last year, and you keep showing up in my Read Me pile.

  22. I enjoyed the story, but not quite as much as the giant Perry eating sandworms in questions for a soldier.

  23. If one of us just says that you’re ruining America with this or something, will that save some stupid ill-informed blog posts from happening? Or will we have to sit through another point-counterpoint session with somebody who hates the internet but loves blogging on it?

  24. I dunno… For my money, Perry plays Gojira is the best anthropo-alien bonding experience, but ATC was also quite fun. Also, niche magazines that actually sell paper sent via the US Mail, or a competitor, are doomed. (I think ALL magazines are doomed in magazine form, but the expensive ones will go first.)

  25. “Egon Spengler said it best in Ghost Busters: ‘Print is dead.'”

    I think that was Don Johnson, in Groundhog Day, actually.

    I’m curious as to the basis for converting “hits” to visits/visitors? The webcounting software on my site tells me I get around 10,000 hits a day, but only 1,500 unique visitors. Maybe I need to dig into the numbers a bit further to see if I really understand them.

    And on the topic of readers of the story versus visits to the story, I think both are significant; someone following a link to the story indicates a person with interest in the story. I’d bet the visits to readers percentage is pretty darn high.

  26. “Hits” in a general sense mean any call to the server, but in this specific sense, it’s the number of times this particular page was served.

  27. The death of print has been heralded more than once (and each time has been wrong). What really matters is the business model and if magazines can remain profitable or if they become expensive hobbies of a larger publishing company or die out. Tor has deep pockets to push this experiment (and I hope it works well).

    Magazines are not in the business of promoting the genre and bringing in new readers, they’re in the business of selling ad space and copies (and I find it strange in the genre markets the overwhelming reliance on subscriptions).

    Tor can use this website as a promotional tool (which is a fine line to tread, if the promotion side of it is perceived as too heavy, there can be a backlash) and a communications device (I prefer it to be the later) and bring in new readers or cross-pollinate existing readers to other writers they publish. In that way it’s a damn smart business venture. So far it looks like they’ve hit on a nice mix.

    BTW, can I just say I love Irene Gallo’s posts.

  28. #4, John:

    Yes, of course. What I wanted to say, but probably was too tired to formulate, was that “I suspect the story’s been read (or at least visited)” sounds like the majority of the visitors read the story, which I – unfortunately – don’t think they do, and that it’s very difficult to estimate how many persons actually read something that long (for being a text on the screen) from such numbers. I still think it would say important things about short stories and the net if just 10.000, or 7.000, persons actually read it in two weeks. And the number of readers might of course be higher than that.

    //JJ

  29. Thanks for giving us the numbers (and to Tor for letting you). I’m always fascinated by these little dribbles of *actual fact* that become available now and then.

    I’ve been running web sites since 1995, so I have a pretty good idea how the available numbers relate to reality — that is, very quirkily :-). But I agree with you that the magnitudes in this case are such that your conclusion — that your story has been seen by numbers of people comparable to the numbers subscribing to the three magazines — is reasonable.

    I know I make a habit of downloading *each* of the forms of a work available, if I visit the page at all. The way it’s set up on tor.com, the story is visible divided into three pages, plus there are download links for four formats on each page. I’d be fascinated by the pageview numbers for *each* of the three pages. I think you can make a better-than-usual estimate of how many actually read it online based on middle and last-page counts; I don’t think too many people will just flip through all three pages *without* reading it. (That bit doesn’t address those who read a downloaded version of course.)

  30. If Tor is getting a good CPM for most of those page views, you could be earning them a decent amount of money for just ad revenue. From Tor’s prespective, however, Tor.com is also part of their ad budget, as it’s a good way to brans, connect with people who buy Tor stories, see what’s popular for people to read about, etc…

  31. Interesting thread.

    As you note, John, the average copy of F&SF reaches more than one reader. The last time we did a survey, we found that each subscriber copy reached an average of 1.5 readers.

    Also, those numbers don’t include copies sold to libraries (or waiting rooms, etc.), copies viewed through library references like Ebsco and Gale research, or even copies sold electronically through Fictionwise.com.

    I’m not trying to carp or to detract from your impressive number of hits with my data. Rather, I just want to offer data so you’ve got a clearer picture for comparison.

    Since you did introduce the whole comparison of print vs. online, though, I was wondering if you can share with us how much Tor paid you for rights to the story?

    Also, just so I’m clear, you are comparing a free giveaway with paid magazine sales, right? I know you said you’re comparing squirrels with tangelos, but I just want to make sure I understand the nature of each entity.

    No problem if you don’t have time to reply. Thanks again for starting this discussion, John.

    —Gordon V.G.

  32. Gordon:

    Tor paid me 25 cents/word. I believe in general Tor.Com is following the same sort of payment rate for commissioned work that Jim Baen’s Universe uses.

    “Also, just so I’m clear, you are comparing a free giveaway with paid magazine sales, right?”

    Well, on my end, I’m comparing eyeballs to eyeballs. I’m agnostic on economic and distribution models; I’m interested in people reading the story.

  33. Congrats! – testament how to a good story and modest publicity gets results- I imagine that the timing cof the CON had something to do with the traffic as well.

    re print mags etc.

    I don’t recall the last time I put down $ for Asimov’s et al., yet Subterranean press gets more of my paycheck then my wife likes- Subterranean online does have something to do w/ that – Tor.com may have a similar impact.

  34. Tor.com got a lot of attention in the blogosphere, not just the science fiction part of it, but outside of it as well; what was the last time that any print sf magazine got this kind of attention? They’re just there puttering along with little attempt to reach new audiences, or so it seems.

  35. “comparing hits to subscriber numbers is a squirrels to tangelos sort of comparison”

    I love that line so much!

  36. #38, Martin: On the other hand, it really isn’t that easy to get that kind of attention attention from e.g. bloggers if they can’t link to something they, and their readers, can access for free on the net.

    //JJ

  37. What is this “gack” you speak of? Is it similar to “ganking” something, as in “I ganked the orange juice from his ‘fridge.”

    JAB

  38. John—

    Thanks for the quick answer.

    I disagree that you’re comparing eyeballs to eyeballs. You’re comparing hits to circulation numbers. And the fact that one is free and the other is paid seems to me to be relevant.

    But I certainly take your point that posting your story on Tor’s site has gotten it a good audience in a short period of time. Good on you and on Tor, sez I. I particularly salute Tor for recognizing the virtues of the approach that Subterranean and Clarkesworld use for publishing short fiction.

    I wish we could discuss this subject at Denvention, but I have to skip Worldcon this year. Do me a favor and check over JJA at the cocktail party before the Hugos. Let him know if he has toilet paper stuck to the heel of his shoe.

    —Gordon V.G.

  39. You know, the discussion about hits versus subscribers, and how a hit might not be a reader, leads me to point this out:

    I am a very loyal subscriber to S&SF and Asimov’s. I wouldn’t stop subscribing unless the editors gave me a very good reason (say, for example, publishing hate-filled screeds against civil rights for whole segments of the population?). I like short fiction, and I can afford the rates, and I don’t want to see the market die out. I read short fiction in libraries and by borrowing copies for years, and always vowed that when I could afford it I’d subscribe.

    That said, F&SF comes to my house consistently, abundantly, interminably!!! The issues pile up. They sit on the shelf. They sit in the kitchen. I think there is at least one issue in every room of my house! But my to-read pile would stretch across the house if I laid the books and magazines end to end, maybe across the yard! So…I think I’ve read, on average, 2 stories per F&SF delivered to my door in the last year. I mean, at some point I’ll be traveling or hospitalized and I’ll probably catch up. Someday.

    My only point is, not all of those sold magazines equate to a read story, either. I can’t be the only person who subscribes to magazines she doesn’t always read for philosophical reasons.

    (Boy do I know how to make a short story long).

  40. Just for clarity:

    It’s not that I don’t read them for philosophical reasons, it’s that I subscribe to them for philosophical reasons despite the fact that I currently don’t have time to read them.

  41. JS: I’m interested in people reading the story.

    MM: I love short stories too, and hope to read yours RSN. (Too much work right now don’cha’know).

    A question arises about the business model for freebies which is–who pays? ultimately. Will they continue to pay to keep the freebies up and available? Or will the $$$ run out and sites be taken down? Then what?

    At least with the print mags (and books too), there is something tangible there on your shelf, on the shelves at some libraries, used bookstores, and so forth, for when the original source site vanishes into the aether.

    Just a thought.

    MM

  42. “A question arises about the business model for freebies which is–who pays? ultimately. Will they continue to pay to keep the freebies up and available? Or will the $$$ run out and sites be taken down? Then what?”

    The very same questions apply to markets that hope people pay for the work as well. Magazines with purchase prices on them run out of money as well, go under as well, and disappear as well.

    Personally speaking I am supremely unworried if the sites hosting my stories go down, since I own the copyrights to my work. I’ll just sell them again. That said, Macmillin has a lot of money; I expect Tor.Com will be around for a bit.

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