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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 06:24 am:   

On a panel at World Fantasy Con last weekend, Lou Anders asked if the many publications online that are offering fiction for free are undercutting the market for print magazines.

In the '90s, when internet magazines were first starting out, a lot of people predicted that this is exactly what would happen---the Webzines would drive out the printzines and the usual consumer-driven publishing model would change. But nobody seems to discuss the question nowadays.

So let me ask: Now that we're a few years into the process, now that STRANGE HORIZONS and INFINITE MATRIX and SCIFI have been publishing good fiction regularly, what do you think? Everyone on this board is obviously familiar enough with computers to navigate to this board---how do you feel? Be honest. I'm not looking to change anything with F&SF, but even dinosaurs (and I have happily accepted---even embraced---the fact that F&SF is a dinosaur and I try to make it a big, majestic one) need to look ahead.
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Kathy S.
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 07:40 am:   

While I enjoy fiction published by Strange Horizons, SciFi, Ideomancer, ChiZine and others, I don't feel they are in competition with print markets. Online venues are great when one is stuck in front of the computer. For example, I may read online during lunch break or in between classes, when I have short periods of free time. But leisurely weekend reading is best done off paper, IMO. While one can argue that both compete for the reading time, I find that these venues are appropriate for vastly different circumstances. Just my experience.
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John Thiel
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 07:47 am:   

Driving out print magazines is on nobody's mind, definitely. The more sf there is, the better. I'd like to see another boom in the print magazine field.
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 08:19 am:   

I think I read more online fiction than printed fiction these days. Part of that is because it is free, and part of it is because it's convenient to read in a break at work.

I'm not sure I subscribe to fewer magazines, though. I've always read more novels than short fiction anyway.
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J.J.S. Boyce
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 08:47 am:   

I prefer print magazines. You can take it with you, and it's easier to read than something online. I'm entirely willing to pay for that.
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Dave
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 08:55 am:   

For me, webzines like SCIFI are a direct competitor to F&SF. From an economic value perspective no one beats SCIFI. The quality of their stories is the best (IMO; I get all the "back issues" and it costs me nothing. (I'd gladly pay for it, but don't tell Ellen that.) I think the fiction at Strange Horizons is about equal in quality to what F&SF prints so its value is also higher because it is free. I like some other webzines but on the whole the quality of their fiction is not up to the level of F&SF.

In a financial pinch I would drop F&SF because I know I could get great fiction for free online. I would probably subscribe to more print mags if SCIFI and others were not available. One big advantage F&SF has is that it prints longer stories on paper. I don't like to read novellas (actually anything much more than >10,000 words) online but enjoy them in print. As an aspiring author, I like the idea of one day seeing my stories in print so I'll submit to print mags first (with the exception of SCIFI because it pays so much more.)

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chuck h
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 09:14 am:   

The aspect of print magizines that may be key to their survival is tangibility. It was once opined that downloadable books might hurt the market for print novels, but that hasn't happened. Now, the situation with short stories is obviously extremely different, since reading a short story from a screen is much easier than reading a novel, but the ability to hold a print magazine like FSF in your hand is a major factor, simply because people like own a magazine in some form other than electronic impulses. It's nice to feel the wood pulp. Furthermore, as Dave mentioned above, I would be more gratified to see a story of mine in print than on the screen, although I certainly see the value of publication by SCIFI or Strange Horizons.
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TCO
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 11:03 am:   

Do you think that Napster and Kazaa cut into studio profits?
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Steven Francis Murphy
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 11:04 am:   

I prefer printed, physical, textile mediums for my fiction entertainment. I find reading fiction off of a screen to be, at best, irritating. I like having something in my hands other than a plastic, cold mouse.

That is not to say that the websites aren't putting out good fiction. They are.

But I almost invariably wait until they appear in Gardner's YBSF anthology in order to read them.

Besides. A printed story requires no batteries, defragging, is reverse compatiable so long as you understand the language it was printed in.

My only problem is that my meager fiscal resources do not allow me the luxury of subscribing to all the mags that I want to read.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
http://sfmurphy.journalspace.com
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StephenB
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 11:19 am:   

I prefer print.
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chuck h
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 11:19 am:   

Napster and Kazaa do, I suppose, cut into studio profits, but they're not driving the compact disc out of production. And I think there's a major difference between downloadable music and internet-accessible fiction: a CD doesn't have the same value in its tangibility as a book or magazine. A CD requires complementary products to yield its value. A book is the end result. You don't need anything but the book. So while it doesn't much matter whether I have my music stored on an iPod or in a CD library, the experience of reading from a computer screen is far removed from the experience of reading ink on a page.
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Dawn B.
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 11:48 am:   

I read SH & SciFiction almost every week. Or at least, I give the stories a whirl.

I only (currently) sub to F&SF and ROF, for monetary reasons.

I don't mind reading online. I know that I can get SH via Fictionwise to be able to pull it to Palm or other transportable device, but I don't own one. I like F&SF [and anthologies & Asimov's & Analog & ROF] for transportation purposes.

I don't see the online 'zines directly competing with the print 'zines for my readership. However, should I get a e-book device, that might change.

The *HUGE* advantage I see is the recommendation aspect. If I read a great story of SH or SciFiction, I can recommend it to others and basically be guarenteed that they can acess it. I can't do that with F&SF or ROF unless I give out my magazine or gift people with the issue. I can point them to Fictionwise at least for F&SF (AND THANK YOU for having back issues there). I can't do that for ROF or for back issues of Asimov's & Analog [growl].

I recognize the need to preserve copyright and earn money. I know that F&SF has a very different income system than SH or SciFiction. However, I do believe there is a slow shift occuring. New readers are more likely to start online and I'm not sure how many will switch to print.

Finally, as a writer:

I sub to F&SF first. Presitige and all that. Then SciFiction if I think I have a chance, then Strange Horizons. Then back to the print 'zines. After those (ROF, Asimov's, Analog, Interzone, TTA, ASIFM) then back to the small e-zines. So, while the readers may not be dividing their attention, I think the writers are.
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ET
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 01:35 pm:   

I don't like reading on the web -- in particular if the story is broken into several pages. Having to wait for a new page to load disturbs my reading. It's better if the magazine is downloadable, and even better if I can read it on my PDA. Most of the issues of the "big three" that I buy are from Fictionwise.

So IMO there's already been some effect of the internet on the publishing industry, since I can buy F&SF, Asimov's and Analog in eBook form.
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Wade O
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 01:43 pm:   

I wanted to read an issue of "Ploughshares" and picked one up at the newstand for close to $11! I thought that was nuts until I realized everything was $5 to $9. I had just searched every venue that carried magazines in two towns, and there was almost NOTHING devoted to genre fiction. There was one "Realms of Fantasy" and a couple copies of "The Strand" (mystery). I talked to one local owner about the possibility of his carrying F&SF. We'll see.

Now, how does that compare with the online world, where I have access to everything? I prefer print, but I hate the price, and its hard to get something I'm not yet subscribing to. (Cooking magazines and Playboy are what sells! I asked.)

Why do we prefer print? Ownership. I think we want to own the stories and the authors we like. We own them on paper. They are part of our physical lives and define us as does anything else laying around the house. I enjoy SciFiction, but I never feel more than a visitor there, stealing a read over somebody's shoulder.

I want an older world back, where the story is king, and print is its kingdom. I want a myriad of choices at every newsstand. I want coverprices under $2, and subscriptions dirt cheap. Now that, my friends, is a fantasy.
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Patrick M.
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 02:03 pm:   

I'd argue that Napster and Kazaa didn't cut into studio profits as much as the studios claim. The downloads not only include what someone might purchase but also distributed music to those who wouldn't purchase and possibly as a result drove concert tickets to a higher level. Unfortunately there is no way to directly analyze anything more than number of downloads of songs and decreases in CD purchases by comparable previous year percentages but even that is relative. I would argue the current music scene doesn't have a Kurt Cobain, Madonna in her prime, etc. But then again, I am getting older and detached from the current music scene...

I think free stuff generates interest in the full product/market. I think SCIFICTION is good that it is free, great for the genre. I think an online FREE story is good from FSF. I've noticed that FSF posts stories that are up for awards. This is a good thing, I'd like to see more. 1 from each issue maybe.

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Patrick M.
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 02:11 pm:   

Oh, I'd like to add that I like print for reading although I occasionally read online stories. I find shorts and flash easier to read online. I prefer novels in general for reading and the digest size of FSF is perfect. Feels like a book to me. I hate standard magazine format.

I have considered getting an e-reader and switching to downloadable stories but to me it is a large commitment for something that may not work out for me. I am sure younger readers probably don't take that same approach.

I think FSF is great in that it is downloadable. I don't see the subscription model going away anytime soon but the next generation may be more into the downloaded version than the print.

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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 02:44 pm:   

Thank you all for the feedback, and I hope there's more to come.

Patrick M., you touch on one of my biggest worries when you mention that we post for free stories that are up for awards. I worry that casual readers are coming to believe that if a story is good enough, it will get nominated for an award, and if it gets nominated for an award, they'll be able to read it for free. So why subscribe when getting the best material is just a matter of patience?

I'm happy to make award nominees accessible to potential voters, but I don't want to condition readers into thinking there's no need to subscribe.

(Hey, here's a thought! Maybe I'll just email files of all our eligible stories to every SFWA member! At the very least, it will probably dissuade people from sending electronic submissions when they realize that we'd be facing an equivalent number of files _every two days_.)

Back on topic, I'll note that Gardner Dozois's annual YEAR'S BEST anthologies each sell more copies than any given issue of F&SF does. It's great for the anthologies, but readers have gotten conditioned to thinking they can keep up with the magazines by buying one book a year.

If we post free stories, do we attract more casual browsers and lose more sales? If we post the best story each month (as if we could make an objective selection), then won't people come by each month just to read that one story and skip the rest?
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Libling
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 03:19 pm:   

I think you know the answers, Gordon. If you start posting free stories or even the best of the month, you are instantly a lame duck. But what if there was a way of adding value for subscribers, with a link to online bonus material or special features? Entertainment Weekly (with, I grant you, a somewhat larger circulation) gives free online access to subscribers and time-limited online access to newsstand buyers. A code is needed in each case. For newsstand buyers, this code changes each week. In other words, F&SF Extra!

I guess my mindset is similar to what's happening in the music business. Within months of an album's release, the trend is to release the same album with bonus tracks. And it appears to be working extremely well. (Read this week's EW.) Surely, there must be a way of linking F&SF to the web in a way that benefits both ends.

To what extent has research shown that you are losing ground specifically as a result of free online fiction?
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Yoon Ha Lee
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 04:22 pm:   

I sincerely dislike reading fiction longer than flash online--usually I have to already be a fan of the particular author, or have the story recommended strongly, to bother. On the other hand, I'm in a situation where I have intermittent time in front of a computer screen to browse at stories that pique my interest enough to overcome my dislike of reading fiction online. So lately I find myself nibbling at fiction at Strange Horizons, Fortean Bureau, Abyss & Apex, Lenox Avenue if it catches my eye.

When I get back home, I think I'm going to resume a subscription or two. There are other circumstances where a print magazine is easier to read (sitting in the car on a trip), and I prefer the medium for reading anyway. I have some friends to whom I like passing on books/magazine issues that I've read but don't want to keep (storage space and walking/climbing-eleven-month-old issues). Of course, selfishly, if there's a story I *adore,* I keep that issue. With online fiction, if I like it enough I'll print it out for future rereading, but even with a laser printer, having to do so vexes me.

And I mean to ask the library if they'd consider picking up F&SF--they already get Analog, and I'd be more inclined to read if I could just drop by the library and read a few stories at a time that way.
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Jeff Lyons
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 04:32 pm:   

I like reading online for many of the reasons already mentioned. The stories are free and short. I haven't sat down to read an entire e-book (although I have been working through Murray Leinster's "The Wailing Asteroid" published online for free by fantasticfiction.uk). Most of what I read online is flash fiction and I have found that many e-zines prefer to publish flash or only pieces under 3,000 words (save for SCIFICTION or STRANGE HORIZONS).

There are some advantages to e-zines. Many fill a niche. Some focus exclusively on dark horror, erotic Sci-Fi, other worlds, or alternative history (to name only a few) and anything outside those boundaries is not accepted. There's one that wants sci-fi stories that are about tickling. I've seen one that only wants you to build new worlds and that any characters you create are immaterial.

But like everything there's a catch. So many e-zines pay little or nothing to publish a story. Since the incentive is not there for established writers to publish online in these particular markets many of these publications rely on amateurs, newcomers and first-timers. I'm not being critical of that because I fall into that category. But some of these e-zines are like POD because they'll print nearly anything sent to them whether it's good or bad. And then they run message boards on which all the members praise the stories that are published when in reality, F&SF or other pro markets wouldn't touch the story with a ten foot pole.

I don't think books and magazines will die but I do think the continued increase in free fiction and changes in technology such as PDA's and smaller laptops will eventually cause problems for print media. Magazine and newspaper subscriptions are declining.

I work in the PR field and part of my job is to review newspaper articles about the government agency for which I work (Yeah, yeah, yeah...cushy job). My office subscribes to 2 newspapers but I read 15-20 other newspapers online everyday without paying a penny, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. There's only one of me. What about my tens of thousands of counterparts in other state's agencies? After a while, that's got to hurt.
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Dave
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 04:38 pm:   

Gordon,

>...one of my biggest worries when you mention that we post for free stories that
> are up for awards. I worry that casual readers are coming to believe that if a
> story is good enough, it will get nominated for an award, and if it gets nominated
> for an award, they'll be able to read it for free. So why subscribe when getting
> the best material is just a matter of patience?

Could you be overly focused on avoiding potential problems rather than seeking to exploit opportunities? Why not see those casual readers as a potential source of sales and provide a product that meets their needs? Why not view the web as a revenue opportunity? Embrace the future, evolve the dinosaur into a lean, mean mammal. For example:

- You might only post to the web award nominees and one flash or short story from each issue. More "free content might include a couple stories that were "almost good enough" for the print version (Pay those author's in “story credits”—see below) Sell advertising on your site as an income stream to cover costs.

- Embrace the "iTunes" model. Sell PDA compatible downloads of single issues, even single stories, story bundles by author. Offer "online subscriptions"--it might be possible to price them lower than print subscriptions and still make a higher profit. Thinking outside the box, a subscription might buy 11 issues, or 50 individual story credits. This could capture readers that like some authors but don't want to buy a subscription just for those stories.

- Offer online access to back issues for premium subscribers. Create annual "Best of" downloads. One version is GVG pics, one is reader voted. Price them a little under the cost of an anthology. I don't believe you will loose regular subscribers; more likely you will gain readers who want you and/or your regular readers to save them time by separating out the best stories.

- How about selling downloadable MP3 files of authors reading their own stories--or get a university theater major to do it for a pittance. I'm listening to Elizabeth Moon's "Speed of Dark" during my commutes this week--I'd love to listen to F&SF as well.
- Keep your free online stories "clean" enough so that you can market the site to high school lit teachers and libraries.

- Expand your market internationally. Locate aspiring foreign authors around the world that would translate stories to another language, then sell an international online subscription.

- Work with e-distributors like AvantGo to offer and automatically deliver content to iPods, PalmPilots , desktops and phones. (http://www.ebooksnbytes.com/publishers.shtml)

- Use the speed of web publishing to create a new genre of "Topical F&SF." Nab hot topics off the news (stem-cell research, skyrocketing rates of autism, SpaceshipOne, warmer temps in the arctic, "hobbit-sized" human remains discovered) and put out a call for short stories that will be published in the month following the request (you might have to accept e-submissions for these.)

The printed version of F&SF doesn't go away. It's at the tip of the product pyramid. All of your other products are (profitable) steps that lead your customer to that premium product. The right pricing model is critical. Offering something free, something cheap and something premium could really expand your market.
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Dawn B
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 04:56 pm:   

No offense to Dave, but I don't like most of the suggestions there. I also think they represent a large investment for little pay. Beyond which, many are impossible to do given current contracts as they would involved purchasing more rights that are currently done. Much of what he suggests is very author dependant.

Re: Offering free stories.

I think it is important that all nominees for fan voted awards [Hugos] are made availible online. I prefer the free method done for the short stories, but I understand the need for money for a novel. This allows more people access to the stories to be able to vote.

In general, I don't think offering a free story from every issue of F&SF is a good idea. I do think offering a "sample" free story is a great idea. Pick a story a quarter [not even the "best" story, whatever that means, but one that isn't too long or too short] and put it up on F&SF's site. This will, IMO, draw readers to subscribe. I could be wrong, but that would be what I would expect. At the bottom of the story could be a link to subscribing and a link to buying the issue off FictionWise.

I really appreciate you making F&SF availible on Fictionwise and keeping the back issues there. In that way, you are already an evolved dinosaur over Asimov's & Analog [who do not keep back issues].
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Yoon Ha Lee
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 05:23 pm:   

Dave: How about selling downloadable MP3 files of authors reading their own stories--or get a university theater major to do it for a pittance. I'm listening to Elizabeth Moon's "Speed of Dark" during my commutes this week--I'd love to listen to F&SF as well.

Ulp. GVG, a friend of mine did a lovely reading of ye tiger-story and sent me the mp3, and when that came closer to getting scheduled, I was thinking of asking you if it would be all right to make it freely available at some point after the thing appeared, and how long would be meet for me to wait...

I would really love a chance to hear authors read their own stories, though! I would never otherwise have known that it was [faj] for Fiona in Zelazny's _Nine Princes of Amber_ and not [fi]. :-)
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Dave
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 06:43 pm:   

Dawn B.

> No offense to Dave, but I don't like most of the suggestions there.
> I also think they represent a large investment for little pay.

No offense taken. My suggestions aren't really innovative. Most of them are already being done on the web in some form. New approaches in any business are risky and easy targets of criticism. However, the steady decline of readership for mags like F&SF is undeniable. Projecting the decline forward, how many years more can F&SF continue to publish? It would seem wise to try some innovations; the risk of not changing is eventual extinction.

ebooks are accepted more and more as a viable medium. The quality of PDA screens continues to improves so that "eye strain" will be come less and less of a problem. It's not hard to imagine a PDA with "paper quality" presentation.

I have issues of Asimov's and Analog on my Palm. There may always be those who want to feel the pages but I bet the "GameBoy" generation will have fewer people like that.

No offense to anyone here, but many of the current subscribers may not be the best people to look to for direction. Declining sales may indicate that readers are already moving on to other venues. Like the horse buggy manufacturer who lost customers so the Ford's model T, GVG may need to look beyond what his remaining "satisfied customers" want the company to be in the future.
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Jed Hartman
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 07:18 pm:   

Interesting discussion. I have a whole bunch of comments; lemme see if I can present them in some kind of coherent form.

First, what sparked this discussion was the question of whether free online fiction is "undercutting" the print market. I think a lot depends on what one means by "undercutting."

There are (at least) three interacting factors here: format/medium, price, and content.

Format/medium: a lot of y'all are saying "I prefer printed magazines to online magazines." That's certainly a valid preference, and a widespread one. But I don't think it's central to the undercutting question. I buy "printed" magazines in electronic format and read them from a computer screen (I find my Palm PDA is a lot more portable than a paper issue of F&SF or Asimov's, and I don't mind the relatively low display quality, though I know many people do). Conversely, you can print out online publications if you can't stand reading from a screen. Certainly a paper copy of F&SF is nicer-looking than a printout from SH, but both are on paper and both are fairly portable. There are plenty of reasons to prefer paper, and plenty of others to prefer electronic, and the same publication may be available (more or less) in both forms. So although format is a relevant factor, I don't think it's the central issue.

Price may or may not be a big deal. If all else were equal, I imagine most people would take free over pay. If there were a free online edition of F&SF, that might well cut into print sales. (Though it might not; more on that later.) But my guess (with no particular evidence) is that most readers aren't saying "The fiction is exactly the same in Sci Fiction and F&SF, so I'll go with the free one."

I suspect that the biggest issue is content. It seems to me that as long as a magazine is offering stuff people want to read, and as long as the price and format don't place too much of an obstacle in the way, people will keep reading that magazine. The bar may be lower (for some people) for online publications because such publications are mostly (though not all) free; then again, the bar may be higher (for some people) for online publications because of the reading-from-a-screen issue.

More to follow in a separate posting.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 07:19 pm:   

Thank you all, folks, for turning this forum into a real constructive discussion.

Dave, you're absolutely right that I'm approaching things very conservatively. We're a small operation, we're not very profitable . . . but we _are_ profitable and what we have works. I've seen too many publishers burn themselves by getting too ambitious. Hence my conservative approach, and also my gratitude to you for pointing out possible sources of revenue.

My basic approach to the Web is that people will only pay online for porn, but with PayPal around, maybe it's worth trying some other experiments.

Mike Libling, I haven't seen any research that indicates we're losing subscribers to online reading. Just anecdotal evidence, but by the time research gets around to proving the hunch, the damage may well be done.

Yoon, remind me by email about the mp3 reading of the tiger story---we can certainly work out something. It was great of you to mention mp3 recordings, Dave. We tried doing audio editions in 2003 with Audible.com and they turned out great material, really great stuff, and the sales were terrible. I haven't considered doing anything in audio format since then and I should, especially since John has become an expert on the subject.

Thanks again, folks. Much obliged.

(One ironic note: as I was reading through this thread, I realized that my eyes grew fatigued and I started skimming posts. Count me in with all of you who say you can't read anything but short pieces online.)
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Rich Horton
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 07:40 pm:   

I don't know how representative I am -- I don't read less fiction now than before, I read a lot MORE -- but there are reasons I read as much as I do that might not apply in a general sense.

I read a lot of online fiction, but if a story is longer than about 1500-2000 words, I will always print the story out before reading it. Given paper and ink costs for my Lexmark Z25 printer, I suspect I end up paying as much for a typical online 'zine as I do for paper magazines.
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Jed Hartman
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 07:58 pm:   

Whew. This one got long; sorry about that.

Okay, so what effect does offering a free online version of a work have on the market for a print version of that work?

Short answer: the jury's still out.

There have been some compelling examples of free online versions having a salutary effect on sales of printed versions:

For example, the Baen Free Library makes a bunch of books available for free online; last I heard, doing this had noticeably increased sales of hardcopy books. Partly that's probably because they're giving away the first book in a series as an introduction, so people get hooked on the series and go buy the rest in hardcopy. Partly it's probably because, at the moment, most readers simply prefer the look and feel of a book; the book as artifact has value to readers.

For another prominent example, Cory Doctorow made his first novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom freely available online in a wide variety of formats around the same time it came out in print. The print version, as I understand it, did quite well: partly, I suspect, because of the publicity attendant upon providing the book for free online, and partly because people wanted to support the experiment, but partly again because it's a book and people like books. That experiment worked so well that Cory did the same thing with his second novel, Eastern Standard Tribe.

Those examples demonstrate a couple of different models: (A) use free versions of some of what you sell to pique interest in the rest; (B) use free versions to generate publicity; (C) use free versions to let people decide whether they want the printed version.

But there are other models too. Jeff Lyons mentioned free online newspapers: my understanding is that those are supported by advertising. (It's not like the price you pay to buy a printed newspaper is enough by itself to support the newspaper.) Online advertising lost traction for a while there, but these days it seems to be potentially big business again, if your readership is big enough. One could post a free story on a web page and put ads on the page; one could even use something like Google's AdSense to ensure that the ads are relevant to the content of the story. (Disclaimer: I now work for Google in my day job, so I'm biased.)

Then, too, there are publications that have managed to get people to pay for online content. Salon still isn't profitable, last I heard, but they're increasing their subscriber base, and profitability could still happen. As of a couple years ago, the Wall Street Journal online had well over 600,000 subscribers, paying $30 to $60 a year; they weren't profitable either at the time, but I would guess they can get there faster than Salon can. The subscriber model is similar to the FictionWise/ElectricStory model, where people pay to read the content, and can't read it without paying.

So, there are a lot of different approaches to putting content online, and it can be hard to know what approach is best, or whether any of them are a good idea for a given publication.

Just to give your eyes a break, I'll pause here, and wrap up in my next posting.
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Jed Hartman
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2004 - 08:01 pm:   

Wrapping up (can you tell I like reading from a screen? Sorry for throwing so much verbiage into your topic, Gordon):

My personal feeling is that I'm really delighted to see award-nominated works available free online; it's convenient for readers, it seems to me to be good advertising, and I'd like to think it helps raise the visibility of the work for potential award voters. Sadly, I have to admit that a couple of times in recent years a major award has gone to the one piece of short fiction in a category that wasn't available in free online formats; iIrc, there were two Hugo-winning stories a year or two back that were available only in book form. Which makes me suspect that short-story collections by famous authors may have higher readership among the Hugo voters than the magazines do, but that's a tangent so I'll stop there.

Anyway, my real point in all of this is that as long as people continue to find value in the printed version, for any of a variety of reasons, they'll continue buying it even if some content is freely available online. I wouldn't recommend explicitly saying that you're posting the best story in each issue online -- but I think that having some sample stories freely available online is great, and can really help potential readers decide whether a publication is to their taste, without having to either send away for a copy or try to find a copy in their local bookstore/library.

...As for the question that started this discussion: For "undercutting" to happen, it seems to me, a significant number of people would have to be (a) considering buying the print magazines, but (b) then choosing to read the free online ones instead; I don't really think a lot of people are doing that.

Things may change twenty or thirty years down the line, when people are more used to reading from screens and screen resolution is better and screens are more portable. Then again, by then people may well be more used to paying for online content.
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 02:20 am:   

Jed has said pretty much all I intended to say regarding online/print newspapers. To expand slightly, though, it is not my impression that putting the entire content of newspapers online, at least in the UK, has affected the sales of the newspapers. I'm not sure, though, that this would extend to the genre magazines. The key difference is availability. I can get a newspaper anywhere (and cheaply). If I want to read a lot of it, I'll probably buy it. Genre magazines are tough to find, though. Where I live, only Borders sells them, and they don't stock F&SF (which is why I subscribe (via Fictionwise)). If F&SF was free online, I suspect I might stop subscribing.

Having said that, like Rich, I don't enjoy reading very long stories online. My limit is about 5,000 words, although if a story is very good I'll keep reading past that. For that reason, I read more Strange Horizons stories than Sci Fiction stories. By a similar argument, I wouldn't read any of the F&SF novellas/novelettes online. If I could buy F&SF here, I would do that instead, rather than pay to print the stories out.

Finally, from the point of view of someone living abroad, the printed magazines take a long time to get over here from the US. I don't remember now how long F&SF takes, but RoF takes nearly two months. Because of that, I might be tempted to read/print out the online versions instead.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 05:46 am:   

Jed and Patrick---

Can we please put newspapers out of this discussion? I'm already convinced that reading nonfiction online is very different from reading fiction, and F&SF posts all of its nonfiction online. The half-million people who pay for online subscriptions to the WALL STREET JOURNAL are paying for information. My dentist told me he pays for an online newsletter devoted to Corvettes or some other sort of automobile---but would he pay for a magazine of Corvette fiction? He laughed when I asked him, then said no.

Jed, I disagree with your assessment of undercutting. Erosion occurs when people (a) receive their renewal notices and (b) think they can get the same material without having to send money to anyone but their Internet Service Provider.

In other words, I'm just as concerned about losing current subscribers as I am about not gaining new subscribers.
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Patrick M.
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 06:34 am:   

Patrick Samphire said "If F&SF was free online, I suspect I might stop subscribing."

In my case, I suspect that I would read less of FSF if it was only free online. As it is, I rarely read all the stories in the Magazine, mostly due to time,attention span and grabbing of interest in the first few paragraphs and such. Actively seeking out online stories is more of a task than having a magazine show up at my door. And being that it is fiction, it is different than a newspaper which is irrelevant a week later.

This is why I don't read as much of SCIFICTION as I always intend to.

Gordon -
I think a online story per issue is comparable to the radio playing a song. You assume the rest of the CD is of comparable quality. Those who read it for free and don't buy the magazine were unlikely to buy it anyway. As far as posting the nominated stories giving people the "Best Of" FSF for free, I would disagree. There are industry awards and reader opinion. You might remember that I hated Joe Haldeman's story that was available online. I'd hardly consider those the 'best of' personally.

The suggestion of subscription areas was also a good idea. I am pretty high on the part free/ part subscription side of websites. I rarely will spend $10 online to find out if what you have is interesting to me. I prefer the try and buy the added features format online. www.ESPN.COM is an example. That way, you attract people with the free stuff and then give those who want more the option to purchase. The subscriber area is a similar concept. This could even be a spin-off of the magazine, offering more content than the actual print magazine. It would be easier to print serials since you could keep the earlier issues available as back issues much easier.

Incidentally, I subscribe to my local newspaper as well as read it free online.

I think it is great that you are looking into the viability here and your cautious approach makes good business sense. I'd hate to see it done poorly.

Ultimately this is aimed at getting new readers/subscribers/revenue. How I became hooked was difficult... I do aspire to one day write something. I assumed that short stories were the way to break into novels and prove your writing capabilities so I actively began searching for print short story magazines. On Google, 'Fantasy Magazine' brings up Fantasy Crochet magazine before anything else. Yeah, now there is a fantasy... Search Engines are the 'Browse' of the internet. This is similar to placement in a book store. Even if you have this available online, the only way to reach these new readers(gameboy generation) is to be where they are.
The other thing is cross promotion, your website promotes your magazine which promotes your website. I might not buy your magazine off the shelf the first time I encounter it but if it looks interesting, I will check out your website for free...

Incidentally, does the magazine get carried by comic book stores? This might be a better place than traditional book stores for NEW readers. Just a thought. Well, this was several thoughts. Hopefully useful...
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ET
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 07:21 am:   

One thought I had about electronic vs. print version, as to the preferences I discussed. What I want from an electronic version is:

- No distraction. That's the main reason I don't like reading online, but have no problem with PDA reading. Online there are ads, 'next' links to the next pages, etc. Reading an eBook is a lot more comparable in my mind to reading a real book, because these distractions aren't there.

- The look. I like Zinio magazines. They're not as easy to read as real magazines, and they can't be read on a PDA, but they look like the real magazines, which provides me with a better feeling of "value". It's true that it's more important for magazines with images and formatting which most fiction mags don't have, but it gives more of a feeling of a "real" mag.

Wade O:
> Why do we prefer print? Ownership.

Actually, that's one reason I prefer electronic versions. I tend to keep most of what I buy, including magazines. This means that I have stacks of magazines (mostly non-fiction), and sometimes have to throw them away for lack of space (never threw away a fiction mag, though). With e-zines, I can easily store many of them on my hard disk, or on CD.

GVG:
> readers have gotten conditioned to thinking they can keep up with the magazines by buying one book a year.

It depends on the reader. For people like me, who aren't really potential subscribers, this method is a good way to make money. I like buying, but I find it hard to keep up with a magazine unless it's a quarterly, so I tend to buy only an occasional issue. Thanks to your posts here, I can tell in advance if the issue has any author I'm interested in reading (or, if a lot of people mentioned in the discussion that a story is great), and buy on Fictionwise based on this. Magazines which let me buy single issues in a convenient way are much more likely to see my money than those which just offer subscriptions.

When it comes to the web, I see it as a very convenient way to buy things. I'm willing to pay for things that I can download and keep. Fictionwise, iTunes, etc., prove that a lot of people are okay with this model.

Dave:
> Sell PDA compatible downloads of single issues, even single stories

Fictionwise provides this service. I think that selling single stories at the time the issue comes out could hurt sales, since as I mentioned, I often buy based on which authors are in the issue, so having these stories available separately might mean I won't buy the issue. On the other hand, it may be that if there's just one story I want to read, I'll buy it when I wouldn't have bought the full issue. So it could go both ways.
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Steven Francis Murphy
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 09:25 am:   

Reading Fiction and Non Fiction are totally different experiences, for me at least, especially on the screen.

But even with non fiction, if the article is too long, or if a post is too long (for me maybe a post over a 1000 words is going to lose me unless it has something really interesting to say) I start skimming.

Not all fiction sites are compatiable to printing hardcopies. We had a discussion about this concerning Scifiction not too long ago. When you try to cut and paste into a word processor, it makes this paper consuming mess. You do get something legible, but you generally burn up a lot of paper to get it.

I wonder if any studies have every been done to determine which sections of the brain are working when reading either fiction or non fiction.

Or for that matter, when someone is writing fiction or non fiction. For me, I certainly use different methods to write fiction than I do for say, graduate history papers.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
http://sfmurphy.journalspace.com
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Dawn B
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 09:30 am:   

As one of the "gameboy" generation, I think offering at least one free sample story online for F&SF would be a good teaser to get more readers.

I do believe that some newer readers (and writers) to the genre tend to read preferentially online. However, I think most of the readers who stay with the genre and tend to buy books in the genre, do make the move to some of the print magazines eventually.

While Patrick M. pointed it out the lack of hits from "Fantasy magazine", you guys do well at "Science Fiction Magazine":

For "Fantasy Magazine" the first six links are: Fantasy Crochet, MZB Works Trust, RoF homepage [no ezines or samples or even accurate current issue info half the time], Fantasy Magazine [non-English e-zine, I think], Marquis Fetish Magazine, and Black Gate.

For "Science Fiction Magazine", the first six links are: F&SF [woo!], Asimov's, Analog, Science Fiction Museum, INTERREGNUM [Role Playing/SF e-magazine], and a sub-page of Locus Online.

Interesting (to me) that SciFiction and Strange Horizons [our two e-zines favorites in this thread] aren't showing up there. Hrm...

I do think if you want to grab the "gameboy" generation, advertising online is an option. And not just on places like Locus. Try something like ENWorld [D&D fan board], an online comic [Sluggy Freelance, frex, or other sites that have overlapping audiences.
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Alice G
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 10:56 am:   

Has anyone considered that online fiction magazines might draw in new readers for short genre fiction in general?

Take someone who reads novel length science fiction on a regular basis, but really doesn't know about all the short fiction out there (there are many people who fit this description. I was one of them :-). Perhaps this person is online and comes across Strange Horizons or SciFiction. They enjoy the stories, they follow links and do further searches. It wouldn't take long to find all these magazines that are available, and perhaps some of these readers would look for the magazines in bookstores, etc.

I'm not sure how much of an effect on sales that would have, but I wouldn't be suprised if it happened to a couple of readers.

As for print verses online: I like both equally well for completely different reasons. My reading of print fiction has only increased through my reading online. I might see an author online I've never heard of, chance the story because it's free, and then really like it. I'm more likely to buy a magazine with that author's stories in it afterward.

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Patrick M.
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 11:31 am:   

Gordon said "Erosion occurs when people (a) receive their renewal notices "

Yep. It happened to me with FSF. I didn't renew right away when my subscription was up. I was about 3 months behind in my reading because of work/life/alien abductions or something like that, so I didn't renew. I re-subscribed because I hang out here and there are conversations about stories I didn't read. Different content available on the website is a good thing, not necessarily posting the magazine online. It will keep subscribers into the magazine. The Weekly Flash Fiction could be a feature. This could help bring people back in and be more aware of their subscription and the entertainment that it brings.

Have you considered other payment methods to prevent this? Automatic renewal or something similar to a gym membership, automatic monthly payments withdrawn from an account, minimum 12 months, 3 month lead time to cancel. I think I would offer all different types of payment options. Different options get different discounts based on effort or cost to maintain. The continuous monthly payment would probably work best for me. I'd still probably cancel every once in a while. I like to purge all of my monthly payments in an effort to manage a budget, like that gym membership that I pay for but only use 2 months out of the year.

Anyway, just contributing way more than my $.02, as usual.
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ET
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 02:10 pm:   

Dawn B:
> As one of the "gameboy" generation, I think offering at least one free sample story

I never saw a gameboy free sample game. :-)

Alice G:
> Has anyone considered that online fiction magazines might draw in new readers for short genre fiction in general?
> I might see an author online I've never heard of

I've met a lot of authors online, but not in online mags. If I look for a new author as a result of learning about them online it's because I met them at a forum, or saw them recommended at a forum, or read a good review of their work. So in this sense the web did make me read a lot more authors, but on the other hand web fiction didn't have anything to do with it.

I really don't read short fiction unless I intend to. That is, if I go online and get referred to a story, then if it's downloadable than I might download it and then read it. If it's online I'll just note that it's there and continue to do whatever I was previously doing (likely browsing a forum).

IMO it's more important to let people know that the magazines exist than to lure them with free stories. Most people are unlikely to get to the free stories unless they are actively looking for fiction online, and those who are actively looking for fiction likely don't need the free stories to be convinced of a magazine's worth. The problem is getting people to know that the magazine exists -- the people who read speculative fiction already, since it has its place in a book store, but don't read the magazines, because they usually can't be found at bookstores (or are well hidden).
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T Andrews
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 02:13 pm:   

How about posting just a tantalizing exerpt of one of F&SF's stories online every month. Or maybe that's too cruel a tease...

Online fiction reading hasn't cut down on any of my print magazine purchases. It HAS increased my book purchasing.
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Dawn B.
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 04:25 pm:   

From ET:

I never saw a gameboy free sample game.

I didn't say I did either. I was using someone else's terminology to indicate a age in generation. It is a generation that is very computer literate, enjoys online activity and tends to electronic media over print to a wide margin. THEREFORE, to attract said younger generation, it could be F&SF's bets interest to have an online prescene. A free story online could help pull that generation in. You know, the one who still has 30-40 years left in their life expectancy to support F&SF?

PS: There have been free gameboy games given out as package deals with other gameboy games and several games in recent years have offer free trials to attract customers.
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ginaagain
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 05:25 pm:   

In the 90's they were also predicting that e-books would kill the paperback and look where that went. There will always be a demand for print. I ocassionally read online fiction but only when I am desperate. A warm, glowing laptop will never be able to replace the inner warmth and relaxation of losing myself in a good book (or magazine), plus, people actually leave me alone when I have a book in front of my nose. No Instant Messages or urgent email will insert itself on the printed page.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 09:39 pm:   

The mass market pb is currently doing very poorly overall.
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StephenB
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 01:20 am:   

Gordon: I wouldn't worry about online zines taking over. There will always be a desire for print....

I think the biggest threat to your magazine would be the whole conformist consumer culture. F&SF won't make the skin softer or the hair shinier. You can't eat the magazine of F&SF. You can't just flip a switch for it to entertain you, as you flip your brain off. It won't make you look cool, or draw the ladies to you with its musky scent. It won't clean those hard to reach stains.

Good SF and Fantasy challenges peoples world views and causes them to think about things they might not otherwise. It stimulates the imagination and provides us with insight into the psyche, the soul, and human nature. Good SF & Fantasy is of course also entertaining and relevant to being human. Thing is, a lot of people don't want to think; they don't want to be challenged. They would rather flip on CNN and get there world view there. What a horrible place to get your world views from, television is. It destroys the imagination and inner-eye and narrows the mind. It encourages people to spend there money and time on crappy products they don't need, instead of on a book or a magazine that may require a little thought, but can reward the reader with all sorts of stimulations.

Ever thought of advertising on T.V.? :-).

Probably not a good idea.

I guess if the whole psychological revolution thing takes off the magazine should start selling better.

But seriously, I don't think putting the award nominees on the site will detract from sales. Maybe putting advertisements up around the net could attract readers who haven't heard of it?
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 03:32 am:   

Without first reading all the responses given so far, I'll offer my own. I am more likely to read a story--honestly--if it is in a magazine than if it is online. I make an exception for SCIFICTION because of the quality of its selections, but somehow, I can't be bothered to print out everything that might possibly be of worth on the various e-zines, so I only visit them when I've had a recommendation, or when I've got an embarrassing amoung of free time on my hands (and my eyes are well-rested). And yes, I do require the portability of hard copy (along with the freedom to make pencil marks all over the page, bend the spine backwards, sniff the ink and paper, and so on).

Strangely enough, the first time I visited SCIFICTION, I realized I wasn't reading enough current SF, so I took out subscriptions to F&SF, Asimov's, and Analog. I'm probably not typical, but I'm also probably not alone.
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ET
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 03:55 am:   

Dawn, I was just kidding about the free Gameboy game. My point is just that IMO the "free" element isn't the important point -- the web presence is.
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S. Parker
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 03:58 am:   

Mr. Van Gelder---

I think you said yourself in the Locus interview that there is a definite kinesthetic value to magazines that online publications can neither replicate nor replace. That rang very true with me. As a new subcsriber to the magazine, this was a big factor in ending my deliberation. I'm well aware of the abundance of quality fiction available for free online, and I support those markets by giving them my attention as much as possible. But I can't help thinking I would rather read the best of those stories on paper, nicely bound with a colour cover for a few bucks/quid a month. (Which raises another question; are online markets less discerning than print markets due to lower overheads?)
Of all the magazines of interest to me that I checked online, only F&SF had a Paypal option. That fact alone was central to closing the deal.

It also occurs to me that in most bookshops, SF and fantasy magazines are located in the magazine section, quite far from the shelves holding all those wonderful paperbacks. This would seem to make sense at first, except that I believe magazine sales would rise noticeably if magazines like F&SF were strategically located on mini-stands right by the paperbacks where the target audience would be most likely to notice them. I know a great many people who read genre paperbacks, would enjoy F&SF and yet have never heard of it. Availability and product awareness are surely the greater issue.

S. Parker,
Tokyo.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 06:21 am:   

I prefer reading from the screen, even longer texts (novels etc.), thats why I like webpages like the Gutenberg Project, more fiction than I can ever read in my life.
About webzines, I think presently the magazines have still a better quality because they pay and most writers (professionals and beginners alike) want to see their stories on paper. If you ever have a generation of new writers who care not much for paper and want to be present on the web, then you could get into problems.
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John Thiel
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 07:47 am:   

My goodness, some of these controversies are practically getting to the exterminative nitty gritty.
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ET
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 02:43 pm:   

Jörn Grote:
> About webzines, I think presently the magazines have still a better quality because they pay and most writers (professionals and beginners alike) want to see their stories on paper.

The best paying spec-fic market is SciFiction, which is a webzine.

S. Parker:
> magazine sales would rise noticeably if magazines like F&SF were strategically located on mini-stands right by the paperbacks

This has been discussed before, either here or on the Asimov's board. Book stores (the major chains, at least) don't like doing anything that's extra work. Putting the magazines near the books and still handling them as magazines (replacing them by cover date) is extra work.
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John Thiel
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 04:15 pm:   

Those chains don't answer office communications unless it's in a certain format.
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Nancy Fulda
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 11:52 am:   

I liked the idea several thousand words back about giving schools and libraries special online subscriptions. Better yet, give high school students discounted paper subscriptions. Hooking the younger generation is critical.
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Bill G
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 04:31 pm:   

When I lie on my back reading F&SF I needn't worry about pop-up ads or the Blue Screen of Death appearing before my eyes. Paper is still better reading.
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Patrick M.
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 05:40 pm:   

Yes - What a magnificent dinosaur. I believe Halo is causing more concern than online mags.

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ET
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 11:54 am:   

Bill, I haven't seen a blue screen of death for a long while. Nor do I remember any of the online mags having pop-up ads.
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Thomas R
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 01:58 pm:   

Some High Schools have rather strict rules on what's appropriate. Remember what happened to Asimov's? Granted FSF's a good deal cleaner than that. Also that happened in some conservative part of the Michigan. Maybe High schools in San Francisco, New York, DC, and Boston would be doable.
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StephenB
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 02:42 pm:   

I think censorship is dirty.
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John Thiel
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 03:53 pm:   

Now now--look to who originated this topic.
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E Thomas
Posted on Saturday, November 20, 2004 - 08:51 pm:   

I appreciate that Gordon Van Gelder is asking these questions.

The honest truth for me is that I prefer paper to the screen, and not paper that I have to print out, but something that is already put together for me in a mag format.

I read SCIFICTION and Strange Horizons sometimes, but the story I enjoyed the most online was the one I printed up. My parents were not pleased at the # of pieces of paper and amount of ink I used up!

I do think a strong web page and a lively forum are good for publicity purposes, though. I occasionally would buy a copy of Asimov's and F & SF from the stands at my local bookstore, but I subscribed after stumbling across the Asimov's message board and becoming part of their online community.

It seems that it shouldn't take too much to have F & SF show up higher up in the Google links as a fantasy magazine hit.
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CCC
Posted on Sunday, November 21, 2004 - 07:17 pm:   

I like F&SF pretty much the way it is. One thing I would like to see is an audio edition that is relatively the same price as the print edition. Maybe even a slightly higher priced edition that includes both print and audio version. You could mail them together with a mini disc glued inside the magazine cover. Also a few interviews with writers on how they got started, or influences on their writing, something in that vein. Other then that just a few nit pick things; like putting those postal labels in a better spot, or a yearly best of anthology.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, November 21, 2004 - 08:25 pm:   

I must have missed this question. On Internet fiction I generally won't read anything above 8000 words and probably prefer under 5000. I know Rich Horton has absolutely no problem reading these near-novel length novellas online, or more likely printed off, but I kind of find that awkward. I can't staple or paperclip that many pages together very well. It just becomes a mess.

That said I've gotten to where I enjoy reading shorter stories online. I probably prefer to read comics, meaning of the Far Side or Dilbert variety not comic-book variety, online than in any papers anymore. I'm kind of fastidious so hate getting ink on my hands.

So if you ever put content online I'd go with the cartoons, less cartoons in the magazine is a plus to my mind, and classic FSF short-shorts.
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Thomas R
Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - 09:05 pm:   

You did? What FSF story did you like.

National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

Note: I'm not opposed to legal gambling in all cases, except casinos, but equal air time and all.

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