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I wrote this a few years ago - can't recall offhand where it was published - but jimvanpelt's recent discussions about the importance of short SF made me dig it up to share here. Also, with the rise of excellent original anthologies, consider adding "or original anthology" (also "or webzine") whenever I use the word "magazine":

Wherever science fiction readers and professionals gather these days, it seems that conversations inevitably lead to dire forecasts for SF’s future (you have been talking with other readers, haven’t you?). Especially, we hear gloom and doom about the magazines:
  • SF’s readership is aging and we’re not attracting new, young readers.

  • Subscription roles are declining.

  • Paper, printing, distribution, and other costs are driving the industry
    into poverty.

  • The magazines can’t possibly stay in business; such-and-such is sure to
    fold by next year.
And so on... you get the picture. Let’s be honest and admit there is a problem. Wring your hands if you must. Okay, now it’s time to move on to finding a solution. What can we do about it? More to the point, why should we care?

I sure hope you’re asking yourself what you can do. It seems that the folks who most often sadly shake their heads as they prophesize the death of SF aren’t thinking beyond their dark forecast. Dammit, don’t just sit there and await the inevitable like some beached sea mammal! You are an SF reader – that noblest, most intelligent, most future-thinking of all readers, aren’t you? Do something! Show that you care!

If you love SF, you should care about keeping the magazines alive because they are the very heart of the genre. Others have made convincing arguments that SF is a genre today because of the magazines. The magazines provide the forum and idea-playground that develops new writers and literary movements, they are diverse in their subjects and authors, they publish new voices alongside those well-known, and they allow experimentation in form and idea that simply can’t be sustained in longer forms. The magazines keep the book industry vibrant by feeding publishers proven authors, and they allow an alternative for authors not interested in writing novels. They are a great way for readers to discover new voices without the risk of buying novels by unknown authors. They take us to new worlds many times over in each and every issue.

When I was a boy, I read the anthologies and magazines almost to the exclusion of novels. By sticking with short stories, I didn’t need to worry about spending all my reading money on a single book that might not provide the magic I sought. Every collection of short stories or issue of a magazine contained at least one story that fed my imagination and stirred my sense of wonder. And I could read a story in a single sitting, even during my most distractible years, while a novel might easily end up getting closed and staying that way. I firmly believe that getting short SF into the hands of young people is not only good for those youngsters and civilization as a whole (long story; see A Call to Arms part one from a few years back), but is necessary to maintain the health of our genre.

So, what can each of us do to keep the magazines alive and vital?

I challenge everyone to do the following. This means you and me. If we all act on as many of these suggestions as we can, we will not only save the magazines but also ensure a vibrant future for the genre we love:
  • Take part in the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's AboutSF programs, including donating fiction and sharing SF-teaching curricula.

  • If you're reading this, you really need to subscribe to at least one magazine if you don’t already. Here's a list of magazines - pick at least one.

  • If you’re a writer, subscribe to every magazine where you want to publish. This is not just for the magazines’ well-being, but is also your only hope of understanding how to match your stuff to the right market.

  • Gift a subscription to at least one person every year. Give a subscription instead of a like-priced present. A magazine is a monthly reminder that you care. Some of them will continue their subscriptions after the gift expires, too, doubling your efforts and expanding our readership.

  • Gift a subscription to a young adult. If you have a child and you’re not already doing this, get on it! Without the infusion of new readers, SF has no future.

  • Gift a subscription to a local library, especially a junior-high or high-school library, but a college or public library would be grand, too. (Note that some magazines are more appropriate for younger readers than others, but don't let that stop you: Didn't we all read age-inappropriate fiction as kids? Did it harm us?) Most libraries don’t subscribe to all the SF magazines, and many don’t subscribe to any of them. This is usually tax-deductible, so what are you waiting for?

  • Visit your favorite webzines regularly and interact with the content. This is how they stay in business. If it's a subscription-based webzine, do as above.

  • You have a business? Buy advertising in the magazines, both print and online. You might not reach as many potential buyers as you would with an ad in TIME, but it’s much cheaper and SF readers buy all kinds of stuff too! If you wouldn’t act on the previous suggestions because they feel like charity, this is how you can support the SF mags while investing for your own future.

  • You manage the advertising budget of the company you work for? Allot part of next month’s (or next year’s) budget to go to the magazines. It’s no less cost-effective than any other venue. Buy a color ad and really stand out!
If each and every one of us acts on only one of these suggestions, we can assure the future of SF by keeping its heart – the magazines – beating well into the future. Do the following now, right now, before the impulse fades:
  • Write down a list of people and libraries for whom a subscription is appropriate.

  • Find the phone number of the libraries and call to see what magazines they carry. If they don’t already carry your favorite, ask how to make your donation. Librarians are very helpful.

  • Add your favorite webzines to your Favorites or Bookmarks list.

  • Call the advertising department of at least one magazine and find out how much it costs to advertise your product or service. Buy a full-page ad that runs for a year and you’ll likely get a big price break; some magazines offer the same discount if your ad runs in every other issue. (Note that ads in online magazines offer instant traffic to your website.) Find a way to do this for all the magazines.

  • Do you not subscribe because you don't like a particular magazine's editorial direction? Well, write the editors! They care about what their readership wants and doesn't want. They can't improve their product unless they hear from you.
Go here to find a list of SF magazines.

Tomorrow morning, I’m sending off three gift subscriptions for friends and family. I’m going to call the library of the local high schools. I'm going to spread the word to schools and libraries that AboutSF is looking for organizations and young folks to register so that generous-minded SF readers can supply them with books and magazines, and that it's looking for educators to get involved by sharing curriculum for teaching SF. I’m going to do this because I refuse to be one of those people who bemoans the death of SF and then sits idly by as my worst fears come to be. That’s not the SF mentality!

So, what are you going to do to keep SF vital and strong? Answer with action!

Best,
Chris

PS: I cross-posted this over at the SFWA LJ. If any of you consider SFWA to be intimidating to join, perhaps reading some of the comments there will enlighten you a bit *g*

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
roseconnelly
Aug. 10th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
You know, there is only one magazine subscription that I have right now, and I will not renew that. You know why? It is all online. Same reason that I don't subscribe to newspapers either. Any short information, I prefer to just read online. Longer ones, not so much. I still like to curl up with a book.

If you want to drive young people to SF, maybe you need to follow the technology of young people. If I was looking into reading short SF, I would rather have access to stories online where I can save my favorites for easy access to read anytime and the ability to discuss instantaneously with others reading the same story than having a bunch of magazines pile up at my house.

It is SF afterall, you should already be dumping stories straight into their brains.



mckitterick
Aug. 10th, 2007 05:27 pm (UTC)
I bet you mean WIRED. See, I like the print version for bathroom reading. Ahem.

You're onto something there, though: Follow the young'uns technology. This is exactly what I've been working on doing, by the way... wanna help?
roseconnelly
Aug. 11th, 2007 03:29 am (UTC)
Yes!
sarahbrand
Aug. 10th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
I plan to subscribe to a magazine or two as soon as I get the money together. Although I love the Internet, I prefer to read stories the old-fashioned way.
bdkellmer
Aug. 11th, 2007 02:12 am (UTC)
not my father's SF
Okay, before I go on, let me say that I'm all for a subscription drive and all-out effort to help the genre magazines out there. Anything that can be done to support them -- I'm for it.

That being said, I'm not sure that I believe in the immense importance of the short form in SF anymore. Short stories have, for years, been fading in at least the American consciousness. Lots of fiction-based magazines (and not just genre ones) have gone the way of the dodo. Since the '50s, short fiction has been slowly fading, and we're at the point where it's on the edge of going away, at least in dead-tree ware. I think we're particularly sensitive to it in the SF community because we have our roots in it. But does it contribute to modern SF? Sure, but not as much as many people think (in my opinion).

I think that many folks tend to overstate the importance of short stories to SF based on our history, and in many cases, to their own personal experience. Lots of people started reading short stories for their SF fix. But more and more people nowadays didn't. Honestly, I never read short stories (SF or otherwise) as a kid. I still don't really care to read them (which makes writing them a pretty difficult task). There are quite a few people out there who feel the same way, and as the magazines decrease in number, that's only going the continue. (Not that I think that's a good thing).

The short fiction arena isn't what it once was. It used to be a great way to get young people into the genre, but these days it sucks for that. Most of what gets published, at least in most of the big print magazines, is stuff that pushes the envelope, that stretches the boundaries of the genre. That's great, but it means inevitably that many of us will find only a couple of stories in a magazine that interest us, and many young people won't find any at all. Do I think that the short story magazines contribute an important aspect to SF? Absolutely! Do I think they should be supported as much as possible! Absolutely! And then some! But do I think that short stories have the same function and importance to the genre that they used to? I'm afraid not.

I'm not big on reading short stories -- I'm a novel person, and I always have been. Part of this is because I like a healthy dose of my SF at once, part of this is because I don't care for many of the types of stories that are being published these days. I will, however, put my money where my mouth is and over the next week, I'm going to subscribe to 2 print magazines as my part of supporting them. (I just have to figure out which ones).
hlmt
Aug. 11th, 2007 04:31 am (UTC)
Mmm, totally disagree about short stories--they're some of my favorites. I get really tired of reading tedious sf/fantasy where you know the author is being paid by the word cuz, well... how many adjectives *can* you get into one sentence? I think short stories are in many ways the epitome of the craft, because every word counts when it comes to building an "alien" world for the reader.

But what I really wanted to comment on were the magazines. Admittedly I grew up overseas, but I never once read a magazine, not even online. I think that in this day and age there can be other venues for short SF--even if it's just an anthology made up of new stories. I'll pay for an anthology any day--but sorry, I'm just not a magazine kinda girl.
mckitterick
Aug. 13th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
Y'know, I should have said that right off: If you don't like any of the magazines, buy an original anthology (or donate, or so on), because that's where a lot of the interesting short fiction is getting published these days.
geekmom
Aug. 13th, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
I don't subscribe to magazines. I do read books again, but generally speaking - if it's not "in the cloud," I'm not reading it.

If you printed your magazines on e-ink (http://www.eink.com) and I could get a new issue that would fit neatly in my purse, maybe I'd check it out.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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