The winner of the 2019 Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished original science fiction paperback published for the first time during 2018 in the U.S.A. is: Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (Europa). Special Citation was given to 84k by Claire North (Orbit).
The PKD Award was presented Friday, April 19, 2019 at Norwescon 42, in SeaTac, Washington.
How do you make money on a product given away for free? That’s a problem all websites face, but I’m particularly worried about those that publish science fiction short stories. Let’s say you pay 10-cents a word to writers and offer 100,000 words of quality fiction to your readers each month. That’s $10,000 of overhead just for stories. Advertising won’t cover that. And even generous Patreon donors will tire quickly. What’s a publisher to do? Neil Clarke over at Clarkesworld brought this conundrum up on Twitter the other day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I love reading science fiction short stories and would hate to see their publishers go out of business. Traditionally, short science fiction was distributed in printed magazines supported by subscriptions. After the internet websites began publishing short SF for free, which competed with the magazines. Their success has steadily grown as more and more awards are given to stories that are first published on the web, as well as seeing a greater percentage of these stories anthologized in the best-of-the-year volumes. It’s now a disadvantage to be published in print.
Magazines have declining revenues while websites struggle for any revenue. This can’t go on. A new monetizing model needs to be discovered.
Free-to-read stories help authors find fans and win awards, but at what cost? Making a profit from selling fiction has always been hard, but it is impossible when the price is free. If I was writing a science fiction story, I wouldn’t picture this in the future. Nor would I predict internet publishing failing and print publishing reviving.
Subscribing to the digital editions of the SF/F magazines seems to be the main hope at the moment. But too many readers still expect SF stories for free. A suggestion was made in the twitter thread that online publishers retain part of their content for exclusive eBook editions, but Clarke replied he doesn’t want to penalize those writers by hiding their stories. What’s needed is for readers to buy subscriptions and let all the stories be published on the net for free. A Zen koan. If a story is published on the net, readers who love it share it with friends. Being free helps a story find readers. But, can publishers find enough paying subscribers to support all the freeloaders?
There are two kinds of readers — casual ones who read short stories rarely, and dedicated ones who cherish short science fiction as a distinct art form. Subscribers will be the patrons of this art. The question is: Are there enough patrons out there to support SF magazines? Could original anthologies completely replace the periodicals? I hope short science fiction doesn’t become like the world of classical music where local symphonies must constantly beg for money from a dwindling patron base. There are really two problems here: declining readership and declining subscriptions.
Rocket Stack Rank regularly reviews 11 SF/F magazines, as well as a significant number of anthologies and other publishers of short SF. There are even more SF/F magazines out there that they don’t cover, just look at WWEnd’s list of over 60+ magazines that cover the SF/F/H genres. Magazines come and go, and whether or not they get to stay depends on making money. For example, Amazing Stories is publishing again. Steve Davidson is doing everything he can to resurrect that legendary title that’s gone out of business many times.
Magazines and websites need income to stay in existence, but finding a revenue stream in an era where everyone expects everything online for free is a big burden. I’m not sure the market can support 11+ magazines. I expect a big shake-out in the near future. Would more magazines be profitable if there was less competition?
I subscribe to 4 magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed) because I get them for $2.99 a month each through Amazon. I do it this way because it’s so damn convenient. I can read these magazines on my phone or tablet. I can unsubscribe at any time so there’s no real commitment. I consider the $12 I spend each month as my way of supporting short science fiction. Most people think of patrons of the arts as rich folks who give thousands to their favorite orchestra or museum. $12 a month is my way of being a penny-ante patron of an obscure art form.
I would also subscribe to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction if it offered a $2.99 a month subscription. I’d subscribe to other magazines if they offered $1.99 or $2.99 subs through Amazon. Some magazines offer individual issues for sale at Amazon, like Interzone for $4.99 each, and I’ll buy those when Rocket Stack Rank rates one of their stories highly.
For folks who don’t like Amazon, eBook editions of these magazines are available elsewhere.
It doesn’t bother me that two of the magazines I subscribe to offer their stories for free online. It’s easier to read them on my phone, but I like that the stories are there for free. When I find an outstanding tale, I enjoy telling my friends or blog about them, and having that link means there’s a greater chance of folks giving the story a try. I also want internet browsing to always be free.
The science fiction magazines will need several thousand subscribers to keep them going. Is this the ultimate solution to the problem? Can each genre magazine find at least 10,000 patrons? The other day Apple launched AppleNews+ which provides 300+ magazines for $10 a month. If it succeeds it might draw tens of millions of subscribers.
Introducing Apple News+ - YouTube
Unfortunately, none of those 300+ magazines are fiction magazines. The reason why I love subscribing to Spotify is it provides for all my music needs in one source. What if AppleNews+ provided for all my periodical needs? I have no idea if these 300 magazines will make money from AppleNews+ but they are still offering their print, web, and eBook editions too. Maybe the solution is having multiple revenue streams.
Can the new Netflix model for magazines work? Would hundreds of magazines sharing a tiny bit from millions of subscribers pay better than thousands of subscribers paying larger chunks of change?
AppleNews+ offers several categories of magazines (Business + Finance, Cars, Entertainment, Food, Health, etc.). Wouldn’t it be interesting if they included a category for Literature? They could offer various genre magazines, literary journals, poetry magazines, and maybe even Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers. That way all the would-be writers of the world would want to subscribe.
Over the last decade, I’ve tried Zinio, Texture, and other e-magazine services. I subscribed to Texture for a couple of years and then canceled. I went back to paper magazines. I didn’t feel I was using Texture enough. I thought if I had magazines lying around the house again I’d do more reading. But I haven’t. I signed up for AppleNews+ because, at $10 a month, it’s far cheaper, and I won’t have those piles of magazines around the house making me feel guilty. It’s a cheap enough way to have magazines when I do want them.
I’ve come to realize that I have to pay if I want certain things in this world to exist, even if I don’t use them.
I subscribe to four SF magazines that I seldom read. I read when I can, or when I see a story recommended, or when a friend tells me about a story. I subscribe because I want them to exist. I subscribe because I want a place for new SF writers to get published. I subscribe because one day if I can ever get back into writing fiction I’ll have a place to submit my stories.
We have to realize that free content on the internet isn’t free. We’ve got to come up with revenue systems that work. I think the internet needs to remain free, so we can always have instant access to content, but we need to find ways to pay publishers who present free content on the web.
The rising costs of printing and postage are making publishing the old way impractical. I love printed magazines. Last year I subscribed to Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF because I thought I wanted to collect them again. But they all ruined that desire by putting mailing labels on their beautiful covers. If they had shipped their magazines in protective wrappers I would still be subscribing to the print editions. I have a nostalgia for that. But I feel the age of printed magazines is nearly over. It’s actually much easier to read AppleNews+ than the paper magazines. Many of the essays I read from AppleNews+ are free to read on the web or through Flipboard, but AppleNews+ formats the content for eye-friendlier reading. That’s also worth $10 a month.
I’d love if AppleNews+ included fiction magazines. Or if all the fiction magazine publishers allied together and created a monthly subscription service like AppleNews+. I’d be willing to pay another $10 a month for it.