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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 09:39 am:   

JJA linked me to this blog:

http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/science-fiction-magazines-dont-have-to-die/

This blogger (his name is Paul Raven, right?) has some interesting comments on the future of SF magazines.

Overall, the piece reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend Suzanne, who was editing computer science books at the time. She said with great certainty, "Books are on the way out. We'll be doing all our reading electronically in five years---ten at most."

She made this statement in 1988.

My points being, (1) early adopters look great when they're right, but nobody tends to remember when they're wrong; and (2) change can come very slowly. The book is a piece of technology that's four centuries old. The people who expected it to be replaced in a year or two were wrong. In fact, my own 1998 editorial predicting "recycleback" books has not been borne out either. (It's here: http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/1998/gvg02.htm)

Let me add too that our youngest editor, Zoe, shows a great fondness for books already. She flips the pages, she pokes specific pictures, she tears up the pages of catalogs. (Her current fave is
http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Touch-Feel-Quack/dp/0312492502/ref=sr_1_1/104-2562343 -9833551?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1173375416&sr=8-1) I'm not saying that books are hardwired into our heads, but I'm saying that the form we call a book has things to offer a one-year-old that electronic media don't.

More directly on the topic of Velcro City's blog, I just have a couple of points and questions right now:

1) Velcro says: "I remain convinced that with some smart thinking and sharp marketing, a fully electronic version would garner a much bigger readership in just a year of business."

Probably not, based on the numbers I've heard for SCI FICTION, STRANGE HORIZONS, and other Webzines.

But even if it did, I do not believe it could be run profitably. There just isn't enough online advertising yet to pay for the magazine costs, from what I can tell. Perhaps Jed Hartman or someone with more experience with an online magazine will correct me.

2) My recurring nightmare, as I've said before, is that when we post stories for free online (like we're doing now), we're training readers to think that all their reading will be free. Velcro City's post certainly makes me think I'm right in this regard. Velcro City even says "I’d probably be happy to go to the website and donate a dollar or two a month." But for how long would he donate a dollar or two? One month? Six? A year? Only when he likes a story? I don't know and I doubt he does either. It's not a reliable source of income.

3) Everyone's online, everyone blogs, electronic communication is the way of the future, right?

Right?






What's that? I don't hear any naysayers, so it must be true.

But the naysayers are not going to respond. They're not online!

People who say the future is electronic have a good point and I agree . . . to an extent. But I hear from subscribers all the time who don't use the internet (including plenty who don't want to use the internet) and they like to read. Some of them read on the train during their commute. Some of them read in bed. Some of them bring F&SF with them on their lunch breaks and read in the park.

The print edition has legs. Going to a free, all-electronic edition would chop off those legs, in my opinion.
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 10:19 am:   

I won't say anything that hasn't been said many times before.

Eyes do not enjoy reading electronic texts for extended periods. The Sony Reader has a comfortable reading screen, as comfortable or even more comfortable than a book. However, it does have it's flaws.

One of those is form factors. Books are available in a variety of sizes.

Displays are going to have to become dramatically more comfortable in order to further engage existing readers and bring in new readers.


Another is distribution. Electronic publishing when it truly arrives will endanger numerous resellers and the paper distribution chain.

So reluctant readers on one side and reluctant retailers/distribution on the other.
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 10:27 am:   

As to webzines, the "secret" to charging is having content that folk are going to want to buy. (Or advertisers can be convinced to support)

I agree with GVG that the overall online readership is much less than the total readership.

But what's the author's incentive? If the website pays more and can keep the content in an electronic format then this may be enough to satisfy both the author and the reader. (Coerce the reader into paying for the electronic format)

But so often the electronic version and the printed version cost about the same amount of money (ebooks).
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David Sanders
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 12:42 pm:   

I read OMNI magazine for years when it was printed on real glossy paper and sold in stores. When it disappeared from the shelves in the mid-1990s a magazine shop owner told me OMNI had gone electronic and was internet only. It ticked me off, probably because I did not own a computer at the time. I felt so hurt and excluded. Sob, whine snivel.

Now that I do own a computer, though, I do not seek out fiction or webzines and I find I can't stand eBooks and could not even get through one on my iPod (another device i rarely use). All day at the office I have to stare at a computer screen and it gives me much more eye strain than reading a real book, so I dread the thought of books, especially FSF, going completely electronic. In prep I have been trolling eBay for FSF issues dating back to the beginning, just to have them and read them in the old-fashioned way, kickin' back on a big comfy sofa. I just received 17 issues from the 50s and 60s, and the only drawback is that "old book paper" smell, which is vaguely like peanut butter.
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Jetse
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 01:26 pm:   

Well, Mike Resnick has become one of the editors at Jim Baen's Universe, and his April editorial is online here.

I'm mentioning it in the spirit of discussion, not because I fully agree with it.

For example, Mike Resnick mentions Escape Pod as proof that there is a cyber audience out there, citing downloads of podcasts of his stories: respectively 22,000 (Travels with my Cats) and 14,000 (The Boy Who Yelled "Dragon").

I don't doubt these download numbers. However, as Gordon mentioned above, all stories on Escape Pod can be downloaded for free. I met Steve Eley at LACon IV (and later at DragonCon), and he told me that he was getting sufficient donations that he could increase his payment for a story to 100 dollars.

So let's put those numbers next to each other: 14,000 to 22,000 downloads for a story equate to 100 dollars donations. For easy calculation's sake let's say 150 dollars donations on average (the site's gotta be paid for, and more) for 15,000 downloads on average.

So *one in a hundred* of their listeners (it's a podcast) are willing to donate a dollar.

Roughly speaking, this means that to get the same income that F&SF gets through subscriptions -- let's say 20,000 times 4 dollar 50 = 90,000 dollars per issue; 6 stories per issue, so let's say 10 to 15,000 dollars per story -- then a free podcast site needs to have some 1,5 *million* downloads (a 100-to-1 ratio) to generate the same income.

(Of course, online magazines don't have print costs. But still, they will need a huge amount of readers -- hundreds of thousands -- to make them viable as fiction outlets that, at least, break even.)

I actually think that Gordon's nightmare -- online readers think that *all* their online reading should be free -- is already the default attitude. And I indeed think that one in a hundred of them might be willing to throw a dollar or two to such outlets, once in a while. An unreliable source of income indeed.

Therefore, the only way an online *fiction* magazine might be viable is if it attracts a huge amount of advertising. At least, that's what I think right now, but please do feel free to convince me otherwise.
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GSH
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 01:50 pm:   

Second to spoken language, words on paper are the story’s most natural environment. There’s a simplicity, transparency, and intimacy to reading from a printed page that no electronic display can duplicate. Try reading the same story each way. There’s definitely an experiential difference. Bet we can all guess which most readers prefer.

There’s also a consideration having to do with the persistence of media and human knowledge. Remember the old Twilight Zone episode where Burgess Meredith FINALLY has time to read following a nuclear holocaust--but breaks his reading glasses? In the updated version, his batteries are months dead and the high-tension towers are covered with kudzu and morning glory vines.

Besides which--if F & SF went exclusively electronic, it would likely lose all its Amish subscribers. I trust you’ve considered THAT...
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GSH
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 02:36 pm:   

Oh yeah... About "training readers"...

Having worked through the transition from print to computerization, I can't help but notice how the digital age changed US. It began with the thinking that the new technology would gradually be improved and modified to simplify our routines, to give us more time. It ended up forcing us to modifying our behavior to suit the needs of the computerized office, with even less time than before.

The new people never knew the difference. They never realize that some things might have been better before, because they've got no basis for comparison.

I'd expect finding everything online would eventually have the same effect. Readers would adapt, eventually not realizing the experiental difference between paper and screen. If the screen view is free, why buy a book? And if there's so much free stuff out there, why pay for anything else, sight unseen?

I figure occasional entire stories online are a good marketing tool. Good to promote both authors and paper publications. I also like book sites where I can read sample chapters online, or the beginnings of stories, so I can decide what I want to buy. I suppose this is sort of a reader's version of sorting through the slush piles? But giving away too much of the store isn't a good idea. I don't favor it, either as reader or author.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 02:58 pm:   

I'm not clear who says what below but I don't know what is meant by the numbers for SCIFICTION--we had very good numbers.

And online advertising is currently in the hundreds of thousands and growing so there certainly is a future in it.

>>>1) Velcro says: "I remain convinced that with some smart thinking and sharp marketing, a fully electronic version would garner a much bigger readership in just a year of business."

Probably not, based on the numbers I've heard for SCI FICTION, STRANGE HORIZONS, and other Webzines.

But even if it did, I do not believe it could be run profitably. There just isn't enough online advertising yet to pay for the magazine costs, from what I can tell. Perhaps Jed Hartman or someone with more experience with an online magazine will correct me.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 03:15 pm:   

Ellen---

I said that and I don't mean to disparage in any way what you did with SCIFICTION, but from the numbers I heard from fairly reliable sources, they didn't sound to me like they'd be high enough to bring in big advertising bucks.

And I agree that there is a _future_ in online advertising. But there isn't enough of a _present_ to convince me to gamble on what that future might be.
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 03:30 pm:   

To put the point a different way. There are large corporations that could subsidize an online publication. The major hurdle is enticing them to do so.

Additionally the readership might complain about unwanted ads (cars, drugs, etc.)

Another issue is the relative weakness of publishers' advertising budgets. If numerous publishers could pay $5-10k a month for online ads that would make it more than possible.

The irony of course is that even if it's made there's still going to be a substantial number of folk who dislike the reading experience.
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 03:58 pm:   

I don't want to get too geeky about this, but I've just read Mike Resnick's editorial, and couldn't help but wonder. I've not seen the statistics that Escape Pod use. I've certainly not seen their server logs, but I'd be curious to. Why? Well, 'hits' is a meaningless abstraction. It has to do with server load, how many times the system asks the server to perform a task. It has very little to do with how many 'people' are actually reading or listening to something.

To give you an idea, I once was confronted by a situation where someone wanted to increase the 'hits' on their website, so they could promote their success and good fortune. There were many ways to achieve this, but the quickest, the simplest, was to take the image file for their logo, cut it into four pieces, and then link to it as four separate images. 'Hits' doubled, because servers now needed to hit the server four times, once per image file, in order to render the logo.

And then, there's another thing. Many of the hits on a website are automated search engines and other services indexing a website. And servers often record 'downloads' oddly, requiring more than one server 'hit' in order to deliver a file. It's quite possible for the actual number of downloads to be dramatically less than one third of the number of hits reported, and that's including search engines.

Without looking at the raw server log files, I don't know what the case is with Escape Pod, but I would say that it's very unlikely that 14,000 - 22,000 downloads equates to that number of people listening to his podcast. It's far more likely that the number is in the 3,000 to 5,000 range, and may well be less.

I'd also add that I think Gordon's completely correct. One enormous problem with putting material online is that people expect to get it for free, and won't pay. I'm guessing that'll change, and some places will manage to find a model that doesn't require user-pays, but it's going to be ver difficult to achieve.

Jonathan
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 04:16 pm:   

Gordon, I've no idea where you got the figures (or what figures you got) but I had them from reliable sources too (at the corp), and they were certainly large enough to get advertising. However...I do not believe that a fiction ONLY website will ever make enough money to attract advertising. I think it's the mix that counts.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 04:23 pm:   

I don't see how any of these arguments are different from those I've seen about online zines since I began working on them over ten years ago.
My thoughts about their financial viability haven't changed all that much either.

Eventually, advertising will support them (as they do tv). But they'll have to provide more than fiction. The web is in constant flux and those who surf it want new material all the time. Now this mix can be fiction, reviews, essays, BBs, video, etc.
Online advertising is jumping my leaps and bounds.
Attract enough people to your site and the advertisers will come.

Unfortunately, (or not) I'm leaving tomorrow morning for ten days and won't be online here much so please don't think I'm ignoring you all-I've gotta pack now ;-)
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 04:30 pm:   

Jonathan, I agree with most of your point. Hits are almost meaningless.

I'd add that downloads do not equate to actual listens. Some folk may download the podcast more than once (multiple computers, etc.)

Additionally, there's the issue of incomplete downloads. If I listen to 10 minutes now on say four separate occasions it would likely be counted as four downloads.
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 06:58 pm:   

Baen books has been one of the leaders, if not The Leader, in e-books, in genre or out, and one of the publishers who's found ways to make profits out of their e-business. Here's what Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf says in the latest issue of Locus (p.33) about electronic reading as a profitable business model:

"The technology may at some point become good enought that most people will get their fiction from some sort of handheld device. That is theoretically possible, but it's not going to happen tomorrow, not five years from now, maybe not even ten years from now. It's just another way of delivering the story -- that's the important thing."

I think if anybody's thought through the profitability of e-reading and made a run at it, it's Baen. And it sounds like Ms. Weisskopf agrees with Gordon's second point above.
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Don Mead
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 08:22 pm:   

Jetse and Charles beat me in mentioning Baen. Eric Flint was at the last ChambanaCon, and he often harped about Baen's "success" at offering unencrypted e-book downloads for much lower than what the equivalent book would cost. His reasoning being: if it's cheap enough, people won't e-pirate the material. He insists Baen is successful at this, and maybe they are. Good for them if they are. (incidentally, Eric gets a bit testy if you refer to it as e-piracy. He likens it to walking off with a cup of coffee at Starbucks).

As for the issue at hand, the chains have up and down quarters, but isn't their growth mostly up for the past 10 years? I'd like to see data on that. And I think people are a bit scared off by the technology. Look at computers and music. Who wants to put a lot of money in some sort of hand-held e-book device that might be out-dated in two years? Books will never be out-dated. Or will they?
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 09:32 pm:   

What is needed is a way to charge 11 cents or 29 cents and not have that financial service provider making millions from the seller and causing the price to be too high from the service costs. Then an online magazine could service 25,000 hits to readers and make $2500 , which would definitely pay for the costs of providing a paid story online to online readers at 10 cents to the publisher and 1 cent to the money collector for their service. The hang up at this time is the cost to do transactions for under one dollar, let alone 11 cent transactions.

The feel of a magazine cannot be synthesized on a screen. The tactile sense gives a richness tv can't compete with either. It's the medium that is the message at times. I can't find a particular page electronically as fast and easily as I can in a print magazine either, and that's a factor no one is mentioning. Electronic access is not as easy as opening a book, wifi etc. modem, dsl, can't compete with taking a book off the shelf, and I can change pages 10 times faster and more easily in a book, than online. Of course if I forget to bring it with me, then online access beats that.

That's why people collect or save things, the physical presence stirs memories and thoughts otherwise not accessible so easily, or so strongly, or so surprisingly overwhelming. The sensory stirring of memory brought on by the physical presence from the object has no substitute. All those memories are in my head, yet it takes the physical object to make me remember it. On my own I just wouldn't remember the event, or not nearly so strongly.

I used to save a small piece from particularly meaningful handyman and construction jobs. One day I saw I had an entire drawer full of bits and pieces. A small piece of pipe cut off, where I trimmed it to fit; the end of a rafter tail, to remember a difficult roof job; a bit of concrete from jackhammering a hole through a foundation to run the pipes for a spa. One day years later, when I opened the drawer I found I could not remember what any of them symbolized, and it was surprising how many pieces were there. I realized it might be a good time to retire~!
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harpal singh
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 08:12 am:   

Talking about adverts , Once my son(he was about 9 years old then) had to some homework about plants he went on the internet and type the question and he got a reply and the sponser for the website was "how to grow cannabis legally" my son asked what the sponsed ad was about I told him it was about how to grow plants like tomatoes
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 09:33 am:   

Of course, today I see that non-fiction media companies like IDG (Computerworld and PCWorld) are now reporting that as much as 1/3 of their revenue is earned online.

I wonder if there's a fundamental difference between fiction and non-fiction in this regard, or if they're doing something fiction publishers haven't figured out yet.

(Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.)
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 09:42 am:   

Whoops, meant to include this link with the previous post: http://colincrawford.typepad.com/idg/2007/02/the_transformat.html
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 10:01 am:   

Charles, it would be most unbelievable if the readership of computer publications were by and large opposed to online reading.

Additionally the advertisers have mammoth budgets compared to your typical genre publisher.
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 10:56 am:   

Not disagreeing, PM, only noting that some publisher has found a way to make money from online content, which I find remarkable even with the conditions you describe.

I suspect that the situation is very different for fiction.
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 11:16 am:   

At this time I believe that we're all in agreement that there is only a certain segment of the total readership that is willing to read fiction online.

And we'd likely all agree that reading a novel online is a significantly taxing experience compared to reading a magazine article.

That taxation will be reduced (and overcome) when display technologies improve so that folk can read comfortably indefinitely.

And it's worth noting a few advantages for online distribution. It aids an international readership. One no longer has to worry about lost or late issues. It could allow for text searches within the text and hopefully with other texts. (Great for critics and researchers)
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 11:24 am:   

Charles, I would expect or dare I say demand that the tech folk would have a natural affinity for online reading. In fact, tech magazine subscriptions have dropped as readers have moved online.

Fiction is a whole different beast.
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Jeff Stehman
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 11:24 am:   

I wasn't wowed by Resnick's Escape Pod numbers either, but what I haven't seen mentioned is that Baen's Universe isn't free and doesn't sell advertising. Their approach is different than the one that seems to be the focus here. Will it work? So far so good, but they got a huge boost out of the gate from the Universe Club. I'd be surprised if that level of support is sustained in their second year; however, if it can carry them through until subscriptions alone cover expenses, that won't matter.

I'm firmly in the paper camp. I already spend much of my day looking at a monitor. I don't want to read fiction on it. I read F&SF cover to cover, but only a third to a half of JBU, even though they're equally hit-and-miss for my taste.
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John Lodder
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 01:03 pm:   

Put me in the camp of people who read F&SF on the train. I could do that with a laptop and wireless technology, but really, it's cramped enough on the train. I don't have an ebook reader, iPod, or Palm Pilot.

I don't read Strange Horizons regularly, but I do go out of my way to sign up for a membership every year because I like the idea of Strange Horizons. I realize this may put me in the minority.

I'm also a tech person who retains print subscriptions to a couple tech magazines.

I tend to jump around when reading online. I tried to read Maupassant's "The Horla" online recently, one of the public domain translations. Between interruptions and general surfing, I couldn't finish it. I ended up getting it out of the library.

So, I'm not opposed to online fiction, I just find it hard to adapt to.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 04:08 pm:   

As someone who hasn't owned a PC for very long, for me one of the main attractions of going online was having access to a much wider range of fiction (as well as markets for my own stuff).

For example, I was very keen to start working my way through the SCI FICTION archive, and although it is certainly a well constructed site, and easy on the eye, the real issue for me was the comfort factor. As a writer I'm used to staring at words on a screen for hours on end, but when it came to reading purely for pleasure, I found it increasingly difficult to just kick back and let the story do its thing. I'm a voracious reader, and I love books and magazines of every description, but for me - and I'm sure this is the case for a great many people - the physical object, the book or magazine itself, is necessary - vital, in fact.

Maybe it's simply a case of having learnt to read with a book in my hand rather than a hand-held screen or through staring at a PC/laptop, and x number of decades down the line the reverse might be true, but I just can't imagine the death knell of the printed word sounding any time soon - certainly not in my lifetime, or in the lifetimes of the next handful of generations to come.

I've had fiction 'published' online, and I certainly want people to read and enjoy those stories; but, like me, would those readers prefer to print off a copy rather than read it off the screen, especially if it's a novelette/novella length work? Personally I don't have a problem with that. Whether it's free or you've paid to access the content of a webzine, surely how you engage with the material is a matter of choice.

At the end of the day I’m not entirely ambivalent to the idea of online publishing, either as a reader or a writer. It is happening, it will continue to happen, but as I think Ellen Datlow pointed out somewhere above, where the www is concerned, everything is in a constant state of flux. I do wonder, though, what effect - if any - the kind of money Baen's Universe is offering to pay its contributors will have. If Mike Resnick's argument holds true, and online markets can consistently pay more cents per word than their print equivalents, will those print magazines still be such attractive markets for writers? After all, writers write to pay the bills (or at least in the hopes of paying some of last month's bills before this month's start rolling in), and if they can earn more selling their work to online venues, the venerable digests etc really might have something to worry about...
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Daryl Gregory
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 06:31 pm:   

It's interesting that people here see techies as natural screen readers, but not SF fans. Everybody outside the ghetto would assume that SF folks would be first in line. I mean, online.

I love the paper versions of books and magazines as much as anyone -- and I love having the physical version of the New York Times to both read and swat flies with -- but while once I doubted that I'd ever enjoy reading anything online that was longer than a tech article (I'm a web programmer by day), I find that because there are stories online I am reading more short fiction than before, period. I live in a small town where the last true newsstand just shut down, and I'm grateful for what I can find on the net. (Like Flurb.net -- it's just killing me it's so entertaining.)

I agree that the expectation is that if it's on the web it's free -- that's certainly my expectation. And why not? Hell, Google just gave me free word processing and spreadsheets.

But people will tolerate ads, and I'm confident somebody will figure out an advertising model that works for online fiction magazines -- and sooner rather than later. After all, an online reader is the definition of a "sticky" customer. They could be watching those adds for 30 minutes while they finish a novelet.

And then there's that global audience. You know there's some guy in Uzbekistan who doesn't read F&SF but does read Strange Horizons, just because he can. I think his name is Ivo.

As for ebook readers, I'm still waiting for someone to do it right, whenever that is (maybe it'll come bundled with a personal jetpack). But you never know when the tech will finally click. 3 years ago Steve Jobs thought that portable video would never take off.
( http://askpang.typepad.com/relevant_history/2004/01/steve_jobs_on_p.html )

--Daryl
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 07:02 pm:   

"It's interesting that people here see techies as natural screen readers, but not SF fans. Everybody outside the ghetto would assume that SF folks would be first in line. I mean, online."

Sort of. The hard SF and futurists would seem most likely. The gadget lovers.

But the fantasy folk get rolled in with the SF folk.

What seems likely to me (and my experience) is that the tech folk enjoy SF tv shows and movies but don't actually read that much new SF.

And of course there are many folk who enjoy SF tv shows and movies who do not read new SF and also are not tech folk.
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 09, 2007 - 07:05 pm:   

Ebook readers will click when the display/form factor is acceptable, the price of the reader is reasonable, and desirable content is available at an acceptable price.

Sony would have been smarter to take the razor approach with their Reader. Sell it for $50-100.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2007 - 10:30 am:   

I think Baen's Universe may be an outlier, in the sense that it's the only publisher with more resources to offer subscribers than your average webzine, or even print zine. (Their Saturn, Polaris, and Andromeda packages, $100 / $250 / $500, respectively, were well received to the point that they had to limit Tuckerisations). Beyond that, unless some organisation or corporation has the resources to create extensive value-added options, like Baen has, I'm not too certain that it would work out, to increase pay rates . . .

It is far more likely that pay rates may increase to something more sustainable, like five to ten cents a word, creating competitive markets for the traditional zines, but that may be years from now . . . .
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2007 - 07:49 pm:   

The blog Centauri Dreams is joining the discussion here:

http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1106
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 05:46 am:   

This is a great discussion. And, I note, we are all reading it online, for free.

My concern, as a writer, is how my work (in any format) will generate enough income to keep me marginally alive so that I can produce more of it. As a reader I vastly prefer old-fashioned books, but I think that the future of fiction doesn't lie in a choice between reading paper text or electronic, but in post-literate material -- gaming and the like. Also audio podcasts of written work (as opposed to e-books) which more people are likely to engage with, at least as an interim form to fill the gap between the written word and whatever comes next. A culture where information is transmitted through sound & symbols more than words -- witness how quickly grammar and spelling have changed and become simplified with the rise of internet communication. My 16-year-old daughter is presently attending a program that is focused on reading & interpreting sophisticated written texts, but the students are NOT graded on their spelling & grammar.

For the last fifteen years or so I've felt that literature as we know it is going the way of opera -- it's not going to disappear, but it's going to become the preserve and entertainment of a far smaller audience. This doesn't mean the barbarians are at the gates: we're in the beginning of a paradigm shift, and those of us who learned to write by reading are in the position of those who owned livery stables when the automobile arrived.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 06:59 am:   

Actually, I don't see that people will read fewer books. The people who don't know how to write or read complex things now simply would have been the completely illiterate of 200 years ago.

Also, if you look in Europe, your average person reads more than in the US I think....And I dont see that trend changing.

There is a lot of talk of reading on the internet, ipods etc. But I only know one person who does this with any reguarlity.
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Christopher Rowe
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 07:23 am:   

This will be fairly disconnected.

Didn't Stephenson hit some of these post-literate points in THE DIAMOND AGE? I haven't read that book in ten years--I should probably dig it out. Or instead, maybe I should download a free copy off a P2P network and burn an .mp3 of my Mac reading the text to my iPod so I can listen to it as I shuffle along, eyes downcast.

Maybe literacy is following the same set of vectors as wealth in terms of where and how its concentrated.

Tools are already available, and more are being developed all the time, for post-literates to create new texts. But will post-literates be able to create subsequent generations of authoring tools?

This gets into the intersection of Marx and McCluhan pretty quickly doesn't it?

What about the fact that a lot of this discussion assumes continued widespread low-cost availability of sophisticated, high-maintenace, energy-consuming devices and structures like computers and networks?
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 08:02 am:   

I know this discussion was initially concerned with the current state/future of genre magazines, but Elizabeth Hand's contribution above reminds me of something.

I was discussing the whole online v print debate with a friend not long ago, and she raised what I think is quite an interesting point: what if J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series had been an entirely online enterprise? Say Rowling had posted daily/weekly chapters on a pay-to-access website, or emailed them to subscribers - would they have been as phenomenally successful as the books have been? Would there have been an equally successful series of movies? Would a print version of the series have eventually followed, and would the revenue from the print editions have exceeded that of the web-based originals?

We both agreed the answer - to the first two questions at least - was probably no. On the other hand, no matter what the format they are presented in, good stories will always have the power to command our attention and fire our imaginations. Right?
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 08:21 am:   

Ummm. Maybe not. From everyone's statements it seems that most people's attention is not commanded by on-line fiction.

There is also another aspect no one has addressed:

The human need for possession.

People like to own things, hold them. And e-content is less tangible. Many people like to have books ranged on their shelves - and designers even buy up old books to fit in rich folks' houses - books that are not even meant to be read.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 08:56 am:   

I'm reminded here that in 1970, someone asked William S. Burroughs if the written word was on the way out and he said, "No. What do you think is going to replace it?"

Christopher, I actually have an audio book edition of THE DIAMOND AGE you can have if you want. It's unabridged. Twelve audio cassettes. Just ask if you'd like it. I tried selling it on eBay a few years ago and nobody bid.
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PM
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 09:12 am:   

"What about the fact that a lot of this discussion assumes continued widespread low-cost availability of sophisticated, high-maintenace, energy-consuming devices and structures like computers and networks?"

Devices are going to become even cheaper and displays will become easier to read.

One wonders if the folk had risen up and complained politically if this would have spurred greater display innovation.

High-maintenance is a relative term. But yes tech compared to paper will continue to be higher maintenance than paper.
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Christopher Rowe
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 09:14 am:   

Thanks for the offer Gordon, I really do appreciate it. There would be a nontrivial amount of work involved in getting it into a form I could actually use, however.

And I strongly prefer to "read"/consume/(take in?) fiction in ink-on-paper form, actually. I like listening to essays and humor stuff okay, though, on the rare occasions I listen to audio books. Bill Bryson--he's a fun listen.
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Don Mead
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 09:23 am:   

Will the JK Rowlings of the future write books at all, or will they write game scripts? And will people buy the games in droves, and instead of reading a text, will they more actively participate in the story itself?

And another question: by introducing so many young people to book stores and reading, did Rowling save literature (with the assumption that reading preferences evolve) or did she delay the imminent decline of literature?
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PM
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 09:31 am:   

"by introducing so many young people to book stores and reading, did Rowling save literature"

Guess we'll discover something when her non-Harry Potter book arrives...
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 10:05 am:   

William S. Burroughs was quoted in a cover article in WET Magazine; "Language is a virus."

As Elizabeth was saying about her daughter, and the kids now days in how they do radical abbreviations in their text messaging and online chatting to make the text flow faster and more efficiently (grammar and spelling are out the window), so it can keep up with the rapidity of thoughts, and save on billing charges; language is now in process of a replication change of lifeform DNA scramble into its new incarnation for the season, just as the common cold shuffles its DNA so as to be immune to the immune systems antibodies. r u hip? Like beatnik language of the '50's , and how slang changes each generation , text messaging is the New Language. rotflmao.

Has anyone written a story in text abbreviations yet? (run with it! , I don't know the language)

My age is showing in how physical books are enjoyed for their appearance after being read and those never gotten around to as well.
S. Chandrasekhar's "The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes" graced my rolltop desk's overshelf for years, tho I was loath to understand most of the formula special symbols and terms, and I did buy a couple of books from the thrift shop just for their nice color and binding font. "Madgun Mesa" was the best of those. Chapter one was dynamite, but the rest of the book was boring and the writing style was totally different.

Telepathy is what will replace the written word, but we are not real close to that happening yet.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 10:27 am:   

"Has anyone written a story in text abbreviations yet?"

No idea, but I suspect the glossary needed to explain all the abbreviations would end up being longer than the story itself (rotflmao: 'rolling on the floor laughing my ass off'. See also lol; pmsl. Can be used to indicate sarcasm, in context).
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 11:25 am:   

Like the topic; 'does the use of thee and thou turn you off'. Does the use of 'ru nto it' (are you into it) leave you wanting more. There would be some research into the language, and observing conversations, and finding the leaders of the development. If it's truly a lasting phenomena all that will happen sometime.
It's the characters and socialization that are opaque to me. I'd need a new girlfriend, like Abby on NCIS to get hip to it. LOL Then a story might flow.
As far as tv goes 'Numbers' is a favorite for the philosophy of mathematics they expound.

Re: Alan's post about 'Harry Potter' being an online serial, like 'Miracle Rider', 'Dick Tracy', et al in the 30's and 40's preceding a movie in the local theater; if I found something of interest, I'd pay 50 cents a shot to get the new weekly chapter. With 1 million hits a week that ain't hay ! The problem is how could I get billed for a 50 cent charge? or even less, 29 cents. Once that problem gets solved cheaply; in Finland they use cellphones to pay for vending machine food and candy etc. as well as all sorts of small financial transactions, and the itemized myriad show up on the phone bill!; then online reading will reach new massive volumes and profits, and writers will be making 5 and 6 figure incomes no sweat, with enough hits. I may only be getting 3 cents an electronic copy distributed, but I'm making it up on volume !
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PM
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 11:55 am:   

Lars, Paypal or some comparable payment system should meet your requirement.

Credit card surcharges have been a barrier for those wishing to deal in low money transactions.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 12:06 pm:   

"Has anyone written a story in text abbreviations yet?"

I believe a Swedish or Finnish (I think Finnish) writer just published a novel written in text messages.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 12:35 pm:   

"The problem is how could I get billed for a 50 cent charge? or even less, 29 cents."

Lars, I guess the obvious solution (at least the one that occurred to me when I had the conversation I referred to) was to post/send the first instalment free; you like what you read, you pay for x number of chapters/instaments up front - your basic subscription, in a word. Sure, if it's popular enough you could turn a tidy profit, but would it have the reach and impact a hugely successful series of books might have? Or a single book can have, such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (note I said book, not good book)?

Are there any examples of a book that first appeared online and then proved so popular it ended up in bookshops?
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 12:56 pm:   

Maybe a paid subscription to a published paper magazine could include full online access to the same content; buying a year of only-online access (for a good bit less) would entitle you to pick up a subscription to the published paper version for the difference. Maybe that add-on paper subscription wouldn't even be a sequential 12 issues; maybe so long as you're an active online subscriber who has also paid for the paper option, you could pick any 12 available back-issues you especially liked. (Probably that one would be a logistical nightmare...)

The benefit of having a paid online subscription might be that it would include a library of archived stories. This might be an inducement to subscribe for readers of both paper and electronic pursuasion. Also, stories pulled with highest frequency from the archived library might be especially attractive spots for advertisers.

The free version of the site would display a free story or two each month--possibly those most frequently pulled from the archive recently. Just enough to let non-subscribers know what they're missing. Also, maybe the free version would display selected samples from each new story in the current month's issue as "teasers".

The many-headed hydra of electronic marketing...

Just a bunch of random ideas. Hey--I'm not claiming any of them are GOOD.

I wonder if monk scribes of the mid-15th Century felt a certain industry-anxiety about the introduction of moveable type?
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 01:33 pm:   

Excellent suggestions, GSH. I think, when all is said and done, that only when readers used to the online experience rather than the totality of experience derived from holding, smelling, looking at, reading, and otherwise absorbing the beautiful print books bending the pine on their bookshelves will _any_ sort of viable e-book market become a solid reality.

I know I would personally rather have, oh say, THE TWO SAMS (Carroll & Graf, 2001) in its well made and attractive hc edition, than I would some e-edition on some little disk, or e-player. Somehow it's just not the same. :-)

Cheers,
Dave
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 01:57 pm:   

Know what you mean. I'm on a first name basis with more bookstore cats than most could shake a stick at...
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 02:15 pm:   

"Will the JK Rowlings of the future write books at all, or will they write game scripts?"

Marc Laidlaw posts on this board, so he can tell you first-hand what it was like to move from writing novels to writing game scripts. My impression is that writing games is not too different from writing movie scripts. It's more of a collaborative effort than writing a novel.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 03:43 pm:   

"I wonder if monk scribes of the mid-15th Century felt a certain industry-anxiety about the introduction of moveable type?"

Maybe the follow-up question should be, even if they did feel some anxiety, did the introduction of moveable type in any way dimisnish the value of their art?
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Sined
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 05:11 pm:   

Part of it I think is it all comes down to the fact that you’ve never thought about gifting a digital text document to a loved one. It’s not because you think text is free or effortless, but that the digital media is ephemeral, virtual, unprotected, and ownerless—with the potential of unlimited replication. The purchase is for a copy, not for the text itself; the text will be owned according to the copyright statement and law. On paper, the value of the text gets transferred to a tangible item, to the weight of it, and to the dust that eventually settles on it. We don’t have the technology/marketing/public consciousness to make those digital files appear to have value and to be real. Portable devices are primitive. Digital documents remain previews to the real thing, the bait for the actual sale, or for the marketing banner hit, or for another email to add to the database. There are instances where people see value in the ‘virtual’, when it is well protected and difficult to trade for ie, cash. If books were not OCR’d by your 9-year-old nephew on the family PC, you might think availability/piracy is also a problem, but you give up due to the lack of text’s authority or professional editing. The digital document is the cheapest option you can imagine and speaks of limited options. Additionally, reading digital documents is too often associated with work. A fiction is the sort of experience a person needs to dive into and forget the medium, and what is more comfortable than what we’re used to, in order to get there? It is not comparable to reading a newsclip on CNN—which, coincidentally, works perfectly with the ephemeral nature of online publishing. So the middleman is actually providing digital bait and then forwarding you to amazon when you realize you are perfectly unsatisfied. Ultimately, you are on the couch/metro/plane/lunchroom reading the damn book, creased spine and all while the cracked pdf or whatever is lost in some subfolder on some machine. Etch-A-Sketch publishing in the future? I’m guessing ya.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 06:28 pm:   

Yes, the way to charge and bill for a 29 cent digital copy of one story online would be the same vector vehicle as Apples iTunes uses to bill for their download of one song @ 99 cents ! How ever it is Apple and others do that is how online publishing could sell a series or one story or a subscription renewal.
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Daryl Gregory
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 06:36 pm:   

You know what I miss? Scrolls. Not just the smell of them -- everybody talks about that -- or the heft of them, that feeling that you owned something _really_ substantial.

No, what I'm talking about is the superiority of the scroll reading experience. There was just something about the text unrolling, line after line, that spoke to the way narrative flows in the mind, instead of the artificial modularization of text imposed on us by the book -- page 1, then page 2, etc, as if _experience_ could be so subdivided. Books were a real step backward, in my opinion. And look how hard to use they were for early adopters:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFAWR6hzZek

Oh, and don't get me started on clay tablets. Those were the days.

--d
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 07:37 pm:   

OK... We've got the obvious superiority of reading from scrolls, that indefinable something about text unrolling line after line, the need of publishers to find a less costly mode of distribution, and the inescapable fact that readers have a certain amount of disposable time each day in the water closet...

I'm not sure I like where this is headed.
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Dave Truesdale
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 07:43 pm:   

So when did you get rid of all your books and convert your entire library to digital, Daryl? I can only assume you're in the process... :-)

Howdy,
Dave
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2007 - 10:00 pm:   

One surprise to the MacBook was 'speech'. Clicking it and hearing Vicky begin reading my short story in her android voice was spooky ethereal revelatory exciting and made it seem like someone else wrote it (which is true, it wasn't ME), especially the parts where artificial intelligence is pondered in its implications with human consciousness, her voice added an unexpected dimension. At subsequent speech throughs, it almost seemed that Vicky had learned and was pondering the implications the story was inferring.
ps, GSH, Only androids could make use of electronic asswipe, ebooks that is ! or should I say screen-scrolls.
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Conrad Albert
Posted on Monday, March 12, 2007 - 05:33 pm:   

To succeed with e-publishing I think you MUST be a direct seller since say Fictionwise takes 50-55% cover price and insists you cannot retail elsewhere lower except for promotions (as far as I know from discussions with authors e-published there).

Also a promotional club like Jim Baen's Universe which offers something worth for a hefty markup could be a big, maybe crucial help (for me e-arcs and the availablity of stories ASAP before official publication date makes it worth being a member at JBU, the lowest level but still 50$ a year versus 30$ regular)

If you do not want to have trouble with your other distributors or if you need to build a brand name, it may be impossible to be a direct seller (cost and effort are minimal as opposed to benefits in my opinion) and then probably you will have a hard time since simple arithmetic shows that you need to sell twice as much as a direct seller, and probably considerably more to make up for the flexibility you lose too.

The above mentioned article by Mr. Resnick in JBU makes this point quite clear and I am surprised that it is not emphasized much more when Baen e-publishing is mentioned as the right way to do e-books.
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Chris Pasley
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 02:03 am:   

As a writer of both traditional fiction and game scripts, it's true that game scripts are very similar to TV/Movie scripts in cut scenes, but there are so many different genres in games so as to make that comparison largely superficial. AI "barks," branching dialog, multiple storylines...it's a very different ballgame in reality.

I do think that there is room for something new in online fiction. I originally had the idea once that I'd start an interactive fiction magazine, but pure IF is difficult for many readers to wrap their heads around. There's also hypertext fiction and sraight text adventure games. I guess my point is that I think while online may be a viable alternative to print publishing, there's really nothing better than enjoying a story in the medium for which it was intended. Which means on one hand that I like my stories and novels primarily in print, but that I wish someone would take advantage of the unique medium of the web to do something that _couldn't_ be done in print. To do otherwise is to, I think, waste what the medium can offer.

I actually had a neat mixed-media online fiction idea once...maybe I should resurrect it...
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 05:44 am:   

Hmmmm, instead of testosterone gaming action blowup-killems, which are aimed at males;

Estrogen romance novellas reset into the present gaming software, the multiple storylines would be reoriented to a different script; the hi-res visuals and aptly drawn characters remain, the backgrounds and dialogue and action change venue into the socializing and relationships arena.

This might be more apropos for six year old girls, and not teen or adult women; it would replace 'playing house' or 'dolls' in a new 'all electronic' age.

Kind of like the story opens; Once upon a time . . . and after a few moments one character turn and speaks to the 'game player', then depending on which script choice the 'player' chooses the story takes a turn and goes into one of the multiple plot lines. This way the little girl who is the 'player' gets to learn that depending on her reaction/choice to the character in the story, there are ramifications, results, consequences to her choices. A behavioural learning process. Later game levels or successive editions in the series could get more complex, and by using vocal software, the 'player' could speak her responses to the game, and the action would ensue from there. Almost like chess vs a computer. (the MacBook has a chess program, I have yet to beat the program!LOL) With a little imagination all sorts of complex scripts could be written, and this might replace soap operas someday, in which the 'player' can interact with the game in more ways than pointing a gun or driving a vehicle of some sort. (this has been suggested before as I recall, but software is getting closer to being able to do it)
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 05:58 am:   

Have you guys read Geoff Ryman's 253?

The online version is here: http://www.ryman-novel.com/
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Chris Pasley
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 07:47 am:   

That's interesting. I'll need to take a closer look at that when I have a moment.
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 08:55 am:   

Chris, the latest issue of Ideomancer (http://www.ideomancer.com) includes an interactive collaborative fiction project called "23 Small Disasters" written as a wiki by Benjamin Rosenbaum, Christopher Barzak, Elad Haber, Greg van Eekhout, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Meghan McCarron, and Tim Pratt.
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Daryl Gregory
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 09:59 am:   

>>So when did you get rid of all your books and convert your entire library to digital, Daryl? I can only assume you're in the process... :-) <<

Aw, I was just having some fun, Dave. I'm very sentimental about books -- why should I care so much about my cracked Bantam editions of Doc Savage? Or my Hardy Boy hardbacks? They're not even originals, yet I love them -- but I realize that my sentimentality has probably been felt by every shmuck who saw his favorite technology go the way of, well, clay tablets.

--d
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Daryl Gregory
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 10:27 am:   

Oh, regarding 253 and the Wiki link (thanks for those, Gordon and Charlie):

I think Geoff Ryman rocks -- AIR was one of the best novels I'd read in a long time -- but I can't say I've "read" 253 -- at least not in the same way I can say I've read a book. I went to the site a few years ago, read 25 or 30 entries, ran out of time, and never went back. And I think that was okay -- there was something about the form that didn't require completion, and I felt satisfied with where I stopped.

It's an interesting try at the hypertext discourse that a couple theorists thought would sweep the world when the web came along, and it's a variant of the kind of game-oriented, choose-your-own-adventure writing that people say might replace standard narrative, but I just can't see this kind of thing ever trumping old-fashioned storytelling. Ryman's AIR is the perfect example: you know you're in the hands of a master storyteller, and the way he shapes the story leads to an emotional impact that would be so hard to duplicate in a reader-driven format.

But I'm always hoping to be surprised. Now to check out the Ideomancer piece!

--d
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David Marshall
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 01:31 pm:   

Lars: "Has anyone written a story in text abbreviations yet? (run with it! , I don't know the language)"

I saw some Young Adult title on a bookshelf last week. The story is written entirely in text messages sent by/to the three main characters.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 06:33 pm:   

Thanks David, I guess the thought is in the air, and that's why I heard it. Might get the book to learn the language! Tho it's likely very difficult to learn starting near zero and jumping in.
This is how I know I'm from a different generation. My Dad won't touch a computer, I probably won't learn text message language or be drawn by liking it, it's flavor is not my mindset.
From thee and thou to ru nto it. The Purpose of Life is to Live ! And there are so many different ways to live. Like the Cosmos, life is so vast and full of variety, and that's its beauty and saving grace.
It is nice to know that invention is alive and well in the writing corner of the universe.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 - 11:10 am:   

Check out the Locus website for Cory Doctorow's thoughts on the subject of reading of a screen v reading of the page...
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PM
Posted on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 - 08:40 pm:   

Read Cory's essay.

Have to completely disagree with the assertion or any insinuation that suggests that novels (or long-form texts) are not intended for computers.

Solve the eyestrain issue and the problem is resolved...except for paper bigots.

Like Thomas Aquinas I'm of the middle road (though I am of course utterly unlike Thomas Aquinas). Paper and electronic texts both offer their satisfactions.

Technology and economics are the limiters. Why are compressed audio formats such as mp3 the standard? Networks were too slow to transmit uncompressed audio. Or less compressed video formats...and the costs to implement technologies have been enormous.

We're not even walking on one foot in terms of what will one day be possible to transmit over a network. Today we think of short video clips. It's critical to understand that video clips are short (in general) due to network transmission speeds and economic costs.
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GSH
Posted on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 - 10:11 pm:   

In other words--reading from an electronic device will be as good as reading from a book, once electronic devices become indistinguishable from books? OK, maybe I can go with that! Give me Harry Potter's magic newspapers, and beautiful little books that fit into my pocket, with printed pages that become the pages of whatever novel I wish.

Paper publishers might go with it too--provided they can figure out a way to generate enough revenue to pay their bills and pay their authors. I'm pretty sure any publisher resistance to electronic media isn't a matter of clinging to the past. It's more a matter of protecting a much-loved art form and keeping it viable. I'm pretty sure they'd much rather be focusing on the creative side of their work--on the choosing and nurturing and editing--than on the headaches related to the physical distribution of paper to all points on the planet.

Unless I'm reading him wrong, Cory Doctorow's main argument in favor of electronic publication seems to be that it has boosted his PAPER sales. I doubt if he'd be encouraging free distribution of the electronic versions if he didn't believe that. His entire argument seems to be to point to his increased paper sales.

BTW, there's an interesting take on electronic publishing at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website: http://www.sfwa.org/
It's under Resources>> Writer Beware>> Electronic Publishing.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 06:58 am:   

"In other words--reading from an electronic device will be as good as reading from a book, once electronic devices become indistinguishable from books?"

At the risk of sounding like a "paper bigot" (though I'm really not), electronic devices will always differ from books.

As an example, probably the most beautiful single volume I own is a Folio Society edition of Robert Graves' 'The Greek Myths'; quarter bound in leather with block-printed cloth sides, printed on Ibis Wove paper with 16 gorgeous illustrations by Grahame Baker...just all together stunning. Yes, the text itself and even the illustrations could be stored for viewing on an electronic device, but _it is simply not the same_. It's not my intention to objectify this - or any - book, and I certainly don't want to reduce the question to one of aesthetics, but for all the convenience, (potential) ease of use, etc., of electronic devices, in terms of intrinsic value they just can't compete.

Discuss. (Or ignore as the slightly fuzzy-headed ramblings of someone who stayed a little bit too long in the pub last night...)
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 08:03 am:   

"In other words--reading from an electronic device will be as good as reading from a book, once electronic devices become indistinguishable from books?"

For those who are able check out the Sony Reader at Border's, the display is in my opinion as non-fatiguing as reading a book. Now there's still plenty of room for improvement for other displays (and the Sony Reader).

"His entire argument seems to be to point to his increased paper sales."

Given the dearth of eBooks one is usually forced to buy the paper version. As this is the current situation it's good news that purchases are increasing.

Alan, aesthetics is most of your point. I'm not going to try and convince folk to not love their books. I've seen plenty of rotten leather and stinky, yellow pages. (For some that's a turn-on.)

A book printed on paper is a static thing. Electronic texts can be amended, corrected, and expanded without incurring the costs associated with additional paper printings and distribution.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 08:48 am:   

Very good points, PM.

What I wrote above was basically from gut reaction, because I do love my books, even the tattered, yellow paged, held-together-by-sellotape ones...

Look, I'm not a Luddite. The idea of an electronic text that can be updated with the press of a button certainly has its appeal, as does the ipod model of a single device that can hold as many texts as you care to load into it, accessible when/where/how ever many times you like, and maybe if that's what I'd grown up with I wouldn't be having this discussion. Books printed on paper may well be "static thing[s]", but they do matter.

It's a heart thing, not a head thing, I guess.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 08:51 am:   

One possible plus for e-books might be _reader editing_ , in which typos and poor author word choice could be personalized by the reader to their own preference, should they be so inclined. Every book has a typo somewhere, and some every few pages. There have been numerous books with indecipherable sentences. Gore Vidal's 'Empire' comes to mind. One sentence was horrible unintelligible, linotyper must have spilled his coffee or something, been interrupted mentally and went on without backchecking. Other books have an entire sentence or more disappeared. Most disconcerting.

Is there a 'most heinous proofreaders gaffs society' somewhere? LOL
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 09:09 am:   

I'm not sure authors would be too happy knowing readers could edit their books as and when they liked! Then again, proofreaders might find themselves looking for new jobs...
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 09:37 am:   

Nothing stopping readers from making alterations now. They're just noticeable on paper.

"Is there a 'most heinous proofreaders gaffs society' somewhere? LOL"

Maybe there should be (if there isn't one already).

---

I'd add that it's certainly possible to put an electronic display in a luxury binding (leather, etc.) And it's only a matter of time before electronic displays become tactile-friendly...
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Don Mead
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 10:09 am:   

"One possible plus for e-books might be _reader editing_ "

Think of how much fun you could have with search/replace. A kid could replace his/her name in a Harry Potter book, thus becoming the hero.

Personally, I'd replace all 'horse' references in the Wheel of Time saga with "angry bunny."
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 10:27 am:   

Something I didn't mention above and probably should have - the Graves book was a gift, which is a big part of why it's a favourite of mine.

To state the obvious, we buy books, and magazines, to read them. There have of course been some hugely successful YA titles in recent years, but I'm sure everyone will agree that anything that can be done to get more children and teenagers reading can only be a good thing. Electronic formats for books could be beneficial in this regard; it may not be cool to be caught reading an old-fashioned print and paper book, but a state-of-the-art hand-held device that allows you to interact with the story, listen to dialogue and sound effects, etc, might be just the thing...
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 10:39 am:   

Great idea Alan !

By using USAF technology, i.e., a sensor notices where the eye is looking, and when I am reading a certain word or phrase or line of type, the sound effect or other multimedia is cued to play.

As long as I can maintain a steady reading speed the multimedia effects are cued on time, and a real environment is created beyond what the mind can do alone.

Of course this might be irritating depending on the readers experience or mental activity at times, and this feature could be turned off.
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 11:01 am:   

I'll put my hands up and admit the software/logistical side of it is kind of beyond me, Lars. :-)

Though I guess if you've been weaned on video games and so on, your brain might be up to the job of proccessing the levels of imput/interactivity you're talking about.
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 11:08 am:   

Interactivity will have its advocates.

I'd be pleased to just have more eBooks as static reads.

I'm very pleased that Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, and now Subterranean are electronically available.
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GSH
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 11:45 am:   

One of my favorite places when I was growing up was the local public library--an old Carnegie library with fluted columns, W.P.A. murals, marble floors, oak chairs and tables, bronze busts of famous dead guys high up in the reading room. Sort of a temple to the god of books. I was much impressed by the obvious importance of books.

I wonder what electronic publishing will do to over 16,000 public libraries? We'll no longer need a temple. Only a terminal.

What percentage of paper magazine subscriptions are held by public libraries? Will they eventually opt for electronic subscriptions instead?

And no more library used book sales? *sniff*

Maybe my PC is my enemy. If you don't see me here again, it'll probably be 'cause I've turned into one of AF's Luddites and smashed it up with a shovel...
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 11:58 am:   

Nah, just sell it and spend the cash at The Last Ever Grand Closing Down Library Used Book Sale...
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 12:43 pm:   

Alan, I'm not able to devise the system to do the eye tracking, I only have heard that fighter pilots use it for fire control of weapons systems, or other such purposes. I'm not sure if it is still in use or was discontinued due to difficulties of pilot error. It was being tried out at one time.

When they burn down the library in the future it will be a rather quiet event. No big blaze of flames, just a demure fizzle of electrons.
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Daniel Ausema
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 01:26 pm:   

I'll just throw this into the mix--I wonder how much it varies by what type of work a person is reading. If it's something I'm reading simply to have read--a nonfiction about a topic I'm interested in, or a book that is simply a fast-paced, but forget-it-once-it's done plot, or a book people are talking about enough that I'd like an idea of the basic storyline, for example--I'm much more likely to not mind reading it on screen. But the books I really want to enjoy reading...those I'd much rather have a physical object. In fact, I like to keep the physical object even if it's unlikely I'll ever get around to rereading it. Seeing that cover and having the opportunity to pull it out and look at the pages...I like that.

For example I recently read a book published by Aio--they do a wonderful job with the book as a physical object. I read the book from the library, but when I made a recent Amazon order of a variety of books, I added that one as well simply because I'd like to have it in my house (and I can see myself rereading it in a few years). Baen's books...I haven't read a lot of, but my impression from browsing through their titles is that most are the type that I wouldn't mind reading online, that I wouldn't feel any attachment to the physical object if I had it (just an impression--I imagine there are exceptions). So it makes sense for them to get into ebooks a lot more than some other publishers.

In magazines...I think that overall my copies of F&SF are probably somewhere in between the definitely-want-a-physical-copy and the meh-I'll-just-read-it-online camp, but closer to the physical copy. So it makes sense to have it available from Fictionwise, and it's good that its editors and those of other print magazines are willing to discuss and brainstorm and consider this issue...but as long as it keeps attracting the type of writing that rewards returning to, the type of writing that appeals to readers in the physical-copy camp, I think it does well to remain primarily a print mag.

(I think Cory Doctorow had some good points--I do read online all day, and it doesn't bother my eyes...but it stretches my attention span if it's something longer, even if it's something I would greatly enjoy in print...which would lead me to think that the ideal e-book or e-zine has lots of flash or flash-length chapters...as well as probably incorporating the things that make the internet powerful: pictures, video, links, music. I'm fascinated with how these different media can play off of and interact with each other, so I could be convinced to go for something like this online if it grabbed me. But it's a very different enjoyment from the one I get sitting on the couch and paging through a book. Not inherently better or worse, just different.)
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Daniel Ausema
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 02:08 pm:   

Clarification--I put in "meh-I'll-just-read-it-online" which makes it sound like a comment on quality, which isn't what I meant. I mean this (including my comments on Baen's books) as a comment on type of reading, regardless of quality--and I'm quite certain there will be quality and less-than-stellar works on all points of the spectrum. Phew--don't want someone attacking me for something I didn't mean (though attack away at what I *did* mean).
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Alan frackelton
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 02:47 pm:   

Hi there Daniel. You said -

"But the books I really want to enjoy reading...those I'd much rather have a physical object. In fact, I like to keep the physical object even if it's unlikely I'll ever get around to rereading it. Seeing that cover and having the opportunity to pull it out and look at the pages...I like that."

- and I agree. That's basically where I'm coming from. I'm not anti the alternatives but neither am I pro printed media to the extent that I'll discount those alternatives out of hand.

Readers of the British mag The Third Alternative may recall an article by Peter Crowther from - not sure exactly when, but it was a number of years ago - extolling the pleasures and values of good ol' paper books and magazines. Worth digging out if, like me, you hold onto all your old copies...
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Don Mead
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 05:23 pm:   

What happens to all of the cover artists with a purely electronic mag? The cover not only protects the contents, it's an eye grabber for passer-by who's checking out the magazine stand. Will cover art disappear?
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 06:37 pm:   

No reason for it to disappear.

Electronic mags would continue to have covers.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 07:59 pm:   

Access is easier with print. It takes 3 minutes to dialup, longer if the ISP won't connect first time. Today it was 12 tries to connect. Too much hassle with online to lookup something quickly or for an inspiration to strike. Plus with print I can sit anywhere, online is one chair only. Plus if the server is offline, or my subscription runs out, or the power goes out, or a host of other things, my ebook or emag is unreachable.
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 08:05 pm:   

Lars, the online experience isn't going to be much fun via dialup...of course that's the current speed for smartphones/cellphones.
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Lim Teng King
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 09:44 pm:   

A lot of people see electronic magazines as a threat to traditional magazines and I suppose there may be some truth in that. But for science fiction magazines specifically, I wonder if we are aware of another possible threat - the huge number of anthologies being printed every year.

Don't get me wrong - I love anthologies and I'm sure a lot of you do, too. But that's exactly where the problem is, isn't it? Why bother to subscribe to a magazine when you could spend the whole year reading the dozen or so "Best Of"s coming out every year.

No single magazine can hope to beat the quality of these anthologies. With professional editors spending all their time trawling through all the various magazines and collections and picking the best of the lot, any of the monthly magazines can just watch as their best stories are picked and vaguely hope that the exposure will cause readers to think of subscribing. (In all fairness, I must say that Gardner Dozois does a good job here as practically every year he tells his readers of declining subscriptions and urges his readers to subscribe. My own subscription to F&SF was prompted by this.)

Lest I step on anyone's toes, I hasten to add that anthologies themselves are not the problem, it's the number of them being printed every year in every genre and sub-genre. The market saturation of such high quality stuff is, I feel, the real threat to monthly science fiction magazines.
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PM
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 10:03 pm:   

All the anthologies mean something. If they're not making money then they'll get the boot (sooner or later).

I'm under the impression that F&SF increased circulation from last year.

There are quite a few genre publications though and I wonder if some of them disappeared if it would lead their readers to the remaining ones.
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Lim Teng King
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 11:11 pm:   

Do you have last year's figures? I get these news from Dozois' anthologies and this year's isn't out yet. But I know that in 2005 F&SF dropped by 1% in overall circulation - good news if compared to Asimov's which fell by a shocking 23% and Analog which declined by a depressing 8.2%.

What's gonna happen to all our beloved short stories, novelets and novellas?
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S. Hamm
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 01:51 am:   

The circulation of F&SF rose by roughly 2/3 of 1% in 2006.
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Ahmed A. Khan
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 06:46 am:   

A very interesting discussion. I am a strong supporter of e-fiction and have said so in print (http://speculative.ca/modules/news/article.php?storyid=13). In my opinion, the only advantage paper books have over ebooks is their stackability. You can stare with pride and pleasure at spines of the neatly arranged collection of books on your bookshelf. Unfortunately, you cannot do the same with ebooks.

Ahmed
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 07:13 am:   

"The market saturation of such high quality stuff is, I feel, the real threat to monthly science fiction magazines."

There's an overall decline of readers and paying readers. Certainly no shortage of books/magazines to buy. Could be that some folk are deciding to wait for the anthologies.

I would make the additional following points.

Given a choice between Interzone and the digests, it's a no-brainer. The digests are caught in a no-win scenario. Change the format (if that's even possible) and alienate many existing readers.

I enjoy the electronic versions more because I can read them on a larger screen (with a larger font) and don't have to look at the paper (ugly).

If the advertisers would go along with it, I would offer an enhanced electronic version. Enhanced with color ads. Provide significantly discounted ad rates for this enhanced version. The goal being 30-40 pages. This enhanced electronic version could be sold separately and also bundled for free for the paper subscribers.

Returning to the Interzone vs the digests comparison. The digests have a price advantage. But Interzone is more visually appealing. It's a much harder sell for new readers to choose the digests which are ugly ducklings.

Likewise with the websites. New viewers respond with, "Ugh.".

Someone may say, "Content is queen.". True. But one has to overlook the "plain Jane" look. The existing readership have likely acclimated but ah new readers...
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 08:05 am:   

PM, I think it's interesting how different readers have different experiences. I grew up as a paperback reader (back in the day of the 60-80,000 word novel), and I still prefer that fiction reading experience over others even though I started reading fiction magazines less than ten years ago. As a result, I much prefer the digests over the glossy magazines to the extent where I've let most of my subscriptions to the glossy magazines lapse. (I even prefer hardcovers over the glossies. It just feels more like reading to me.)

It's also hard to lump all the digests together. I struggle when I try to read Asimov's or Analog -- I don't care for the cheap covers, and I find the interior layout to be hard on my eyes. On the other hand, I have subscriptions to several digests -- F&SF, Apex, On Spec -- that use higher quality cardstock for their covers and have very readable interior design.

From my perspective, I don't have any idea how the glossies can compete with the digests just for the quality of the reading experience, and I always assumed that's why their circulations were lower. I assumed it was mostly a strategy used by new magazines to get newstand visibility in order to build a subscriber base. It's a bit enlightening to hear someone assert that they like that format more.
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Jeff VanderMeer
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 08:44 am:   

The real problem re the glut of year's best anthos is simply that so many of them have a pretty wide overlap. I would imagine this will result in either a reduced market share for all of them over time, or some of them will just go out of business.

One does wonder, when you see such overlap, if editors of year's best are (1) being careful not to overvalue "name" authors and (2) being proactive enough in seeking out everything in the field.

Ann and I only agreed to do Best American Fantasy because we knew we'd be drawing mostly on literary magazines. And, thus, we'd be rescuing from oblivion a lot of cool fantasy stories fantasy readers would not otherwise see. (Stories not read by the editors of the other fantasy year's bests and not picked up by mainstream lit. year's bests because of a residual prejudice against fantasy.)

JeffV
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 09:03 am:   

Charles, I grew up reading paperbacks too. There's nothing wrong with being young, small, desiring an inexpensive format, and having good eyesight...and the nostalgia factor. I no longer purchase mass market paperbacks as the form factor is no longer desirable. But I'm content for the format to continue without me.

Quite frankly I prefer electronic versions to low quality paper ones as well.


"I don't have any idea how the glossies can compete with the digests just for the quality of the reading experience"

The digests have history. They're entrenched. The best of both worlds would be to put the content from the digests and put in the glossies...and offer an electronic version(s).

Generalizing of course, but my point is that the digests get stories that the glossies do not.
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PM
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 09:11 am:   

Jeff, I struggle with the word "best". When I see that word used by multiple anthologies I expect/hope that there will be overlap.

It's commendable to collect less circulated works.

"Best" is a legacy word for me though...but we have to acknowledge that for some/many(?) that's a selling word.

I'd prefer something more along the lines of "Notable Works of the Obscure, 2007"...
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 09:15 am:   

It's called The Best of the Rest, by Brian Youmans :p
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GSH
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 12:00 pm:   

What about the issue of permanence? Paper persists, while electronic media may not.

Search eBay for "pulp magazines". I just did. I found 354 listings. There's an April 1924 edition of Black Mask mystery magazine; numerous odd lots of Galaxy, F & SF, Azimoz's, etc, published before many of us were even born. Many obscure stories persist soley because of paper. You can play archaeologist if you want, and dig for forgotten treasures.

By way of contrast, try to find a website you remember from 10 years ago. Or try to retrieve electronic data kept on some obsolete storage medium, or in some obsolete file format. These days, obsolescence is snapping at the heels of innovation. More often than not, after 10 years new technology is deader than a dodo.

I suppose "the best ofs" will endure. Popularity would likely assure they'll make the cut when storage mediums change. The obscure treasures, initially overlooked, probably won't be so lucky, however. And if the fragile web of advanced technology itself should fail--or even hiccup--everything would be gone.

But maybe that's an unrealistic concern; maybe just the stuff of science fiction...
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 12:21 pm:   

I'm not too sure the issue of permanence really impacts, at least on a level where one is trying to sell or present to the masses, surely, any more than the newspaper supplements or dime novels were designed to do so. It's nice from the perspective of a scholar or a collector to have something that lasts, but that's not necessarily a factor for the publisher.

As far as I'm concerned just because a website or pdf or what-have-you no longer exists doesn't invalidate its impact. (Any more than the relative rarity of Action Comics 1).

The only way we can measure anything is by its impact and revelance through the years.
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Don Mead
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 01:28 pm:   

I published my first story with an outfit called astoundingtales.com. Can't find it now. Might as well have never existed.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 01:47 pm:   

It can be found here, on the waybackmachine: http://web.archive.org/web/20041011193413/astoundingtales.com/vol1_iss2/planting .html
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Chris Pasley
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 - 10:28 pm:   

Has anyone ever seen those newer e-paper readers? I enjoy my fiction in print (mostly) but if the e-paper is as promising as it sounds I might be inclined to pick a reader up one day.
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PM
Posted on Saturday, March 17, 2007 - 04:59 am:   

Chris, the Sony Reader is one. It can be seen at Borders. (I have one.)
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Don Mead
Posted on Saturday, March 17, 2007 - 06:34 am:   

Wow, Sean. I'd looked and looked for that thing. Hats off to you for finding it. I guess it's like finding an old issue of F&SF. Thanks.
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Sam Hidaka
Posted on Saturday, March 17, 2007 - 12:35 pm:   

PM wrote:
Chris, the Sony Reader is one. It can be seen at Borders. (I have one.)

A year or so ago, some of the folks on Baen's Bar once asked Jim Baen to come out with an e-ink e-book reader -- one that's DRM-free, so that you can obtain material from anywhere, not just from the device seller's download-for-fee site.

Jim Baen thought it was a good idea, so he told them to do it themselves.

They did:
http://www.naebllc.com/

N.A.E.B. => Not Another E-Book

It'll be a few months before it's available, but it'll cost less than the Sony (about $100 less). And it'll allow the user to read anything you have in electronic form -- not just the material you buy from Sony.
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PM
Posted on Saturday, March 17, 2007 - 01:03 pm:   

Sam, that's neat.

Sony does use their own ebook format for their online store.

The Sony Reader also supports PDF (unencrypted) and RTF but does not support Mobipocket. The hardware appears to be the same. Fortunately, I was able to get my Sony Reader for under $300.

There are other electronic formats that neither reader will read such as the encrypted formats (Adobe and Microsoft) plus the Rocketbook/Gemstar, and Palm Reader formats.

I'm glad that the N.A.E.B will support Mobipocket.
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Lim Teng King
Posted on Monday, March 19, 2007 - 01:26 am:   

I downloaded a couple of free stories onto my Palm Tungsten PDA just to see if I could live with reading an e-book. It seems to have a lot of these weird underscore marks, like "It _owned_ the war". What is that for - italics? It does not make for very comfortable reading when the screen is filled with quite a few of these signs.

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