Nitpickery on a Non-Trivial Scale

Over at, Jason Henninger interviews Fantasy & Science Fiction editor Gordon Van Gelder about the state of the science fiction market, and my name gets invoked (along with that of Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow) as being one of the “big three” science fiction authors who have figured out how to make this whole Internet thing work for them. This is fine, but Gordon makes a couple of comments that I have quibbles with.

First this:

A lot of people try to duplicate what the big three have done and it hasn’t worked, but nobody hears about the cases where it hasn’t worked. A lot of other people have tried to give away their work online and no one’s come and taken it. I know of a case where a publisher made an author’s work available for free online, his first novel. They gave it away as a Scalzi-esque promotion. As I understand it the novel sold less than a thousand copies. It didn’t do anyone any good to give it away. It’s easy to look at Scalzi’s success and say it’s so great to do online marketing but you don’t hear of the author I just mentioned.

I think Gordon (and other people, including many a hopeful author) forgets that when I first posted both Agent to the Stars and Old Man’s War on my personal site, there was no master marketing plan; I put them up because that’s where I intended them to live. I wasn’t attempting to sell them, and that they did sell really had rather more to the initiative of others than of me.

Now, my publisher Tor eventually got around to a limited-time release of OMW as a free eBook, but this was after it’d been nominated for a Hugo and had been a bestseller, and after I had won a Campbell and I had become a known quantity in the SF lit sphere — and after I had three other novels out there that people could then buy. Releasing OMW electronically hasn’t hurt its sales in the least — there hasn’t been a week since the OMW eBook giveaway where the sales of the book have been less than the week prior to the giveaway, according to BookScan — but the release happened when the book was, shall we say, a mature item in the market.

Of the “big three” of Internet presence that Gordon posits, it’s actually Cory and Charlie who have released free electronic editions of their work in conjunction with the physical book release; so properly, a similar tactic is more accurately described as “Doctorow-like” or “Stross-esque.” But even in those cases it’s worth noting that Cory and Charlie were known quantities before their free eBooks — Cory was a Campbell winner and already had a huge online presence before Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and his subsequent works; likewise Charlie had been a multiple Hugo nominee (and a Hugo winner) before Accelerando got its free eBook treatment.

Which is to say that in all cases that the “big three” released a eBook in conjunction with their publishers, each of us already had established ourselves in the market, in sales and/or critical acclaim and/or by generating — over a considerable amount of time in each case — our audiences through our online presences. Certainly there was some amount of risk in putting our work out there for free, but that risk was substantially buffered by other factors.

All of which is why I’m vaguely put off by the idea that a publisher tossing an unknown writer out there for free and expecting sales out of it is something people perceive as “Scalzi-esque.” Because you know what? I wouldn’t do that. It’s one thing for me to put my novels out there on my personal site because I was lazy and had no intent to sell them to publishers, or for a publisher to leverage my existing notoriety through a giveaway. It’s quite another, in my opinion, for a publisher to replace genuine marketing of a debut novel with just chucking its text out there and expecting the ‘net to seize up with joy and sales. That’s the “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” sort of marketing, of which I don’t approve. If you’re going to play with the Internet this way, you have to build an audience first. That’s one reason you have publishers to begin with: They’re supposed to have the resources to at least help do that.

Moving on:

You also have to remember that the big three aren’t really out to do publishers any good; they’re in it for themselves. Most writers are, of course.

Yes, being in it for myself is why I run The Big Idea here (and am soon to spin it off onto its own dedicated site), why I worked really hard to get as many of the Hugo nominees as I could this year into a big fat Hugo Voters Packet, and fairly regularly pimp new books by other writers here and also encourage people to use my site to talk about their latest work (and the works of people who they admire) in the “open pimp” threads. Letting authors talk about their new books in one of the highest trafficked blogs in science fiction, and letting other folks recommend books and stories they love here, certainly does not one damn bit of good to publishers. And fact, I’m sure it does terrible things to their bottom lines. Because I’m a selfish, horrible person, you see.

In a larger sense, one of the nice things about the science fiction genre is that many if not most of the authors do understand that supporting each other is a way of also supporting one’s self — that helping introduce readers to other writers expands the market and accrues good karma toward one’s self. It’s also a manifestation of a concept popularized in science fiction, of “paying it forward” — doing good things for other writers and fans in the hope that when they are in a position of doing good things for still other writers and fans, they will remember your example and do unto others as you did onto them. It’s why I do what I do, and almost certainly why Charlie and Cory do it too.

To be clear, Gordon is very narrowly correct when he says we’re in it for ourselves; we do have spouses and children/pets and nearly debilitating addictions to shiny, shiny tech. We are certainly looking toward the health of our own careers. In a wider sense, however, he’s almost embarrassingly wrong. I want science fiction publishing to succeed, not just because I work in it, but because I have friends who work in it, both as writers and at the publishing houses, and because I am also a big fat fan of the genre (and I have the Hugo to prove it). I’m not the only writer, I suspect, who feels the same way. As noted, that’s one of the genuinely excellent things about this genre.

Last thing:

I got into an argument with John about a year ago. He posted a story on and within a day was boasting—I think it’s fair to call it boasting—that his story had gotten more hits in a week on than Asimov, Analog and F&SF’s combined circulations. The number was like forty-two thousand. Maybe he wasn’t boasting. Maybe he was just saying, gosh, look at this number, but it seemed to me there was an element of bragging to it. I looked into it more closely and saw some of the comments on John’s thread, and some people were saying, “Well, I’m five of those hits because I couldn’t figure out how to download it and so I had to keep coming back.” I pointed out that John was treating each magazine sold as the equivalent of one hit, which is not how it works. There are many differences between having forty-two thousand hits and forty-two thousand sales. One of the big differences is that word “sale”. I said to John, there’s a big difference between paying customers and free previews, and John said, “Eyes are eyes.” Meaning, he doesn’t care so long as people are reading his stuff and he gets paid. Perfectly sensible from his point of view, but not from a publishers point of view. I could easily give away forty-two thousand copies of F&SF and lose quite a bit of money at it, and wouldn’t continue to publish for long.

Gordon was going from memory here, I suspect, and so misremembered some of the particulars. Here’s the article I wrote, which he is discussing here. Whether I am bragging or not is going to be a matter of personal interpretation, although on my end of things I’ll just say the reason I noted it was because people asked about it (I’ll also note I didn’t exactly just post a story there; the story was solicited and I got paid quite well for it, and it went up on’s schedule, not mine). That said, isn’t it a good thing for me that the piece got as many visits in two weeks as the combined yearly circulation of all three of the major US science fiction magazines? I think so. It’s got even more visits since then — and hey, if I put in another link to it right now, it might get even more.

Moreover, I’m not 100% impressed with Gordon’s logic regarding how giving away 42,000 copies if F&SF would be the financial ruin of the magazine. As it stands now, it almost certainly would be, but that’s because the magazine’s in an ill-advised format for advertising and appears from the outside to rely significantly on its subscription base for revenues. But it’s entirely possible that, in a format that was actually ad-friendly (and with an ad sales staff that knew how to work it) F&SF could give away copies and make revenue in other ways, primarily through ads. Editor Nick Mamatas, in a comment on the interview that takes a look at print magazines, ad revenues and free content, makes this point rather cogently:

many magazines DO give away physical print copies: tons of trade magazines do this (try working in certain fields and getting the trades to STOP sending you their stuff) as do community newspapers, lifestyle magazines with a regional focus, alternative news weeklies, etc. These periodicals are for-profit and even in these days of flat ad revenues and Craigslist, are doing much better than print SF magazines by virtually any metric (profit, circulation, aesthetic appearance, size of paid staff, rates to freelancers) anyone might care to name.

The problem I have with print people blaming the Internet for their troubles is that blaming the Internet allows them to ignore — and indeed, actively avoid — taking responsibility for their own acts that have contributed and are contributing to their current bad times. This happens with all print media, but SF is really hot on it. And it’s bunk. Long before the Internet could have been an active threat, subscriber numbers at the science fiction magazines were dropping. If the Internet is a dire threat to them now, it’s in no small part because they made themselves sick enough to be picked off by one major threat or another, and it just happens it will be the Internet that will deliver the coup de grace (in fact it’s rather more likely it’ll be problems with magazine distributors, but hey, why not blame the Internets anyway?).

I’ve no doubt Gordon will note that his real world issues as a publisher are more complicated than I’ve made them out to be here, and I’ll grant this is almost certainly correct. But at the end of the day SF magazines are where they are today not just because of the Internet but because a series of choices their publishers made, reaching back decades, some of which do involve the Internet but many more of which do not.

Gordon’s correct that my issues as a writer are not his issues as a publisher, but the flip side of this is that his issues as a publisher do not oblige me as a writer to gravely nod with concern about his problems as a publisher if better markets for my work exist. Where I care or not about his issues is to a non-trivial extent immaterial, when it comes to the question of what is the best market for my work. Why did I write a story for Contrary to Gordon’s opinion, it wasn’t because of some grand synergy between the web site and Tor Books to leverage a story into book sales or whatever; it was because they asked me to write a story, paid me a multiple of what I’d get for the story in most other SF markets (including his), and allowed me to submit my story electronically. This is also why I write short fiction for Subterranean Press, both for their online site and as limited edition printed works. Hell, solicit a story, pay me decently and let me send my story as an .rtf file, and maybe I’ll write for you, too. I’m easy that way.

What do we learn in all of this? Basically that the Internet is neither an easy path to riches nor the cause of everything that’s wrong with publishing today, and that I apparently get annoyed when I feel my positions are poorly represented by one of science fiction’s major editors.

111 Comments on “Nitpickery on a Non-Trivial Scale”

  1. Oh god, John, you just invoked Nick Mamatas in an internet argument with Gordon Van Gelder.

    Batten down the hatches, people :-)

    Quoth GVG-

    As I understand it the novel sold less than a thousand copies. It didn’t do anyone any good to give it away.

    Perhaps the stories weren’t any good. Did anyone think to check on that? Or perhaps they were great, but no one knew they were there, because the marketing was asleep at the wheel, or the publicist forgot or didn’t bother to send out review copies. That happens more than you’d think, when deadlines are tight.

    There could be a thousand reasons the books failed, and perhaps the free online editions were what helped it sell more than 500 copies. We can’t be sure, can we?

    As for trying to replicate what you’ve done, that’s tricky. Firstly, you’ve got a great site. Secondly, you’ve got a loyal audience. Thirdly, you write your best known books for a readership that buys your work consistently, and crosses a lot of marketing paths, somewhat like Lois Bujold or Davi Weber – there’s a military angle, romance (somewhat) and adventure, and they’re well written. Fourthly, movers and shakers online listen to you.

    If someone replicates that, there will be a “big four” for GVG to talk about.

  2. Hold on. What are professional rates for a regular sized short story (5-10,000 words)? I know that some sites pay 5-10 cents a word including F&SF… is that a going professional rate? Because, well, hmm…

  3. The impression that I got from the interview is that GVG just doesn’t get the internet. He sees that it disrupts traditional publishing models (which is true), but he doesn’t seem to have any appreciation for the alternate models that it enables. Given his position as the editor of one of the last print mags, it’s an understandable position for him to take, but I don’t think it will ultimately help F&SF thrive in the new market. Alas, since it’s a great magazine.

  4. Rick – SFWA is a standard benchmark of “pro” rates for F/SF writing. They say it’s $0.5/word minimum. What’re you hmming about?

  5. Not sure I even know where to begin on this topic. As a customer, the state things are in is very frustrating, at least regarding the availability of ebooks.

    “A lot of other people have tried to give away their work online and no one’s come and taken it. I’m betting the converse is true as well though. It also has to be well supported for the free book to get you hooked.

    For example, back when the Kindle 1 came out, Tor ran a promotion giving away quite a few ebooks for free, among them was Karl Schroeder’s Sun of Suns. I grabbed it and eventually got around to reading it about 6 months later, and then went looking for the rest of the series. Turns out Tor hasn’t published any more of them in ebook form, or at least books 2 and 3 in the series weren’t available last time I looked.

    In my frustration at Tor not selling ebooks for several authors I want to read (where are you Ragamuffin!), I went browsing through and came across David Weber’s Harrington series which I hadn’t heard of before, and downloaded the first two for free. I’m still working my way through the series happily paying for each one as I finish the last.

    This also worked for 2 books of Aaron Allston’s, Doc Sidhe I got for free, and Sidhe-Devil I purchased immediately once I had finished the first one.

  6. I have to say that I am consumed, consumed by irony at the way that the internet is getting blamed for the demise of Science Fiction As We Know It.

    “It’s that technological change, man, we can’t handle it.”

  7. Josh @ #5:

    I think you have a slight typo there—SFWA pro rate is $0.05/word. 50 cents per word (as in your post) would be better than any publication of any kind pays for fiction, I think.

  8. Oops. Yeah, $.05. I remember seeing 50 cents, then 75, 85, and in some cases a dollar a word for medical journalism.

  9. I was having an argument about you just the other day, Mr. Scalzi, because, in part, there is always a sense from marketing people, among others, that if these three authors can leverage the web to “market themselves to fame and fortune”, any author can do it.

    I’ve written about this before; I almost posted another long rant about it today. You’ve saved me. Granted, you’ve saved me from doing something vastly less painful than the work I’m supposed to be doing, but still.

    I wish there was some way to make clear to marketing people that what you are doing takes work, time, and not a little social savvy; that it takes more, by far, than a desire to just sell books. Building a community doesn’t happen overnight; nor does it happen from raw hucksterism. I think there’s some idea that as a writer, one should just be able to toss off a blog post and somehow magnetically and instantly attract people who will then, you know, become instant buyers.

    And it’s not clear to the people who have these fundamental certainties about what “any author” can do that casual readers of any blog don’t become instant buyers — they test the waters of an e-community to see if it’s going to be a watering hole for them. They become, you know, neighbours.

    You are good at this. I am not. You enjoy this; I enjoy the posts I do make, when I have the time. If I were to post as often, and as entertainingly, as you do, I have a feeling that I would last about two months, because at base, I’m not a very social creature.

    So. I’ve read the whatever for a long time. I’m happy that you’re good at this, and I put my energies towards things that I’m better at. But… every so often, the pressure to be, you know, John Scalzi’s twin is almost suffocating because it is so entirely unrealistic for most of us, and even if we were to want to do this, the lead time to get there for most of us would make the process irrelevant to the books that the “marketing” is in theory supposed to support.

    Plus, even if we could be, we wouldn’t be married to your wife, so, you know. Less incentive.

  10. It occurs to me that it might seem that I’m blaming you in the previous post. I’m not. I’ve always loved what you’ve done here, and I’ve always appreciated it (as a reader). The only thing you’ve done to contribute to this myth is to actually be fairly open and fairly successful. But I really, really do hear the three names (actually mostly yours and Cory’s) used in this fashion.

    And I think people don’t, in fact, try to duplicate what you’ve achieved because if they did, they’d achieve it. They try to mimic the outward appearance. They try to make a lot of other writers mimic the outward appearance, and I think this is in part because they don’t understand what goes, and went, into the actual substance.

    … and it’s been so long since I posted here that I needed to change my name in a totally different profile in order to have it post properly. So the last “Michelle” post was also mine.

  11. Re being in it for yourself – enlightened self-interest is a wonderful thing. Two other benefits are that seeing your friends (and potential friends) happy probably makes you happier, and that by publicizing authors whose work you like you help their sales, thus making it likelier that their future work will be published for you to read. More good stuff to read in the genre you love – well, why wouldn’t that make you happy?

    The only part that confuses me is the implication that there’s anything wrong with any of that.

  12. You use .rtf files? Plain ol’ RTF? That ancient lichen-encrusted format that’s been around since, God, I think the mid-eighties?

    I love you.

  13. I’d have to agree with the general statement that ‘Gordon doesn’t get’ the internet.

    I exchanged a few emails with him last year regarding a semi-promotion they were doing (free review copies of the mag for bloggers willing to write it up), and it was apparent to me at the time that the ‘sustaining’ and ‘persistence’ aspects of web promotion were being missed. Someone over there thought that a one-shot (of a few free copies) was going to do ‘something’ for them.

    I suggested hooking up with a few well-trafficked and trustworthy bloggers who would provide regular monthly reviews and was told that ‘this was too expensive and would not work’ for F&SF; indeed, I was also told that it had been tried and hadn’t worked before.

    All three of those Big Three mags have little to no web presence, little to no regular interaction and all have come reluctantly to the electronic era.

    I do believe that, at least in some sense, there is a feeling over there that the internet is an enemy.

  14. Gordon lives in a parallel universe, a world where thousands of enlightened beings send him their manuscripts year after year, many of which they had spent years writing and editing, hoping he’ll breathe life in them; a world where “vanity” writers don’t even appear on his radar, and why should such lowly writers appear on anyone’s radar, the gall of them; a world where editors shape the minds of science fiction writers/readers from one generation to the next, deciding what to implant in their malleable minds, and what to flush down the toilet, with all the other “vanity” and e- writings. But, like blood-thirsty zombies, we the flushed writers are clawing our way up through the rusty pipes of corporate America, inevitably, to the [adjective, fill in the blank] mind of Gordon.

    PS I actually like the guy . . .

  15. I am so tired of all this “Internet is evils” and “Internet is Holy Grail” stuff.

    I keep wanting to tell them, “Dude, go learn about the medium and then think about how to use it. Just because you think it’s icky doesn’t mean it’ll go away.”

    But why bother? People who will figure this out on their own will do it, people who don’t will never do it even if they believed you (which they never will).


  16. Interesting. I was reminded of a comment John made a while back about becoming a megablogger… it was something to the effect of new, less established bloggers still being able to attract a following, but they cant realistically expect to attract a mega following like the old timers such as Scalzi. Doctorow and Stross have pretty good blogs themselves, obviously, and are frequently seen in other online fora.

    Thinking about my own purchasing habits, I don’t really rely on (or believe) reviews or even awards any more. I don’t buy as much fiction as i want to but pretty much every book by a new (to me) author I’ve purchased was based on being impressed by something that person wrote on the internet. Even word of mouth is affected- friends have either just given me the damn book, or sent me links to things online.

    I’ve heard a lot of authors comment that they wished they had the time and energy to build up a blog audience before their book comes out, but realistically it isn’t something most people can do.

    I’ve given a lot of thought to finding a path to getting published (I guess most of Scalzi’s readers are in the same boat). The only formula I can think of that seems at all realistic these days would be to pour all your energy into a blog and try to get a reasonable number of page views, then when you think you reach a magic number, either self-publish, or start sending out manuscripts, unless by that time there is no publisher left to read them, which seems a tragic possibility.


  17. Daniel Suarez is also a case in point that publishers fail to grok s/f, yes he too has a publisher now but apparently many in book trade found his writing too nerdy for a book contract before he published.

    You wonder if lord of the rings would be published today if it was written today and did not exist as best seller thing.

    I’ve not read Daniel Suarez’s book [but i will]

    As to people who think paid s/f paper magazines are the thing good for them but you have to be a hard core s/f reader and i have never bought a s/f magazine. I would argue that s/f magazines do a dis-service to s/f readers when number 17 of trilogy book series makes it into a prize and i get wind of that longlist.

  18. Baen offers a few chapters of most (all?) of their books for free on line. This is more than enough for me to decide whether or not I want to read more. Eric Flynt is sure that they lose nothing by the books that they do give away on line. Again, just enough to get you hooked on an author and or series.
    Jerry Pournelle has had a successful web site for ever. I do not know if it has helped him sell either his novels or his non classified non-fiction, but it certainly has not hurt. While it is true that most of his correspondents are conservative (not Republican, the words are not synonymous), he does print well reasoned letters from folks that disagree with him and his views. He is also an excellent source for computer information. If he does not know the answer, and the question either intrigues him and or is of general interest, he will publish it, and get an answer from one of his readers in short order.
    Too many folks think that being successful is easy. It is not. It takes work, and most likely not a small amount of luck (at least to be a “name” author, celebrity, whatever).

  19. What people seem to overlook is that Baen has been doing that for 10 years now. It would be interesting to get some hard numbers from their Webscriptions site.

  20. At least twice Baen has bound a CD with the entire Harrington series on it, into a hardcover of one of the series. With label art-work and instructions to copy and give to friends. There are a fair number of other novels on the CD, it is someplace on this computer. I also buy Weber in hardcover when he comes out. The Baen site has a lot of whole novel downloads available free.

    Scalzi, btw, you moved into that category (will buy in hard comver) while in the checkout line to buy OMW, which I got 243 pages into last night. Old Man’s War has got to have been one of the best things I’ve read in the field in years.

    On rates, in ’85 I was getting $100 for a 1500 word technical column on television and I think Heinlein discusses rates in All You Zombies. Both Azimov and Heinlein discuss in varioius biographical works.

  21. Not just any writer can do this, for other reasons.

    First they have to be really good, or at least that will help a lot. This is a common trait shared by the host here, Doctorow, and Scalzi.

    Secondly, said trio are professionally competent and engaging non-fiction writers to go along with it.

    Third, they have done it for some considerably length of time, not just now and again, and disappear for 12 months because they are busy writing a book, walking their dog, would rather watch tv, or whatever.

    Early adoption, tech savvy, et al., that can’t hurt, either.

    If garden variety writer makes some work available (like Gordon mentioned), that will certainly let more people find out about them. Doesn’t mean they will get hugely popular, especially not fast.

    I could write a novel if I had a sudden attack of supercrazies. Probably not even my mum would read it, though, even if I asked extremely nicely. At least beyond the first page, anyway, even if it was on a million websites.

  22. Wait a sec, the intertubies aren’t filled with unicorns and lollipops? Damn. Oh man, do I want my money back. So the interhairnets are the Zombie Apocalypse then, right?

    On the other hand, for not giving F&SF away, I have quite a number of copies in my library due to picking them up at conventions for free. I’m not complaining about this (far from it, as it helps me understand what Mr. Van Gelder and the mag’s readership are looking for in a story), I’m just pointing out that at most conventions there are many copies on the giveaway table.

    Somehow I’m thinking back to my basic marketing classes (for my design degree) about targeting one’s audience and not wasting money by “spray and pray” techniques.

  23. Anecdote != data, etc., etc. Having said that, here’s my story. I’ve read Making Light for several years, long enough I don’t remember how I stumbled across it. So I got the first-hand invite to when it went live, from PNH (meaning, I read a post about it – not that we’re personal buddies or anything). So I subscribed to’s rss feed, expecting good things out of it. And lo!, two weeks later, I read a cool story by a guy I’d never heard of. I looked him up, and found a link to whatever. I subscribed to his rss feed, and remembered his name from a free ebook that was giving away (OMW). I read the ebook, liked it, and bought Ghost Brigades the next time I was in a book store. I liked that, too, and decided my Dad – who is into military scifi – would also like it, so I bought him a copy of OMW for his birthday. I found The Last Colony on a discount rack while wandering through a mall with my wife. And, over the last few months, I’ve picked up Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, and (just yesterday, already finished it) Zoe’s Tale. Which means, I believe, that I’ve bought a copy of every novel Scalzi has written. And my Dad (who lives most of the country away, so can’t borrow my copies) has also picked up a few. All on the back of a single story for, that (as he pointed out), Scalzi was paid for. Now, if somebody could explain to me how putting short stories on the internet and giving away ebooks has harmed either Scalzi or Tor, I’d love to hear it.

  24. Being an internet presence did nothing to get me to start reading your stuff. The free version of Agent to the Stars didn’t help either, because I didn’t know it was there until after I had read the print version.

    What this whiner doesn’t seem to realize is that your stuff is GOOD. That makes all the difference. If OMW had not been the excellent book that it was, it would never have drawn me to Whataver, and I certainly wouldn’t have read all your other books. It comes down to needing a good product to sell. If he can’t figure that out, no wonder his magazines are in trouble.

  25. “The Big Three”…. Can we just call you the “Triumvirate” in hushed tones and pretend you’re secretly the force behind the internet’s destruction of print media?

  26. Oh my God is Nick Mamatas not kidding about trying to get certain trade publications to stop sending you their advertiser sponsored print magazines. Seriously, ignoring them, insults, outraged demands to stop sending me your magazine didn’t really work. Finally, five years later, they stopped sending it.

    At the same time though, those magazines (the ones I’m personally familiar with) are highly focused and targeted on an audience of professionals who have varying levels of input on the spending of corporate dollars on the very products that the magazine is showcasing–both in terms of the advertising and the article content. It’s a very, very different scenario than a fiction magazine. Which isn’t to say that fiction magazines shouldn’t try to learn a thing or two from those magazines, but the comparison isn’t on a level field.

  27. Josh Jasper @#9: “I remember seeing 50 cents, then 75, 85, and in some cases a dollar a word for medical journalism.”

    Yeah, but that’s because they use really big words.

  28. This is an argument that finds a foundation in every field (music, film, education, etc.). The biggest problem is that those who argue that the Internet is “easy” are those who don’t understand the time and care that has gone into establishing not only a reputation in that space (very similar to something that would occur offline), but into also establishing a rapport with the very people who will read, listen, watch, etc. the work being produced.

    There is nothing easy about the care that goes into establishing an online presence that encourages others to participate.

  29. ntsc@23: I read a few of Baen eBooks. They convinced me that David Drake, John Ringo and David Weber weren’t writing the sort of novel that interested me. But given that I’d little interest in reading them anyway, it was hardly a loss for them. Maybe I’d have decided otherwise and they’d have made a sale they otherwise wouldn’t have.

    But the fundamental failure here seems to be the idea that there’s some sort of fool-proof magic spell that inevitably leads to success. If that were true, everyone would be doing it. And it seems to me that someone watching their own sales fall year after year after year don’t have a hell of a right to call other marketing techniques as failures.

    Personally, I don’t think Scalzi, Doctorow or Stross have found the marketing holy grail either. I don’t think anyone has entirely figured out how fiction is going to earn money in the coming decades. But I think that those who are actively trying are going to be the ones who succeed. Success certainly isn’t going to come from people who just sit there complaining about failure and sniping at those who are trying something new.

    In terms of readership levels…I suspect that what a lot of writers are looking for when they submit to the “big three” isn’t the massively lucrative 50 cents a word but the exposure that being published there brings. The editors there need to think long and hard about how many of these internet upstarts (like “Escape Pod” for instance) are on the verge of passing them by in terms of bringing a new writer exposure.

  30. Not that I have to much to add to the above, but I find the complete lack of Neil Gaiman in the discussion to be odd. Gaiman’s blog has been around about the same amount of time as whatever (I think, I’ve been reading both for what seems like forever), and has a higher readership (according to – so how come Gaiman isn’t one of the big three (four)?

    Well, obviously, because everyone (for sufficiently constrained values of everyone) knows that Gaiman isn’t big *because* of his web presence – he was well-known, published and so on before his web presence began (Gaiman’s journal started, IIRC, to document the ‘American Gods’ book tour/promotion/publishing journey), so of course he is completely irrelevant to any discussions of the web and publishing

    Only, well, he isn’t. He does the same sort of things as our glorious host here does – rabbits on about books, and inconsequentialities in about equal measure. Persuades his publisher to offer books online for free, and so on.

    Perhaps the online element isn’t the important part of what makes an author successful. Perhaps it is having interesting, well-written books.

    I doubt that any of the aforementioned authors would say having a well-read online presense doesn’t help, but it’s more the cherry, than the cake.

  31. I probably haven’t bought a print copy of a sci-fi magazine in 20 years, because in general I just don’t buy magazines. But after gettiing my Kindle, I grabbed subscriptions to Analog and Asimov’s on it. So far, a few months in, Analog is pretty decent, and I really should cancel Asimov’s. Now, the fact that they’re more expensive in the electronic editions than in the dead tree ones is annoying, but that’s probably because the electronic editions leave out the ads (which I’d actually probably like to see).

    As far as free downloads go, Baen does it right. If an author only has one book, it’s not going to be free, at least not at first. But as soon as there are multiple books, it will happen. Baen does two things that really make me give them my loyalty – DRM-free purchases, and webscriptions. With the webscription, I can typically get electronic editions of 6 books, 4 of which will be new releases, for less than the cost of one dead tree hardback. So I’ll typically buy a webscription for two of the six books, and frequently get a book from an author included that I’m not familiar with. It’s low risk, and if I enjoy it, well, I can go back and buy the others from the same author. I’ve discovered a number of authors that way. When Michael Z Williamson was here as a Big Ideas author awhile back, I looked and realized that of his 4 books, I had number 2 and 3 in my pile to read from various webscriptions I’d bought, and number 1 was available in the free library. So I grabbed it, have now read the first two, and after reading the third I’ll probably pick up the webscription that contains the fourth.

  32. they’re in it for themselves.

    Doing well by doing good. The first taste is free. ;-)

  33. Steve@32, but that’s a good thing, right? You didn’t end up spending money on books that weren’t to your taste, but a lot of people really like. That’s how I felt about Little Brother, relief that I hadn’t paid for it, because it was downright awful. And I likely would have bought it with all the (inexplicable to me) gushing about it on the internet. I probably read 45-50 genre books last year, and whatever the number was, I’d have ranked it dead last.

  34. Skip@37: It is a good thing! Alternatively, I was once bored in a car and started reading John C. Wright’s “Orphans of Chaos” on my eReader. Months before, I’d dumped a number of books that had been put out as free ebooks on it. When we got home, I immediately bought the next two in the series.

    One of the things that often gets missed is that the critical factor in getting read isn’t money, it’s people’s time. You can give me all the free stuff you want…I still have to find time to read it. That means you still need to do the marketing to convince me that it is worth reading!

    In Scalzi’s case, I only read him because of the internet buzz and the Hugo nomination. Before that, I’d have probably put him with Weber, Drake, etc. in the “subgenre I am not wild about” class. (Exact same thing happened to me with Bujold.) If I’d run into the “Old Man’s War” ebook before, who knows, I read Drake only because it was free…but it was the buzz that did it, not the “here’s free stuff”.

    Same thing happened with Doctorow. I read “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” for free, but only after hearing people recommend it. (And I ended up buying “Craphound” and “Little Brother” because of it, though I also didn’t care for the latter at all.)

    Ironically, I discovered Stross through Asimovs when they serialized “Accelerando”. I really need to go back and read that first story some day!

  35. David@33: I suspect that GVG wouldn’t put Gaiman in the “Big Three” because he knows that Gaiman is “just a funnybook writer” and not a *real* SF writer, who had properly offered himself prostrate before the altar of SF magazine editors.

    Or something.

  36. This isn’t as complicated as Van Gelder or others are trying to make it. The formula is simple. If you write good stories, give them away, connect with your growing online audience and do this for 3-5 years, you will achieve some level of success (note the first part of the formula: write good stories).

    Giving a book away isn’t a one-time marketing gimmick. Treating the tactic like that is the same as paying for a front-of-store display for a new writer, doing it just once, then not putting marketing money behind that writer ever again. Maybe it works for some, but for most, it’s not going to make you a breakout star.

    The second and third part of the formula are where the butter hits the bread. Scalzi and Doctorow connect with their audience via their blogs (I’m not that familiar with Mr. Stross’ blog). And both of them have done so FOR SEVERAL YEARS. They built audiences. They created fans and friends. The made communities.

    INFECTED, a scfi/horror novel I gave away for free as an unabridged podcast and free PDF is closing in on 100,000 copies sold worldwide in just over a year. Wow, pretty cool, right? But that happened only after three-and-a-half years of giving away everything I write for free as a podcast, building a community at my website, and interacting with fans via my blog, forums, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    So Mr. Van Gelder’s “it doesn’t work” sample set needs to focus on authors that have worked as long as Scalzi and Doctorow have at creating an online presence, have given away multiple stories for free, and have helped promote dozens of fellow scifi writers. Show me those authors, and tell me how many of them have sold only 1,000 copies of their books.

  37. I’ll also note that the big three sf magazines have been stagnant for years as far as pay rates go. I know of one author who was paid $1800 for a 30k word novella. Through publishing them online at Subterranean, and then offering a collectible hardcover, we’ve paid anywhere from $2,500 to $18,000 for a 25k word story.

    Further, since we started giving away a significant amount of fiction on the site several years ago, our circulation has grown until it’s higher than any of the big three’s, and we’ve seen our overall business more than quadruple. Can I draw a one to one correlation? No, but I’m not going to stop running the free online mag, that’s for certain.

  38. Skip @ 35 —

    Finally, a reason to purchase a Kindle! I didn’t know I could get subscriptions to SF mags … but now (obviously) I do. Thanks.

    Semi-interesting backstory. I came to SF via “juvenile” novels and only later discovered Analog. (The first Analog I read was Ben Bova’s first as editor.) Once I had my own income, I subscribed to Analog for many, many years. Along the way I discovered there were other SF mags, but Analog always had my heart, and my money.

    Sometime back in history, Analog created its online Forum, where I could INTERACT WITH ACTUAL SF AUTHORS!!11!! I asked Mike Flynn a question about one of his early novels … and he answered me!

    That experience aside, I quickly became disillusioned with the quality of my interaction. There was some sort of clique for authors who were “frequently in Analog” (it was called MAFIA, APFIA, something like that). Some of those authors were, let me say, condescending, at least to me if not to others. I felt they were trying to post witticisms to amuse themselves and other clique members, at my expense (or at the expense of the fans, if you will).

    Not only did I stop frequenting the Forum, I let my subscription lapse.

    So, as Dawn @ 31 noted, the on-line reputation can help, or hurt.

    Oh, and let me add my vote to those who discovered Scalzi through traditional means, and came to this blogsite after having read a book or two. That noted, Whatever has turned me on to other authors’ works (e.g., R.J. Sawyer) that I would not normally have picked up, at least not in hardcover.

  39. Nick@42, as of right now Analog and Asimov’s are the only 2 SF magazines on it, You can also get Ellery Queen’s and Alfred Hitchcock’s for a different genre. Be aware of one thing though, when I subscribed to analog and asimovs, they sent me a few back issues at the same time, so I immediately had 3 of one and 2 of the other. If you buy the dead tree versions already, you may get some duplicates. I would assume that customer service would take care of that, but I didn’t try, since I hadn’t read any of them.

    Oh, and a lot of the Baen authors hang out at Baen’s Bar, but I can’t really recommend it as the forum software they use is pretty awful. I think it started life as usenet newsgroups or something.

  40. R.J@16: I don’t know if it’s thousands of people, but F&SF certainly gets thousands of submissions a year, if not more. Since they’re mostly short stories, I hope writers haven’t worked for years on them. The rest of it requires me to read GVG’s mind and I won’t go there, but the first bit seems rather this universe to me.

    Incidentally, I just received the June/July issue of F&SF. It’s about the size of an anthology. (One novella, 5 novelets, 3 short stories and 5 recurring non-fiction features I normally skip.) And at $6.50, it’s about the cost of a mass market paperback. I wonder if his current business model is to put out 6 anthologies per year. In that case though, the mass market paperback form factor may be more reader friendly. I rarely see ads in F&SF anyway. I don’t know if it’s because I’m good at ignoring them or if there just aren’t that many.
    (Of course, I know nothing about printing costs. Is its current form factor cheaper to print?)

  41. Don’t something like 90% of all novels sell fewer than a thousand copies? I could swear I’ve read that. Or that 90% of all commercial book sales are accounted for by twenty titles per year. Or maybe both?

  42. John@44. The mass market paperback format might be better, but no chain buyer will allow six issues a year like that.

    There are relatively few ads in F&SF. I have the same recent issue you have. There’s only one advertisement actually in the text block, if we exclude the classifieds. (Three for the inside front, inside back, and backcover, though the back is in b/w, only).

    The printing is probably cheaper, against a glossy color magazine, to be certain, but between the digest size fading out, distributors disinclined to do much more with them, and the inability to sell color advertisements, as it is, it’s a zero-growth format. The best anyone can do, without further changing anything, is let the attrition continue, cut costs, and watch it go under in the near-future.

  43. Something else that is lacking, which really plays into this entire argument: marketing. The print magazines are being run as if subscribers are automatically / magically added or replaced, without any effort on the publisher’s part . . . no business can run for long on that assumption, because attrition is constant. Unfortunately, it’s almost a no-no, in this field, to even discuss things like this, as if discussing it makes it a “real” business . . . and we can’t have that, no, no. Between publishers who don’t know what they’re doing, and/or passive-aggressively lashing out, it’s a recipe for disaster.

  44. Okay. Sorry. Went off to do my own research before I responded. Here’s a decent source for the statistic I mentioned, with a nice quote:

    “Of the 1.2 million titles tracked by Bookscan in 2006, only 2.1% sold more than 5,000 books, 16.6% sold fewer than 1,000, and a terrifying 79.6% sold fewer than 99 copies. The 99 copies are no doubt the reason only one percent of authors’ submissions make it through the arduous publisher-review process.”

    Which is to say, I think it’s a bit disingenuous for Van Gelder to try to make the noob-selling-less-than-a-thousand-copies argument. One would think an editor should know better.

    I’d argue this is not new for Van Gelder, though. Back in August ’08, the site for the Magazine of Fantasy and Sci Fi ran a series of questions, in one of which Van Gelder asked:

    “When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?”

    Because, of course, he comes at it from the publishing/editing side of the equation (I would think, as I stated there, most would feel inclined to support the author, not the publisher). As well he should; he seems, by all accounts, to be a good editor (I’ve not yet had the pleasure of working with him, unfortunately), and Lord knows he seems to have a good reputation in the fora I’ve visited on and off for years.

    But the fact remains that the publishing industry is more and more feeling its role of content provision, as opposed to content creation. For better or worse, the Internet has empowered countless writers. There are so many options out there nowadays, and while it’s true that not everybody is going to end up Scalzian in scope, many don’t really want that in the first place. Many are content simply to explore new ways of delivering content to readers, and that is where so many publishers are dropping, and continue to drop, the proverbial ball. Just like the music industry waited around until Apple came around and delivered a means of good distribution for online music, so it seems has the publishing industry simply sat around and prognosticated and hemmed and hawed while Amazon introduced the Kindle and Apps deliver reading experiences for iPhones and Blackberrys. Lately, it seems the publishing industry (in general, at least) is more content to sit around analyzing problems while authors and distributors alike are actively not just seeking but advancing solutions.

    Others made the point, and correctly, that the process must begin with good stories; it doesn’t matter how much content you give away free if all that content is crap. This is why Gelder’s “big 3” have done so well; they haven’t leveraged a giant Internet following to sell books–rather, they have written good stories by which they have leveraged large readerships. This is also why they are the exceptions to a general rule, or at least the stories to tell as the exceptions; given Sturgeon’s law, 90% of writing is crap. And the thing about so many writers attempting to use social networking (whether blogs or MySpace or Facebook or Twitter) to gain large readerships is that too few realize they need good content first. Many think that it’s all simply a matter of marketing, but few seem to realize that, though marketing has much to do with it, there has to be something to market first. It’s difficult to market a writer first, as opposed to the writing, I think because so much of the former depends on the latter.

    For example: Tila Tequila. She’s probably sold a ton of books and done numerous readings and etc., but will she ever be known as a writer? Most people, I think, will continue to know her as the bisexual chick with the reality dating series and the lesbian Internet sex video. Which may be yet another way to sell books, perhaps, but there have to be more important things.

  45. It’s interesting that both Pournelle and Doctorow are sited as long time bloggers/internet users. The two are at opposite ends of the spectrum on free fiction. Cory has been a Creative Commons guy for years. And, Jerry is an old time writer who expects to be paid for virtually everything he writes.

    I think it is hard for creative types in my age cohort (baby boomers and up) to get their heads around the new internet business models. Remember, most of these folks rarely could make their livings writing science fiction and fantasy. It’s hard to make a living on $.05 a word.

    Like most people, I have been consistently frustrated at the way publishers handle ebooks. I believe that almost all published material today is written on and composed by computers. What can be hard about reformatting an already digital publication for electronic distribution- paid or unpaid?

    Once again I am overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of the comments here. John has accumulated one of the smartest and most articulate communities on the intertubies.

    Belated Happy Birthday John. I hope I’m around when you reach my age – 65.

    Rick York

  46. Morgan @47:


    I’m thirty-one years old. I was completely unaware that F&SF and other SF-printing magazines existed (or perhaps ‘still existed’) before I got hooked into the blurry amoeba of the SF-writing community. When people speak of discovering science fiction or fantasy through picking up a copy of Asimov’s or whatever else, it’s a sort of experience that is effectively a communique from a different time.

    I discovered sci-fi by climbing my father’s shelves looking for something to read. And since he, like many fannish types, is a bookhoarder, that gave me plenty to work with – Heinlein and Bear and Herbert and Cherryh and le Guin and Niven and Asimov. And when I got to working my way through the elementary school fiction library in sixth grade, they didn’t segregate by genre, so in addition to randomly reading Heidi and similar, I wound up with a lot of L’Engle and The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. This is the normal sort of arc that most people I know went through.

    I can’t believe it likely that I’d even know the magazine F&SF existed today if it weren’t for the fact that I have an interest in SF publishing qua SF publishing, and thus read blog posts like this one. It was being interested in SF publishing that got me to a few cons, and thus led to me picking up a couple of odd copies of F&SF off a table on a lark, even. I’m a book-oriented reader and always have been; the magazines don’t impinge on my consciousness.

    And I rather suspect the fact that I could grow up as an avid genre reader who had no knowledge that Asimov’s, F&SF, whatever else existed might have something more to do with the decline in those magazines than Teh Intarwebs – which were the means by which I learned of their existence in the first place.

  47. I actually have thought of subscribing to one of the Big Three sci-fi mags, but I can’t ever find them to try them out. I don’t want to blindly subscribe to something and not know if I’m going to like the content. I stumbled across an Asimov’s one time in a Borders that was over a year old (it was stuck behind something else on the shelf), and I liked it. But at this point I’d rather get something on my Kindle or subscribe online rather than deal with paper. (Not to mention my constantly changing physical address until I just recently purchased a house.)

    I’ve tried out Asimov’s on the Kindle (the only one that was available the last time I checked) and it’s great – but I want the price to come down just a smidge before I subscribe. $3 an ISSUE? For a SUBSCRIPTION? For an E-SUBSCRIPTION? Outrageous by my standards, which is why I don’t subscribe. But if they want to meet me part-way and finally get online, I’d be more than willing to try it out.

  48. @33 Maybe because Gaiman’s blog isn’t interactive? I don’t think he enables his comments section, and so while I follow his writing religiously I still don’t quite think of him as doing the same thing Scalzi is doing here.

  49. Excellent response, John. I love it when you rebut; I learn so much.

    Your comment about “paying it forward” being a concept popularized in science fiction poked my ignorance of sci fi. (I’ve probably read .001% as much sci fi as most of your other readers.) Could you (or anyone else on the thread so inclined) name a few exemplars? I’d be interested in reading them.


  50. @33 I would say it’s because Gaiman already had the large following, and when people refer to the big three, they’re pointing to people they feel benefited, in public profile and the resultant sales thereof, almost entirely from their web-presence.

    Which is to say: Scalzi, Doctorow, and Stross built some net-fame for themselves, and they’re pointed at for that reason; Gaiman already had the fame.

  51. Dw3t-Hthr@50 I’m almost thirty years older than you are and I had never knew sf/f magazines existed when I was a kid-I got into reading short stories from original and Year’s Best anthologies and single author collections. It wasn’t until I started to work at OMNI that I discovered them.
    And I also read all the Eleanor Cameron Mushroom planet books!

  52. Just wondering which is the more important purpose of SF mags — to introduce new readers to SF, or to give new authors a platform from which to launch? (A distant third purpose might be to create the SF community. Any Futurians in the house?)

    If the former, then it’s becoming clear to me that readers are finding other ways to get introduced to SF, from movies to movie tie-ins to video game tie-ins, to et cetera. The small sample of posts in this thread seem to confirm what I’ve suspected, that the mags don’t seem to have the introductory appeal they once had. Sorry about that, Mr. Gernsback.

    If the latter, and I would assert the latter was always the more important purpose of the two, then it’s already clear that the internet provides robust competition.

    So … I wonder what the demographics are of the SF mags’ readerships? Are they graying along with, or perhaps in advance of, the U.S. population at large? I wouldn’t be surprised.

    I’ll be sad if they fold, but it wouldn’t surprise me either.

  53. I agree with Scalzi about the Van Gelder interview, but I understand where Van Gelder is coming from, to an extent. All fiction magazines — though SFF fiction magazines are pretty much all that’s left of fiction magazines — are facing some of the same factors:

    1) There are two ways to get revenue for a print magazine and online publishing ventures that aren’t promotional — advertising and subscription. The print mags used to get advertising because the mags were where people went to discover new authors, read book reviews, and read novellas excerpted from major SFF novels. Now it’s hard for them to get advertising — and hard even for online publications because advertising is being cut everywhere. And subscription is down due to a myriad of circumstances. Subscription for an online only version is nearly impossible for a magazine because people want short fiction for free and there’s a lot of stuff free on the Web by top name authors, plus plenty of free book reviews.

    2) Offering books or excerpts or promotional short stories free online works well for authors and book publishers, because this leads to some of the people who read the free stuff then buying the authors’ books. It doesn’t, however, work for magazines so well, because if you like one free story from the magazine, that doesn’t mean you become interested in the other stories from other authors in the magazine and want to keep buying the magazine. Giving away free copies of the magazine in large numbers also doesn’t necessarily generate interest in the next magazine issue with all different authors, especially if potential readers would rather get stories by the same authors online for free.

    3) Tor can pay excellent rates because the fees for stories or articles are a small fraction of their promotional overhead costs and because they don’t have to worry about pricing too high to the point where readers won’t buy since all at is free. The magazines, however, are more like small presses in their budgets.

    So for the print SFF magazines, the Internet is sort of the enemy in that it’s usurped their role as conduit of the field in stories and reviews, and thus, limited their appeal to advertisers. It also has reduced their subscription revenue further, though it’s not the sole cause of that. And the magazines are still trying to figure out ways to make the Internet work for them, because the ways that work for authors and book publishers don’t.

    E-subscriptions are clearly going to help magazines, but right now, publishers, e-publishers, Amazon, electronics companies, etc. are all fighting about terms, costs, formats, etc., and e-editions are expensive for publishers to produce. But that should change over the next few years. Another strategy is one used by the SFF mag Black Gate, which lets authors do serial stories — essentially playing out whole novels in segments in the magazine. This can make the mags more like comic books and attract more advertising.

    Scalzi clearly was not boasting about his online views at Tor, and GVG was wrong to put it in those terms. Scalzi was instead pointing out a media and cultural shift. And it’s one that effects authors both ways — more exposure and connection, but also many SFF authors discouraged from spending time writing short fiction because it gets lost in the sea of the Internet unless you are established. It’s something that needs to be looked at and experimented with, not just whined about, obviously. The computers aren’t going back in the box.

    I’d say that the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction needs to look at how they can team up with Tor, Harper’s Angry Robot and other big online media enterprises. Because the name still has a certain ring to it. (Sorry to ramble on.)

  54. So, why aren’t print magazines adapting to this Internet development?

    I am really curios, this is not an ironic question or anything like it.

    I think that there are a lot of people (from their subscriber base) who don’t have Internet access and others who don’t like to read from a screen and even others who don’t like to use computers at all.

    They could offer Print-on-Demand subs to them, maybe? And for the rest of us, offer the magazine like Baen’s does with their magazine.

    I’m sorry if I sound naive (I don’t know how things work – thus my questions) or for my mistakes (my English is self-educated).

    “And it’s one that effects authors both ways — more exposure and connection, but also many SFF authors discouraged from spending time writing short fiction because it gets lost in the sea of the Internet unless you are established.”

    I think authors’ fiction getting lost is a consequence of the authors’ incompetence and lack of real voice, not because some flaw of a medium or another.

  55. rreugen, I wonder that myself, but I can tell you about another place where I see something similar happening: libraries.

    I’m a newcomer to the library profession, but even before I joined it four years ago I watched it struggle with the same kinds of issues. Some libraries have adapted better than others, but I’ve had the impression for awhile that the profession as a whole just doesn’t know which way to jump, and lacks some of the expertise (particularly in content design and delivery) that it needs.

    A really good example is reference books. When was the last time anyone here used one? As opposed to Googling it, or looking it up on Wikipedia? Reference publishers know perfectly well that free content providers on the Web are sinking them, but none of them wants to be the first one to jump ship, because the first one to do it is almost certainly going to get it wrong.

    The ones that do adapt, though, I think will be big players. That’s happening in online news right now.

    In the SF arena, at this point I submit first to online markets that pay pro rates, and print markets second. Why? Partly it’s convenience, both for me (the submission process is typically quite easy) and for the reader (who often doesn’t even have to deal with a pay wall). But I also think that that’s where it’s at. The only one of the Big Three that I read regularly is F&SF, which is available electronically–through certain library subscription databases. I’ve read some really good stories that way, but if it wasn’t for that online access I don’t know that I’d have sought them out.

  56. There are A LOT of educated persons that reject the Internet. I remember an essay by Umberto Eco where he wrote how googling and the ‘net actually discourages studying. One of the most prominent journalists and political commentators in my country stated that he NEVER uses the Internet.

    I don’t know . . . I guess it’s harder and harder to adapt to the way things change. I just don’t like it when we refuse to admit that the flaw is ours and instead we say that the flaw is in the society. As if the future should slow down because we are slow.

    I am struggling myself to understand the ways society changes around me, not because I have some business to take care of but because I have a child and I want to stay connected to her world. I just don’t think that complaining about how the future is happening and producing changes could help me relate to my child better.

  57. Another thing that I kept thinking about is that by publishing online, you publish on the World Wide Web, not only on the American market.
    But I don’t see online magazines taking advantage of the fact. I mean, for example, an online magazine could hire a translator and have it’s content delivered in Romanian – and there are 11 millions Internet users in my country. An English-to-Romanian translator would cost about 5 cents/word and give access to a whole new market. Or, forget about these paltry 11 millions, take Russia, where I bet there are more. France, Spain&Mexico&Argentina, Portugal&Brazil, etc.

    I know that Neil Gaiman has his blog translated in several languages. I really don’t know why online magazines are not doing it.

  58. rreugen@62: Translating fiction well is a rare art, as translators must be as good as the original author to pull it off. Finding such a talented person can be expensive, and not worth it in the short-term, alas. There are indeed costs associated with providing content in a number of languages, which can only be supported by a large conglomerate, really. If there was a cheap way around that, I suspect more online magazines would be doing so . . .

  59. rreugen: Short stories and novels are entirely different media, and skill at writing one does not necessarily translate to skill at the other. My novels are VERY successful, but I wouldn’t rate my short stories above average, and it’s true–I sell few.

    Also, I have an Eco or two around here, but the more quotes (or paraphrases) of his incorrect generalizations I hear bandied about, the less I’m inclined to waste time reading him.

    I can offer that my free version of “Freehold” in the Baen Free Library generates approximately 1 email a week thanking me, and stating an intention to pay for my other works. “Freehold” still sells decently in the stores, at approximately 80-85% sell through, too. Not bad for a first novel with first novel flaws. I’m pretty sure my intartube presence was in part responsible for the first printing selling out in 21 days.

    However, this is a peculiarity of genre fiction. It’s not exclusive, but it’s much more prevalent here than in mainstream. Genre readers do become followers of particular authors and read their backlist.

  60. @Sean : Ideally, I think indeed translators have to be that good. Practically, it isn’t happening. I don’t see it happening in my country, at least, and the Russian authors that I read in English were pretty clumsily translated too.
    On the Romanian market, translation from English in the SFF genre range from outrageously bad (the first Malazan novel) to readable (Gaiman’s Neverwhere) to very good (old school translators like the one who did Beagle’s Last Unicorn).
    Then again, most genre stories don’t present huge challenges to translators – it’s not like they work on James Joyce. And I really don’t think it’s that expansive to find a decent translator from English here. I’m gonna ask a professional one just out of curiosity.
    My suspicion is that nobody tried :)

  61. rreugen: Typical translation costs in most of Europe are a couple of thousand dollars for a book/magazine. Typical royalties are a couple of thousand dollars.

    Basically, most publishers do it because any royalties are better than none, and they don’t have to underwrite the cost–some local publisher does it.

    However, this is based on a print model. A web model would have a few less overheads, but, generally, web-based models make less gross, substituting that for lowered expenses. But translation is a fixed expense.

  62. rreugenon@59
    I think that there are a lot of people (from their subscriber base) who don’t have Internet access and others who don’t like to read from a screen and even others who don’t like to use computers at all.

    Do you think this is true of SF readers? In my completely unresearched opinion, SF readers tend to be more accepting of technology and are more likely to be first adopters.

  63. @QueenTess
    I do. The journalist that I wrote about, the one who refuses to use Internet, is also a SF writer and reader. Sure, he is from another country (my country) but I can assume that there can be an American SF reader who doesn’t like to use the Internet or read e-editions, and I thought it would be polite to offer an option to everyone.

    @Sean(#63) and mr. Williamson (#66)
    So, taking an Online Magazine like Clarkseworld, that runs two medium length short-stories every month, you think it would be bad business to have them translated in other languages too (like Chinese or Spanish or French, which seem to be used more than others on the Internet) ?

  64. rreugen: That depends. Would a couple of thous generate more than a couple of thous in income?

    Translation of literary works is more than just knowing the language. Technical translation requires knowing the field in question to be done well. Fiction requires a good knowledge of fiction, especially as translation is imprecise, and English is a very colorful language.

  65. rreugen@65: It’s been explored before, and was found that it was too much of a pain in the ass. However, I occasionally get translations in the slush, and I’ve accepted one or two, but it’s very rare. I usually find that most stories that are published have been already translated, and paid-for, in some way by the author (example: “Birds,” by Jean-Claude Dunyach, translated by Sheryl Curtis, from France), or done by the author (“The Most Dangerous Profession,” by Sergey Gerasimov, from Ukraine).

    As with anything, you have to take into account the budget, and if the fiction is already tacked at five cents a word, then paying another five cents a word for a translation makes things awkward. It’s not good business. However, that doesn’t mean that online zines aren’t getting stories from overseas. Just this year alone Fantasy Magazine is publishing authors from Australia, France, Germany, Phillipines, and Ukraine, and in much higher numbers that you might see elsewhere. I expect that to increase.

    If that’s change, it’s change for the better, and I’m all for it :p

  66. Thank you for answering me!

    I just now realized you are the Editor of Fantasy Magazine. I read “Birds” and “The Most Dangerous Profession” and also “Teaching Your Elephant How to Ski.”
    And the rest of the stories in the magazine, actually. I like it.
    Wouldn’t you gain some readership and traffic if you would publish “Birds” in the original language in which it was written, too? And it would not cost you extra money, I suppose.

  67. @rreugen I researched this about a year ago and it still remains high on my list of things we should do. The only reason there isn’t a Chinese edition of Clarkesworld is cost. In addition to translation costs, I’d want someone on staff who would help us market it there and understand the feedback we were getting. I’ve also considered partnerships with Chinese SF magazines, but haven’t made any progress there.

  68. A slight amount of digging on my part shows that Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF are all available in e-formats at Fictionwise. IMO it’s still a little on the expensive side for a subscription, but I’ll consider it. It’s just that when I look at my other magazines (which are paper, so have postage/printing fees) and they’re only $10 (for 12 issues) and $45 (for 52 issues), I have a hard time paying $35 for 12 issues…

    I’d like to see the publishers pick up extra revenue through advertising or something. I really enjoy the ads in the magazines – they expose me to authors/books/publishers that I wouldn’t normally hear about. But it’s difficult to sell ad space when your circulation is declining.

    I just find it amazing that I have to actively seek out these magazines and oftentimes still can’t locate them. I purchase my ebooks from several sources, but Fictionwise isn’t one of them, so I never thought to look there. But yay to FW (and the publishers) for offering them in ebook formats.

  69. @rreugen True, it wouldn’t cost much more money to place the original-language version with the translation, but it’s the equivalent of an one-shot. If you aren’t doing it on a regular basis, with the marketing in place, then nothing is gained . . . I could be wrong, of course :p

  70. Did someone say translation of SF? Just a bit of hype: I’m now the editor of Haikasoru, the first SF imprint dedicated to bringing Japanese material to English-language markets. Google it!

    Anyhoo, translation is fraught with difficulties—Eco (there he is again) actually has a neat book on the subject: MOUSE OR RAT? (Relatively few generalizations as well.) The long story short is that simply as an aesthetic challenge, translation is easier said than done, and small US-based magazines just don’t have the resources to do it. Luckily, they’re all smart enough to know that they don’t have the resources to do it.

    Even mainstream magazines that appear in several languages (Vogue, Playboy, etc.) don’t simply translate content, but rather license their marks and some content to foreign publishers. Any SF magazine that wishes to enter a foreign market should consider that rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel in order to to lose money in TWO countries.

  71. 74

    Sean, if you are going to trade on your more-than-just-yankness record, and it is simple/cheap/free or whatever on the odd occasion, might be worth considering, though.

  72. I think KatG #58 raises a critical point about being able to pay higher rates than most all print or online ‘zines. As a writer myself, I don’t blame you, Mr. Scalzi, one bit for taking’s multiple of what you could’ve gotten for the story in most other SF markets.

    But as the Publisher of a pro-rate online magazine (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), I worry about a future where many big publishing houses may have websites featuring original short fiction. I’ve already gotten “scooped” on a short story by a big publisher website, even though I was offering a small multiple of pro rate.

    I don’t blame that author one bit either for selling to them. But as a magazine trying to expand the reader-base of fantasy short fiction by sprinkling a few novelists in with our short story authors, I wonder where such a trend might lead. There’s no chance I can compete with the ad budget of a big house. If such sites become more common, it may be very difficult for even pro-rate online magazines to attract the occasional novelist and the reader interest their work would bring.

    Scott H. Andrews
    Editor-in-Chief, Publisher
    Beneath Ceaseless Skies

  73. @Scott, I think that you may have forgotten that with any business, you have to distinguish yourself from your competitors, and while is very good at what it does it’s not the only game in town, and authors go where they think best, for their fiction. The small press has to compete all the time, after all, and strive to fill niches that the bigger boys aren’t going after.

    There’s more than enough room for everyone :p

  74. @Sean, “authors go where they think best, for their fiction”:

    Absolutely–as they always should. I’m an author too–I really did mean it when I said I don’t blame them one bit, because I would’ve done exactly the same thing were I in their shoes.

    I just worry how a landscape of online short fiction where many big houses have online original short fiction sites might change the situation at the indie ‘zine level. If other houses follow Tor’s lead, we may get to find out.

    Scott H. Andrews
    Editor-in-Chief, Publisher
    Beneath Ceaseless Skies,/em>

  75. Re for a price print vs free internet, here is the transcript of David Simon’s testimony at a Senate hearing “On The Future of Journalism.”


    [ “Anyone listening carefully may have noted that I was brought out of my reporting position in 1995. That’s well before the internet began to threaten the industry, before Craigslist and department store consolidation gutted the ad base, before any of the current economic conditions applied. In fact, when newspaper chains began cutting personnel and content, the industry was one of the most profitable yet discovered by Wall Street. We know now, because bankruptcy has opened the books, that the Baltimore Sun was eliminating its afternoon edition and trimming nearly a hundred reporters and editors in an era when the paper was achieving 37 percent profits.

    Such shortsighted arrogance rivals that of Detroit in the 1970s, when automakers offered up Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins without the slightest worry that mediocrity would be challenged by better-made cars from Germany or Japan. In short, my industry butchered itself, and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered free market logic that has proven so disastrous for so many American industries. Indeed, the original sin of American newspapering lies in going to Wall Street in the first place.” ]

  76. @ Scott, it’s a non-issue. There’s only a number of NY publishing houses with such fiction magazines: Baen, and Tor, each with their own demographics and approaches. There’s not too many others: Ace, Daw, Eos, perhaps, and they have their niches. The small press has always had to compete, but they identified their niches, occupied them, and succeeded at those. And there are a lot of niches out there.

  77. @Nick Mamatas
    “Even mainstream magazines that appear in several languages (Vogue, Playboy, etc.) don’t simply translate content, but rather license their marks and some content to foreign publishers.”

    I’m not sure about other countries/markets, but in my country nobody would care about the articles in the American edition of Vogue or Playboy because they talk about the daily issues of a society foreign to ours.

    I think fiction/art is a different thing.

    That said, I’m not contradicting anybody’s opinion on the uselessness of translations. I was just curious about it because I didn’t know how come nobody does it, not because I have a certain point to make.

  78. @rreugen #82

    That would be why Nick said they mostly lend out the trademark and name and let the foreign arm handle most of the content.

    It sounds like an excellent idea, because it (as you seem to say would be good) results in area-specific content that people would care about.

    Also it doesn’t sound like people are saying that translations have absolutely no intrinsic value (which is a strong implication from the word “worthless”) but that it’s difficult to financially sustain, especially for magazines that are already stretched, and all that.

  79. On the subject of “competing for short fiction” and all, the other major reason that I don’t know much about SF short fiction markets is that I don’t really write (or, for that matter, read) short fiction, so I have no real reason to seek them out. I get a short fiction idea that might be remotely saleable every couple of years, maybe, and more novel-sized ideas than I have time to write right now even if I had more work discipline.

    As a platform from which to launch goes (@Nick from the OC at #57) a medium that I’m neither good nor particularly productive in is not a good choice. And maybe “breaking in” as a novelist is harder without a short story publication background – I’ve been told more than once that I’m some kind of idiot for not putting my worst foot forward and trying to output more short stories so that my name gets out there (though never from actual people making editorial decisions, just rumormongers) – but since I don’t have a plausible option to do otherwise, I, well, don’t have a plausible option to do otherwise.

  80. RReugen — 1) They really can’t afford translators, but if Romania wants to start up a SFF magazine market on its own and translate incoming stories from foreign authors, that might work well. Publishing is becoming more international, but the magazines only get a small portion of the audience. Books work better.

    2) Most of the English SFF fan community is firmly on the Internet. But they also like print. Bundling print and electronic media is really probably one of the better directions book publishers and magazine publishers can try to go.

    3) It’s not that the stories are “bad,” which is subjective, but getting people’s attention on a very crowded Web is hard. There’s so much out there, that people tend to rely on going to large sites like for stories or Amazon for reviews and information. So even well-established, well-known authors can put stories up in places on the Internet and they can get missed. Only a few sites become the “brand” names, and size has a lot to do with it because with large size, you get more name awareness.

    Many SFF fans these days have never even heard of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, much less seen it, for instance. And even if the magazine pumped up its web site, that might not make a difference. But if it teams up, as a major publication in the field still, with the large destination sites, that might help everybody out. Hell, team up with McSweeney’s or Salon.

    Foxessa — that is very relevant for books. The book publishers in the U.S. got bought by media corporations that had shareholders. And they weren’t happy with the slow 2-5%, dependent on our backlist to make up our losses growth that book publishers operated on. So there were a lot of pressures on book publishers to grow more in revenue and size/sub-companies in the 1980’s and that has caused a lot of problems for the industry.

    Sean — it’s a little different in that small presses can find different sales venues to create a draw and a niche for a variety of book products and use local/regional advantage. But on the Internet, everything is the same sales venue and it’s all one place, more or less. That can have pluses and minuses for small book presses, but for magazines, again, it’s a much trickier problem. Short fiction used to be the main form of SFF publication that fans read. Now it’s largely a promotional gimmick.

    So the question is, how can a SFF magazine whose product is a regular compilation of stories by authors who are also offering free stories on the Web, and reviews just like free reviews on the Web, make any money, in print or online or a combination? They can’t offer the exclusivity of big names; that’s gone. They could just become anthologies and sell as books. Could they be like comic books? But to do that, how can they interest people more in short fiction so that their particular content has more appeal, in the way that a comic has particular appeal because it’s about Spiderman or Superman, and so that they can pay their authors more? (Though comics are also having sales troubles outside of the big two companies doing films.) How do you compete with free? This is the big conundrum.

    Of course, the Internet is likely to get a lot less free over the next ten years. Ad revenue on the Net is down in many sectors. Various companies are trying out subscription models. News Corp. and the Wall Street Journal are going to offer micro-subscriptions on news articles, which might work for the business sector, but probably not for most magazines and fiction magazines. The Internet server companies are trying to install meter programs where you have to pay for your Internet time by the hour, like you do with a cellphone. And the big publishers like Tor and Harper, and the experimental mid-size ones like Baen, may decide the promotional expenses of running their sites don’t provide enough payback in book sales and get rid of the fiction and other content. And nobody knows how the e-market for written material will develop, though develop it will.

  81. Baen’s been online since BBSes in the 80s. I don’t see them getting out of it. Baen’s Bar is a very busy community, and definitely leads to quite a few sales through Webscriptions.

    I’m not sure on JBU, but it’s still going and still paying.

    I see a compromise coming. Cell phones keep getting cheaper, as do long distance/cable/internet packages. I expect access will be so cheap soon that ISPs won’t be able to charge for hourly access. I can readily see monitored, billed access to media sites, though–news, music, video, etc.

    I expect pro publishing in various forms will continue. Theater still exists despite film, film despite TV, TV despite the web. It doesn’t take more than a 30 second perusal of free sites and fanfic (puke) to realize that a pro filter is a useful thing to have.

  82. Yes, it’s pretty simple: if you’re going to do a free release of a book on the intertubes, ya gotta have leverage somehow. Through your own site if it’s got the numbers, or someone else’s. Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of printing 4,000 copies of a hardcopy mag, but having no distribution or subscriber base and then somehow thinking those copies are gonna sell themselves.

    F&SF’s site looks like it was created in 1985, so it’s no surprise that the mentality is defensive re use of the internet…Ah well.


  83. “F&SF’s site looks like it was created in 1985, so it’s no surprise that the mentality is defensive re use of the internet…Ah well.”

    @Jeff: in fairness, though, wouldn’t the cost of rejigging and updating the website, hiring the guy to do it, be a bit prohibitive in cost*, particularly if that magazine along with others is struggling to maintain its numbers? Baen is very successful, but its website isn’t exactly a stunning example of Web 2.0. For Baen, it’s the content that counts. Charlie Stross is regarded within the genre as the technogeek wizard par excellence, and yet while his blog looks pretty much what a lot of websites looked like circa 1995, it hasn’t done him any harm.

    *(While noting that I know nothing about the costs of site design, and may therefore be talking rubbish.)

  84. I haven’t seen award nominations mentioned here, yet. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve noticed a significant advantage on the part of print publications when it comes to major award nominations in the short story and novella categories. Looking at this year’s Hugo nominees, Asimov’s owns the novella, novelette, and short story categories. Those are all stories I’ve never heard of, because like another commenter upthread, I didn’t even know that the magazine existed until I’d hit my twenties. Are people not nominating the stories they read at Futurismic and Tor? Or is it just that the nominating population reads paper, and everyone else reads pixels?

    One of the reasons I’m happy to submit stories online is that if I’m lucky enough to get them published, I have an instant permalink with which I can backlist those stories for anyone who’s curious. They’re just more accessible for a longer period of time. They’re also more likely to feature a comments function, so I can learn how readers felt about the story if they’re inclined to tell me. Online publication creates a relationship in a way that print sometimes doesn’t, and not only between author and reader, but between readers who can link each other to stories, clip them, review them, and thereby promote them (or hate on them, as the case may be).

    The Internet is not always the answer. (See above re: award nominations.) But I think there is a significant portion of the SF-enjoying (not always reading, but gaming and viewing) population for whom things that don’t happen online do not exist. If it’s unlinkable, it cannot be discussed. For these people, saying “I read this really good story in a magazine that has no online presence,” is like saying “a friend of my cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s roadie saw Bowie and Jagger kiss, once.” It’s rumour. And if publishing (all publishing, from newspapers to genre to academia) fails to understand this, it will soon lose the Darwinian struggle to reproduce new readers.

  85. @ Gary, the cost of updating a relatively-static website like Analog, Asimov’s, or F&SF, is rather minimal, actually. The internet is populated with designers that would do it at the drop of a hat. Site design doesn’t take long, nor does it cost that much money. Beyond that, dependent on what you’re trying to do, yes, the form and format of your site can vary, but magazines, for the most part, should look appropriate for their intended demographic. For all I know Baen’s Universe greatly appeals to current and future readers. And for all I know Stross’s blog works well with its intended market, too. (As a lot of newer websites are blog-driven/wordpress-driven, it makes little difference). It’s hard to tell, either way, unless both of their numbers have been increasing in a sustainable long-term direction.

    @ Madeline, the award systems are still dominated by those voters that read print zines over online, though it was heartening to see Clarkesworld recognised by the Hugos, this year. Maybe we may be see things balancing out, sooner or later.

  86. “But I think there is a significant portion of the SF-enjoying (not always reading, but gaming and viewing) population for whom things that don’t happen online do not exist. If it’s unlinkable, it cannot be discussed. For these people, saying “I read this really good story in a magazine that has no online presence,” is like saying “a friend of my cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s roadie saw Bowie and Jagger kiss, once.” It’s rumour. And if publishing (all publishing, from newspapers to genre to academia) fails to understand this, it will soon lose the Darwinian struggle to reproduce new readers.”

    That’s hitting the nail on the head, Ms. Ashby. The gaming audience is huge and growing. They’re playing SFF games in the majority. Some of them are also written SFFH fans, but a lot of them aren’t. Same for comics, film, t.v. SFFH fiction is actually doing pretty brilliantly in the market, compared to other types of fiction. But to keep going, getting those groups’ attention and winning some converts is pretty important.

    As for updating websites, Tor ironically had one of the worst publisher websites ever only a few years ago. For other SFF imprints with big houses, there was the full catalog with graphics and they’d send me email newsletters, etc. Whereas Tor had long print lists of titles with no information about them at all. It was awful. And then boom, they hired somebody or bugged Macmillan or something, and they finally had an updated site, and then they were offering free books as a promotional experiment, and then within two years, they launched So yeah, MFSF could do an update of their site and it might help. They could offer a free “bonus” story for each issue online. They could offer more stories archived from older issues online. They could try to have more of a discussion community than just the message board they have now, etc.

    And I’m sure that a lot of those things are being talked about as possibilities. It’s just a trickier situation for magazines on the Internet than it is for books. But there is a lot the magazines can learn from Scalzi and the “Big Three” and Neil Gaiman as well. Authors always have to do the bulk of the promotion. They’re the ones who come up with creative approaches and solutions. So lets hope the magazines get a little more open to considering these ideas, even if what the authors are doing isn’t always a perfect fit for the magazines.

  87. OK, here’s a radical suggestion – what if F&SF moved to a print / digital subscription model, offered a discount and back issue access (starting from the new releases to make contract changes unnecessary for older stories) and added advertising into the digital releases.

    Really, thinking about it, gives me access to Scalzi’s story for free, but they at least have some form of advertising going. I’m not paying for the site, but I might if I liked good short stories enough, and I’d probably put up with some ads as well – after all, I do in print magazines. I’d probably consider a subscription fee for archivable digital copies of I could read on a kindle (if I had a kindle – it’s what makes buying one dangerous. I spend $15 a month on music and audiobooks already).

    So my question is, how many subscribers at what rate, how many ads, and at what rate for ads (CPM) would an e-subscription have to charge to make enough to sustain its self enough to pay it’s staff and pay authors decent rates.

    If they’ve already got a print model that’s making just enough to get by on, wouldn’t adding in an online subscription and advertising in that just add more profit? Granted, setting something like this up would have costs up front, so it’d be an investment, and a potential risk. But it could work.

  88. I think that SF mags would have made the transition easily if the web were instead known as the Synchro-Teleopticon.

  89. I just noticed Scott Sigler’s post here. He did it differently than the “Big 3” (especially the podcast format), but is a great success. We’ll be talking about the “Big 4” soon enough…

  90. Well, they already have a digital subscription edition of the magazine, so I’m not sure I’m following you here entirely Josh. The article on the gaming folk is interesting, but while I think some authors may move into games, I doubt there will be a mass exodus for several reasons. What I meant was more that SFFH fiction needs to piggyback and team up more with games, comics, and film/t.v. promotionally. The SFF publishers have a booth at the Comiccons and bring some of their authors, and we need more of that and higher profile. There may be ways to do it more on the Web as well, especially as Hollywood is pretty interested in written SFFH at the moment.

    All great congratulations to Scott Sigler and he may indeed become part of a “Big 4,” but I feel a bit compelled to point out that if they hadn’t liked his novel on the Web and started talking about it to others who also liked it — nothing would have happened, any more than happens with millions of videos on YouTube. It’s Sigler’s appeal to readers, not just a marketing gimmick, that got him where he is. Fiction readers aren’t impressed by marketing gimmicks if they don’t like the fiction. But as a way of getting the word out there, I’m sure it will be investigated by many.

  91. 96> We’re in agreement on Scott. He writes great stories. If he didn’t, no amount of web presence would make a difference.

  92. Bah I got pulled away. Thanks for the answer Josh. My Hmm was the realization that one could commission work from someone like Scalzi for an amount that’s actually within the reach of an uppermiddle class person. $.05/word being mid-range, let’s go high and pay $.10. For a 10,000 word story, that’s $1000.

    The corollary to the Hmm was that one could launch a monthly site for very little cost as such things go. Think about it:

    1) Premium high end hosting is $500-1000 a year.
    2) 2 stories per month at the rate above is $2000/month or $24,000 per year. Double that to get shorter columns on SF news, etc.

    Assuming a volunteer staff, that’s about $50,000 for year 1. If it takes off and starts to get enough traction to generate revenue, pay an editor a salary (or divide the salary amount among 2-3 part-time editors). Say $50,000/year. Modest, but you’re editing a couple of stories and some columns, not the NYT. Year 2 costs are under $100k.

    If you cut back year 1 to every other month the first year costs are about $12-13,000. You could also drop the word rate to $.07 etc to slightly adjust numbers, but get 6 people to take a risk and put $2000 in and you’re funded. That’s pretty amazing.

    Now, yes, I’m skipping lots of details but I can’t think of anything that would materially alter those figures aside from paying staff for the first year. Software? WordPress and a good magazine theme. Promotion? Viral/social. Pimp on places like the pimp threads here, maybe buy some text ads or Adwords ads. Be active on Twitter etc and among the community.

    I don’t know, I just find it incredible to think that a) fairly middle class people could start and fund an operation like this and b) that you couldn’t make this turn a profit. Not, probably, one in the millions, but if you had annual costs in the $100k range you don’t need much to break even. Assuming completely free marketing, $100k, but if you reinvest some revenue back into marketing even a revenue stream of $250k starts to look pretty nice.

  93. Most online magazine don’t publish 20,000 words of fiction per issue.

  94. I like to be different. :)

    I spent a bit of time working rough numbers. If is in the ballpark re traffic numbers pulls in ~25,000 visits a month (not uniques, though those are roughly the same which is interesting). It would be interesting to know ballpark CPMs for such sites. But say you published 10,000 words of fiction per site – that’s a $6-12,000 per year cost.

    100k pageviews at $2/CPM with 4 ads each generating that CPM is about $9500 per year. If you can drive engagement up (increasing pageviews/visit), ad units up or if you can can drive CPM up, that quickly scales to something that’s interesting on a small scale. At 500,000 pageviews per month that’s about $50k/year. But you’ll need a decent number of visitors generating those views to keep the CPM at $2.

    However, getting an online site to produce, say, $1m per year is going to be hard. VERY hard.

  95. Rick, almost no one ever fully sells out of inventory. The $2 CPM won’t be fully sold out. Some might, but the rest will go to remnant resellers on some ad network somewhere. $0.50 CPM would be on the high end for profit back to the site for that sort of deal.

    And CPM rates are falling fast as ad budgets dry up.

  96. Well again, the three ways to make money for an online magazine are advertising, selling products and subscription. Subscription or pay-to-view doesn’t work so well online for fiction because Internet surfers can usually get the same or similar thing for free elsewhere. That leaves you dependent on getting advertisers and maybe selling products, which have various costs. So maybe you have $50,000 to blow in the first year. Most middle class people don’t, but hey, maybe you’re actually a wealthy venture capitalist. You spend that first year getting established. Say you get 20,000 views a month. Can you find advertisers who will pay you a total of $50,000 the next year to cover your costs so you break even? Can you find advertisers to cover paying your volunteer staff actual salaries and to turn a profit? Will two stores a month do it?

    Now obviously Strange Horizons has managed this. But many other online magazines, very well-funded, have crashed and burned, as Van Gelder points out. Now maybe they were just bad at it. But advertisers have very little interest in SFFH fiction magazines. It’s an uphill battle. It may not cost a lot at first, and a lot of print semi-pro mags have been started up by fans, but it’s the keeping it going thing that’s a lot harder.

  97. And then there’s allocating the expense as marketing, for the publishing programme . . .

  98. KatG – re-read what I’ve said above. You could get the first year costs as low as ~$12,000 by moving to 5-10k words, paing $0.05 vs the $0.10 I used, etc. That is well within range for a handful of middle-class people. Not one, no, but 4-6? Sure, if they wanted to. Now, that’s just the cost of paying for the stories, but hosting is cheap. Site? WordPress and a nice theme are free or cheap (if you find a theme you want to pay for). So, yes, this is easily doable by a few middle-class friends. What struck me initially was that you could commission a story from someone like Scalzi (or Chiang or Buckell or….) for ~$1000 if they’d take the ten cent rate. Heck, even at 20 cents, a 10,000 word story is $2000. And it’s YOUR story. That’s rather cool.

    Josh – Yeah, I know that ad inventory never fully sells out. But for the rough what if, I just posited 4 ad units that did. Here’s the disturbing part, and where I think Gordon is right and the web positivists are wrong (from a publisher’s point of view) – at the current ad rates no online venue will ever turn $1m in revenues. Getting 500,000 page views/month at the $8/page CPM (each pageview generating $8 ) yields $48k per year. Now, 500k view isn’t much, but it’s not trivial either. You’ll probably need 25-50,000 real people looking at your site every month. You can, of course, try to drive engagement up a lot by getting them to visit more often, but unless you get a lot more people or each one views a lot more pages, you’re not making much from ads.

    Now, for that group of friends investing ~$15k/year, a $50k/year income is a nice hobby. But it’s not the kind of revenue that let’s you pay a staff or expand. The bottomline is that we’ve raised a generation that wants everything for free yet the ad revenue model that worked to give people free radio and free TV doesn’t work anymore because the ads are valued so little by the advertisers. And the advertisers can track effectiveness now, so that value is a pretty accurate reflection of what the ad is really worth to them – if ad effectiveness were higher, an advertiser would swoop in, outbid the cheapskates, own inventory and cleanup.

    We simply aren’t going to see successful online fiction sites unless they drive a LOT of traffic, get sponsors who will routinely pay high CPMs for the specific audience that visits the sites (and if that happens competitors will open) or unless people start paying for the content. To be clear, I mean successful in the sense of paid staff that earns middle class wages, professional rates being paid for stories and at least as many words of fiction as you have seen historically in the print magazines.

  99. “And it’s YOUR story. That’s rather cool.”

    Well no, technically it isn’t your story. It’s Scalzi’s story. He retains the rights to it. What you get is the right to print it in your magazine, probably exclusively, either for the first time (first serial) or as a reprint (second serial.) You might also get a few other ancillary rights such as the right to include the story in an anthology from the magazine, though an additional fee would be paid to Scalzi or a royalty on the anthology. Beyond that, though, Scalzi has the right to reprint his story later on in some other publication, anthology, a short story collection, turn it into a novel, put it online for free, etc. Meanwhile, other Scalzi stories, such as the ones at, are available for free online.

    Which is totally fair — it’s his work. But again, this does cause magazines to have to figure out how else to draw readers when it’s not that hard to get ahold of the authors’ short fiction. And as you note, the advertising situation isn’t pretty. But yes, friends can get together and start a magazine and give it a go, and some do, print and online.

  100. Bleh. You’re right of course Kat. I even knew that, but just brain-spasmed.

    The more I thnk about this, the more I think that online fiction sites that are not run by volunteers or a wealthy patron, i.e. sites that pay their staff reasonable wages, are doomed. Absent a significant uptick in ad rates or market acceptance of subscription fees, the figures just don’t work. I’m sure my fictional band of friends could get a site to break even and even to a slight profit but even paying 2 people fulltime wages of, say $50k would quickly sink it.

  101. Rick – The more I thnk about this, the more I think that online fiction sites that are not run by volunteers or a wealthy patron, i.e. sites that pay their staff reasonable wages, are doomed. Absent a significant uptick in ad rates or market acceptance of subscription fees, the figures just don’t work.

    Or a large publishing company (or publishing group) using the site as a marketing effort, instead of expecting it to be a profit maker right off the bat.

    Like, in fact.

  102. Sure, except that Pablo has mentioned that this site isn’t a loss-leader for the publishing arm and needs to stand on its own.

  103. I’m sure my fictional band of friends could get a site to break even and even to a slight profit but even paying 2 people fulltime wages of, say $50k would quickly sink it.

    A lot of people in publishing don’t make $50K a year either.

    Yeah, if you spend a lot of money publishing novelettes and paying people a full-time wage to…edit two 10K word a month(?) you’ll lose a lot of money.

    That’s why nobody is doing that. Not the print mags either.

  104. Um, Nick… Yeah, I know. My point is that revenues online won’t scale with the number of stories – I don’t see any reason why having more stories will linearly scale the revenues, yet at some point you need to pay people. Do the math – even if you get 20k people to visit the site once every week and look at 3 pages each visit (and most will bounce after one page) you’re at 240k pageviews. At $8/pageCPM you’re making… $1,920 per month. At that rate, you can afford to pay for 2, MAYBE 3 stories per month. If people only visit once a month when new stories are posted… you could easily see that monthly ad revenue be $500 not $2k. Any payment to an editor or any marketing expense at all will swiftly turn this upside down.

  105. Um, rick…if you “know” you may wish to stick to reasonable numbers in your thought experiment. You’ve not provided any yet,

    not for story length (try up to 4K, rather than 10K flat)

    nor for per word rate (try a range, 5-7 cents a word)

    nor for publication schedule (hint: does F&SF come out every month?)

    nor for salaries. I have no idea why, for example, you seem to think the editors of the print mags make “middle class wages”—they often pursue other opportunities such as teaching at Clarion and other places, editing anthologies, working as literary agents, etc. because the magazines are essentially part-time jobs (or small businesses from which one would not draw a large salary while trying to develop equity via sweat).

    So why, exactly, would online mags have to meet a higher standard than the print mags?

    Your thought experiment also leaves aside other revenue streams: direct donation, affiliate programs with online retailers, licensing the brand for anthologies, direct sale of a related product (including print books), convention/party development etc. a la Horrorfind back in the early 2000s, sale of stories via Fictionwise and other such channels, the creation of a reprint section which can increase the number of stories while reducing the price of stories, etc.

    In other news, if I pay the person who walks my dog $200 an hour, I lose money even if I have seven dogs! But so what?

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