Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Baen's UNIVERSE closing

The April 2010 issue will be the final issue of Jim Baen's Universe, according to a recent message from editor Eric Flint on their site. This is highly disappointing to me not just because it amounts to the business failure of a professional sf magazine, but also because this one was the big example to which I often pointed as the possible future of short fiction periodicals. People who have read my remarks on this in the past know well that I am convinced that there needs to be a business model for fiction mags where the readers pay something for content. I have based the existence of M-Brane on this conviction.

But, again, the model fails and the tiny sf-reading-world insists on free content. Let's compare Universe to another highly-regarded web-only, no-paper-version zine, Clarkesworld. The former has a paid subscription scheme--and not exactly cheap either. Plus they offered all kinds of ways to give still more money in various tiers of patronage. The latter, on the other hand, is entirely free. So Clarkesworld is much better, right? Because it's free? Well, it depends what you want out of a "magazine." If you were paying money for it, I suspect you'd be happier with Universe because it offers a LOT of content, like you would expect out of "real" magazine. Clarkesworld, while offering top-notch content, has relatively little of it and what is there is stuff that is in compliance with rigid word-count rules. Why would there be word-count limits on a web page? Maybe because they pay an impressively high word rate to writers with no readily apparent source of support for it save for donations. If you are an editor and have to spend four hundred bucks for a story with no one paying one thin dime to read it, then you are not going to be able to buy very many of those stories.

I have no idea how the free zines that also pay their writers survive, and it's none of my business. I do know, however, how Universe failed (not because of my great insight but because Flint explains it on their site). It all came down to inadequate reader support in the form of paid subscriptions. It seems very unfair, considering that the "Big Three" print digests which are not necessarily better zines than Universe, continue to somehow survive under the old dead model while the online free-for-all thrives on the other side, but right in the middle there seems to be no way to be viable as both paying and paid-for. I'm sad that Universe will go away next year just because it can't take in enough money. If M-Brane ever goes away, that will probably be the reason for it, too.

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thelittlefluffycat said...

There is not a thing to say to that but amen. Not a one. Well, except for that I think online zines need to find a way to make themselves more visible, even if it involves using print to do so. So, so many people, when I say I've published in this or that ezine, go, "they have magazines online? Real ones?" *sigh* That needs to stop.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Exactly. It's still not happened that enough people perceive the online publications as being the same thing content-wise as the print ones (despite the fact that print periodicals, even big newspapers, are dropping like flies). And I actually have a print edition of M-BRANE, but I am almost embarrassed by it because of the cost factor. It is a very nice print publication, but it's so damned expensive for the reader. My electronic versions are much cheaper but...yeah, what you said.

Merc said...

Great post, thanks, Chris. I was bummed to see that announcement too. :(


*waves the rallying flag* May M-Brane live long!

Anonymous said...

I have too many thoughts to condense here. And too incoherent right now. There is a solution to this quandary...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and btw, I also saw via that Farrago's Wainscot will also cease as a magazine soon, though they have other print projects to come.

Anonymous said...

Short fiction on the web is dead. Long live short fiction on the web!

In the event that M-Brane got to the edge of death, Chris, I would hope you would send up a distress signal. I'm sure there's lots of people out there willing to do a little something extra to keep it going.

Anonymous said...

The big print publications seem to be drying up. This is something no one wants to see happen, but how can paid content compete with free content? It really can't. The guy who's giving the goods away will always win.

This has become a goddamned war zone. The magazines that give away their content are making it impossible for the magazines that sell their content to survive. Meanwhile, the quality of published fiction gets lower and lower. Eventually, we'll have nothing but loads of free crap in steaming piles all over the place. Is this the future of short fiction?

Editors need to begin seriously considering SELLING their fiction and paying their writers. In an age where anyone can call a website a magzine and open it to submissions, the no-fiction-for-free slogan needs to catch on like wildfire.

Chris, you've done the right thing in selling M-Brane and paying your writers. Don't feel bad about your print issue, because even if you only make 50 cents off it, it still has to be paid for.

When editors sell stories, writers make more money. The small press has its place, but no magazine should ever give a writer's stories away for free! Buy only the best, and sell only the best--and get this industry back on track.

It begins and ends with the editors, big press, small press. Stop giving content away immediately! You're turning the short fiction industry into a joke, and many of you don't have enough money to pay the writers more than a puny sum BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT SELLING ANYTHING. See how that works? Break the cycle. When ALL of the magazines start selling, short fiction becomes perceived as worth something and worth paying for. Across the board, this leads to writers getting paid more.

This is just my opinion. I'm more than happy to have editors or whoever dispute it if they feel I've got my head up my ass. At least hear me out and don't hold it against me for speaking my mind. What kind of future is there for me in this industry? None, I fear, if things don't change.

Jake Donald Moore (J.D),
unpublished but concerned writer

Anonymous said...

Free-content online magazines are not contributing to the decline and demise of paid-content online or print magazines. Print magazines have always been suffering long before the advent of webzines, and paid-content online zines have traditionally failed because of a variety of factors . . .

Anonymous said...

"When ALL of the magazines start selling, short fiction becomes perceived as worth something and worth paying for." So free fiction, as provided by Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Subterranean, Tor, etc. is valueless, then, going a bit further with your statement? Either way, short fiction, as a sustainable profitable business model, has been on the ropes for years, and so you're seeing a number of online models dealing with that reality . . .

Anonymous said...

Shit, I don't guys. Maybe I'm wrong about those statements, but at the time it seemed to make sense. An established writer friend of mine kind of jumped my ass about that post (in a friendly way), and I respect the hell out of him, so I've been reconsidering. Not only that, but I got three rejections since then, so now I'm wondering if I've pissed off a few editors and if I'll ever be published. Whatever. But I do think what I said makes some sense--but maybe it's not the whole story. I asked to be corrected if I was wrong, and two fo you tried to do just hey, I've got an open mind and I listen. I'd like to hear more, but as of yet, I'm sticking by what I said and what others are now saying.

Jake Donald Moore,
with an open mind as always

Christopher Fletcher said...

This subject seems to get people on both sides of it lot hotter than is necessary, especially since the "sides" are kind of false. I think everyone would want there to be a viable, vibrant marketplace for short genre fiction. I think what everyone said above is partially correct, but I also don't think I made my own point clearly enough. so this is what I meant to say: 1) the remaining major print zines are going to pass into antiquity very shortly; I don't have a problem with that so long as the whole concept of publishing sort fiction doesn't pass with them; 2) the pro-zines that exist only online as websites and give away all their content for free may very well be the future; and 3) I think number 2 is a bad thing.

Why do I think that's a bad thing? Because it's extremely limiting to people who want to create and grow new markets. It shuts out small publishers who don't have a lot of personal funds to waste on a project so narrow as the writing and reading of fiction. Yeah, the contents of CLARKESWORLD and FANTASY and are good but that handful of publications doesn't do the job by itself. People who read have a lot of different tastes, and I'd like there to be publications to accommodate them. I, for example, like science fiction and none of the above focus on that enough for my taste. Also they offer relatively little content per year even as compared to one of the old-style print digests like F&SF or ANALOG, or the online UNIVERSE, or as compared to the small press. Could that have to do with fact that they are paying better-than-market rates for content but have no reasonably reliable source of funding that would support more content and which can be counted on from year to year?

A new model is needed. I don't know what it is, and I will probably be long gone before it's figured out.

Anonymous said...

Just to Mr' Moore's 2nd comment...

So long as you are respectful, I don't know of any editor that will turn away a good story because they know you disagree with them on some minor philosophical point about the industry. Don't worry; Be happy.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, for both comments from you guys. Yeah, Chris, you make some sense. And I hope you don't go anywhere! And you too, Nithska. We're all writers, or we love writing regardless (as in the case of editors), so peace to all!

Jake Donald Moore

Anonymous said...

"Also they offer relatively little content per year even as compared to one of the old-style print digests like F&SF or ANALOG, or the online UNIVERSE" . . . could it be that too much fiction-content is leading to the demise of those digests, actually? That with today's generational audience has less time and energy to read ten stories, and that a magazine would have an easier time pitching just two or four a month to a reader?

There's a lot to compete with readers, and I hear a lot of stories about subscribers simply stacking their unread copies of their digests, and never getting back to them. This happens quite a bit more than you would expect.

So, doing less to get more done would seem to fit with what's going on, online.


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