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
- The magazines can’t possibly stay in business; such-and-such is sure to
fold by next year.
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!
- 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.
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!
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*