Wake up, Polly Parrot.


The Incredible Shrinking Genre
by Brian Plante

Science Fiction Age died yesterday. The May 2000 issue will be the last one. I never sold a story to SF Age , but not for lack of trying. I certainly expected to sell something there eventually. SF Age published quality fiction, paid reasonably good rates, the editor replied to all submissions in record time, and the magazine looked great. Unlike the other major science fiction magazines, SF Age had a lot of advertising to help keep them profitable. What they didn't have was a lot of readers.

I wasn't really taken by surprise by the death of SF Age . Just a couple of days earlier, I received my copy of Locus magazine, containing their annual roundup of science fiction for 1999. The circulation figures for SF Age were down. Way down. A drop of 26% from the previous year. Something like 25,000 paid copies. That's not very much for a major science fiction magazine with national distribution. Especially one that's printed in color on glossy stock. Okay, so the term "major" is relative here -- we're talking science fiction, right?

The other major SF magazines ( Analog , Asimov's and Fantasy & Science Fiction ) are digest sized, printed on cheaper paper, with no color except for the cover. While the remaining majors have little advertising to support them, they are much cheaper to produce, hence more profitable. But the figures for them don't look so healthy, either. Analog was down 13% for a paid circulation of 51,000. F&SF was down 6% to 32,000. Asimov's was down a whopping 24% to 35,000. These are depressing numbers for someone like me, trying to write and sell stories to markets such as these. I wonder how much longer they can stay profitable with numbers like these. When they cease making money for their publishers, their publishers will surely cease making the magazines for us.

The core fans are still there, buying and reading the magazines, but the core is graying, and there just aren't enough younger readers coming into the audience to replace the ones leaving. SF used to be a young person's genre -- some would say juvenile literature. Now the core fans are just a bunch of old farts. Like me.

Only a couple of years ago, I cut way back on writing horror stories, since there really weren't many pro-level markets for short stories in that genre. Now, my beloved science fiction may be going down that path, too. Oh, there will always be the core fans. And if the professional magazines die, there will still be plenty of semi-pro magazines and webzines. There will still be the SF book anthologies, but a lack of professional magazine markets, with decent circulation and a good pay rate, could relegate short-story authors to the realm of hobbyists. If short story writing wasn't already unprofitable enough, the loss of the pro magazines will be an absolute killer. There's no incentive for a pro-level writer to spend the time writing for a magazine that has a circulation of 5,000 and pays a penny a word.

So, what's a poor, beginning writer like me to do? Well, I suppose I may be forced to switch to doing novels. I feel the heart and soul of the SF genre is in the magazines, but the money has always been in novels. If you like science fiction, and think short stories still have a place, I urge you to support the magazines. Buy a subscription. Give subscriptions to others who might enjoy them. Don't just read them, tell other people about them.

Am I selfish, wanting the magazines to continue so that I'll have a place to sell my work? Damn straight. But I was a reader of science fiction long before I decided to take up writing it, and the field will be much poorer off if we lose these magazines.

Copyright © 2000 Brian Plante Count=6474

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