The Big Three

Yesterday Warren Ellis posted monthly subscription and newsstand numbers for the “Big Three” science fiction magazines in 2006 (and threw in the circulation numbers of Interzone as loose change); he got them from Gardner Dozois via the last Year’s Best Science Fiction compilation. The numbers are not spectacular: 15,117 for Asimov’s (no newsstand numbers reported), 23,732 for Analog (plus 4,587 newsstand sales), and 14,575 for Fantasy & Science Fiction, which itself had 3,691 newsstand sales. Interzone apparently stated its monthly circ as between two and three thousand.

Add it all up, and tossing Interzone overboard for the moment, the “Big Three” short fiction markets have a circulation of 61,702, plus whatever Asimov‘s monthly newsstand sales are: Let’s round to 65,000. So that’s 65K, total. Not a lot. And all of the Big Three suffered circulation drops from 2005, some double digit percentages, too. What we don’t know from these numbers are the demographics of the readership, but I’m going to make a guess that the average readership age for these magazines is in the older than I am by a more than fair margin (I’m 38). The circulation pool is very likely to be the same circulation pool it has been for the last 30 years; if so, it’s no surprise it’s shrinking, because one end of the pool is drying up when the subscribers die, and what’s coming in on the other end is a trickle. Which is to say, right now, the SF magazine circulation pool is Lake Lanier and the magazines are Atlanta.

Over at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow is wringing his hands about what needs to be done to save the Big Three, but between you and me and the rest of the whole bloody Internet, I have to wonder, as Ellis apparently does, if it’s worth the time. I seriously question whether the “Big Three” think they need saving, and therefore I question whether they want to save themselves. And if they don’t, I’m not entirely sure why it would be incumbent on anyone else to try to save them.

The big three can still be relevant, mind you; I suspect Asimov’s was essential in bootstrapping Charles Stross into being the decade’s pre-eminent SF writer when it published the short stories that would eventually become the Hugo-nominated novel Accelerando. Likewise, Tim Pratt’s Hugo win this year is going to do great things for him moving forward. That said, I can think of more prominent SF writers published since 2000 who have gotten along without the benefit of exposure in the “Big Three” than who have been helped by them.

For examples of this, one need only look the Campbell Award winners from this century. I did a little research this evening, and unless I’ve flubbed bibliographies greatly, I’ve come up on an interesting tidbit, which is that of the last seven Campbell winners — Naomi Novik, me, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Wen Spencer, Jo Walton and Kristine Smith — precisely one of us was published in the “Big Three” prior to winning our award: Elizabeth Bear, who published a poem in F&SF in ’03. So, a single appearance from just one of us.

Now, to be sure, this can’t be laid entirely at the feet of the “Big Three.” I explained here before that I’ve never submitted to any of the “Big Three,” primarily because they take paper submissions only, and I don’t have a printer, and can’t be bothered to get one. Anyway, my short fiction work so far is pretty sparse. Naomi Novik’s is even more sparse than my own. On the other hand, it seems indicative of something that it took Bear until this year to make it into Asimov’s, where she had submitting stories since Isaac himself was at the helm. Did it really take until 2007 for Bear, who has won the Campbell and Locus awards, published eight novels in three years and sold dozens of short stories (not to mention a story collection), to write something worthy of Asimov’s?


Well, maybe so. But in the meantime she developed a hell of an audience without that magazine, and without the other two members of the “Big Three.” That audience learned to look for her — and for Jay Lake (who also didn’t get published in Asimov’s until after his Campbell win) — and for other new writers in the genre in other places. Now, I don’t doubt it was very cool for Bear to get published in Asimov’s. But was it necessary or relevant for her career? I won’t hazard Bear’s opinion on this, but I think it clearly wasn’t.

Nice but not relevant is not where the “Big Three” want to be, but this is where they are. I am admittedly a weirdo when it comes to my science fiction career, but look: it says something that I can’t be bothered to print out a single goddamned story to submit it to Asimov’s, or Analog, or F&SF. It says something that I’m not writing more short fiction to try to get into their pages. They’re just not that important to my career; certainly not as important as, say, this place. Look: yesterday, the Whatever got 37,558 unique visitors, which means that I get about the same number of people visiting on a Monday as Asimov’s and F&SF combined roll up in a month. Is it smarter for me to spend time writing fiction for any of these magazines than it is for me to write here?

And if I do write short fiction, does it make sense for me to send it to publications that are hard for my fans to find and buy? Subterranean Online or Strange Horizons or Jim Baen’s Universe will pay me the same or more for a story; in all these cases I can easily link my readers here to the story, and they can either read the entire story or read a substantial portion online before they buy. Yes, I know the “Big Three” have electronic editions for sale via Fictionwise; I prefer something more user-friendly. The “Big Three” are my second-tier markets for short fiction for these reasons, and if it gets to that point, I’m likely just to paste the work up here. It’s worked for me before.

Again: I’m not the normal case. I have a larger online readership than most. But there are other SF writers online who get hundreds and even thousands of visitors a day, who cultivate their own fandom online, who have friends who are happy to help them pimp their work and funnel readers to their writing. I suspect it’s not that hard to raise consciousness of new work online to the level you’ll find in the pages of the “Big Three,” given their current circulation numbers. That gives emerging writers a way to build careers outside those magazines, and it means the “Big Three” run a further risk of isolating themselves, both from where science fiction literature is going, and from the audiences building around these new writers.

Now, if I saw concrete ways the “Big Three” were working to rebuild circulation and make their magazines easier to find in my local bookstore, or if they had more intriguing online presences, or I felt they were more engaged in the current generation of writers and interested in cultivating the next, rather than waiting for them to make it on their own, or even if they just took electronic submissions, maybe I would be more enthusiastic about submitting; maybe I’d be more concerned about their slow exsanguination (I am concerned to the extent that I know the people who work there; I am fond of many of them on a personal level. I’d like for them to have jobs going forward). But I’m not going to spend a lot of time agonizing about theses magazines’ extended death scenes when I don’t see them doing these things to help themselves. Maybe they are doing these things and I just don’t know. But to be egotistical about it, if I don’t know, isn’t that kind of a bad thing? I’m not exactly hiding here. I’m generally pretty well-informed.

Let me be clear about this: I think it would be better if the “Big Three” not only survived but thrived; they’re the memory trees of the genre, and they can still bear fruit. I want to feel excited about the idea of being published in their pages, and in a way more than fond affectation. I’d like being published there to mean something. I want it to be nice, but more than that I want it to be relevant. They have a ways to go for that.

120 Comments on “The Big Three”

  1. I subbed to SF&F for a year or two…and never read any of the issues. Why? Because when I tried, I didn’t find anything in them I LIKED. Honestly, I think part of the problem is that they are so determined to print “cutting edge” material, they’ve become something the “regular” reader finds unappealing. They do not publish work that would be of interest to a wider base of readers. So for me, and the writers and readers I hang out with, it’s more than just where the magazine is available that makes them not so relevant for us; it’s also what they’re publishing. Go to far along that cutting edge, and eventually you go over. I’d like to get published in their pages, but I never will because I write what I enjoy reading, and I don’t enjoy reading what I’ve seen them publish.

  2. Domynoe – exactly. In the past I’ve had subscriptions to F&SF and Interzone, and I have a massive stack of unread back issues of both. Every time I sat down to read one, well, honestly? The stories were kind of not my cup of tea at all. There was the odd gem, but largely it was self-indulgent, incoherent or just plain uninteresting (sometimes all three), not to mention there was a fair bit of stuff from big names that was clearly phoned in.

    John, thanks for this timely post – some very well made points. The Big Three are, I think, doomed unless they do something about both their relevance (i.e. publishing some rip-snorting fantastical stories that people actually want to read) and their submission process – as with all open-to-submission magazines, they’re drowning in a sea of slush, and I think they think that electronic submissions would only make that worse. It appears to be an intractable problem, for them at least.

  3. ok, you know I don’t want to get into this whole “publish what people want to read” thing, cause frankly that’s bullshit hinging on the pre-supposition that we all read the same thing.

    Now, I rather like the copies of Asimovs I’ve read, and F&SF is ok but erratic; far from being cutting-edge (see, this term can mean a whole lot of different things to a whole lot of different people), I tend to find them a bit too “same” in the manner of stories they take.
    But a lot of this comes down to personal tastes in fiction, and is a debate not likely to ever have a resolution.

    Adding on to the post – I fully agree that the non-email subs are an irritation, and this is something they can seriously think about fixing.
    Having a story published online, as opposed to print (any print), has the unbeatable advantage of linking to it and providing people with a quick and easy access.
    That’s true for the writer self linking; it’s true for the writer’s friends pimping, and it’s true for a stranger reading and liking the story enough to link to it on his blog.

    No, they’re not all-powerful or important anymore. Still, they do still have readerships and they do pay extremely well for short fiction, and they get attention from the Year’s Best Editors as well awards.
    They have a worth to writers in that sense; a declining and not irreplaceable worth true.

    Thought re: the 65k readership. It’s probably lower than that; how many readers of Asimovs also read Analog? One cannot just add the numbers, you also have to try and factor in the amount of overlap between readers.
    I’d say it’s probably 25-30k different readers, at most.

  4. I also believe in the overlap between readers…

    I’m afraid readership in France is 100-times lower, but your analysis is somewhere also true for us. For 10 years, we had two SF magazines, publishing short-stories and many reviews. One just ended last month (still hoping to be reborn soon).

    I like short-stories. The market is difficult and narrow. I am quite egoistically hoping that Dozois & al. will always have sufficient quality choices to pick for their Year’s Best anthologies. Part of it come from the Big 3’s, even if on-line-only part grow.

  5. Asimovs is the only one that I feel is actually doing anything, and they do publish some fiction that feels more… alive… to me. I don’t know if they’re doing the right things or whatever, but they’re actively cultivating new writers through Alpha and the Dell Award, and they seem to have picked up some fresh blood. Cat Rambo, for instance, has recently sold there. Deb Coates.

    In some of the writing circles I hang out in, Asimovs is sought after. I’d like to publish there. The others — well, a lot of people I know feel like you do.

    Last time I heard a circ #s debate, I was given to understand that the Big 3 are a Big Misnomer — it was asserted to me that Realms of Fantasy has a higher circulation than any of the other print mags. Anyone know if this is true?

  6. The short fiction market in Australia has boomed in the past 3-5 years (in terms of markets, if not actual sales figures). I’m involved with one of the local mags, but I can tell you the submissions page on our website is visited far more than the orders page. At least ten times more.

    We made a decision from day one – electronic submissions only, no printouts – because our slush readers are spread all over the continent. As a result we’ve had subs from far and wide, which has been great.

  7. John said,

    Look: yesterday, the Whatever got 37,558 unique visitors, which means that I get about the same number of people visiting on a Monday as Asimov’s and F&SF combined roll up in a month.

    That’s it, John. You’re just going to have to start publishing sci-fi short stories here. You could post others’ stories on separate pages, put advertising on the story page, and give the writer the revenue.

    New writer gets exposure and a piddling paycheck, you get to do something to help out new writers. We get to read fun short stories, hand-picked by John Scalzi, so we’d know they wouldn’t suck. Everybody wins.

    It would be an amazing time-suck for you, so I’m not holding my breath until it starts, but it would be interesting.


  8. I like short SF, but I’ve never subscribed to any of the magazines–the anthologies I buy give me what fix I need. It may be that original anthologies are the future of short SF, such as it is (of course that means much less of it).

    When people beg and plead for me to subscribe to the magazines in order to save them, I wonder if this isn’t itself an indication that it’s too late for them.

  9. Correct, to the best of my knowledge. (And I haven’t been able to sell a short story to F&SF since, and actually never expect to. What I write is not, to all appearances, what Gordon cares to publish. Which is, of course, his prerogative, and I do not mean to suggest otherwise.)

    I think people used to read the digest mags to get an idea of what the next coming thing was, and I humbly submit that that doesn’t happen anymore–with a few notable exceptions, such as Ted Chiang.

    (Which is not to say that F&SF, Asimov’s, and Analog do not publish many fine newer writers–Cat Rambo, M. Rickert, Ben Rosenbaum, Ruth Nestvold all leap to mind, and there are many more.) And I will say that the story I published in Asimov’s appears to have earned me a great deal of previously-lacking street cred with a certain, reasonably large section of fandom, which I would guess is also the section of fandom that tends to vote for the Hugo awards. (I’ve had two BSFA short fiction noms out of Strange Horizons, on the other hand.)

    I think the digests used to serve as grounds for training and experiment for young and established writers, and now that purpose is served by online zines such as SH, Baen’s Universe, the late and very much lamented SCIFICTION, and of course the tiny ‘zines of the club scene (Electric Velocipede, Lady Churchill’s, (ahem)Ideomancer(ahem), Coyote Wild, etc.)

    I don’t have anything like John’s or Cory’s online readership, but I get ~seven thousand unique hits a month on my blog, plus the 1,700 or so daily readers through livejournal.

    Which means, I guess, I have a bigger circulation than Interzone. OTOH, I do keep sending Interzone stories, when I have them to send, because for me short fiction is still something I do because I love it, because it lets me play, and because it gives me a place to put ideas that won’t support a novel.

    OTOH, I know perfectly well that the novels are in general driving the short fiction sales, and not the other way around.

    Which reminds me, I need to put my Asimov’s story up on my web site….

  10. See, I would not have though of F&SF as cutting edge, even though it has been, lately, the ojne of the three I enjoy the most. Though my favorite stories this year have come from Stage Horizons.

    What makes me really curious is how the magazines dedicated to other genres, including mainstream and literary fiction, are doing. In other words, do the Big Three have a representative share of the short story market, are they doing better relative to sf position in the general market or worse? If they are doing better, relatively speaking, than, say, sf novels do in the general marketplace then you probably have your answer as to why they aren’t making major, visible changes.

    I don’t think that’s remarkable at all. Making Light and Whatever provide high quality content for free, a deal that is hard to beat. To a certain extent, its an apples to oranges comparison. My wife and I probably spend about 200 dollars a year on magazine subscriptions. I am not sure how that money would get allocated if our favorite web sites suddenly started charging, but I do know that not all of the magazines would lose out to the web sites.

  11. I hang out at the Asimov’s message board and this subject pops up on a regular basis. It seems that the problem “The Big Three are dying” gets tangled up with “Short SF is dying” and then it’s a short hop to “SF is dying.” I don’t see it. As readership in the magazines drops, more novels and original and reprint anthologies are published and sold every year. It’s just a shift away from one publishing model and towards another.

    The Big Three are a great farm system for SF novels, but you can go straight to the majors if your stories want to be novels. My stories sometimes want to be novellettes, so I have a selfish reason for wanting the Big Three to stay solvent. But if we had enough online venues that wanted hard SF novellettes, I’d be happy with that. (It’s good to have two or three venues, because you can always catch an editor on a bad day. Jim Baen’s is one, now I need one or two more.)

  12. You’re right about me. I’m also apparently only one of two Campbell winners in recent history, and maybe ever, to win without ever having either stories in the digests or trade novels out. (Laura Resnick is the other.) And for everyone on your list, as you say, it’s been novels, not the Big Three.

  13. Matt Jarpe:

    I don’t think short fiction is dying; I see a lot of it online, and at least some of it is good. I think the mechanisms that are causing the “Big Three” their headaches are to a great extent independent of any problems surrounding short fiction. They have to do with business execution, from my point of view.

    Jay Lake:

    Right, and this does lead to the questions of a) whether the Campbell winners were submitting to the magazines and just not getting in and b) if not, if the reason they weren’t was because they saw them as inessential to their career development. Either of these would not be good news for the magazines.

  14. I haven’t subscribed or bought an issue in ages — I used to get F&SF, mainly for the editorial content and reviews, not for the stories (especially in the Harlan Ellison movie review years).

    It’s funny that this comes to light now in the same month that Radiohead offers its music at “whatever” price, and Entertainment Weekly offers the idea that music distribution may become just a means of promoting concert tours and merchandise.

  15. Joelfinkle:

    It’s interesting, yes, but not necessarily parallel to what can happen in writing. Writing is actually better suited for the “free to read but creators still get paid” concept than music: As any number of blogs show us, it’s possible to post text online wrapped in Google Ads and other advertisements, so even if the writing is free to read it’s still possible for people to make money off of it (and thus, for writers to get paid). Not to mention that there are other economic models at work in posting fiction online and still getting the writers money (Strange Horizon’s non-profit model, for example).

    I do think that free-to-read short fiction and other free reading like blogs can drive novel sales, novels being the “concert” analogue for a writer. It’s worked for me, at the very least.

  16. Is there any reason to have a periodical devoted to short fiction any more, when short fiction is so much more accessible on the web?

    Don’t get me wrong… I love the tradition of Asimov’s and Analog and F&SF. But — honestly — they’re offering stories about the future while they’re living in the past. It’s like sticking to the ’50s version of “Tomorrow Land” when — like, dude! — tomorrow was yesterday.

  17. Great post, John, because the salient point is that they don’t seem to be making any changes, the Big Three. Back in the early 1990s, I published two stories in Asimov’s. I don’t think it had any real effect on my career one way or the other. At the time, I thought the way you got ahead was battering your head against the brick wall of those publications until you got in. Now I’m not so sure. I wasted a lot of months and years trying to get into F&SF, for example, which at one point rejected every story I wrote, including an eventual World Fantasy Award winner and several other things that got me huge amounts of praise and attention when published elsewhere. So I’ve had to define my self-worth as a writer as separate from the traditional career path of getting published in those mags, really.

    Also, I’ve always thought if F&SF is supposed to be read by teenagers that it should *look* like something one of today’s teens would want to pick up. I don’t think print publications are at all dead, but a lot of them don’t have a clue what the next generation is into.

    One interesting experiment is beginning at a mag not mentioned, Weird Tales. The new design is still in progress and a new editorial direction as of November, and their numbers are steadily rising. And they plan on including comics, more nonfiction, and having a more kinetic layout over time.

    Even things like SF Age were too conservative-looking to survive. A genre publication these days should *look* like a music mag and have a diverse content beyond the fiction itself, if it wants to appeal to a wider audience.


  18. In the past ten years I have written a total of 2 short works, in both cases because someone asked me to. No guarantee that they would have accepted them, but they did, and I’m glad I wrote them. Before that, I had a couple of rejections from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Mag and Ellery Queen MM in the mid 90s. That’s my short works history.

    My problem with short works is two-fold. 1) I don’t think short. I start what I think will be a ten or fifteen page thingie and the next thing I know, I’ve added too many characters and built up backstory and oh hell, we’re up to 100 manuscript pages and counting. 2) because short isn’t natural for me, it takes me longer to write short than to write long. I can spend one-two months paring down and shaping a short work, and unless I sell to Baen’s Universe every month, it just isn’t cost-effective.

    That being said, the story I did sell to Baen’s…it was a Jani story that I hoped would pull readers to the books. Based on the numbers, that didn’t happen–I think I’ve drawn more folks to my work via blogging and general hanging about online. That kinda put the brakes on any desire I had to develop as a short story writer. Maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it, but I only have so many hours in a day, and I prefer novels.

  19. Rachel asked:

    >it was asserted to me that Realms of Fantasy has a higher circulation than any of the other print mags. Anyone know if this is true?

    well, I don’t know the exact data, but I was told it has a subscriber base of about 2000 or so. The ROF people would know, of course.
    Actually, one of the most informed people to ask about this would be Sean Wallace, from Prime. He seems to know a lot about all the circulation figures and whatnot.
    I know Clarkesworld gets a few thousand hits in a month, and it bears thinking that they are only in their first year of publication.
    It’s very possible that they are already getting, or will soon get, more readers than almost any SF magazine out there.


    I’m going to differ with you a bit, re: cultivating new writers. Now, in fairness, F&SF at least that I know of do publish debut authors. But cultivate them? Am not so sure.
    Cat Rambo and Ruth Nestvold are both writers who’ve impressed me, and that’s from reading them outside the pages of the Big Three.
    Cat, IMO, has already proven herself as a quality writer of short fiction. So, there’s almost more a case to be made that she finally got “big” enough for Asimovs.
    Sure, they will provide her with an opportunity to reach more readers, but..does she honestly need them? I don’t think she, or any other writer, truly does.
    Which is kind of the point. They’re coveted zines, and the most prominently known because they have history backing them, more than anything else.

    But SF short fiction will survive just fine without them. There’s a hell of a lot more than just Strange Horizons and Interzone out there, providing decent venues for writers and readers both.

    So, no, I don’t think they’re necessary for the survival of SF short fic.
    Or SF fiction as a whole for that matter.
    Would be nice if they did, but then they will have to put some thoughts into revamping their mags, from packaging to distribution, etc.
    one last thought, specific to the fiction they publish – I’m mostly ok with it, although I’ve noticed there’s almost like a stable of authors who publish via Asimovs, Analog and F&SF, with some limited cross-over to Interzone and JBU.
    A lot of those writers, I don’t see in the other short venues. And consistent names from all the other venues seldomly pop up in these ones.
    So, yeah, I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing, and maybe it really is indicative of two distinct groups occupying the same space.

  20. I used to subscribe to all three of them at different periods. I was a long term subscriber of F&SF, but I felt their content when downhill after they lost Kathryn Rush as editor. Van Gelder wrote an editorial in which he said the science column had lost relevance. He didn’t make any friends with that editorial.

  21. One small nit to pick: Adding up the subscriptions does not give you the number of readers, it gives you the number of subscriptions. So the actual combined readership is definitely lower — probably quite a bit lower.

  22. On the other hand, the number of readers can be assumed to be larger than the number of subscriptions: our household gets two readers per subscription, for example. There’s a reason why magazines multiply their circulation numbers by three to arrive at their (estimated) readership — they’re not totally off-base.

    Not that it matters much, but so long as we’re picking nits.

  23. Eric:

    Well, if you’re going to be picky about it, you need to factor in the idea that each magazine is likely read by more than one person; we have one subscription for each magazine we get in the Scalzi household, for example, but both I and my wife read the magazines. When I was in newspapers, they estimated that the actual readership was about three times the paid circulation.

    When you combine the idea of one person with multiple subscriptions with the idea of more than one person reading each magazine, I think in the end you more or less balance out the numbers.


    I think you’re entirely accurate the the aesthetics of the “Big Three” are tragically outdated; save for the trim sizes here and there, they look pretty much exactly as they have for the last three decades, and that’s not a good thing. It’s not enticing to have your hit of the future come from something that looks like it came from a time capsule.

  24. Just a few fandom comments from the shark tank —

    * Part of the problem with the Campbell progression is that the 1940s-1960s mythology that “one breaks in to SF in short works, and then after one has a reasonable list of published works maybe the book publishers will pay attention” is no longer true. Unfortunately, just like everything else in publishing, it hasn’t been long enough for that mythology to graduate to the status of the Greek gods: An interesting set of fictions that we sneer at with our vastly greater knowledge today.

    * It’s no longer financially viable for writers to focus on short fiction, whether in speculative fiction or otherwise. The pay rates have fallen even farther behind inflation than have those for novels.

    * As editorial convention becomes more ossified through time (I’m referring at the moment to Analog, but this included Asimov’s by the late 1990s and F&SF at various stages of its existence), the editorial vision of the magazine also becomes ossified. That limits audiences by itself, and as the audiences die the very lack of diversity makes it harder for the same editorial vision to adapt to new market niches. That’s not to say that no new writers ever show up — only that the new writers need to conform to the existing editorial vision to have a ghost of a chance at acceptance. Really, now — can you see an urban fantasy short showing up in Analog any time soon?

    Unfortunately, it’s very much a chicken-and-egg situation: Does one create a long-term-viable periodical by adapting to an existing market niche, or does the market adapt to the existing long-term-viable periodical?

    * Finally, there’s a significant physical-quality issue, particularly for those of us (like our Gracious Host and me) who do not live in one of the top-four SMSAs. I stopped subscribing several years ago when the post office had mangled one too many issues/one too many issues had become unreadable when the newsprint-quality paper disintegrated in the midwestern winter while waiting in the mailbox. And that’s before getting to the poor readability of the designs, the poor quality control for binding and trimming, and so on. Of course, the opposite extreme — the fancified callouts used in RoF doesn’t make a much better impression on me, but at least it survived in one piece to make that impression (until I dropped that subscription for very different reasons).

    * Finally, I’d like to point out one thing about the “short fiction markets” that seems rather counterproductive. There’s a longstanding meme that the novella is the “perfect” length for a single-thread speculative fiction story — it’s long enough to work in the worldbuilding and give the characters some room, and short enough to read all at once. Why, then, do the “big three” magazines print so bloody few of them? If it’s the “perfect length,” then one would expect them to do so; and if it’s not the “perfect length,” why are so many of the most memorable less-than-book-length works in speculative fiction novellas? The usual excuse that I hear is that one novella takes up the room (and budget) for three shorter pieces, which in a literal sense is true. There’s an easy solution for this, though: Publish more often, perhaps with a guest editor assembling a special issue or three each year (if only to give the regular editors’ brains and eyeballs a break).

    * * *

    What all of the above point out, in various ways, is that the Big Three are victims of overspecialization in a special sense: They are all directly tied to the personal visions of their editors. In the 1960s, and even the 1970s, so were the book imprints that published speculative fiction. That’s not true now: David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden don’t acquire the same types of works for Tor. I don’t have to reject all Tor works if I don’t like Mr Hartwell’s vision of what “is” and what “isn’t” good science fiction; I can, instead, grab one of Mr Nielsen Hayden’s, without changing “brands.” On the other hand, if I don’t like Stan Schmidt’s vision of what “is” and what “isn’t” good science fiction, I’m essentially stuck rejecting Analog.

  25. Its hard to compare visits with purchases.
    A visit could just be a stop to look at the cute animals while a sale means someone invested money in the process.

    I tend to look at the Big Three as cheap anthologies published monthly. I read them less since I switched to a cross trainer from a stairmaster/Bike combo at the gym.

    I noticed that you can still buy them in the corner store unlike SF paperbacks so they are still important in getting SF into those nooks and crannies of society not covered by the Internet.

    Of course that assumes kids today still read material bought in corner stores.

  26. I wonder how closely this can be tracked to the general decline of print media everywhere. It seems every other day I read a story about the falling numbers of newspaper readership, and while I don’t know about other domain specific magazines, I can’t imagine their readership is climbing, either.

    For instance, I love Make Magazine but I can’t imagine buying a subscription, because most of the information I would want from it is already on the internet, often in a less condensed format. It still has substantial value, but not enough (for me).

  27. Does anyone else see the subtle iron in Cory Doctorow finding this ‘saddening’ when every other media outlet (newspapers, Hollywood, the RIAA) is constantly urged to ‘find new business models if your old ones are failing’?

    I find it very odd that the slow death of SF print magazines is something to be bewailed, but everything else is just evolution and a side effect of ‘bits will never be “harder” to copy’.

  28. I subscribed to Asimov’s last year, but I won’t be renewing.

    If I want short stories, I buy one of those massive annual compilations. All the stories, none of the filler or fusty articles.

    If I want to encounter new/to me writers, I find them online. At least the last five new writers I added to my reading list, I first encountered online (John included).

    This AskMetafilter thread alone provides at least a year’s worth of reading.

  29. Dave,
    I think it shows a respect for a venerable tradition. I think it also shows that he’s trying to help them do just that, find new business models instead of casting them aside on our headlong rush into the embrace of the coming Singularity.

  30. @ John Cooke, 34, well, sure, it’s a venerable tradition. But then so are record companies, in some people’s books. And Hollywood studios. This just happens to be a tradition that Cory is invested in. He’s had stories published by magazines and even written a book on how to do it. I like Cory and his work, but I find it a mite hypocritical that the strident tones in which he tells other industries to ‘evolve or die’ don’t seem to apply to his own.

  31. I’d probably read the Big Three more often if the covers didn’t make people in airports give me funny looks and hustle their children by. (“Don’t look at the weird woman with the bug-eyed alien magazine, Timmy.”)

    There’s something wrong when a twenty-something female gets fewer weird looks when reading “Armchair General” or “Bow Hunter” than when she reads an SF mag. And yes, those are actual examples.

  32. David–

    I don’t think I said anything about the big three “cultivating” newer writers.

    In fact, I said the opposite. And then mentioned some exceptions, in a spirit of fairness.

  33. … they estimated that the actual readership was about three times the paid circulation.

    I’ve always been suspicious of that idea (multi-reader spillover in print newspapers is usually limited to very specific sections and stories, and I think it’s really dubious to generalize it to the entire paper the way newsie marketing people like to imply), but in any case I doubt it holds for digest-format fiction mags. I think the max multiple is liable to be x2 — and I doubt it’s that high. Just based on a non-scientific non-random sampling of People I Know, I’m guessing the subscription overlap could be around 30%. If that’s true, they you’ve got me; I doubt the remainder-readership is that high, though, and where it happens I’ll wager it’s mostly specific stories.

    Now, if you start to factor in web readership, things might be different. I’d wager that Asimovs in particular jacks up their web readership considerably by posting full text of stories from award nominees. But Asimovs, Analog and F&SF are all kind of piss-poor in leveraging increases in web traffic, and we probably don’t need to derail into specifics on that. And anyway, a deficit in web-cluefulness is arguably part of the point.

  34. Dave et al —

    It’s OK to be sad to see the print SF mags going south, even if you believe (as I do) that it’s pointless to try to save them — that they need to evolve, or die.

    In any case, Cory doesn’t seem to me to be arguing that they shouldn’t adapt (“evolve”). Quite the reverse: He’s arguing that they must adapt, and tossing out ideas about how they can do it.

    In fact, I think both Cory and John are right: If Stan Schmidt, Sheila Williams and Gordon van Gelder want their magazines to be relevant, they have to change the way their magazines work on the web; and they’re also probably not all that relevant anymore, and don’t seem to show any serious intention to do anything about that fact.

  35. I am not a huge fan of the short story — I’m much more likely to read a novel than an anthology, although single-author collections hold more interest. Steven King’s early collection Skeleton Crew is probably some of his best, tightest work, for instance.

    However, I am not sure what would happen to some of this medium’s short story specialists: folks such as Harlan Ellison and Paul di Filippo, who seldom write novels. Now, both of them have established readerships, and could probably survive off of ad-based pages that either generate ad income for them directly, or a site that pays them and earns its own money. (I’m not sure Mr. Ellison would permit his works online in such a fashion, but I’d love to see his rant on the subject in any case — bound to be as entertaining as some of his fiction).

    MAKE magazine, mentioned above, does what it calls “PDFCasts” — subscribable articles that will arrive in your inbox. I would certainly consider subscribing to a weekly magazine that downloaded to my PDA, perhaps even pay for them, to be read on airplanes and other medium-wait periods such as waiting to be served in a restaurant when dining alone, waiting in the car to pick up the kids, etc. — times when I wouldn’t want to haul around a digest-sized or mass-market PB-sized bundle of dead tree.

    (Hmm… anyone remember Baen’s experiment at a MMPB-sized magaine called Destinies?)

  36. I wish that Analog had a website that was less than two or three months behind the magazine, or had web-only features (something like the authors’ thoughts on what they were writing, or short interviews, or more poetry and humor: something besides what’s in print). I’ve been reading it since forever – well, before Dune came out as two serials – so I know it does change, even if the rate of change is geological. But I also read new authors that I find from places like ‘Making Light’ and Locus, and I’d bet a lot of the other subscribers do too.

    (What I hate are the English-lit-major type of SF stories that they print every so often: all the tropes are there, but nothing works; or they have all of the words but none of the music.)

  37. Eric @ 39, fair point, I just think it’s a stark contrast to his normal, fairly bullish stance on the evolution of media.

    Anyhoo, thanks again for the article John, I’ve discovered Strange Horizons through it and used Plucker to download the last five issues to my phone for the train-ride home. Now there’s a model that works.

  38. I’m only a single data point, but I feel like Gardner cultivated my career. He bought my first story and four more after that. Without those stories I might never have attracted David Hartwell’s interest and sold him RADIO FREEFALL.

    I’ve never sold a story to an online magazine because aside from the newly minted JBU none of them have an interest in hard SF. (I also never sold to Analog, but not for lack of interest or appropriate content.) Asimov’s has always picked up new writers, and I know of a few novelists who have gotten their start there. Jim Van Pelt, Paul Melko, Jack Skillingstead (I don’t think Jack has sold his book yet, but it should be any day now, based on the quality of his short stuff.)

    So I would say that the Big Three do cultivate new talent. But not most of the new talent.

  39. This discussion has prompted me to get A Round Tuit… I used to pick up my copies of the big three at a magazine shop that carried an amazingly vast selection of publications. The magazine shop lost its llease and closed and, although I did get myself a subscription to Analog, subscribing to the others was something I was going to get around to… sooner or later…

    It is almost impossible to find them for retail sale. I am not surprised that newstand sales are so low; after all, you can’t buy what you can’t find.

    I must confess that I still regret the passing of If magazine (not to mention Amazing and Fantastic and Galaxy).

  40. Also, this just hit me: using the Campbell award winners as a measure of new talent skews the argument. It’s hard to win a Campbell on the strength of short stories. You have to have a book to reach the number of voting fans you need to gather in the … dozens of votes needed for win the tiara. And with the two years eligability rule, it’s hard to have short stories and a book within the time limit.

    At least that’s my excuse for not winning the Campbell, or indeed even getting nominated. Damn book writers.

  41. 14: I wonder what fraction of the editors running the various SF lines for the book publishers follow the magazines.

    If most of the gatekeepers for book-length fiction read and are influenced by the magazines, then a short story or two mightstill be a reasonable way to catch the eye of a potential publisher (I’m sure there’s a more elegant way to say that). Not the only way, of course.

  42. If I walk into pretty much any of the major bookstores where I live (LA suburb) I might find a copy of F&SF. I have not seen copies of Asimovs, Analog, RoF, Weird Tales for a while (and I almost always look, out of morbid curiousity). That doesn’t help the matter. If teenagers or even adults my age can’t browse the magazines for free and see if there’s anything interesting in them, they’re not going to take out a paid subscription in them. Better to bet on online ‘zines like Escape Pod and Clarkesworld and all the others that have been listed.

  43. Matt Jarpe:

    “It’s hard to win a Campbell on the strength of short stories.”

    I’m not entirely convinced of that. Cory Doctorow did it in 2000, Jay Lake did it in 2004, and I suspect that Elizabeth Bear’s win was a half-and-half (short stories and her first novel, Hammered, being released at the end of 2004). So that’s three of the last eight. And Lawrence Schoen, who was nominated for the Campbell this last year, managed it on short stories alone. It’s still possible.

  44. I’ve done very well with the online magazines. I’m certainly no household name (far from it), but being published three times by Helix has given my career quite a boost. Sure, I’d still love to be published by any of the Big Three, but it gives me pause when a story they’ve all rejected makes a big splash when I get it published elsewhere.

  45. 45: The Campbells used to be dominated by authors whose output was mostly short fiction. When JEP won in 1973, his only SF novel was the fairly dire A Spaceship For the King, which didn’t even have an ending. If I suffered from a compulsion to make sweeping statements based on very little evidence (and all indications are that I do), I’d put the decline of the short as the determining factor in the Campbells somewhere around 1984.

  46. Free will certainly get you more readers than pay, you would suspect.

    If Scalzi, Bear and Vandermeer started charging $5 a month or $40 a year or whatever to log in and read their websites I would think they would be knocking some zeros off the reader numbers in their logs. :)

    Baen’s electronic setup is clearly superior in that they have it on the web so someone can read one at lunchtime at work, or in the evening visiting grandma after dinner, as well as having standard format html/rtf downloads as well as the more esoteric.

    At least Asimov’s et. al. have electronic versions, as do some others, unlike Interzone, Weird Tales, and Realms of Fantasy, none of which I ever saw in a shop.

  47. Blue Tyson:

    “If Scalzi, Bear and Vandermeer started charging $5 a month or $40 a year or whatever to log in and read their websites I would think they would be knocking some zeros off the reader numbers in their logs. :)”

    This is very true. But remember, “free to the reader” doesn’t necessarily mean “unpaid to the writer.” Certainly in my case if I wanted to install ads on Whatever, I could make a tidy sum indeed. I prefer not to, mind you, but I could. And certainly there are ads on Boing Boing, Engadget, et al, which are free for anyone to read.

  48. What do you think the outcome would be if the Big Three added an e-published line, at a suitably discounted price? I’d imagine that there’d be a significant increase in sales, though there are other complications inherent in such a step.

  49. David Goodman is mischaracterizing Cory Doctorow in several different ways, all tendentious, out of what looks like nothing more than personal determination to convict Doctorow of some kind of hypocrisy.

    First, as other people have pointed out, Doctorow wasn’t pointlessly bewailing the fact that the magazines’ survival is threatened by social and technological change; he was suggesting a bunch of plausible remedies.

    Second, what Goodman characterizes as Doctorow’s “normal, fairly bullish stance on the evolution of media” is a pretty simpleminded stereotype. Cory Doctorow is, in personality, an enthusiast and a neophile, but you don’t need to read very much of his fiction at all to notice that he’s no Pollyanna. In Doctorow’s world, people come to grief in their encounters with wrenching change at least as often as they find happiness.

    On the copyright and business-model controversies for which Doctorow is known as an activist, his message isn’t “everything should be free, tra la la,” it’s “Look, we have to face up to the fact that information is never going to get _harder_ to copy.” Exactly how this makes Doctorow’s analysis of contemporary SF magazine publishing “hypocritical” is hard to understand. Perhaps David Goodman doesn’t grasp that hypocrisy is actually a pretty serious charge to level against anyone, and that it’s not an accusation that should be trotted out casually or with (as seems to be the case) absolutely no serious thought.

  50. I’ve regularly purchased or subscribed to 2 SF mags in my life: OMNI and F&SF. OMNI I adored until it ran off the rails and I got too busy/poor at university. Even after 25 years, I can still remember quite a chunk of the stories, images and columns from OMNI. Growing up in rural Australia, OMNI was the face of the future for me.

    F&SF never really had enough fiction content that I liked – I can only recall Baird Searles’ reviews and Gahan Wilson’s cartoons. It felt a bit too much like Reader’s Digest without increasing my wordpower or giving me laughter as medicine.

    Now I tend to pay more attention to blogs and small press (btw Jay Lake : I just finished Trial of Flowers – so much beautiful writing there! You’re now on my buy automatically list.)

  51. John,

    Absolutely you could. I was meaning it more in the comparison to the circulation numbers.

    So, if Asimov’s for example threw all their per issue open to everyone, in similar fashion any thoughts on what sort of traffic they would get?

    As an aside – and not open to everyone, but it appears that F&SF is available via EBSCO database, going back to 1994. The local library has access. Sky hasn’t fallen any differently for them because of this, it would seem.

  52. The question of relevance of the Big Three motivated me to look through the credits for the most recent (24th annual) of Dozois’ Year’s Best SF.

    Of the 28 stories in the collection, only 9 came from the BT (actually, the Big Two): 7 from Asimov’s, 2 from FSF, and 0 from Analog. (I don’t think the latter is particularly unusual: having grabbed at random the 12th annual off the shelf, where almost everything is from print mags, plus a couple from original anthologies, there was only a single story from Analog. It’s clear that stories from Analog are simply not, in general, to Dozois’ taste. Also, he still has a fondness for stories from the magazine he used to edit. That’s not intended as criticism.) In addition, there was one story from Interzone and one from Albedo One (which I think is classed as a “semiprozine).

    Of the remaining stories, two were published as stand-alone chapbooks and three were originals to single-author collections. Five first appeared in original anthologies (two of which were from the SF Book Club, now presumably gone forever).

    The remaining seven all first appeared online, 3 in Jim Baen’s Universe, 2 in Strange Horizons, 1 from Aeon Seven, and 1 (by Cory Doctorow) in the wonderfully-named “Flurb 1”.

    So from this snapshot, which does of course reflect only a single editor’s taste (an editor, obviously, for whom I have a lot of respect), online publication would seem to be already rivaling the BT in terms of quality. (I’ve made no attempt to estimate or correct for the relative numbers of stories published online versus print; I’ll leave that to someone with a lot more time to kill). In fact, you could argue that Baen’s Universe and SH could legitimately be considered the Big Two of online publication.

    I also note that ten of these stories appeared in venues (original anthologies, single-author collections, or chapbooks) that are pretty much closed to new writers.

  53. Analog and Asimovs aren’t available at the two Minneapolis specialty sf bookstores. A few years ago, the distributor stopped carrying them. Neither Uncle Hugo’s nor Dreamhaven thought it worthwhile to make other arrangements for getting them.

    They were available at Barnes & Noble, but don’t seem to be any longer. They were also still available at Shinders News; but the owner of that chain preferred to spend money on guns and drugs rather than paying suppliers, and it closed down.

  54. Patrick @ 55:

    Apologies, you’re right, hypocrisy is a stronger word than I intended – that’s what I get for dashing off a comment on my lunchbreak.

    I maintain though that I find the difference between Cory’s usual tone when writing or speaking on these issues and his tone here to be quite striking. That’s his right absolutely, but maybe he would not be quite so critical of other industries efforts in the same decline of previous business models if he had a stake in them as much as he does in short and long form speculative fiction.

    Anyway, it’s a tough issue, and the reward and encouragement of creative endeavour in any industry is bound to spark passionate discourse.

    For myself, I think the demise of the Big 3 is not inevitable. The themes and imagery of SF have never been more relevant or more widely consumed, and short fiction has the potential to be a part of that, outside of a tiny maximum readership of, say, a hundred thousand people (I’m thinking double the subscriber base max, if you don’t factor in the people who subscribe to more than one SF magazine). The Big 3, by adapting, updating the way they market themselves and exploring digital distribution models that don’t a) assume customers are thieves and b) assume any copying is a ‘lost’ sale, could make themselves relevant again.

  55. John,

    Great post and discussion. All I can offer after reading the above is an echo your experience (though mine, sadly, didn’t involve the name “Campbell” in any way, shape, or form). I also bypassed the “Big Three” — though I submitted a short to Weird Tales early on out of nostalgia.

    And got rejected. But it was a helpful rejection full of advice.

    I don’t do much short fiction, because the mental effort to come up with a decent short isn’t that much different from a novel (of course a novel takes much longer to write). If I’m going to exhaust myself, I want to do it for a check that’ll allow me to pay a few bills.

    This is more of a facts-of-life observation, not a suggestion that magazines that are struggling up their per-word rates.


  56. I’m a long-term subscriber to all three of the Bigs. I find that I always read Asimov’s cover-to-cover, though not the moment it comes in. I read F&SF in big chunks (taking a stack of back issues on a business trip, for example, to read in the evening or on the plane), and alas, I hardly ever read Analog beyond one or two marquee names.

  57. Eric,
    I was just about to suggest we balance this discussion by using the Compton Crook award as a better judge of new novelists because you can write short stories for years and then write a novel and still win the Crook. The idea being that if the majority of Compton Crook winners didn’t start in the Big Three, I’d believe the BT have lost much of their relevance. But I didn’t have time to figure out the answer. Thanks for providing another data point. (We already know Wen Spencer and Naomi Novik didn’t start in the Big Three either.) Looks like John’s argument is holding up to scruitiny.

  58. I haven’t read Asimov’s in a long time (blame US international postal rates) but I’ve grown a bit weary of Analog and F&SF after only a few issues. They seem, dunno, a bit too homogeneous to my taste. F&SF surprised me at first, but they’re not edgier than, say, Strange Horizons and SH manages to be edgy in different ways. I value that.
    Obviously, I’d still love to be published in the big three and look forward to picking up a copy of Asimov. I have a friend who just went to the States and I asked him to bring an issue back.
    By ignoring the Internet, the BT are also snubbing all us foreign readers and writers. I’m not sure Anglo-centrism is paying off: Greece has a population of only 11million, yet the Greek SF and Comic Mag Ennea, which publishes weekly, claims a readership of 200.000. (Notice “readers” not sales, I assume sales are significantly lower, but still, the calculations were made by an independent organization). (And yes, I’ve published here, so I’m partial)

    I don’t think the BT are pandering to the (growing) foreign market. Compilations of Asimov’s get translated into Spanish but they are not very wildly distributed. I can’t speak for Greek translations of Asimov’s.
    Either way, it’s not enough to translate stories for a foreign market, you have to publish stories that non-Americans will want to read. Sometimes I pick up a story that is set in 2300 but that is permeated with the same old American values. That’s fine–once. After a while, you start wondering if people have forgotten that SF is about imagination. Mind you, I have nothing against American values or American writing, but I strongly suspect that the writer never noticed that his/her stories were so culturally-specific. It’s a suspense of disbelief issue for me: I simply refuse to assume that the same thing that goes today will be standard 4, 5, 10 centuries from now.
    Ok, rant over.

  59. Apologies aforehand for wandering a bit here…

    I think everyone has their own tastes and reading habits. If I buy an SF novel, given the time and money expended, it better be a rip-roaring entertainment. (grin) On the other hand, when I buy an SF magazine, I know that what I am buying is going to contain a variety of stories — I don’t expect more than one or two an issue will have “it”, whatever “it” is that I am looking for. When I get more than two good stories (for me) in an issue, then I get excited, because it’s like finding extra Christmas presents under the tree. (and Simon Haynes is being modest in #7 — Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine out of Australia is currently giving me a big bang for my bucks, in terms of number of good stories per issue)

    Take F&SF, for example. It does Fantasy and it does Science Fiction. But generally not the kind of hard scientific or military SF that I read/write. And Fantasy covers a w-i-d-e range of stuff, some of which I greatly enjoy and some, not so much. So I’m happy if I like two stories an issue.

    Now, as an aspiring SF writer, I am sending out to both dead tree and tortured electron media. Me — and a whole lot of other people in the slush. Like others above, I am not normally a short story writer, but in writing for short story markets I am learning a lot about writing and a lot about what I like to write — and how to make the two work together. Even if I never sell to a Big Three either in print or online, I am much more able to start writing a decent novel than I was five years ago. So I’m getting value in what I do.

    Now — I’ve read elsewhere that there are markets where the primary numbers of sales are to those new writers who are trying to figure out how to game/scam/tailor their work to get accepted. If that’s an ultimate truth, then I suspect the declines in print are going to continue, because the readers-for-enjoyment have moved on to other venues.

    Anthologies can have a higher batting average for me, because they’re edited differently. Carr’s very first The Best SF of the Year is still a standout in my life, because when it was brand new back in the 70s, it showed me what short SF could actually be. But you can’t just cherry pick the best to showcase in the anthologies without having something to pick from.

    At times it seems I’m trying to break into a dead-and-dying arena, there are so many articles about “the death of…”, and yet I do see my students reading — and they’re reading interesting stuff — so there IS another generation of readers coming.

    Sometimes I think that there are so many years of books and magazine available out there, and I know so many people who go nuts and buy stacks of used books and magazines here and there, that I wonder how much of the “decline” of fantasy & science fiction sales has more to do with the percentages sold new, in a world where new books cost more and more, and the postal service is more interested in cultivating junk mailers than subscription sales.


    Dr. Phil

  60. I’m in my late forties. When I discovered SF and F as a kid I read it all. Sure I particularly liked certain sorts of books but there weren’t that many books available and I read fast so I had to read whatever I could get my hands on that looked like it might be vaguely Asimov-like or Tolkien-like. There was no holding out for works that were more cutting edge and no rejecting books because they were too cutting edge, lol: I read it all. And I still am very willing to read outside of the sub-genres I know to be my favorites because I am used to doing so. It’s what I grew up doing.

    But readers younger than me are used to being able to find plenty of stories that fit in their particular sub-genre preference. If you like high fantasy you don’t need to read a military SF book . . .the shelves are FULL of high fantasy. So while some younger readers certainly still read across the full spectrum of the genre, many more are now niche readers. I see this at cons a lot: people who only go to panels about alternate history books, or who only like war novels set in space or who really only participate in discussions where they can talk about one particular sub-genre, whatever that might be. And many of these younger readers apparently never venture out of their reading comfort zone.

    That more people are now reading within narrower sub-genres bodes ill for the big three SFF magazines, I think. Each reader expects the magazine to publish stories that are “just right,” that are a fit for that individual reader, which is of course not possible when you are publishing for a broad audience. In a world where you can make your own MP3 playlist or digital radio station,and where you can digitally record TV shows and play them back whenever you want to, there will likely be fewer and fewer readers who are going to pay to read SFF stories in a a magazine that strives to have a broad appeal by publishing stories that don’t fit into one sub-genre.

  61. There is a flavour of SF you often only find in the big three because it just not valued enough to be published in book form.

    I am thinking of R Garcia y Robinson’s series of SF stories that have never appeared anywhere in book form as an example.

  62. I guess my experience is exactly the opposite of most of the other writers who have posted. I tried for years to sell novels, and failed miserably at it.

    Then I started writing short stories for F&SF and Asimovs. Those two magazines have made a huge difference for me. Mostly my stories are about environmental or social issues that make people feel less comfortable and happy inside their skins, stories that will (hopefully) worry them deeply. Novel length versions of my stories would normally be dismissed specifically because they make readers uncomfortable — so going straight to novels was probably never really an option for me.

    F&SF and Asimovs have not only given me a venue to work, they’ve also given me a surprising legitimacy. Thanks to being published in their pages, I’ve been nominated for the Hugo three times, the Nebula once, and won the Theodore Sturgeon Award. And now, finally, it looks like I’m going to be able to sell a novel thanks to that sheen of credibility.

    I’m not saying that the “big three” couldn’t be more aggressive about growing their circulation. But at least from my perspective, they aren’t entirely irrelevant.

  63. There have been all-original anthologies for a long time, since at least as long ago as the six volumes of Star Science Fiction Stories, a great series edited by Pohl in the early and mid-1950s. But the ones I see today tend to center on themes; I’ve tried a few and don’t like them. I prefer a well-chosen but diverse group of originals (for example, I have one here from 1974 – Universe 4, edited by Terry Carr – that features two really fine novellas, “Assault on a City” by Vance and “If the Stars Are Gods” by Eklund and Benford, that nicely complement each other). But someone with a proven record of judgment would have to vet the stories; you don’t want Joe Blow as a series editor, or Roger Elwood for that matter.

  64. I was interviewing the editor of Hub magazine ( and he was telling me that since they stopped being a print ‘zine, he’s seen their readership jump from 1,000 to 5,000 in the course of six months! Of course, it helps that they’re free to read, but for a weekly electronic magazine to achieve that shows that there is still interest in the short form. People just want something that’s easy to digest. Nearly 1/3 of Hub’s downloads are for the PDA editions, which seems to support that.

  65. I’m glad Cory Doctorow spoke out about trying to save print SF magazines.

    I grew up reading print magazines, and I still have a soft spot for them (especially Galaxy). If nothing else, Doctorow puts the always-needed spotlight on how SF publishing has sometimes failed to adapt to technological change.

    I gave up on printed submissions years ago. It seemed a pointless and archaic system and a waste of trees. It’s understandable that editors fear a deluge of electronically submitted junk… but is it better to retreat into one’s own technological ghetto and perish there? (“I stand by my 8-track tapes until the bitter end!” ;-))

    Some have mentioned here that today’s readers have much more choice, and therefore are pickier. True!

    To some extent today’s “Big Three” mags are short-fiction anthologies, and thus face the problem of trying to please everybody and never quite succeeding.

    Is there a way for the old SF print mags to break out of the “anthology” paradigm and become more specialized…?

  66. I only have two comments:

    1) I have stacks of Asimov’s and FS$F – and have yet to read more than a couple of stories – in the stack of them. In fact, I have passed up free issues, because I knew I would never read them.

    2) One of the reasons I love to come to Whatever is the number of professionals who comment here – it is very cool to have a conduit where conversation is possible with all of you very interesting folk and learn things about the industry I’d never have known without it.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

  67. Mayve we need to stop thinking of these in terms of the “Big Three”. Does anyone know what the readership of “Strange Horizons” is; or Ideomancer?

    I’m reliably told that EscapePod (podcasting SF stories rather than print – but while the media is only slightly different, it’s still genre) is getting 150,000 individual hits per month. And Hub, if Warren Ellis’s figures of 2,000 – 3,000 for Interzone are to be believed, is less than one year old and has a wider readership. (Okay it’s 4,000 – 5,000 at the moment, but Hub is free and weekly and arrives in your e-mailbox without much effort on your part).

    I would hazard that the Big Three aren’t the Big Three anymore; and that Warren Ellis has been too busy looking at 3 have been doing, and what his mates are doing, to be wondering what everyone else in the field is up to.

  68. ——————————————————————————-
    I would hazard that the Big Three aren’t the Big Three anymore; and that Warren Ellis has been too busy looking at 3 have been doing, and what his mates are doing, to be wondering what everyone else in the field is up to.

    Interesting thought. They say RoF’s circulation is higher than that of any of the BT. I’d love to know what SH’s circulation is (harder to calculate, I know, since hits aren’t always made by real people). Maybe we need to redefine Big Three.

  69. “I would hazard that the Big Three aren’t the Big Three anymore;” sadly true…

    Alternate terms:
    -The Tiny 3
    -The Teensy-Weeny Trio
    -The Triple Trickle
    -The 3 Mini-Mags

    (Oh, just kidding ;-))

  70. ~ I think this is a job for SFWA!

    Yeah – ’cause this is a purely American issue. Go Team USA!

  71. The numbers for all of the big three magazines are available in the February issues of Locus every year, but I can pull them out from my files: Realms of Fantasy currently has 16,000 subscribers, which doesn’t make it top dog, as Analog has 23,000 subscribers. (It is, however, more than F&SF and Asimov’s). Realms of Fantasy, does, however, has higher newstand sales, nearly twice of any of its competitors.

    I largely suspect the large amount of advertising revenues provide RoF with another revenue generator that isn’t enjoyed by the three digests . . .

  72. John—

    Lots of interesting stuff here. I wish I had time to respond to much of it, but I’m in the pre-World Fantasy Con crush.

    Two points, though:

    1) I wonder if the fact that you’ve gotten 80 comments says anything about the relevance of the sf magazines.

    2) Using the Campbell Award as a barometer of relevance strikes me as being akin to using baseball’s Rookie of the Year Award to judge Major League Baseball. Some of the Campbell winners will turn out to be Derek Jeters or Albert Pujolses. Others will prove to be Pat Listaches. But how good a gauge of a MLB team’s relevance is the number of Rookies of the Year they’ve produced?

    —Gordon Van Gelder

  73. Oh, I forgot to mention in my last post that the last time F&SF conducted a reader survey, our average reader age (both mean and median) was 40. That was up slightly—six months, I think—from the previous reader survey, which had been conducted ten years earlier.

  74. Gordon:

    Regarding the first, I think that getting 80 comments at the very least reflects the desire readers have for the magazines to be relevant.

    Regarding the second, you ask: “But how good a gauge of a MLB team’s relevance is the number of Rookies of the Year they’ve produced?” Well, as it happens, the teams with the largest number of Rookies of the Year are the Dodgers in NL and the Yankees in the AL; I think historically speaking we can suggest they’ve been fairly relevant. The Yankees have the largest number of World Series titles, followed by the A’s, who incidentally are tied for #2 on the AL RoY list. On the NL side, the St. Louis Cardinals have won the most World Series and have the the second largest number of RoY in the NL; the Dodgers, who have the second highest number of World Series wins in the NL, is as noted the team with the most RoY in the NL.

    Teams who produce a large number of RoY show that they can pick and cultivate talent; it makes them attractive places to be and to be seen playing for. Applying this thinking to The Big Three, and putting it into a converse situation, if you can show that the Big Three are not generally spotting and cultivating the best new talent in SF/F — for which the Campbells, in the awards and nominations are a reasonable metric — then it very seriously calls into question their relevance in leading and shaping the field.

    While I was looking up the stats on the winners of the Campbell, I also looked at the nominees for the last three years to see how many had been published in any of the Big Three before being nominated (in either of their years of eligibility). In the last three years there were eight nominees, not including the winners; of those eight, three were published in the Big Three prior to their Campbell nominations.

    Bringing in the winners as well, the Big Three are 4 for 11 in publishing the writers in the last three Campbell classes, and only 1 in 3 in publishing the winners — and that, if I may be blunt, being something of a technicality (inasmuch as if I understand it F&SF published a poem, not a short story).

    This relative paucity could be indicative of a number of things:

    a) The “Big Three” are not publishing enough new talent, relying instead on established authors or newer authors who have proven their marketability by being successfully published elsewhere;

    b) The “Big Three” are publishing new talent but come Campbell nomination time that new talent is overlooked because the audience has shifted away from the magazines;

    c) The “Big Three” would publish new talent but the new talent isn’t bothering to submit because it sees the advantages as minimal as best;

    d) Any or all of the above.

    Or, alternately, none of these could apply and it’s just that the “Big Three” are on a bad streak as far as Campbell wins (and possibly nominations) are concerned. But if I were a Big Three editor, and the last Campbell winner to be significantly published in one of these magazine dates back to the last century (that’d be Cory Doctorow, in 2000), I might be a little concerned.

  75. I’ve tried the various Mags in the stands and I can say that in years of sampling them I’ve never been turned on to them. I’m not sure what their real set of qualifications for a story to be published are, but I know what my opinion is.

    1. Story must be unreadable, but someone with a college education and an above average IQ. Someone with at least 3 or 4 Doctorates is around our target audience. Be sure to use languge that is as abstract is as possible.
    2. Story must never get to the point within the first 20 paragraphs.
    3. Story must pander to a very specific audience that exists only within the magazine editors head.
    4. Sentence construction must by such that subject, predicate and verb can only be found by re-reading 3-4 times and usually only by association with a previous paragraph.
    5. Actual character action must be kept to an absolute minimum, and should only be approched as a concept of action discussed over the course of an entire page. Action must never be stated out right.
    6. Speech is not a normal human (or alien) activity, stories must feature an absolute minimum of character interaction via conversation.

    Oh hell…the truth of the matter is I pretty much hate short fiction anyway. There isn’t enough room to actually develop a plot or any real character depth.

  76. Hi, John. It’s tough these days to say where publishing would make one relevant. The field is so balkanized that it has no center. The big three have lost some clout, not just because they have lost circulation but because there are so many other places to get a SF fix.

    Still, as a short story writer, I have a list of places I would like to appear, with what I consider the most important at the top of the list. All the venues aren’t equal, and an appearance in one of the big three still carries impact.

  77. Some thoughts on why I don’t pick up these mags:

    1. Ugly and dated. Every single one of them has a cover design concept that would not look out of place thirty years ago–if not longer. There is absolutely nothing about these covers that would intrigue the casual browser in a bookstore. Reader’s Digest looks sexier.
    2. Stop publishing stories from famous names unless they are, in fact, good. Before I finally stopped picking up the mags, I skipped any story by a famous name–especially if the person in question made his or her mark twenty years ago. They almost always read like publishing favors.
    3. Skip the nostalgia pieces. If your average reader is 40, he or she probably first picked up the mag at 15—in 1982. They have no recollection of someone who was big in the 70s, never mind the 40s. It’s just in-genre navel gazing. New readers don’t care. Probably most regular readers don’t care.
    4. Material quality. There’s a reason comic books aren’t printed on crappy newsprint anymore: even kids don’t like poor materials. I know it’s a catch-22 economic factor, but that’s where examining a business model comes in.
    5. Back issues: prove your publishing good stuff. Get some second serial e-rights for your website. Other than getting a single-author collection or the remote chance (and limited timeframe) of getting into a “year’s best” collection, are authors that resistant to letting the mags reprise two or three year old stories that will never see the light of day otherwise?
    6. If your website is amateurish and nothing more than an advertisement for the mag, with no real content or so little content it’s not worth the energy of clicking the mouse, rethink the promotional possibilities. If you can’t produce a website interesting enough for a reader to look at in the lazy comfort of their own home, why would you expect them to get off the couch to go pick up the mag in a bookstore?

  78. —————————————————————
    1. Haplo peart Says:
    October 24th, 2007 at 12:18 pm
    I’ve tried the various Mags in the stands and I can say that in years of sampling them I’ve never been turned on to them. I’m not sure what their real set of qualifications for a story to be published are, but I know what my opinion is.
    1. Story must be unreadable, but someone with a college education and an above average IQ. Someone with at least 3 or 4 Doctorates is around our target audience. Be sure to use languge that is as abstract is as possible.
    2. Story must never get to the point within the first 20 paragraphs.
    3. Story must pander to a very specific audience that exists only within the magazine editors head.
    4. Sentence construction must by such that subject, predicate and verb can only be found by re-reading 3-4 times and usually only by association with a previous paragraph.
    5. Actual character action must be kept to an absolute minimum, and should only be approched as a concept of action discussed over the course of an entire page. Action must never be stated out right.
    6. Speech is not a normal human (or alien) activity, stories must feature an absolute minimum of character interaction via conversation.
    Oh hell…the truth of the matter is I pretty much hate short fiction anyway. There isn’t enough room to actually develop a plot or any real character depth.

    I think this is a bit priggish. The BT are not known for their experimental prose. The writing you can find there is pretty straightforward (barring a few SF&F stories) and nothing a bright twelve-year old can’t manage. If you object to the BT on the grounds of lack of action, plot advancement etc, you’re probably not going to enjoy anything outside Speculative fiction because every other kind of writing is more literary than this. (Haven’t read much romance, but been told they have descriptions that are pages long and don’t advance plot :) ). Not to speak of literary fiction….

    Mark’s points seem more on the mark. The websites do look a little dated, as do the covers (even the internal layout of the mags). That said, I still think these mags are probably the top, as far as being published in them is concerned. I’ll continue to read them and try to get published in them. I wouldn’t be criticising if I didn’t think that they are the top of the field (or in the “top 5” maybe) and deserve to be as wildly read as possible.

  79. Someone asked about the readership numbers for Strange Horizons, so I’ll pop out of hiding to answer. Or, rather, to give our standard non-answer–we don’t, at this point, have any reliable indicator of our readership. I don’t think we’re even regularly doing statistical processing on our logs anymore–we have all of the information, and from time to time someone on staff gets curious and runs it through an httpdlog processing thinger, but it never yields much that’s useful. We have an impressive-sounding number of hits per day, but it’s hard to tell how many of those represent actual magazine readers, versus people who hit us once after a Google search and never come back. We know from some informal surveying of our readers (and the occasional more structured survey) that the visiting patterns of our regular readers are highly irregular–we post new content every Monday, and some people come every week, but a lot of them just check in once every couple of weeks and read several issues’ worth in a batch.

    If we ever moved towards getting advertising, we’d pay more attention to the straight hit-count numbers, and for purposes of grant applications we occasionally make cautious estimates of readership, but we just don’t have a readership number that we’re confident enough in to state publicly.

    (I’m absolutely thrilled to see people saying such nice things about us here, though!)

  80. David de Beer: “I know Clarkesworld gets a few thousand hits in a month, and it bears thinking that they are only in their first year of publication.”

    Clarkesworld typically has about 5000 unique visitors per month. As our back catalog has grown, so have pageviews per visit. This past September we had 9000 visitors. That’s our best month to date.

  81. I’m no expert on the mag business, but I’ve had it convincingly explained to me, by people who seem to know what they’re talking about, that the relevant factor in causing a decline in circulation among the digest mags is that they have been dropped by the distributors who supply drugstores and supermarkets, where the majority of magazine purchases are made. They were dropped because their sales numbers, even years ago when those numbers were much healthier, did not offer distributors as much return on investment as did higher-selling periodicals. The result is that circulation now depends mainly on subscriptions, with newsstand sales as a less important add-on, whereas the ratio back in the heyday of the Big Three was exactly the reverse.

    That specific cause is set against a background of a general decline in the reading of short fiction in the US since the sixties. For whatever reason, the public’s taste for short fiction has diminished, as demonstrated by the fact that even an author of Stephen King’s stature will sell far fewer copies of a short story collection than he will of a novel.

    As for me, I like being published in F&SF and Asimov’s, even if I’m not sure it’s doing anything to sell my novels. The idea of being between the same covers as Gene Wolfe or Peter S. Beagle, whom I read forty years ago, just tickles me puce.

  82. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I write short fiction only very, very rarely. In fact, pretty much my entire oeuvre of short fiction exists on my computer right now, and probably numbers less than thirty in number – and I’ve been writing for a VERY long time. I just… don’t really *think* short. I have a long imagination.

    Having said that, the issue under discussion.

    It’s partly what Bear said – the kind of stuff I write doesn’t appear to be the kind of stuff that the Big Three consider publishable.. . which is their prerogative, but –

    (a) I don’t DO “edgy” and “avantgarde” and “cutting edge” and whatever else you want to use to qualify it because my primary intent is to write a GOOD STORY. This does not mean that I write dated and aged and “passe” stuff – or at least I don’t think I do. But what I DO write tends to be stories which have far more of a “story” story than some of the stream-of-consciousness pieces I’ve seen being touted as the current big thing. If it’s done well, I enjoy edginess as much as the next person – but I think that the consensus in this thread, and this is borne out by the circulation numbers, seems to imply that the readership might want, um, less edge and more story, as it were. Just my two cents.

    (b) I don’t write pretty and fluffy and optimistic. In fact I’m pretty damned good at tragedy and dystopia – with perhaps just a GLIMPSE of hope – but I don’t, as a rule, do “happy endings” and “happily ever afters”, and for some reason many if not most markets disqualify me on this immediately. “We want happy stories”. “Weird Tales” sent me a rejection once with that spelled out in so many words – “this is too ‘dark’ for us”. Again, it’s the editor’s prerogative – but I am a born-again cyinc and a persistent pessimist – my husband calls me WCS which stands for Worst Case Scenario because I panic first, imagine the WCS, and deal with it afterwards (but THINK about it – because I can envision it first and pre-empt it, I am never unplleasantly surprised and I can often avert the worst….) But the real world doesn’t usually have stories that end with stars in people’s eyes and the glass slipper that fits and the exchange of rings on various tentacles in front of alien altars. There is a place for such stories, sure, as there is a place for everything – but the fact of the matter is that I write darker, and darker is relentlessly rejected by the big markets.

    Horses for courses. I’m a natural novelist, so I”ll continue to write few, very few, short stories. And probably not get them published. At least not in the Big Three.

  83. I’d have to agree that at this point in time, I think the big 3 still have a huge influence. Most of the up-and-coming writers I know still look to them as the pinnacle when it comes to selling short fiction, and Asimov’s and F&SF still get more than their fair share of Hugos and Nebulas. In terms of Year’s Best collections, is it possible that editors feel sheepish about choosing most of their stories from just a couple of magazines, and consciously strive to create more balance?

    That Strange Horizons and Baen’s are making big strides doesn’t necessarily make the big 3 less relevant–maybe their being discussed in the same league with the big 3 speaks to the success of these new venues, rather than the decline of the old ones?

  84. A couple of comments. First, just to say that I feel that GvG does encourage new writers. Though I only published one story in F&SF (it’s my only published story at all), Gordon did always feel supportive and always asked me for more submissions. Sadly I never wrote much, and don’t write at all now (though that doesn’t mean I won’t return to writing).

    As a reader, I’ve never been able to really get into short story zines. I always feel that I need to read all the stories, and if I don’t finish an issue, I don’t feel that I should start the next, and this quickly results in a stack of unread magazines.

    I’ve subscribed to quite a few fiction mags, though, currently to Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy and Baen’s Universe. Of these, I only really read the stories in Black Gate, because I know there’s a high chance I’ll like them.

    (And no, there’s not much of a point to this comment, it’s just a data point for you.)

  85. John—

    I think we’re talking at cross-purposes here. You’re defining “relevant” from a writer’s perspective: the magazines are relevant if they help a writer build a career and an audience.

    I’m defining “relevant” as having an impact on readers and on the overall field.

    Ultimately, relevance is always going to be in the eye of the beholder. But I’m going to be proactive and follow Cory’s suggestion: I’m sending you copies of the last three issues of F&SF so you can judge for yourself if the magazine is still relevant. Feel free to let your dog rip ’em up and let your daughter draw all over them if you want. (Zoe can testify that the magazines are fun for kids to rip apart.)

  86. I’m a long-time reader of F&SF and consider that the quality has been pretty consistent over the years, rather than falling off in Gordon Van Gelder’s tenure as editor as an earlier poster suggested. I currently subscribe to both F&SF and Asimov’s (as well as Electric Velocipede) and the quality of the stories seems pretty similar between them, maybe slightly higher at F&SF. (F&SF is far better in production values — on whiter, heavier paper, and with more readable typesetting.)

    I would like to see the print magazines publish more novellas, since that’s where they seem to have a bigger comparative advantage over the online zines, which mostly exclude such longer work for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me.

    A while ago, Gordon offered to send a free issue of F&SF to any blogger who would promise to write about it on their blog. What was the result of that?

  87. Quite a provocative post there, John … as are many of the comments from your readers. Here’s one or two or my own.

    One point that’s been neglected is that the downturn (if not the demise) of the Big Three isn’t necessarily unique to the SF/fantasy genres. Although I seldom buy an issue, I often check out “Ellery Queen’s” and “Alfred Hitchcock’s” to see if they have any stories by authors I like. I don’t know their circulation figures, but I *have* noticed that their newstand presence has faded even faster than that of “Asimov’s,” “Analog” and F&SF. Indeed, in the area of western Massachusetts where I live, while the Big Three are being carried by only two or three bookstores, the mystery magazines have vanished completely.

    Another point: in my lifetime — and I’m staring down the barrel at 50 and not diggin’ it at all — I’ve seen the disappearance of the following: “Aboriginal”, “Absolute Magnitude”, “Amazing”, “Cosmos”, “Fantastic” (two different ones) “Galaxy”, “Galileo”, “If”, “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Adventure Magazine”, “Omni”, “Science Fiction Age”, “UnEarth”, “Venture”, “Vertex”, and probably three or four others I’ve forgotten (did I mention that I’m almost 50?). The list doesn’t include paperback magazines like “Destinies”, “New Destinies”, and “Perry Rhodan”, or semi-annual anthology series like Universe, New Dimensions, and Orbit.

    All these mags and anthologies published good stuff (yes, even “Perry Rhodan”; look in the back of a few, and you’ll early stories by some well-known authors). And they’ve gone belly-up since my teenage years. Indeed, up until I was about 15 or 16, it was possible to buy more than a half-dozen SF magazines a month … and almost all of them were available at virtually any drug or grocery store in the country.

    What this tells me is that people aren’t reading SF short fiction in the numbers that they used to … they’re no longer reading short fiction of *any* genre, period. In the last 30 years or so, the novel has become the predominant form of popular literature. And as you pointed out, it’s no longer crucial for an emerging writer to write short fiction in order to build or sustain a literary career. My own first fiction sale was a novel … and that was 20 years ago.

    The reasons are too numerous to explain, really. All I know is that I’ll continue to read … and occasionally write for … the Big Three for as long as they continue to be published. And when they’re gone, I’m going to miss them the way our parents and grandparents miss radio drama.

  88. > P J Evans Says:
    > October 23rd, 2007 at 11:40 am
    > I wish that Analog had a website that was less than two
    > or three months behind the magazine,

    The website is changed on the day (or day after) the retail sale date of an issue, which is listed in the upper right of the previous issue’s Table of Content’s page (Next Issue on Sale).

    The online ebook version goes on sale at approximately a week after that date.
    The online version is identical, except the graphics are low resolution, and it has NO ads, yet.

    > AEM Says:
    > October 23rd, 2007 at 12:29 pm
    > What do you think the outcome would be if the Big Three
    > added an e-published line, at a suitably discounted
    > price? I’d imagine that there’d be a significant increase
    > in sales, though there are other complications inherent
    > in such a step.

    The Big Three are all at in ebook format, though they aren’t discounted.

    Analog and Asimov’s:

    The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:

  89. Why are you guys dancing around the obvious? It’s not the genre, it’s not the marketing, it’s the out-of-touch, mediocre editorial talent that’s killing the Not-So-Big-Three!

    Gardner Dozois was Asimov’s editor for nineteen “Bleak and Disquieting” years before declining circulation got his butt canned. Sheila has been a staffer there since its debut, I understand; she brings nothing new.

    Stanley has been editor at Analog for over a quarter friggin’ century! ’nuff said?

    MF&SF may have only dropped one percent this past year, but Gordon van Gelder has presided over a loss of almost ONE-HALF of the magazine’s subscription base since he became editor. Good thing for him he bought the magazine and can’t fire himself!

    Here’s how to save the BT: retire Stanley, fire Sheila, buy out Gordon. Get some new blood, for crissakes!

    Anything less is just strapping water wings on the TITANIC.

  90. I think the B3 having moved into Fictionwise subscriptions is certainly a step in the right direction. I subscribed to all three through FW, for reading on a Sony Reader, after not having read them at all for a while. I’d let my subscriptions lapse and only infrequently made it to one of the few places that still carry the print version. Newer technology is eliminating the “I hate reading on a screen” argument and providing a bridge between paper and bits that didn’t exist before.

    Having said that, there is absolutely no marketing substitute these days for an timely, active, and interactive Web presence.

  91. P J Evans – The Analog website contains the “Science behind the story” section for authors’ thoughts.

    Interzone certainly published J Lake and E Bear before they won. It was close though.

    Distribution for the magazines is a major problem. US Barnes & Noble and Borders will only take international magazines from one distributor. (

    TTAPress, Intrerzone’s publisher, have a new website deicated to reviewing short fictioon in all its forms and formats from PDA to podcast to print. (

  92. Jon, I don’t think changing editors will do much good. Gardner leaving didn’t help, as far as I can see. All I think it’d do is give readers and excuse to leave, and it’d still be hard to draw new readers in.

  93. ET,

    it didn’t help because they replaced him from in-house staff. I think that’s telling. Sheila’s could be a caretaker while Dell figures out how to quietly kill the mag. Too bad, because I know there is some 22-year-old out there who could turn it around.

  94. I wrote this over on Baen’s Bar, where they’re discussing the sales figures of the digests, but it’s just as meaningful here:

    Nothing surprising about those figures; it’s been a straight downhill trajectory for the printzines for a couple of decades now, Back when Gardner Dozois took over Asimov’s, it was selling about 110,000 an issue, and Analog was selling even more. In Kris Rusch’s first year as editor of F&SF, it was selling over 70,000. And now the Big Three have a combined circulation of under 60,000.

    Seems to me I wrote an editorial here earlier in the year, not -predicting- that this would happen because it was so obviously happening, but pointing out -why- it was happening, and why JBU or Subterranean or some other yet-to-be-born e-zines would become the dominant short fiction markets in the field.

    I’m not happy to see the digests’ decline. I grew up with them, and all of my Hugo winners have appeared in either Asimov’s or F&SF. But you don’t have to be much of prognosticator to see the inevitable coming to pass. I still sell a story every year to Asimov’s out of loyalty; they’ve been very good to me in the past…but I am in -every- issue of JBU and Subterranean. It was an easy choice: I write to be read…otherwise I would simply recite my stories to myself in the shower and save a lot of wear and tear on my fingers, And if you write to be read in 2007 A.D., you do most of your short fiction writing for the professional e-zines rather than the printzines. I’m not the only one who has figured this out: how do you think JBU attracted authors like Nancy Kress, Kevin Anderson, Jack McDevitt, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, et al — none of whom could be called an e-friendly fiction writer a short handful of years ago,

    So it’s sad, and none of the Big three are closing their doors this year or next, but it is also inevitable. Darwin never said that evolution would make us happy, only that it exists,

    — Mike Resnick

  95. If someone was feeling trick or treatish they could send Mr. Ellis some Coors Lite.

    Perry Rhodan still goes, but only in German I think. :) Someone did tell me about a couple of coming or recent translations of some, though that I would have to look up.

  96. Very interesting posts, and an interesting iniital blog John. Thanks.

    I think the point was made before, but mainly only in passing, when compared to the detail we have discussed readership figures for print magazines. I keep a close eye on the Albedo One site, and hits do NOT equate to readers. Again, this has been said in passing, but it’s worth re-emphasising. People click through to Albedo all the time, but if you have the right stats software you can see the length of time they stay. On average, not long enough to “read” one story. So they’re not real readers for people’s stories.

    I don’t know how this compares to other sites that are more dedicated to presenting online fiction, but I’m sure there’s a significant gap between hits in general and hits that stay long enough to be considered readers. If Albedo wanted to include hits only, we could calculate a huge visitors figure, but that wouldnt really be telling the truth!

    I’m still in my twenties, and my eye sight is pretty good, but reading on a screen is tiring, much more so than on paper, so I tend to print out stories I get online. Maybe this new paper screen technology will improve the situation.

    One more point while I’m waffling: many non-English genre magazines in Europe are selling a LOT of magazines, more so than the Big 3. And their production quality is a lot higher. This might have something to do with it.

  97. Thirty or forty years ago, if you wanted science fiction or fantasy, there were, for the most part, only magazines and books, and the occasional film. SF&F were for special occasions. Since then, science fiction and fantasy have increasingly been found in computer games, console games, videos, DVDs, blockbuster movies, cable/satellite television channels, web-sites etc etc. It’s not just new stuff being generated: the old stuff, which once would have been hard to find, is easily available these days and provides another way for SF&F fans to spend their money rather than on magazines.

    In other words, SF&F is no longer hard to find. As magazines don’t have the near-monopoly that they once had on SF&F content, it’s no surprise that sales have decreased overall.

  98. Some interesting comments from Paolo Bacigalupi, who has worked for a magazine and has experience with ways to retain and attract subscribers, over at his blog.

  99. I’m sorry to be contrarian in my first post here, but if Asimov’s required me to have my story chiselled into slabs of marble and then delivered to them one at a time by UPS, I might still be tempted. Does a potential magazine sale justify having a printer? Maybe, maybe not. When I first started trying to publish you did the work on a manual typewriter, kept the carbons (or shelled out a small fortune for photocopying) and sent the magazine the original. So submitting on paper doesn’t seem such a big deal to me, and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong but I seem to remember SciFiction requiring an initial submission of paper copies.

    I’m not au fait with The Big Three, but from your comments I suspect they’re in denial and living on past glories. I think there may still be an important niche for them, but my impression from what I’ve read here and elsewhere is that they’re somewhat behind the game right now in terms of marketing.

  100. I want to apologise for that rather rude and crass post; I meant to post something vaguely humourous about the way the nuts and bolts of submitting to magazines has changed since my day, and it just came out all wrong. I’m mortified that I rode in here and did that. Once again, many apologies.

  101. It sometimes seems in magazine publishing that you can either make money or invest in growing your base to make money in the future, but you don’t get to do both. Dover, for all that it’s been a wonderful haven for two of the big three for decades, has been more in the mode of milking the cash cow than investing in growing the base. F&SF has fought the kind of entrepreneur-on-a-shoestring battle that I both love and recognize as essentially tilting at windmills.
    Meanwhile, magazines such as American Heritage, Home & Garden, and Business 2.0 are shutting their presses because circ of 300,000+ isn’t automatically profitable enough to bother any more.
    Dedicated, savvy investment could undoubtedly create an SF mag with six figure circulation once again. The return on investment probably wouldn’t (financially) justify the effort.

  102. Response to Sarah G, #64
    This lady is claiming, in a very jovial tone, that she is “writing in ENNEA, a magazine in Greece with200.000 readers.
    Realizing that the people writing in this site are well informed people about sf, I think it is better to avoid any misunderstandings. It is an absolute illusion to believe there exists, here in Greece, a sf magazine with such fabulous numbers of readers.
    First, ENNEA is NO SF magazine. It is a COMIC magazine, publishing just ONE sf story in its pages. To his chief redactor’s credit, I must admit he is doing some efforts to promote sf in Greece. One of them was to persist in publishing the sf story when many of the readers complained that it should be abolished and replaced by more comics. For some reason that I do not understand, the stories published now are shorter than 2 or 3 years ago. But there is always an sf story.
    Second, ENNEA has not its own circulation numbers, so as Interzone, The Big Three or other sf magazines. ENNEA is a weekly magazine that comes out every Wednesday FOR FREE with the daily journal ELEFTHEROTYPIA. This means the journal costs its normal prize and not more because of ENNEA, which you get any way if you buy the newspaper FOR FREE.
    I imagine that , in these conditions, it is difficult to evaluate accurately the circulation of ENNEA. Imagine you sell Asimov’s or whatever sf magazine with the New Yorker or Times FOR FREE…
    ELEFTHEROTYPIA might reach the mentioned numbers of readers, as it is one of the daily journals with the highest circulation rates in Greece.
    As a sf reader, I would be delighted if there was a great sf magazine in Greece. Unfortunately, there is no such thing for the moment.

  103. My apologies to Mrs S. Genges, her misinformation comes very probably from the fact she does not live in Greece, so she can not know how things are here. I wrote this, just to inform all the professional writers in your site that they must not be under the illusion to get famous by publishing in Greece.
    It would not be fair to them….Would it?

  104. Today I found this blog and are amazed by the quality of information posted here. Nowadays are very few blogs that offer quality of information ,we subscribed to your blog via RSS and we look forward the following articles

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