Last week Subterranean Press and I did an experiment, by taking “An Election,” a short story SubPress bought from me, posting it here and running ads in it for SubPress product. When one publicly announces one is running an experiment, it’s fair to then also publicly present the results of the experiment for people to analyze and discuss. So here are some stats, etc to chew on.
First, numbers-wise, the story was seen and at least partially read no fewer than 25,828 times as of this morning, going by the number generated by WordPress’ stats package. Per my earlier discussion of how WordPress generates stats information, I consider the WordPress stats in this case to be a lower bound rather than the true number of readers, which I suspect based on experience is somewhat higher; if I had to guess, I’d go with something in the 35k – 45k range. But in terms of visits I know the story got, 25.8k is confirmable, so let’s use that.
How does 25.8k views in eight days compare to how the story might have fared elsewhere? It’s hard to make exact comparisons, but here’s some data on two points:
* In 2008, when I published “After the Coup” at Tor.com, that story was visited 49.5k times in two weeks. That was part of the debut of the entire Tor.com site, which didn’t hurt in terms of exposure. I also think at this point, most people acknowledge Tor.com as the most-visited sf/f-related online site which regularly publishes short fiction.
* The current circulation numbers for the largest SF print markets in the US are 15,491 for Fantasy & Science Fiction, 16,696 for Asimov’s and 25,418 for Analog. One wants to be careful comparing direct views on a Web site to general circulation numbers for various reasons — for example, not every one who reads a magazine reads every story, which means you may have fewer actual readers than the circulation… but more than one person will read each copy, which means you may have more readers than the circulation number, too — but circulation numbers are a reasonable baseline for estimation.
So, 25.8k views in eight days compares reasonably well with both top print and top online sites, in terms of getting the story read to a large audience. So in that respect I think we can declare the experiment a success.
I asked Bill Schafer, publisher of Subterranean Press, for his thoughts on its success in terms of advertising, etc. He said:
I’m plenty happy with it. We saw a small but noticeable spike in Kindle sales of the advertised titles. And really, I did it mostly because it was a new way to get the SubPress name out to readers. Business overall is good, which is the best way to quantify the stuff we’re trying.
So it’s a success on that end as well. And of course I’m happy with it, not in the least because selling the story enabled me to get a new computer monitor. So overall, I think we can say our little “Election” experiment worked pretty well.
BUT: is this sort of thing replicable? It’s one thing to something like this one time and get attention for it, on the grounds that it’s something new — as far as I know no other science fiction author has been paid pro rates by a publisher to publish his fiction on his own Web site — but it’s another thing to do it again and get the same sort of numbers.
The short answer to this is “we’ll have to try it again and see how it goes,” but the slightly longer answer is that there is another similar data point that suggests it might be doable. About a month prior to “An Election,” I posted a short short entitled “When the Yogurt Took Over.” I posted it for my own amusement rather than trying to sell it (I mean, it was really short, and also about yogurt taking over the world), but over the course of eight days, it racked up 26.4k views, i.e., numbers very similar to those garnered by “An Election.” While not definitive, it does suggest that fiction presented here will perform within a certain bound, as long as, you know, it’s entertaining. And that’s good to know going forward.
The next question, as you might expect, is whether I plan to make a regular habit out of this sort of thing. And the answer there is: Who knows? One, I don’t write all that much short fiction — usually a story or two a year. Two, it’s almost always on commission, so it typically already has a home. Three, most publishers, I expect, want to bring work they purchase into their own magazines or sites; SubPress in this sense was throwing an idea against a wall to see if it would stick. It worked for SubPress but then SubPress had books it wanted to advertise. Most short fiction venues don’t have the same dynamic going on, as far as I can tell.
I’m certainly not opposed to doing this again — just ask me! — but I suspect this will be a rare treat rather than a regular sort of thing. On the other hand, regardless of whether someone is paying me or not I like trying out things here, and it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that I’ll put something up here just because I feel like it. So again, we’re at: Who knows? Just keep dropping by and we’ll see what pops up for you.