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Sean Wallace
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 05:50 pm:   

Every year I study the Locus Year-End Summary, with an eye on the numbers reported for the digest magazines, specifically Analog, Asimov's, and F&SF, and a decline is evident (has been for a decade or more, really) . . . the questions are:

Is the format really dying, and if so, why?
Is there a way to regain newstand sales?
Is there a way to regain subscriptions?

The decline has been incremental, but it could last for many more decades, so these concerns could well be very academic, to say the least.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 05:53 am:   

I hope no one will refrain from posting here out of fear that I or someone else involved in publishing a digest will take offense. As I've said elsewhere, I accept the fact that F&SF is a dinosaur. And I think dinosaurs are cool.

(On the other hand, if no one posts here because no one cares, well, that says something.)

As I understand it, the digest format became popular in the wake of the success of Reader's Digest. Reader's Digest no longer enjoys the popularity it once did. Reading habits have shifted greatly. An editor I know tried out for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. When he said, "I work as a book editor," the producer conducting the interview rolled his eyes and said, "Reading---does anyone do that anymore?" Fifty years ago, I doubt anyone in the nascent television industry would have openly showed such contempt for the printed word.

In answer to question #2, Sean, F&SF is currently participating in a promotion at Waldenbooks that's specifically for digests. The program was initiated by the chain. As a result, our newsstand numbers have increased, but it's too early to tell if the sell-through is good. (So everyone go out to Waldenbooks and buy a copy of F&SF to ensure that the promotion is a success.)

I don't know if the format is really dying, as you ask in question #1, but I do think the digest format is resilient. And I've noticed that most of the larger SF magazines haven't survived---SF Age was dropped for not being profitable enough, and I'd love to know what happened with the latest incarnation of Amazing. Which is not an attempt to turn the discussion away from digests, but I think you can learn a lot by discussing the alternate forms as well.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 06:06 am:   

. . . considering my digest collection (and John's), we'd definitely agree that "dinosaurs are cool." . . . I'd assume that Amazing died for a number of reasons, but: it's been relaunched so _many_ times, how can anyone be expected to take a new resurrection seriously, at least in terms of actually sending in a subscription?
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 06:47 am:   

I agree with Gordon that it may not be so much the format, but the disfavor that reading has fallen into in general. From my own knowledge of working in a bookstore (many moons ago) I know that the magazine stockers do not like the digest, because they tend to disappear among more traditionally newsstand-sized magazines. I like that many bookstores make some effort to place journals etc. into something more like a booksehlf than a magazine rack, but then this hides the cover of the magazine, which might be just the thing to draw people in.

Is the decline in readership also tied to the aging readership? It's a morbid thought, but if new readers aren't being brought in as quickly as our elder readers pass on, that will show a decline in numbers.

Bringing in new readers is a huge challenge. My wife teaches high school English, and I know how little her students (even honor students) want/like to read. It's not something they think about doing. However, they all have cel phones with text messaging, etc. Perhaps there's something to be found within the next generation's reliance on mobile technology?

Of course, I think dinosaurs are way cool, too. And I don't want to give up placing F&SF on my shelf because now it's only available on my cel phone....

JK
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al duncan
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 08:42 am:   

I wonder if (or more accurately, hope that) the cultural-phenomena-level success of Harry Potter might, just might, kick-start a new generation of readers. Not just fantasy readers but readers in general. I'm horrified by that "Reading---does anyone do that anymore?" response, but not surprised. I remember the Bill Hicks routine where he talks about sitting in some waffle restaurant reading a book when this waitress comes up to him...

"Whatcha reading for?" she asks him. Not "Whatcha reading?" but "Whatcha reading for?"

"So I don't have to be fuckin waffle waitress." says Bill.

But many people would rather watch shite like "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy". Jesus Fuckin Christ, that says it all.
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al duncan
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 08:44 am:   

*Ahem* "a fuckin waffle waitress"
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 08:54 am:   

I really think the size of the digest magazine makes it obsolete on the newsstand. Whether the format is obsolete overall is a separate question and likely it is not. But that means, as Gordon mentions, that those who publish digests must find new means of getting them seen by the reading public and those who have an interest in sf/f.
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Scott William Carter
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 09:55 am:   

If you get beyond the anecdotal evidence and look at the industry reports, plus take into account the surge in used book sales due to Abebooks.com, Alibris.com, Amazon's selling of used books, and other sites, it's actually hard not to conclude that more people are reading fiction, not less. Here's an article on the used book phenomenon that's worth reading: http://www.publishingtrends.com/copy/04/0407/0407UsedBlues.html

I used to own a used bookstore, and I saw the change happening firsthand. Before I sold my store, I was selling an increasing percentage of books online. If you think about it, it makes sense. You don't have to hunt in a hundred stores for that hard-to-find title any longer. You just go to one of the search engines I mentioned and voila, there it is. The industry has a hard time tracking this, but no one disputes that used books sales are having a huge effect on new book sales (http://finebooksmagazine.com/issue/0204/used_books.phtml). Libraries have also been buying more fiction, meaning that more people are reading the same copy. That's going to be hard to track as well: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA502011

Why digests aren't selling as well as they used to is a separate (and certainly real) problem, but I don't think it has much to do with people not reading fiction.

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Jerem Lassen
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:24 am:   

Overall percentages of the population that read are down... WAY down. But population growth curves ensure that total number of people reading is more greater then it ever was. So, reading is not a mass form of entertainment, but population growth has ensured this niche form of entertainment will continue to be profitable -- its just a matter of finding and maintain that niche audience.

(hehe) "just" -- that’s where the game is at... The readers are there, and they'd probably buy it [book, magazine, short story, etc], if they noticed it amidst all the hussle and bussle of 100,000 other niche forms of entertainment. The newsstand USED to be the way to reach the niche. The new way? [Shrug].

How many people read fiction at SCI-FICTION... just stumble across it because of its relationship to the SF channel? How many of these people would buy an electronic or paper copy of F&SF if they knew about it?

I have no idea. But it’s these types of new marketing crossovers where growth is going to lie.

How many new readers could F&SF pick up if they had promotional e-book giveaways with "smart phone bundles" or "ebook book readers" or "palm pilot specials". Hardware manufactures and resellers are desperate to differentiate themselves, and added software content is one of the ways...

Imagine if Verizon, or some other cell phone carrier included (1 year's worth of electronic copies of F&SF, with a custom F&SF face plate) as part of a promotional package.. there would probalby be NO impact traditional sales, just as the clearing house sweepstakes subscriptions didn't take away from the direct sales, it just added to them. In Fact, e-copie bundles like this would be the electronic equivilant of those subscriptions.

How about ebook CD’s. A year bundle, given away as promotional items… NOT at SF conventions and places where people already know about F&SF… but rather at Movie theaters… F&SF drink cups, with mini CD’s in their base. Tie in a promotion to a PKD movie, or other high profile movie that has a connection to the WRITTEN form of SF.

Hell, go talk to Linklaiter, and do an F&SF promotional crossover with Scanner Darkly. Electronic copies of the mag can be given away in just about ANY format (CD, email sign up lists, sweepstakes – enter your name and get a chance to win a 5 year bundle of F&SF, etc). I think John’s mention of cell phones and ebook readers are where the real growth readership and promotional opportunities lie. Get just a couple people hooked on the e-version, and they likely will pony up for the printed version. And since the total sales numbers that we are talking about are so low, relative to the number of people who, say, buy movie tickets for the latest blockbuster, or watch the SF channel, You only need to hook a miniscule percentage to have a significant impact in your overall sales – which is the beauty of niche marketing.

I think Bean books has done some really interesting things, promotion wise, with electronic copies of their books, which has measurably driven sales of hard copies.

Anyway, I’ve had too much coffee this morning. I’m going to go back to trying to figure out how to run my OWN business, instead of Gordon’s.

:-)




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Scott William Carter
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:48 am:   

But population growth curves ensure that total number of people reading is more greater then it ever was.

Good point, Jeremy. I should have been clearer.

But the fact remains that if you're looking for a reason why digest circulation numbers are down in the sf/f genre, you can't simply say there are fewer people reading fiction in the U.S. It just doesn't wash when you get beyond the "my aunt's church group doesn't read as much as it used to" anecdotal examples.

Last year a bunch of people got up in arms about the NEA study until they realized that it was all based on percentages, not book units sold. The total number of fiction units sold in the U.S. has pretty much gone up every year since the early 90s.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:49 am:   

What about selling fiction magazines as RSS feeds? You could have people but the whole magazine or individual stories and send them what they want. Of course, this might lead to people not buying stories from new writers, so you bundle a new writer with an more established writer and the customer gets two stories for the price of one. You could then send stories to people on their computers, their phones, whatever. They could receive a new story while sitting in Panera's WiFi or in Starbuck's. They could be standing in line at a movie while the Treo informs them of a new Charlie Finlay story.

Of course, I only want this solution as an additional option, not the only option. I want to have F&SF on my shelf.

JK
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:07 am:   

"The total number of fiction units sold in the U.S. has pretty much gone up every year since the early 90s."

And so has the number of books being published. It only makes sense if there are more books available there are more books bought. But books sold and bought has nothing to do with digest magazines, does it? Perhaps the falling digest numbers dovetails nicely into the rising book sales. :-)

I also don't like the implication of more sales = more reading. At some levels, it has to mean that. But I buy a lot of books, and I can only read so fast. I buy more books every year but I don't read any more than I used to. So while I personally acquire more books, the number of them getting read isn't changing.

I know I cannot extrapolate from my own example to the rest of the world. I'm just trying to think around the problem. But I suspect there are a number of people who post on this board who buy more books now than they used to, and aren't able to read more per year than they ever did. In my own experience, I actually read fewer books each year than I used to because of added time committments I didn't have a few years ago.

But I plan on reading them at some point in the future, and that's what counts right? :-)

And Jeremy's right. Even if the percentage of people who read is less than it used to be, the percentage is based on a larger whole and the raw number of readers it represents may be as large or larger than it was.

JK
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JV
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:22 am:   

I keep wanting to post about this, but I'm not sure my thoughts have anything to do with digest magazines or their problems. It's more what *I* would like to see in a magazine. I'd like to see a fiction magazine that focused on cross-genre material, picking from mainstream lit. and genre authors. One that had edgy, slick graphic design and that incorporated book, movie, and music reviews, sometimes, perhaps, with only the most tenuous connection to genre. I'd like it to be something that reflected current pop culture while still publishing really cool quality fiction. Maybe that's a pipe dream, but I've seen a Finnish magazine that is pretty close to what I'm talking about it.

Again, this probably has nothing to do with digest magazines and their problems. I don't know that a "make over" would solve those problems since print costs would increase. But I do think there's a perception issue among the youth. Get hooked on something really cool and beautiful and stay around for the fiction.

Jeff
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:32 am:   

Don't know if any of you have tripped over any articles like this one, but I saw a piece about it on a technology show over here in the UK. It's a handheld electronic book-format reader, and according to the presenter the screen did feel a lot more like reading a paper page than a screen. If these things take off once they come out of Japan, then maybe we'll see some positive changes in regards to the short fiction market amongst others. And yes, it might mean digest magazines as we know them might not continue, but if so it could be a case of one good thing goes, and another good thing comes along to replace it. I'd certainly be an awful, awful lot more prepared to read, say, SciFiction.com in something like the device at the link below than off of a regular computer screen.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20040203b3.htm
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:36 am:   

Right. Are we looking at something that be along the lines of how the CD has supplanted the vinyl lp? Yes, both formats are still in production, but vinyl albums are not the norm they once were.

JK
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:25 pm:   

Jeff V.---

The apparent success of Michael Chabon's anthologies and the good reception Argosy got suggests to me that you're probably onto something. On the other hand, I agree that digests aren't the right niche for such a magazine.

I'm coming to think that the digest form is strange. It doesn't have much of a hip factor, yet it still has a fairly strong pull with youths who actually get their hands on it. Or so I've observed.

Jeremy, I think we've got to arrange a week when we can swap jobs.
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:29 pm:   

Also keep in mind that although most of us here grew up with paper books and therefore have a deep affection for them, part of the reason not so many (younger?) people read these days is because books didn't necessarily form such an emotionally central part of their lives.

This would also mean that although we value paper books and magazines on our shelves, those of more recent and future generations might not share those precise same values. They aren't any different from us: it's just that times change, and change is good. If we're all going to end up reading a lot of stuff off of electronic paper-mimicking devices, then fine: we're still reading. If we really want to, we'll still be able to get real books and magazines for our shelves. In fact, I think it'll be a lot easier to get people reading with the aforementioned device. Think of SciFiction on a handheld book-style reader. Then think of F&SF in the same way, easily accessible over the net in some form or another. I'd certainly think about reading them in that format. Why not?

John - I think that's precisely it. People didn't stop painting once the camera was invented - both remained potent art forms, and art was freed to explore new directions. If falling digest sales reflect societal changes in regards to reading habits, isn't it therefore necessary for the relevant markets to adapt rather than die? Isn't it a truth that changing technology drives rather than inhibits art forms? If technology is currently pushing people away from reading digest magazines, how can you use another facet of that technology to bring them back?

I remember another writer - it _might_ have been Bill King - bemoaning a possible future where we were all 'reduced' to writing outlines and scripts for computer games.

I'm still trying to figure out what's so bad about that.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 01:55 pm:   

The "digest format is resilient"—is this necessarily true, as opposed to other factors . . . in the case of Analog and Asimovs, both were owned and distributed first by Dell Magazines, then by Penny Press, companies which showed great commitment to the magazine, tradition, and format. The same is true of F&SF's, where it could be said that the same level of commitment is equally strong.

But subscription bases and newstand sales have declined, regardless. Should subscription bases drop to a certain level, business decisions (apart from commitment) would certainly come into play . . . but not for many more decades . . . I'm not sure it's a question of resilience as much as commitment, surely?
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 02:29 pm:   

Sean, this question might be the equivalent of asking whether style and content can be separate in fiction. Was the format of SF Age less resilient, or was it a lack of commitment that sank the magazine? Would Twilight Zone magazine have lasted if it had been a digest?

The resilience I see in digests is primarily that they're cheaper to produce, but I think the form -- being as it is so much more like a book than most newsstand magazines -- also has some staying power that's separate from the cost to produce each issue.

Incidentally, for purposes of this discussion, it might be worth tracing the history of Analog and Asimov's back farther, especially since Analog wasn't always a digest. And don't forget the mystery digests either, whose continuing success in the face of short-lived newsstand magazines like Mary Higgins Clark's Mystery Mag also speaks to the resilience of the digests.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 02:49 pm:   

-I remember another writer - it _might_ have been Bill King - bemoaning a possible future where we were all 'reduced' to writing outlines and scripts for computer games.

I'm still trying to figure out what's so bad about that.-

The thing that I'd find awful about that is the death of beautiful language. That's the reason I prefer books over movies, just at a base level.

This discussion got me thinking about something, so I'll throw it out there just for the joy of watching the pros shoot it down or explain that it's already been done.

It seems that there's a vast body of kids out there who are reading. The numbers on potter and snicket and so forth seem to indicate it. Are there genre specific digests for that age group? Would such a thing be possible or profitable? Just a thought.
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 03:14 pm:   

I prefer the digest format. I prefer the size, style, and font in F&SF. I don't really get the whole palm pilot thing, for fiction at least. It stricks me that people who are heavily into gadgets, are not usually heavy readers. Although that's not always true, I know. I like Sci-Fiction, but I usually prefer to read on paper. Those big glossy, supposedly more stylin, magazines, like SF Age, I just find sort of cheesy looking. More media tie-in's, more mass appeal, but not more appeal to me at least, and don't those types of mags have less fiction anyway?

I think more people are reading novels these days. So maybe part of the reason in the decline of magazine sales, is the decline in short fiction reading in general?

Oh, and I love that Hicks joke, Al.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 04:15 pm:   

JeffV:
This sounds like TTA.

<<<I keep wanting to post about this, but I'm not sure my thoughts have anything to do with digest magazines or their problems. It's more what *I* would like to see in a magazine. I'd like to see a fiction magazine that focused on cross-genre material, picking from mainstream lit. and genre authors. One that had edgy, slick graphic design and that incorporated book, movie, and music reviews, sometimes, perhaps, with only the most tenuous connection to genre. I'd like it to be something that reflected current pop culture while still publishing really cool quality fiction. Maybe that's a pipe dream, but I've seen a Finnish magazine that is pretty close to what I'm talking about it.

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 08:38 am:   

I'm not entirely convinced a drop in subscriptions can be easily attributed to the market simply contracting. If we look and compare something like Analog, in 2003 it had 31000 subscriptions; 1998, 46000 subscriptions. This represents a 32% drop.

or for Asimov's: 2003, 23000; 1998, 35000. This represents a 37% drop.

Or for F&SF: 2003, 27300; 1998, 16500. This represents a 40% drop.

I don't have a problem taking into consideration the market contracting, but not in five years. The only conclusion I can reach with the numbers is that with newstand sales in the toilet compared to the early 90s, fewer people are seeing the digest magazines, which means fewer conversions. It's not getting out where it can be seen?

Sean
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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 08:46 am:   

> Or for F&SF: 2003, 27300; 1998, 16500. This represents a 40% drop.

Actually, that would be a huge increase. I'm sure Gordon wishes it was moving in that direction.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 08:47 am:   

Gordon,

The format of SF Age had little to do with the decision to kill it, I would imagine. It simply wasn't profitable enough for them to continue. That clearly represents a lack of commitment.

Uh . . . I'm not following you per the history of Analog. Analog went through many format changes, in its life, including an experiment to full-size in the 1960s. It failed, so I'm not too sure what the revelance is, as the magazine has been a digest since the late 40s, and I'm not entirely too sure that we can use the example of the mystery digests, as I don't have their numbers. Presumably I would tend to think that their market has eroded, with the science fiction / fantasy digests.

But, at what point do you say that the format is resilient or is not resilient?

Where do you draw the line?
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 08:49 am:   

Oooops . . . let's switch those around a little bit . . .
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Will Ludwigsen
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 09:30 am:   

I'm always concerned when I see fiction magazines (especially genre ones and digests) all conspicuously placed near the writing magazines, as though the store is aware that more writers buy these magazines than readers.

I have the queasy feeling sometimes that there are far more people who aspire to write fiction than who read it. THAT seems deadlier to me to the magazine industry than anything else because it leads to a weird inbreeding that puts off casual readers.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 10:30 am:   

I'm always concerned when I see fiction magazines (especially genre ones and digests) all conspicuously placed near the writing magazines, as though the store is aware that more writers buy these magazines than readers.


Well, in the case of the literary journals this is very likely the case.

On the other hand, most of the people who buy writing magazines never actually manage to get anything published anyway.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 11:24 am:   

Ellen:
I like TTA, but it's too staid in its graphic design--beautiful graphic design, but too beautiful for the kind of pop culture thing I'm talking about. TTA's fiction, while, again, good, is pretty much all one thing--brooding, beautifully written depressing stuff. Which I like. But doesn't speak to the total cross-genre experience.

Argosy really strikes me as just an elegant digest magazine, which is fine, but again doesn't speak to pop culture or speak to youth.

JeffV
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 12:31 pm:   

It doesn't have much of a hip factor, yet it still has a fairly strong pull with youths who actually get their hands on it. Or so I've observed.

Last year I never received the March issue of F&SF, but got two copies of the April issue instead. I took the extra April to the high school where I was teaching, thinking that maybe one or two students would be mildly curious and I could give it away -- the reaction to the mag was much stronger than I expected (it was the one with cover art for David Gerrold's "Dancer in the Dark," which is particularly youth-friendly).

I don't think a lot can be extrapolated from this one experience, but I think Gordon is right that the digest form can appeal to young people. Perhaps donating a few issues or even a year's subscription to high school libraries would be worth pursuing (although it seems like content might be an issue, particularly in the US -- maybe a specific few "safe" issues?).

I didn't get into the digests myself until I was almost thirty, though I'm sure I would have enjoyed them earlier if I'd been more properly exposed. I liked the suggestion upstream to hand magazines out at theaters and other places where new potential readers could be exposed, though I have no idea what sort of obstacles might exist in pursuing such a strategy. What about sponsoring a short story in those free magazines they have in theaters, and including one of those subscription slips you can rip out?
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N/A
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 01:29 pm:   

Sounds like Jeff is talking about something like Word : http://www.wordmagazine.co.uk/

or the lit-mag equivalent of Punk Planet crossed with Juxtapoz.

*I'd* like to see that magazine.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 02:37 pm:   

Sean---

I suppose you consider the form to be not resilient when it's extinct.

You say, "The format of SF Age had little to do with the decision to kill it, I would imagine. It simply wasn't profitable enough for them to continue." But would it have been profitable enough if it had been a digest? As I implied before, the only way you can separate commitment from form is if a committed publisher changes the form of the magazine . . .

. . . which is what Astounding/Analog did in the 1960s, and then they found the larger format didn't work for them. I don't know any details about what happened there, but I think it would be helpful to hear from someone who does. (Why would you think it's not relevant to know why a digest failed when it attempted to go to a larger size?)

I said it would be helpful to bring up the history of Analog because you seem to be attempting to analyze the digests from a narrow perspective. Analog went through a lot of different publishers---Conde Nast, then didn't Davis Publications own it?, then it was shuffled around by Dell several times and now Penny Press owns it. You said above, "in the case of Analog and Asimovs, both were owned and distributed first by Dell Magazines, then by Penny Press" but that's overlooking a large part of their histories and I don't know how you can assess their current state without looking at where they've been.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 03:29 pm:   

You're looking at the problem all wrong. You don't need more people to read the magazine. Content is good in this day and age of super playstation but it's not enough. What you have to do is figure out how to turn the magazines into a status item that can compete with other status items. Find a way to turn F&SFs into designer berets for the chic. Find a way to blackmail Britnet Spears and maybe a few other celebrities to wear the Beret and you're in business.

Little Jennifer: Hey, my beret is like so cool with all Fasuf (the hip pronunciation of F&SF) from 2005 represented.

Litle Joe: Well, my shoes are made from Asimov's.

Little Daniel: You're both lame. My Jacket is pure SCI FICTION.

Little Jennifer and Joe (starting to cry): It's not fair! We want virtual jackets too!

Alas, I can't help thinking that the digest magazines are in trouble when even in my lame fantasies to rehabilitate them through insane marketing strategies, they lose out to the digital world. Sorry.

Wait! A stroke of genius has struck or is it just a stroke? How about designer diapers from new issues of digest magazines in order to foster that imaginative child? Even I have trouble imagining diapers turning virtual.

I hope I've been of help, or not.
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JJA
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 04:49 pm:   

Considering the aging readership, perhaps the designer diapers should be of the Depends-variety?
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 05:17 pm:   

"(Why would you think it's not relevant to know why a digest failed when it attempted to go to a larger size?)" Times change. Markets change. Distributors change. Publishers change. There's probably so many factors that were revelant then that aren't revelant now (see Ashley's/Tymn's Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Magazines, for a discussion on the period; my copy is at the office, so I can't quote from it) I'm not entirely sure where comparing the mistakes of the 1960s Analog would be entirely applicable to the issues digests are facing now, within the last two decades.

The problems with the digest magazines exist _now_—and so I don't see how tossing in the first thirty years of Analog would give us any understanding into the current issues.
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 05:59 pm:   

Couple of things that really won't add too much but my two cents:

On those who have mentioned the size of digest's being an odd beast in the magazine world: It's true, and I think that the size has to have some sort of effect on potential buyers not buying the magazine, though how much of an effect I don't know. It could be really really small. But I do think you will lose some potential readers simply because of the shape of the magazine. I don't say this because I dislike the digest format. Actually I quite like digests. They're easier to read than the regular magazine form, in my opinion. But a year and a half ago, when my ex-girlfriend and I went to the store to pick up some magazines and I pulled F&SF and Asimov's off the shelf, she said, "Those are magazines?" I said, "Of course they are, what did you think they were?" and she said, "I dunno, I guess I always thought those things had like the price of used cars listed in them or the weather predictions for the next year." She was actually being serious, though I laughed at her quite a bit for the rest of the night. So...I guess what I want to say is that there is possibly a readership who simply do not "recognize" digests as magazines and whose eyes, in this age of speed and busyness, just scan over them as not magazines when they are looking for something new to read. They don't have a cognitive category for the digest form because it's, well, yeah, a dinosaur. But like I said, I don't know how many sales that would actually cut off.

And in reply to Nick M.'s witty remark about people who read writing magazines never really selling anything. It's probably true, and I laughed because Nick is a funny guy and it was a funny remark, but allow me a brief moment of sobriety to say I used to read those magazines when I was a teenager looking for guidance when I had none, so for people who have no potential writing community (for whatever reason--mine happened to be because I lived out in a very rural area and, well, no one thought much of books and stories let alone wrote them) those writing magazines can be a temporary sort of incubator, until you can find some way to make a community of like-minded people. For me it was going to college and finding people there, then going to Clarion and having an online community afterwards.

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JV
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 08:39 pm:   

N/A - yeah, that's *exactly* what I'm talkin' about.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 08:40 pm:   

Hell, I'd like to edit that magazine. Too bad I write all the time and have a day job.
JV
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 09:35 pm:   

Sean---

You seem to be dismissing the very questions that will point the way to answers to the questions you asked at the start of this thread.

Times change. Markets change. How have they changed? What market shifts in the past forty years have made a difference? Why didn't Venture succeed while F&SF stuck around? Could Galaxy have continued to the present-day? Was its companion fantasy magazine Beyond ahead of its time? Same question for Worlds of Fantasy when Pohl launched it in the late '60s . . . or was it just bad distribution that doomed it?

Distributors change. Publishers change. Exactly. Where there used to be hundreds of distributors, we're down to a handful. Did Wal-Mart exist in 1962? In 2003, I believe it accounted for 17% of all newsstand magazine sales in the US. Do any digest magazines stand a chance in Wal-Mart? Did Paizo approach Wal-Mart before relaunching Amazing? What distribution did Amazing have? Do supermarket and drugstore racks sell any fiction magazines at all nowadays?


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Scott William Carter
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 08:43 am:   

Personally, I think we have to face the fact that short fiction magazines are a niche market and will always continue to be so. I suspect that all the major genre digests will bottom out here soon at circulation numbers somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand, which is why keeping costs down is so important. I read the first couple issues of the new Amazing, and if there was ever a fiction magazine (and yes, it's a stretch to call it that) that had a chance of appealing to a new generation of readers, it was that one -- full color, glossy, mixture of fiction and nonfiction, reviews of games, movies, and absolutely no disdain of popular sf/f, whether it be media tie-in books or the Spider-man movies (which is sometimes a problem in the digests). And it lasted a whopping half a year.

So I think it comes down to the publisher making a decision: am I going to go for a wide audience (as Amazing did), with the costs involved, or will I just be satisfied with a niche audience (like the digests). I don't mind black and white on newsprint, myself. There's a lot you can do with graphic design to make a magazine visually appealing.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 09:04 am:   

Someone posted somewhere (I don't recall where) that all of the mystery digest magazines have circulations in the hundreds of thousands—is their market simply that much larger than science fiction?
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JV
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 09:32 am:   

Amazing is haunted by a ghost. It's the only explanation. Every time they gear up, the ghost comes along and destroys all their plans. Again, it's the only explanation. Still, Amazing was just another slick multi-media mag. Doesn't exemplify the traits I would like to see in a mag.

JV
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Will Ludwigsen
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 09:34 am:   

Since magazines have been the traditional proving ground of new writers, I've always wondered why sf book publishers don't subsidize magazines as a loss-leader "testing ground."

Instead of losing money on an unknown author's book, why not run a magazine that you push as best you can to bookstores to see who really reaches an audience?

Of course, it would be difficult to discern which authors were "reaching an audience," I admit.

Even if it fails, your company still garners some additional good publicity and name recognition.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 09:57 am:   

Because publishing companies, small or large, have no real problem finding material. I myself have sixty or more novels or collections on my publication schedule just at Prime. I can hardly imagine the workload at larger publishing houses.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 10:55 am:   

Since the magazines marekts already exist as a "minor leauge" for major publishers to cherry pick from, and analyze, and mine. Why would they SUBSIDIZE the magazine market?

And to a certain extent, publishers that advertise with the magazines are already Subsidizing them.

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Will Ludwigsen
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 01:00 pm:   

I'm sure the publishing companies have no problem finding material--but they have no way of knowing if that material is profitable. They can make an educated guess, of course, and I'm sure they're good at that.

But it is a surer bet when an author has established an audience, and if the magazines shrink and die away as Locus portends, they may have a harder time digging those people out of the slush.

I'm not proposing something new as much as I am admitting something that already exists and honestly putting money into it. If the magazines constitute a "minor league" of authors, then it is in the best interests of publishers to let that league flourish so they don't have to take risks on complete unknowns.

Just on partially unknowns.
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Craig Gardner
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 01:03 pm:   

Interesting discussion I stumbled on here.

In my checkered career, I've managed both a comic book store and an sf store. So, with that background in mind, here's my two cents:

Digests are THE recognized market for short genre fiction. When ANALOG tried to go large format, they failed, as I recall, because the retailers didn't know where to put the magazine, and the readers couldn't find it. Magazine retailing is somewhat more sophisticated today, and there are a lot more full-sized "genre interest" magazines, tho most of these are media based, so a full sized fiction magazine can at least have a chance to be seen. But one of the most successful media based magazines, VIDEO WATCHDOG, is a digest. And one of the runaway successes of the recent publishing world, the manga boom, is in a size not much different than F and SF.

Which means, I guess, that more science fiction magazines should put big-eyed, cartoony adolescents on their covers...
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 01:07 pm:   

Further, writing short stories and writing novels are different skills. Plus, in a magazine full of short stories, is there really a consistent way to determine which short story writer in an issue would appeal to buyers of novels (a different and larger audience at any rate)?


Short story writing in general and SF/F short story writing in particular is like jazz. Used to be big and influential, now it's not. That's it. If you pick up a sax and spend years on your chops and become the greatest in the world, you're still not going to sell out Madison Square Garden. The Blue Note, yes, Carnegie Hall, perhaps, if your act is primarily nostalgic. The clock isn't going to turn back.
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Scott William Carter
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 05:20 pm:   

And yet, there is more short fiction being published today than ever before, due to the boom in the small press. It's an interesting phenomenon -- more jazz players, fewer people in the audience.

I'm not so sure it won't swing back to being an influential form, though. Reading habits change with each generation. Of course, I have a vested interest in hoping that will be the case. :-)
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 11:19 pm:   

And yet, there is more short fiction being published today than ever before, due to the boom in the small press.

No way. There were dozens upon dozens of short fiction periodicals in the pulp era, across all sorts of genres and sub-genres.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 11:23 pm:   

Here's a handy list, btw:

http://www.adventurehouse.com/pulpdata/pulp_title_index.htm
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Coppervale
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 09:06 am:   

Hi Gordon, Jeff, Ellen, et al. -

All of you will be receiving your copies of ARGOSY QUARTERLY #3 at about the same time (any day now, I'd expect), so that makes it more apropos for me to jump in.

Jeff is dead right: the other elements that might make ARGOSY more youth or pop culture oriented aren't present - although the format is flexible enough to pull some things in that direction.

TTA was a good touchstone, but what I thought of right away was THE BELIEVER - but with fiction.

One thing we HAVE gotten out of ARGOSY's eclectic nature is the perception that the material selected is going to be GOOD. Certainly the design got us a lot of attention, but that seemed to elevate the expectations of the material, which is not a bad thing.

Gordon: with regards to the digest format, well, that takes me in two directions. ARGOSY is a bit of a wonky cousin (because of the two-volume slipcase format), and recently became a 'serial anthology' rather than a 'periodical' to try to address bookseller and distributor format concerns, but I ABSOLUTELY believe in the size.

If F&SF went to AMAZING'S size and format, I think you'd hear my frustrated bellow from wall to wall in the Borders where I purchase it.

When we started ARGOSY, we wnt through DOZENS of sample formats to select the ones that scanned the best from a few feet away, then did it again, and again. And the purely unscientific conclusion was that it was more comfortable reading extended material in the smaller format.

That's pretty much it.

REALMS drives me nuts - as did (does?) AMAZING. I tend to get absorbed in the short fiction I read, and I just don't access the larger format as well as I do digests.

The MIX of pop culture material with fiction (genre or otherwise) is a seperate discussion from what I'm pointing out - and Ellen is probably right about the visibility (although most newsstands I know group the mags, so trhe fiction digests are in the same place, and I can just beeline for them at the store). So one issue is how to sell them. But if keeping the size and format means you're a dinosaur, Gordon - then long live the dinosaurs!

James
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Scott William Carter
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 09:25 am:   

Thanks for that info, Nick. I knew there were a lot of fiction mags back then, but I wasn't aware there were that many.

Still, it would be cool if someone did a rigorous study, adding up all the genres, etc, taking into account anthologies and other venues. You may be right, but I'd like to see those numbers.

Of course, I don't know about you, but I'm not going to spend my time doing that. :-)
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gabe
Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 06:15 pm:   

I think there's also the sticky bit of the price point. Given my druthers and a fiver, am I going to shell out $3.99 for a copy of F&SF, or am I goint to shell out $4.95 for a copy of another, slick, standard-sized magazine? Assuming, of course, that I have never read F&SF, because we're talking about pulling new people in, right?

Other beliefs I have:

-- digests are the perfect format for subscription-only magazines, but suicidal for the rack

-- subscriptions are dropping because the fans are dying

-- BELIEVER has better paper stock, so their art looks better in monocolor than the B&W interiors of the digests

-- a digest CAN be cool, if you're willing to use GRANTA as a model, rather than ANALOG

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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 08:22 pm:   

Given the crappy paper of the digest mags, I have always appreciated the fact that F&SF eschewed interior illustrations. They just don't look good to me on cruddy paper, no matter how nice they might look on quality art paper.

I'm still more likely, personally, to spring for the digest than the magazine if I want stories rather than a bunch of newsy features. I like reading digests and magazines feel more disposable to me. I'd never leave a copy of F&SF on a plane, but a magazine I will roll into a tube and stuff down into the seat pocket and leave it for the next person.

I agree the model should hew closer to Granta. When Vintage started reissuing all the Phil Dick novels as trade paperbacks, I hoped more of the s.f. publishers in general would use a bit more imagination (and savvy) in their packaging. Maybe they have, a little bit, but I suddenly wanted ALL my books to look like those snazzy PKD editions.
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gabe
Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 08:29 pm:   

I don't know, Marc. If anything, I'm seeing even LESS imagination going into book production. I really wanted to cry when I realized how many fantasy novels have spines that sport circular excerpts of cover art on them... and apparently the only cover artist now working is Stephen Youll. Speculative fiction really needs a Chip Kidd.

Unless we're talking small press. The interiors may be shoddy, the copy-editing crappy... but at least the small presses have nifty covers.
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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 08:43 pm:   

You're probably right. I'm living in a fantasy world. I hardly even look at anything in those sections anymore because it looks like solid blocks of sameness sold as series.

You know what books have cool covers, and often fantastic interior art too? Kid books. Young adult. This has been 80% of my reading material for the past 12 years. I tend to get a buzz when I go into the kid section because there is still a sense of excitement there about the whole venture. The s.f. section depresses me, although I think that may be for professional reasons. I can still experience the pleasure of being purely a reader in the kid shelves.

I don't think the mainstream books are doing any better at making themselves look good either; so this isn't just a knock on sf/fantasy packaging (as it used to be). So if you're referring to book production in general, then I must agree.

I seem to recall a few years ago, a bit more visual excitement. But again...I could be deluded.

Game packaging has now taken over the realm once purely inhabited by the pulps. So that should free up books to be more creative.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 04:34 am:   

Gabe---

How much does BELIEVER cost per isssue? About $10 for 120 pages? More? I have a copy or two around here, but can't find them now.
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John Betancourt
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 04:58 am:   

The mystery digests have fairly low circulations -- Alfred Hitchcock's about 50,000, Ellery Queen's about 55,000. This is down from the 200,000+ range of 20 years ago.

-- John
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FSFFR
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 06:37 am:   

According to Christine Begley, Associate Publisher at Dell Magazines, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Analog, and Asimovs have the following circulation rates:

EQMM 180,780
AHMM 154,953
Analog 139,053
Asimov's 107,184


John, perhaps your numbers are subscription rates? If so they still have the SF digests beat, hands down.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 06:51 am:   

Gordon,
The Believer is $8 per issue and totally worth it. And if you'll forgive me, this is a nice way to segue shamelessly into mentioning that I have an interview with China Mieville coming up in their April issue.
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John Betancourt
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 07:00 am:   

The Dell Magazines circulation #s cited above aren't paid circulation, but estimated readership (used for setting prices for ads). Divide all numbers by 3 to get the "real" paid circulation.

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FSFFR
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 08:23 am:   

John, what's your source?
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gabe
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 06:03 pm:   

The question isn't really "How much does The Believer cost?"

It's more like "How much does PLAY cost?"

Play is slick, has purty pictures, and it's under five bucks. I bet kids would rather shell out for it over F&SF... and sadly, because it's a video game magazine, I bet they get the same SFFnal 'kick to the groin' that they might get from one of the SFF magazines. Because last time I looked, ASIMOV'S doesn't have scantily-clad SF anime chicks in it.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 06:13 pm:   

PLAY is a cool magazine, but I haven't noticed any fiction in it. You'd have to compare it to a digest-sized game magazine.

But it's a good point. SF used to compete for beer money. Now it competes for game money.

I don't think the situation is all that much different than when I was a kid. In my whole town, there were probably two kids (including me) who picked up F&SF or Analog from the magazine racks. And maybe one or two adults. I ended up working in that shop and I don't remember ever selling a copy
to anyone.
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George H Scithers
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 03:42 am:   

To Craig Gardner's comment, I add that for a year, Davis Publications published (and I edited) both "Isaace Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine" in digest format, and "Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine" in "standard" (that is, 8.5 by 11 inch) format. Althought I loaded up "A's SF Adventure Mag" with the best stories in inventory, it failed on the newsstands -- basically, newsstands put it alongside the dollar (as they were priced then) comics, and that didn't work. I once talked with the manager of a leading New York City comics store -- he told me he put "A's SF Adventure Mag" on the check-out counter -- the best possible location! -- and it still wouldn't sell: the kids would pick it up, see that it was full of text (it was also well-illustrated) and put it down again.
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George H Scithers
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 04:03 am:   

In the matter of ANALOG in the large (or "standard," as it's called in the trade) size -- as I remember from what Jonh W Campbell said, the format was tried in order to get more advertising, because most ad agencies make up their ads for that size magazine. However, printing a magazine in that size costs (or did then, and did back when ASIMOV'S SF was founded) more per word than in digest size. When the advertising failed to materialize, the magazine reverted to digest size.

By the way, a second reason for the failure of ASIMOV'S SF ADVENTURE MAGAZINE was that Davis did not offer subscriptions to it.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 07:06 am:   

Thanks for chiming in, George.

Do you have any insight into why Venture didn't succeed when Ed Ferman relaunched it in the late '60s? Ed and I have never spoken about it much. Any idea about Beyond? I believe you weren't working in the field professionally back then, but you were publishing Amra in those days, right?
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 07:58 am:   

Venture: "The probable cases of its demise were its less than spectacular sales and a large number of competitors, which divided the audience and thereby hurt sales of new magazines."

The revived Venture suffered from poor covers, and poor sales.

Beyond: "failed to attract a sufficiently broad base of subscriber support. Market conditions were not favorable, but other magazines survived the crisis. Perhaps Beyond became too specialised for mass appeal or Gold's editorial policy too restrictive to attract stories good enough to insure survival. Also, Gold's well known waspiness was a potentional factor in Beyonds failure to establish a stable of regular authors of top rank. Possibly Gold was simply unfortunate in his time, and given the limitations with which he worked, failure was inevitable."

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines, Marshall Tymn and Mike Ashley


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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 09:22 am:   

FSFFR: the digest magazines print their actual circulation numbers, broken down by subscritions and newstand sales, in very small print in, I think, their January issues. All you have to do is compare those numbers with the ones above. Since surveys show that most subscribers share their magazines with other readers (for example, I give some issues of F&SF to my son to read when there are stories I know he'll like), the numbers given for advertisers are higher because it can justify higher rates.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 10:12 am:   

Flashback to the flashy, ungainly Vertex...wasn't it basically a newspaper? Any magazine you have to fold up to store away is just...doomed. Too bad, too.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 10:18 am:   

George,

As one of those kids who actually did pick up those issues of Asimov's, they were sheer delight. I have jettisoned a lot of my collection over the years, but I think I still have those first few issues.
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George H Scithers
Posted on Monday, March 07, 2005 - 03:16 pm:   

Gordon: I have no idea why Venture and Beyond failed.
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Melissa
Posted on Saturday, March 19, 2005 - 04:36 am:   

Ever consider that many young people simply aren't aware that these magazines exist?
For most of my life, I thought they had been extinct since the 50s. I stumbled upon an issue of Asimov's at Borders by accident! I think getting the word out would be a big start. Perhaps a "street team", where publishers would make available subscription cards and info sheets, and participants would leave them in conspicious places. Also giving out samples at websites such as bzzagent.com or startsampling.com, or including them in the student packs that colleges give out, seems to be a cost effective way of advertizing.
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John Klima
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 07:31 am:   

Here's an interesting article (although very short). Not sure where the numbers come from, or if they're accurate:

http://forums.booktrade.info/booktrade.php?&do=news&bit=All&newsitem=5922

And the link for the 'more information' link from Booktrade.info:

http://www.mytelus.com/news/article.do?pageID=cp_entertainment_home&articleID=19 28766

JK
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 07:26 am:   

John---

Thanks for posting it, but shouldn't this article go in a discussion of book publishing, not magazines?
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 08:44 am:   

Probably. :-)

JK

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