readercon catchup #4: The Future of Speculative Fiction Magazines, Part 2
[after some haranguing, i’ve decided to split this last post up. i’ll refit the others later, i think.]
seriously. with the HHNF first draft finished last night, i have no excuse, so one way or another, this will be the last of them.
The Future of Speculative Fiction Magazines, Part 2: Online Magazines / Conclusions
this was another powerhouse panel of folks from the publishing and editing world, this time primarily online, obviously. Mary Robinette Kowal (writer and puppeteer) started off by asking the panel if they wanted to respond to the previous panel, as most everyone seemed to have been in attendance for both. Neil Clarke (editor/publisher of Clarkesworld) first responded to an earlier statement about 50% of users in US still offline, saying that the number is actually closer to 20% (i did a little research myself and found the Pew Report here, showing just under 75% penetration as of August 2008). Sean Wallace (founder/editor of Prime Books) responded to the ‘invisibility’ of SF online, stating he gets between 30- and 60,000 page views (though no-one raised the point about the difference between page views and unique visitors, which i thought was surprising). K Tempest Bradford (writer, bloggger and former Fantasy Magazine editor) replied to a previous statement that print publishers could go online easier than online publishers could go to print, asking ‘why would online mags want to go to print?’ followed by stating that you have to find the best way to reach your audience, regardless. Matthew Kressel (writer, and publisher/editor of Sybil’s Garage) responded to the lack of SF print magazines in India, saying that Sybil’s garage has selections available online and many other mags have more, all accessible from anywhere.
Robert Killheffer (many things, including former editor and co/founder of both Century and Event Horizon magazines) didn’t respond to anything, but said that the fundamental issue is how to make a viable business from an online publication. how do you make money? Matt brought up Steampunk Tales, an iPhone app-drivencollection of fiction, which, by virtue of being on the iPhone, avoids the perception of online=free.* this position of online(free) v. app($) was supported by the group, though i still think it wasn’t fully explored.**
Neil also agreed, but said there is no 1 business model of success, that subscription is also key. ads, though, for him aren’t worth it, which the panel also unanimously agreed upon: “the purpose of online ads is to take the audience away. why is that a good thing?”
Matt identified that in all times of media transition, the old medium must prove it’s worth in order to survive; it must show what it does better or different than the others. he used radio as an example. instead of being wiped out by talking pictures (TV and movies), it found a sweet spot in the car and other mobile venues, where people can’t focus on visual media (though someone did point out that they’ve seen people watching their little DVD screens while driving, which made everyone laugh, with just a hint of terror). Matt said the key of print is its physicality and in the flexibility of its form, referring to the art and other marginalia that he uses liberally in Sybil’s Garage.
K (i’m not sure if she goes by the initial or not, but boy did i save a lot of space and time not writing out her whole name, eh?) had another of those self-evident-after-the-fact statements: the online world is capable of some pretty amazing stuff (hypertext stories – Robert mentioned Geoff Ryman’s hypertext story ‘253‘ – visually, etc.), but we actually have to wait for the writers to catch up to the possibilities. authors are not writing for the web, yet. Neil responded with a story from Clarkesworld #32 ‘From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7‘ by Nnedi Okorafor, which played with audio and text.
Neil then made a point of saying that a PDF of a print mag is NOT what he considers online content. it’s still bound by the same constrictions as print. Sean said that one of the key elements and benefits of genuine online content, especially important for fiction, is timely interaction with your audience: the immediate response times of blog posts, reviews, and other community-style elements.
Mary summed the conversation so far up with reference to Jim Henson’s removal of the proscenium in his work. this then moved to CGI, but there has been a recent and steady return to puppetry (and other physical animation) in films because people have learned that CGI is not the answer for everything. after which statement, K said ‘because CGI Yoda was not cool!’, followed by someone (i think either Sean or Robert) saying ‘Cool it was not!’, which together got, i think, the biggest laughs and cheers of any of the panels i attended, and rightly so.***
the core point is valid, though, and was the essence of much of the rest of the panel, with a small but important digression brought in by Ernest Lilley of SFRevu who was in the audience, regarding stickiness: how do online pubs keep people on the site, instead of landing on one page/story and then bouncing right back out afterward? Sean mentioned ‘related items’ features, but Neil gave what i think was the best answer: ‘i used to worry about it. i don’t anymore. it’s unimportant. if one story gets a major hits compared to others, then it’s extra marketing and that’s all. it’s like the iPhone, now. nobody buys the whole album anymore.’****
then Mary asked the panel to posit about the future, any conclusions/visions:
- Robert: we’re still in the infancy of all this.
- Matt – fear is wrong, excitement is cool; any way we can get fiction to people is good
- K – this isn’t about print OR online, it’s about quality; also, keeping up with readership, who looks more like her (a black woman) than the rest of the panel (white men)
- Sean – short fiction is not dead, period.
- Neil – i love the frontier, i love the chaos.
all of this was good, but Michael Burstein’s comment from the previous panel bears repeating: if you like it, pay for it.
* it’s now available via regular PDF so not iPhone-specific, but still at a cost.
** perhaps another readercon topic?
*** and also indicated a particular, though not always obvious, tone to readercon, which appeared again in the next panel, re: Twilight. there is sometimes a very distinct tone about the types of works discussed, and those notably not discussed, at readercon, which, as a relative newbie, i find very interesting. it may be seen as elitist, and certainly by authors some of the books in question, and while i tend to personally agree with many of the statements, i tend to keep such things to myself. and my ever-suffering wife. sorry, dear.
**** except me, i guess. the point is well made, though.