Douglas Cohen has posted about having a subscription drive for short fiction genre magazines. Now, working on a small press magazine, Shimmer, I certainly support the idea of wanting more people to buy our magazine, but I think that the subscription drive is a matter of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause.
The problem is that fewer people are buying short story magazines these days. As Doug says, “…the short story market is dying. ” The question I don’t see anyone asking is: Why aren’t readers buying short fiction?
I’ll tell you what I think. I think it’s because genre fiction markets tend to be poorly designed and marketed. They tend to have people running them for the love, and not with any understanding of marketing or business. When an editor answers the question, “What’s your target market?” with “I don’t know, I just buy what I like,” that’s an editor who is not going to sell magazines. I’ve heard editors say this. It makes me crazy.
Look people. I made my living for the past seventeen years selling puppet shows. I know about marketing things that people don’t think they want. Things that people have preconceptions about. I’ll tell you that I’ve seen theaters run as non-profits and as for-profits. You know what’s interesting? The for-profits make money. Those folks who say, “I’m not doing this to make money,” won’t make money. When short fiction markets are run as a business with the intention of making money, then you will see them make money. And you will see changes.
Allow me to voice something that I have thought for a while and that no one else seems to be willing to say in public. And lord knows it will not make me popular. Here goes… The design of F & SF is dowdy. It is old and it will not appeal to young readers. It looks the way it did when I was in high school — twenty years ago. Have you picked up Asimov‘s? Analog? Do you see anything that will make a teenager want to own it? Heck, even want to be seen carrying it?
It’s not that I think these magazines need to cater exclusively to teens, but all markets need to recognize that what their target demographic finds appealing changes as new generations grow into that demographic range. Fashions change and we, as a genre, aren’t keeping up with the times.
You want more readers for short fiction? Then answer this question for me: Why don’t you buy short fiction magazines?
Now answer this one. What would it take to make you change your mind about reading short fiction?