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Questions about publishing short fiction online

A few months ago, I was at a retirement party for a newspaper editor and the subject of publishing material online for free came up.  “Who ever thought it was a good idea to give away your main product for free?” asked one veteran journalist.  “I remember when I was at Time and we looked at it.  One of the smartest people I know said, ‘If you start giving it away, no one’s going to pay for it.’”

That comment has been echoing in my head a lot lately.  At Readercon, a veteran editor told me, “Even with PayPal, I think it’s going to get harder and harder to get anyone to pay for anything online.  There’s just too much out there for free.”

On August 3, John Scalzi posted in his blog (http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=1231) that his story “After the Coup” published at www.tor.com has already gotten 49,566 hits, which is close to the combined circulations for Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF.  When I pointed out that he was comparing the number of paying customers with the number of people who took a freebie, he replied, ‘Well, on my end, I’m comparing eyeballs to eyeballs.’”

Here at F&SF, we’re open to experimentation and for the past year or so, we’ve been publishing one reprint a month on our Website.  Last month, the free story was “The Political Officer” by Charles Coleman Finlay.  A few days ago, someone posted on our message board  (http://nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/378/12233.html?1219150161) that he wanted to read that story.  I explained that it was no longer on our Website but he could buy a copy of that back issue from us or from Fictionwise.

As I did so, I realized that I was putting a reader in a position where he had to decide if he would pay for something he could have had for free just a few days earlier . . . which doesn’t strike me as a good position.  I know that I don’t like being asked to make such a choice.

So I started to wonder: has short fiction been devalued by the fact that so many places offer it for free online nowadays?

I was thinking of this question in terms of contrast with trilogies.  The format of a trilogy has been around for a long time, but I think it’s accurate to say that in the 1970s and ‘80s, book publishers (especially the team of Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey) trained readers to expect fantasy fiction to come in series formats, particularly in sets of three.  For instance, Stephen Donaldson’s original Chronicles of Thomas Covenant were one book—the del Reys split it into three volumes and published the trilogy to great success.  Nowadays, it’s noteworthy when someone published a fantasy novel and nothing indicates that the book is the start of a series.

I look at trilogies and the form appears to me to be thriving.  But I don’t see many publishers giving away the books for free.  By contrast, I see publishers posting short fiction for free in many places, but I don’t see many of those publishers reaping rewards for their efforts.  I think short fiction giveaways have been good for individual authors, but are they working for publishers?

Also, I realized that I’ve done something extremely stupid.  I’ve run an experiment without trying to measure the results.  Sure, we’ve looked at the number of hits our online stories and columns get, and we’ve done one or two other things to measure the effects of our online publications, but we’ve never done a survey.

So I’m posting now to ask for feedback on a few things:

  •  When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?
  • Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?
  • Most magazine publishers post their Hugo- and Nebula-nominated stories online for free.  If F&SF started charging the cost of an issue to read these stories, would you do so?
  • Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

Please note that I’m trying to keep the discussion just to fiction (not articles).

If you would care to do so, I’d be grateful if you’d include your age with your post.  No need to get specific—I just want to know if you’re in your teens or if you’re in your eighties.

And finally, please be aware that I plan to convert this post into an editorial for the print magazine, so don’t post anything here that you wouldn’t want me to reprint.  If you’d like to comment but don’t want to do so in public, you can use the Contact Us form on our Website (here: http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/contact.htm).  Write “DNQ” on your email if you don’t want to be quoted.

Thanks for your feedback.

—GVG

Get a Free Copy of the July 2008 Issue of F&SF

Over on the Forum, Gordon posted the following note:

We’re going to do a promotional giveaway with this issue. There’s a box of copies of this issue on its way to me and I’d like to give away the copies people who will blog about the issue. So here’s the deal:

1) Go to our "Contact Us" page: http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/contact.htm

2) Tell us where to mail your copy of the issue.

3) Receive the issue and blog about it. Naturally, we prefer if you read the issue before blogging about it, but I’m just insisting that you blog about it. (The first time we tried this promotion, people mistakenly thought they should blog about the magazine before receiving the issue. No. Get the issue first, then blog about it.)

4) Send us a link to your blog.

That’s all there is to it. I’ll post here when we run out of the giveaway copies.

Spread the word!

May 11th is Review Matt Hughes Day

F&SF regular Matthew Hughes a free electronic copy of his new novel Template:

Special offer for reviewers, bloggers, newsgroup posters and people who just like to talk about books in public: in May, PS Publishing will release Template, a stand-alone Archonate novel that I consider to be my best work yet (even though it was written in 2003). I will send an rtf file of the book to anyone who commits to review, blog, post or otherwise harass the world about it. Just send me an e-mail at "himself(you know what symbol goes in here)archonate.com" and I’ll shoot you a copy.

James Nicoll, meanwhile, is trying to organize a review-a-thon:

I find it tremendously annoying that Hughes is not better known than he is. My cunning idea is that it might be fun if a bunch of reviewers on LJ should all agree to read and review Template on the same day. LJ doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of communal participation as rasfw but I think this could be worthwhile. Any volunteers? [Current Target Date: May 11th] I probably should have encouraged people to mention this on their blogs and livejournal accounts. Consider this said encouragement.

I also find it tremendously annoying that Hughes is not better known than he is. I read an advance copy of Template, and I have to say, it’s one of the best–if not the best–things Hughes has written to date. So please consider participating in the review-a-thon. Or just go out and order a copy!

The Martian Child DVD Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Jacob P. Silvia whose entry in our The Martian Child DVD giveaway contest was chosen as the winner.

These were the rules of the contest:

1. Pick a story from F&SF that you think would make a great movie. (The story should be one that hasn’t already been adapted to film before. So no remakes!)

2. Choose the director and/or screenwriter for the job.

3. Cast the film.

4. Come up with a nice Hollywood tagline for it.

5. To enter the contest, post a comment to this blog entry with your answers. The winning entry will be the one we feel did the best job playing producer. So creativity counts!

And here’s Mr. Silvia’s winning entry:

Story: "Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link

Dir/Writer: Joss Whedon
 

Cast

Fox: varies, but notably Zooey Deschanel
Two Devils: varies, but notably Emily Deschanel
Faithful Margaret: Amy Adams
Prince Wing: Kevin Sorbo
George Washington Statue: CG, Voice by Phil LaMarr
Jeremy Mars: Shia LaBeouf
Elizabeth: Ellen Page
Amy: Kristen Bell
Talis: Summer Glau
Karl: Lee Norris
Jeremy’s Mother: Naomi Watts
Gordon Mars: Brian Huskey (of Sonic Drive-In “married couple” commercial fame)
Vampire: Helena Bonham Carter
Miss Thing: Tim Curry
 
Tagline: "Are you being watched?"

Great choice, and great casting! From his lips to Joss Whedon’s ears! (Or in this case, from his keyboard to Joss Whedon’s eyes!)

Win a copy of The Martian Child on DVD!

The recent film The Martian Child was based on a story that originally appeared in F&SF by David Gerrold (also called “The Martian Child”). With that in mind, we’ve got a copy of the DVD to give away, and to win it, here’s what you need to do:

1. Pick a story from F&SF that you think would make a great movie. (The story should be one that hasn’t already been adapted to film before. So no remakes!)

2. Choose the director and/or screenwriter for the job.

3. Cast the film.

4. Come up with a nice Hollywood tagline for it.

5. To enter the contest, post a comment to this blog entry with your answers. The winning entry will be the one we feel did the best job playing producer. So creativity counts!

The contest starts now and will end Sunday, March 9 at 11:59 PM. We’ll announce the winner on Monday, March 10.

This promotion is made possible by the generous contribution of one DVD by the folks at New Line Cinema and mPRm Public Relations.

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