Friday, July 24, 2009

POD and future of print fiction

Take a look at Jason Sizemore's post at He discusses his relaunch of Apex in print using MagCloud's POD service. I attempted to leave a comment there, but I think it may have been lost in the ether, since I don't see it there now. Anyway, I wanted to add to the discussion my view that these print-on-demand versions of zines like M-Brane and the reborn Apex are probably going to remain products for a tiny slice of readers who are passionate enough about print to pay the high price for it that this method necessitates, unless production cost somehow comes down a lot. The real future of there even continuing to be a small press for short fiction is going to depend more upon finding a business model that monetizes its electronic forms somehow than what we do with the print versions. The prevailing online free-for-all that nearly all zines are participating in (save for a few things like Baen's Universe, GUD, my zine and few others) is eventually going to finish off genre short fiction publication as a thing that anyone wants to try to be involved in at a pro or semi-pro level either as a publisher or a writer because it will simply be impossible for anyone to make any money off of it absent a new business model. (Also, the few that still do print-only with no e-options are whistling past the graveyard. Those days are over and have been already for a couple years.) I've been wracking my brain since I started M-Brane trying to think of what would work best (other than just having deep pockets, which I don't and probably never will). One idea that I am considering is creating some sort of partnership or content alliance with other publications where we can aggregate under one payment system some kind of not-free but still very economical way to get short fiction, with the goal in mind to attract a LOT more readers than a single zine can by itself. Then we could get into an economy of scale thing where sheer volume of paid readership would enable good content. But I haven't formulated this well enough yet to propose it formally to anyone. I think economy of scale might be key to it, however. If, say, 30,000 people paid me a dollar right now, I could go full-on pro with M-Brane right away, because that would be enough start-up money to stack a few issues with top-flight writers, and that would in turn get more dollars rolling in from various sources, such as repeat dollar donations and advertising. But that's not going to happen in the real world, so I am stuck in this uncomfortable zone of having to charge enough to have any money at all to pay writers...but not enough people regard it as worth it at that price, so I never accumulate the additional funding needed to go to the next level. A new model is needed. Not just for my zine, but for the whole business, or we're going to find ourselves in a couple of years with no good print zines and no good online zines. I'll continue wracking my brain. ::rubs temples::

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Eden said...

This might not be the type of solution you're looking for, but Brain Harvest is looking into becoming a tax-exempt non-profit. Both so people can deduct donations (and thus be more likely to give them) and so we can be eligible for grant money. That said, I don't know how difficult the process is yet... so let me know if you have alternate solutions. :) We don't charge for content, but then our set-up is way different from yours.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Keep me updated on how that's crossed my mind as a possibility, but I know nothing about the non-profit org concept myself yet. I may be wrong, but it seems hard to believe that donations or grant money are forthcoming in large enough amounts for something with such minimal audiences as short fiction pubs. But I could certainly be underestimating it.

eden said...

There are a number of small grants for arts-related projects -- including fiction publications. Not enough to set you up for life, but enough to live on for awhile. It might also be neat to look into the possibility of creating some larger umbrella organization for several publications... hm. I wonder how difficult that would be?

Jason Sizemore said...

Good point about the free-for-all zines...that was one of the motivating factors for me to switch apex magazine from free to having a minimal cost.

Jason Sizemore

D. D. Tannenbaum said...

I have found that having a 'zine that pays nothing for stories can actually get some good submissions. With everything on the web now, anybody with at least a little computer savvy can start their own. My long-term outlook is to eventually be able to pay writers; maybe I'll be bought out in some kind of winnowing out of webzines.

Another aspect I am approaching is to publish via contest entry fees. Chris and I have been discussing it. I am running a contest to publish an anthology. I have everything set up, including the printer. If I get enough entries in, I will be able to publish the anthology. If not, I refund everybody's money and am out a couple of thousand dollars.

If it's successful enough, I might make enough money to publish someone's manuscript, pay my 'zine writers or just run another contest.

I think there will be any business models from out in left field, but I think everything should be evaluated.

Print pubs like the ones we grew up with are victims of the economy. Maybe we can all get together and find a printer that works on the cheap/free business card model: Everybody sends their mag to one printer and they get a really big volume discount. Let's see!

Robert E. Keller said...

I know this has been talked about before, but what about advertising? For example: charging writers or companies to post adds, and then using that money to pay writers. Thus, good writers would be attracted by the promise of better pay, which in turn would attract more readers--which would lead to more elite advertisers wanting a spot. Yes, it would clutter the magazine a bit, but in between the clutter would lurk some great stories. That might be a way for online magazines to generate some income. (This is coming from a fellow who knows nothing about running a magazine, so take what I say with a grain of salt.) Good idea, or load of dung?

Christopher Fletcher said...

Robert, I do get some ads, and it helps. We had four or five in the #6, but I think I've only got one advertiser coming in 7. It's another of those dilemmas: if the zine were a bigger deal as far as content and the size of its readership it would be a more attractive place for those who have money to spend on ads, and then I could charge more for them, and so on. It's definitely part of the formula. Another possibility is to join the online free-for-all and try to make ALL of the income on ads, but I've heard enough non-success stories from others to make that seem like a dubious proposition. I think it will need to be some of both: readers paying something for content plus advertiser support.

Robert E. Keller said...

Right, it's a tough road in either case, and it doesn't seem to be getting any easier. It's nice to see editors coming up with new ideas, though, and hopefully the short fiction industry will become profitable once again.


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