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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

comments

187 Responses to “Questions about publishing short fiction online”

  1. Jackie M. on August 24th, 2008

    1. Yes. (Or rather: if I read several stories I like, I will be inclined to support a publisher, in the hopes of reading more stories like those. One story, however memorable, is probably not enough.)

    2. No. (I have, however, read stories online and then gone and purchased single issues from my local newsstand/bookseller. Which is not always easy to do, given the relative unavailability of newsstand copies of most short fiction magazines.)

    3. Unlikely. I have a hard enough time guilting myself into reading all of the nominees on the Hugo ballot in any given year; charging me for them will just encourage me to give in to my lazy impulses.

    4. I barely even noticed short fiction outside of the odd anthology (see relative unavailability of newsstand copies, and throw in “lack of obvious placement anywhere near actual genre novels in actual bookstores”) until I started reading Strange Horizons and Scifiction. So while you could argue that the availability of easily-grazed, online short fiction makes me less inclined to subscribe to print magazines, I’m basically only considering it at all because they introduced me to the form.

    You have not included what seems to be your real question: would I pay to access short fiction? And the answer is: sometimes, yes, maybe. If I hear good things about a story, or an author, or if I’m just bored one day at work and the title is fun, yes. I would download the odd story for a buck or two. (But Matt Ruff is write about charging for Hugo nominees: that’s a bad idea if you’re interested in winning.)

  2. Amy Sterling Casil on August 24th, 2008

    I had approximately the same number of readers for “To Kiss the Star” (free) as John Scalzi was saying he had for his recent story. About 5% ended up paying the modest cost that was asked for it after the “free” period was over.

    I don’t know about the payment structure, but I can understand John’s “eyeballs to eyeballs” comparison.

    I’m involved in a new venture in which we may see how this type of thing goes on and proves financially beneficial, so I’ll update on it in a couple of weeks or so.

  3. Matthew Wayne Selznick on August 24th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    Absolutely. I put this into the context of podcast fiction — I listen to several podcasts that present short fiction. I’ve donated to the podcast, purchased material that the author of the short story published elsewhere, and done what I could to spread awareness of the venue.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    No, but I have donated to web magazines with no print presence. I’ve also subscribed to all three digest sf magazines repeatedly since the 1980’s.

    * 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?

    Probably not. However, I don’t read them online, either. However, the podcast Escape Pod has presented audio versions of the Hugo nominees for a few years now, and I do support Escape Pod.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    Absolutely not. I support the form, and I’m very likely to directly support an author through online donation and the purchase of other media by that author.

    To provide your age comparison, I’m 41 years old.

    To put my answers into further context, I’m an author whose first novel, “Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era,” is available as a free podcast and has an e-book edition that is offered on a “pay what it’s worth” model. I also have a paperback edition published by Swarm Press, an MP3 CD audiobook edition, and will have iPhone and Kindle editions available very soon.

    I’m a strong believer in providing a free version of your content because I’ve seen how well it works to build audience — about 20,000 people, and counting, have experienced “Brave Men Run” in one form or another. That’s a lot of people who are ready to consume more content from me. And yeah, they’re willing to pay for it. The Swarm Press edition has been as high as #53 on the Amazon bestseller chart, and continues to perform well. “Free” works as an audience-builder and I strongly recommend it as a marketing strategy for authors.

  4. John Klima on August 25th, 2008

    I’ve numbered the questions.

    1. Yes. Whether it’s an online publisher or a print publisher, I try my best to support as much of the short fiction field as I can. I particularly try to support new endeavors since I’d like to see what people do.

    2. My heart wants to say yes, but my brain keeps telling me no. Gordon carefully puts print magazine in the question to exclude places like Strange Horizons, Lone Star Stories, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Farrago’s Wainscot which don’t have a subscriptionable product. I honestly can’t think of any examples other than myself of print magazines that have put up online fiction, either for the heck of it or as a means to draw in subscribers. Now, if the next question wasn’t there, I might think otherwise, but I’m excluding magazines that put up award-nominated stories from this question. I know a few places have started to put up free fiction, but I’ve either already been a subscriber to those magazines or decided to not subscribe.

    3. I was going to say “I don’t I think I would,” and I’m going to change that to “no I wouldn’t” and be more emphatic about it. For me, the point of posting award-nominated stories is to assist in the voting process. I realize that there are people who read the stories for free this way and do not vote, but I can only speak for my own purposes. Now, if those nominated stories were available together (even in a POD format) as a sort of 2007 Award-Nominated Stories from F&SF publication? That could be something worth talking about.

    4. No. But I may be an exception. I do know that I’m prone to read the online, free fiction before my magazines for several reasons. The print magazines have a permanance: they are always there for me to read. I can get to them at my lesiure. The online fiction might stay up forever, there might be stories that get taken down, the publisher might only have them up for a limited time, etc. Also, since I tend to spend at least eight hours a day in front of a computer, it’s very convenient to read the online fiction. A new issue of Clarksworld Magazine or Strange Horizons only has a few stories compared to their print counterparts, so it takes me less time to read an entire issue. I think the prevalence of free fiction online has made it so that I am unwilling to pay for online fiction.

  5. Kell Brown on August 25th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    Not the publisher, no. It raises the profile of the author and I’ll look for the author again at the bookstore and I’ll be motivated to buy any magazine where their name appears in the table of contents. I don’t feel any obligation towards the publisher. What they put out for free I view as advertising. Like conventional advertising it comes with a cost with the expectation of later return which in a magazine’s case is a new or repeat subscriber. What motivates me to support the publisher is what they bring to the table. The content they provide in addition to or in support the stories (interviews, industry news, things I didn’t know I wanted to know before you wrote them). Consistently good stories, entertaining editorials, reviews, etc.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    No. It’s not enough to subscribe. The entire table of contents has to be good, month after month, even at Christmas, Halloween and on April 1st where the temptation to give into the holiday spirit is higher than the desire for a good story..

    * 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?

    It’s conditional. If I’m subscriber charging for access is definitely not on since I already have those stories and I’ll feel like I’m being goosed for a thirteenth month for no additional value. Subscribers should get access for free. If I’m not a subscriber I might like to see a full paper production with all the nominees in it and some additional content (again, interviews, etc).

    I wouldn’t pay for online access. I don’t enjoy reading off my screen enough and for those stories I would bother to read most authors, in the interests of increasing their chances, post their nominated stories on their own websites.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    No. I’ll happily pay for online stories written at the professional level, but magazine websites are usually poorly maintained, the material is badly presented (I imagine some of this is cost) and it’s often provided only in HTML for reading in the web browser (I want it to be as mobile as the paper copy, if the story in the magazine has pictures, the mobi/pdf/screen version should have pictures) so the experience is never that enjoyable so I tend to stay away entirely, free or not.

    Maybe a more direct answer for a slightly different question would help. Would I pay for F&SF as download? Yes. Provided it had the same production values as the print one and there was no delay between the release of the paper version and the digital. I still prefer the dead tree version because I’m not a subscriber and I can pick up an issue when the table of contents and the cover art entice me to do so.

  6. Sean OBrien on August 25th, 2008

    I’m a 46 year old aspiring scifi author and while you didn’t ask our opinions I’ll phrase mine in context of your questions.

    If the website for a free online story is well run then there will be advertising links which interest me. I will click on those links because they are relevant to me, this supports the author. Pay per Click ads cost me nothing. Affliate ads cost me money, but I’m getting something I want.

    I would be unlikely to subscribe to a magazine regardless of their online content.

    I might pay to read Hugo and Nebula nominees, if it were a reasonable price. This would be a convenience, and possibly a faster way to read the candidates.

    Free science fiction short stories are definitely taking revenue away from you. I am much less likely to pay for stories, even if the free ones have lower quality.

    The reason I publish my work online is that I’ll make far more money from advertising than I’ll ever make from publishing short stories. Novels are a different topic, the money is probably greater for paper novels.

  7. Steve L on August 25th, 2008

    I almost never read short sf and fantasy fiction online, and I don’t think I am missing much. I worked for several years as a web programmer so I am not exactly a Luddite. Although computer monitors have gotten much better over time, I don’t find it comfortable to sit and stare at a light source for reading enjoyment.

    I subscribe to F-and-SF (30 years now), Asimov’s, Analog, Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, PostScript Magazine, and also buy most of the well-reviewed original anthologies in the genre.

    As for the questions:
    1. I already support most professional-level publishers in the genre, even though I am not likely to read the online fiction they might offer.

    2. No. A reliable way to find good publications is to pick up a recent “best of the year” anthology and see where the stories you like were originally printed.

    3. Not too likely, since I probably already have the story on my shelf.

    4. Sadly, yes, I think there is an expectation that fiction online should be free, which is coupled with the expectation that free fiction is amateur-level fiction.

    50 years old

  8. Jonathan Strahan on August 25th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    I want to lie and say ‘yes’, but the truth is that I tend to take things for granted when I find them online. The basic paradigm for the internet is that everything should be free, so when I find something like a story online for free it just seems how things should be. I’d need something else to prompt me to want to support the publisher, like being able to buy a nice print copy of the story, or something. Also, mostly I think when you’re reading it feels like the relationship is with the author and not the publisher, so it seems like a rather abstract connection to make to get to wanting to support the publisher because you’ve read a story on their website.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    No, and I don’t think I would. I’m a very poor example, though. I subscribe to F&SF and Asimov’s, but I also get emailed them for free because I read for my year’s best. Pondering it a little more, I *have* been interested in buying something else from a publisher based on their site but its because the magazine looks cool or has a lot of writers I happen to like, rather than because of something free on a website.

    * 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?

    No. And I wouldn’t. Publishing award-nominated fiction on a website is a promotional activity. Why would I pay for someone to promote their stuff to me? Also, to get me to pay for something I want to end up with a physical object. However, probably contradicting what I’ve said, publishing award-nominated stories on your website does make me think warmly about the publisher – it’s good promotion.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    I think the existence of the internet has made me feel less like paying for anything online. If you’re not buying a physical object, everything feels like it should be free. So, I don’t think more free fiction online makes me feel less inclined to pay for short fiction – I’m very happy to pay for short fiction, I’m just not going to do it online.

  9. Jonathan Strahan on August 25th, 2008

    One more thing. If F&SF (and the other mags) made issues available on the F&SF website, and if I could buy single stories from each issue (much as you can buy tracks from iTunes rather than albums), then I think I would. For example, the latest issue of F&SF is $4.50 on Fictionwise. I could see paying $0.75 for a specific story I wanted, and being happy to pay it if I could just click a Paypal button or something.

  10. Jules on August 26th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    Not particularly. I do usually feel inclined to seek out more work by the same author, which often ends up with me buying stuff from the same publisher, but that’s not necessarily the case.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    No. I’ve never subscribed to a print magazine at all.

    * 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?

    Probably not, no. Put it at a lower price point (maybe half that) and I’d consider it.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    No. I rarely paid for short fiction before the online stuff was available either — I used to make regular stops at my local library’s periodicals section instead. The vast majority of the money I spend on short fiction is on collections, and I think I buy as many of those now as I ever did.

  11. Jamie Grove - How Not To Write on August 26th, 2008

    1. I do but that’s only because I understand a little of what it takes to produce genre fiction (I’m also a mystery reader). That said, I do tend to support the author more than the publisher.

    2. Yes, but that was Atlantic Monthly and the only reason I subscribed was to get access to back issues online. I haven’t used it as much as I thought I would and now I’m letting that subscription lapse.

    3. Probably not unless you were also touting the fact that it was going to be a rev-share with the authors. But how much would you charge? I couldn’t see paying more than $0.99 to read a story and then you have to ask whether that’s really worth it in the big scheme of things.

    4. Not so much. Short fiction is my candy. (well, actually, candy is my candy but I’m sure you get the general idea)

    Age 38

  12. Schoey Chaelly on August 26th, 2008

    Q: When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    This depends on whether the story-I-liked was a fluke. I try to read (or, at least, skim) several of the stories before I decide whether or not I want to pay for a collection of them. If the publisher’s tastes seem to align with my own after a few first-reads, then I’m inclined to trust the publisher’s tastes and hope future publications will appeal to me all the same.

    Q: Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    Never just one. Refer to the above – but I have.

    Q: 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?

    A: Not if the others are available for free. I understand that the publishers are in the market of selling stories, but I understand Hugos (et al.) to be applauding the author. I would guess that pricing those nominations might stand in the way of drawing new readers to an author (who wants to pay for someone they can’t trust to write a good story, nominated or otherwise?)

    Q: Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    Absolutely. To me, short fiction can be like the Myspace for writing: it is a sampling of an author’s style and imagination. If I want -more- short stories by the same author (or a publisher after I trust its tastes), then I will buy them. Some short fiction should be made free by Publishers – it’s good business for the authors (“eyeballs to eyeballs”), and it’s worked for music. It doesn’t mean Publishers have to offer up loads of free stuff, but it’s a Teaser Market now.

    Age 22.

  13. Fabrice Doublet on August 26th, 2008

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?
    Yes.

    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?
    When I began subscribing to magazines (circa 1992-95), it was because I had read good stories in anthologies that were first published in these magazines.

    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?
    I don’t need to since since I have a sub.

    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?
    No. I read free stories online, but still pay for my favorite magazines and anthologies.

  14. Hakan on August 26th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece? – Yes. I tend to go to Amazon and buy a book or two, especially if I liked the writer and the style.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site? – No. I would buy that month’s edition. On the other hand, I already buy F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog and Interzone almost every month

    * 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? – Not really. Not all Hugo/Nebula-nominated stories are to my taste. I would prefer to read them for free, if I can. If I like the writer, I’ll get a book from him/her. If I already have many of his/her stuff, probably I’d buy it in any case.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction? – No. I will get the stuff I like for cash or free but having it free makes my life easier. I am not here to make the publisher rich. Some writers have donation links in their pages and more than once I have dropped the occasional £5 – which is more than the cost of F&SF in UK at its retail value. Publisher might get less but definitely the writer gets more. I like it that way.

  15. Benjamin Rosenbaum on August 27th, 2008

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    Yes.

    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    I’m not sure, but I may have — McSweeney’s comes to mind; I believe I liked their online offering before subscribing to their print version, and that would have factored into my decision.

    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?

    No.

    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    No.

  16. CC on August 27th, 2008

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece? More the author than the publisher, but sometimes a publisher’s actions cause you to sit up and take notice (Let me tell you how much I love Baen).
    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site? I don’t read print magazines, but I have bought a lot of print book compilations on that basis.
    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? Nope.
    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction. Heavens, no. In fact, I’d almost forgotten how enjoyable a short story could be until I started reading some again online.

    28, Female, Lifelong SF&F reader.

  17. TMD on August 27th, 2008

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece? More the author than the publisher. But if the publisher shows themselves to consistently pick stuff I like, then yes.

    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site? Not yet, but I could see it happening.

    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? Nope.

    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction? Not at all. If anything, it’s more likely. I’m quite reluctant to subscribe to a mag (or buy an anthology) site unseen. And there’s a lot of new authors out there that I don’t know. So having short fiction freely available online makes me MORE likely to buy into publishers (magazines or otherwise) that consistently deliver the goods online.

    The key here (for me) is getting to know new authors. If I see a mag issue that has mostly stories by authors I love, I’d buy it. If I don’t recognize them, I wouldn’t (unless I could browse a bit, like in a retail bookstore). So if you gave away short fiction from each author on your site, but just enough so I can decide if I like them — then I could make a more informed decision about purchasing.

    Just imagine, someday we might even be so technologically advanced that I could “build my own magazine” each month. You list the titles and teasers available for each author (new and old), and I select which half dozen I want in my October issue. Ta-da! Customized mags for all! ;-)

    35, female, SF&F reader since childhood

  18. Michael Natale on August 28th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece? <<< Yes, and have done so many times where I otherwise would not have been exposed to a particular author or magazine.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site? <<< Yes – showing a taste of what a magazine publishes is far better advertising than virtually anything else. Barring being able to flip through a physical printed edition at a bookstore, tasting a sample online is very effective.

    * 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? <<< It would depend on how many stories were being offered for how much, but if at least 2 or 3 were authors I was into OR if a couple stories sounded interesting based on a brief summary, I probably would take the chance.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction? <<< Not at all. The internet is such a new, dynamic global distribution channel for authors and publishers that I think the smart ones are using it to get content into the hands of consumers fast an inexpensively. Because of the ease of ‘publishing’ content, not all of the stuff that appears online is great. Personally if I find something offered for free that I really really like, after reading it I’ll donate/purchase/subscribe in order to support the content creator and hopefully get more. Joss Whedon’s internet serial “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” is a perfect example of this. I realize you wanted this limited to print fiction but the philosophy and success of this experiment translates over almost directly: content is content and if you produce something of quality, people will pay. Even if you give it to them for free at first.

  19. Susan on August 29th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    I give absolutely no thought to the publisher in any circumstances. Unless I’m cataloguing something.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?
    Nope.

    * 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?
    No. There’s something called a library. It doesn’t exist on the internet, but in essence, FREE BOOKS!!!111one

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?
    No. If I really like something I’ve read for free (online, library, borrowed from a friend) then I go and buy my own hard copy of it. Of course, there’s a problem with doing that for short fiction – nobody sells individual short stories! I mean, short story collections are all right for reading, but unless I really like the overwhelming majority of the stories in it, I’m not going to buy one.

  20. summer schultz on September 2nd, 2008

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    If you mean “are you likely to then buy the hard copy magazine” the answer is yes. I’d rather read a story on paper than on a screen, anyway, because am using a computer all day for work. In my mind, I guess computer=work, book=non-work.

    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    No. But I have subscribed to magazines on account of really liking stories I read in the magazines.

    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?

    No. I have never paid to read a story online.

    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    No. I devour short fiction… I subscribe to several magazines, buy several annual anthologies as soon as they come out, check books out from the library, and scour the thrift stores and used book stores for older collections. I trade books with my sisters (also F&SF fans.) Free short stories will not prevent me from buying books or magazines – they might actually entice me to spend even more money to check out a new author, collection, or magazine publication.

    I’m a 41-year-old female whose parents used to subscribe to F&SF – I’ve been reading this magazine for 35 years!

  21. Jim Henry on September 4th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    I’ve donated money to Strange Horizons and The Infinite Matrix before, so yes.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    Electric Velocipede, because of story excerpts (not a whole story) that were on the site, — and also favorable reviews (on Tangent Online maybe?)

    * 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?

    Well, not F&SF, because I would already own the issue in question. Asimov’s, ditto. Analog, probably not, because most of the Hugo-nominated stories they’ve posted on their site in recent years haven’t made me want to subscribe; not my kind of story, for the most part. Some other zine: quite possibly.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    I subscribe to four sf magazines now; ten years ago, only one (F&SF then, that plus Asimov’s, Electric Velocipede, and LCRW now). That ten years roughly corresponds to when lots of good free short fiction became available online. Overall I’m more interested in short fiction and relatively less interested in long novels and series than I used to be; not sure if that’s because of the greater availability of short fiction or because of my age (I’m 35) or what.

  22. Lyn C. A. Gardner on September 5th, 2008

    # When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?
    It depends. If I love all the stories I read for an issue, and the publisher is offering this as a teaser to get print subscriptions, I might be inclined to subscribe. I’d be less inclined if I could consistently get the whole thing for free, but if you had a full free sample issue and a significant discount for complete online subscriptions–say 1/3 the print price–I might be inclined to do that. However, I’d be much more likely to spend money to receive a physical product. I don’t know if it matters, but I’d be much more inclined to subscribe if this were the model: a full online subscription to all content, with email alerts when new content arrives; the price of a current print subscription would instead cover both the online access and a POD trade paperback anthology of the stories/articles I liked best at the end of the year (you’d need some system to let me mark them in my account online as I read them, for future inclusion). I would gladly do that rather than pay for a subscription; I’m much more likely to keep an anthology and return to it, particularly if it contained only the stories I loved best, and I don’t like to pay for things I’m not going to keep and use again. I have limited space and dislike having to keep entire issues for the few stories I love–let alone paying that much for the flimsy format of a magazine, the difficulty in quickly figuring out which issue contains the stories I want (I seldom want to reread the whole thing), etc.

    # Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?
    Maybe. I’d have to love a significant percentage of the content included in that issue.

    # 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?
    I’d love to pay to get a trade paperback of just those stories.

    # Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?
    No. However, when I do pay for short fiction, I prefer to have it in trade paperback format–I buy a LOT of anthologies and single-author collections. Magazines are usually too much of a mixed bag and the format is way too fragile for my tastes.

  23. FS on September 5th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?
    – Yes. I feel inclined to support outlets that put out the kind of material I want to read, in terms of quality and taste.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?
    – Yes, I subscribed to the New Yorker. Admittedly it wasn’t just for the fiction–they don’t have enough per issue to make it worthwhile for that reason alone, but the overall quality of what I was reading online favorably impressed me. They post most, if not all, of their magazine content on their web site for free. (I know, it’s probably nowhere near the same target market.)

    * 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?
    – No, not to read them online. I might buy a special edition or something, but to be honest, I’m not particularly driven by awards, etc.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?
    -No. If anything, it has made me more inclined to pay for it. Quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, and for myself, I find that publishers provide a filter that saves me time and energy sifting through the exponentially increasing online offerings. What sells me on a particular publication is also the personality of that publication, which is in large part due to its editors.

  24. FS on September 5th, 2008

    Sorry, I forgot to include my age in the previous comment. I’m 31.

  25. Glenn H on September 5th, 2008

    On the subject but off the wall. How about give the first half of the story free but sell the other half for I don’t know-whatever. Stop it right when it gets nice and juicy. I think you should try it for a great story just to test on an experimental sister site. To read the rest of the story click the Paypal here. Would it work or make people mad? Maybe state FREE introduction of a great new story, if they like it they can support the author and publisher.

  26. Dave A on September 18th, 2008

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece? — Finding the free content on the F&SF site inspired me to subscribe and start buying back issues.

    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site? — Yes, See Above.

    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? — No.

    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction? — Again, see # 1.

    I’m 55.

  27. ET on September 25th, 2008

    Hi, Gordon. Some thoughts about this instead of directly answering your questions.

    Perhaps I’d better address free stuff in general, novels in particular, since I have more of what to base my observation compared to just short stories.

    First of all, when it comes to reading, I don’t like reading fiction online, but if the story or book is downloadable, I’d read it. I have several devices which can let me read e-books. I buy e-books (have done so at Fictionwise and Baen), and get them for free when I can.

    To me, getting books for free increases my awareness of the author and the store, and to a much lesser extent the publisher. If the publisher has an online store (Baen for example), that’s a win for the publisher.

    Making available free books doesn’t really hurt, the way I see it, but limiting what is available is a good idea. Baen has allowed making most (all?) of the Honor Harrington series available online. Had only the first book or two been made available, I might have bought the next ones. Since I got tired of the series around book 4, I didn’t buy any of these books, which IMO is a loss to Baen.

    I’m not sure whether the large number of free products results in a loss of sales. A lot of free stuff isn’t high quality enough to become a replacement source for content. I will make do with free stuff only in fields I’m unlikely to buy products (such as roleplaying games, in which I have only superficial interest right now). For novels, I’ve shifted somewhat from buying in stores to buying online, but except for cases like the above, I’d say that free books haven’t greatly changed how much I buy. (Though reduction in free time has had an effect.)

    I also don’t distinguish that much between free and low cost. There’s a difference, of course, in that I’ll take whatever is given to me for free, and won’t buy all that’s cheap, but if I’m offered something I perceive as good value, I’d buy it. I typically expect e-books to cost considerably less than print books for me to consider them good value.

    Considering this, regarding the Hugo and Nebula nominations, I think that I would consider buying them if they were offered as a downloadable collection for a low price (I wouldn’t pay for an online-only version). However, for me they fall into the same category as roleplaying material, so that’d have to seem particularly good value.

  28. Cat Sparks on October 12th, 2008

    There is so much high quality short fiction available right now, both in print and electronic form, that I feel utterly swamped and spoiled for choice. I like Jonathan’s suggestion of being able to buy a single story from a magazine the same way we download a single song from itunes. That way I could keep abreast of favourite authors and stories attracting particular attention. I would support a publisher who’d let me cherry pick like that.

  29. ET on October 18th, 2008

    Just wanted to add an example from another field.

    Game publisher Midway has recently made several back catalogue games available for free download. Each of the file names begins with “midway”, which made sure I didn’t forget. After the third such game was made available, I looked at the publisher’s site.

    Before that, I was not aware of Midway. They’re a small publisher, and though they published Unreal Tournament 3, a high profile game, I never even knew that. So giving away these games definitely increased my awareness of Midway, plus it engendered some good vibes towards it. No immediate financial reward in it, but considering they’re selling on their site old arcade games like Gauntlet II in packs of 3 for $5, they might get some money from me.

  30. David Smith on October 26th, 2008

    * When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the
    publisher of the piece?

    Absolutely – yes. Its always better to read a real magazine (i.e print) or a real book.
    Of course this raises the issue about what makes a ‘real’ magazine. Basically for
    me a magazine has an engaged community – not just a monthly collection of
    short stories. The editors ; publishes; writers; columnists, readers presence is what
    matters and what makes the difference – of course original stories help too. It has been
    said by our esteemed editor that stories are generally only read once. Well thats
    certainly not true of Analog SF – they have been publishing the same story for 75 years.

    * Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story
    you read on their site?

    yes – to be honest only political magazines. there are relatively few online
    sf magazines – i would buy interzone if i could get it delivered here (online is
    the only way i can keep in touch with the magazine). generally it can be
    harder than it should be to subscribe to sf magazines and get them delivered.

    * 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?

    I think F & SF would do better to have tiered subscriptions (mag only; mag + full web content) – so that long term subscribers get some reward.

    * Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to
    pay for short fiction?

    No- i think sf and f and sf has to address underlying topics that matter. Readers
    – well… human beings like to belong to something. F & SF needs to be more of a
    magazine and less of a monthly erudite collection of stories.

    Thanks for inviting comments Gordon – Ive done my best to be constructive (hoever it reads! )

    David

  31. Karl Ruben on October 28th, 2008

    1. I always feel inclined to support the writer of the piece – the desire to support the venue/publisher is contingent on whether they present a product that catches my interest. I’m sorry to say that I seldom make the effort to PayPal a dollar or two into a tip jar; but stories on places like Clarkesworld, your site, or Electric Velocipede, where they’re representing a desirable end product (Clarkesworld’s anthology, F&SF, EV), a good story makes it much more likely that I order a book or a subscription.

    2. Yes.

    3. No. However, a PDF/ebook anthology of the year’s award nominated from F&SF, like John Klima suggested, would be interesting.

    4. Absolutely, most emphatically not. The opposite, definitely!

  32. Laura on November 27th, 2008

    1. When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece? No. I feel that they put it out there for free, so they aren’t expecting compensation.

    2. Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site? Absolutely I have. I find most of the free content I read online to be inferior, and even some published work in my opinion is not great. If I read something I think is amazing, I would definately subscribe to the magazine in hopes of reading more fine work.

    3. 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? Depends on the price. I wouldn’t pay the cost of the entire issue to read just one story.

    4. Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction? I do a lot more searching, reading free stuff online trying desperately trying to find something worth my time. But, I am more likely to find something great which then motivates me to pay. Without the option of looking, I have become reluctant to pay because I am most often disappointed.

    I like to keep books I like and short fiction as well. I read them again and again. I will admit I get all my news online, and don’t subscribe to a newspaper. I have different feelings towards my fiction. I like to have it. I like to lend it to others. I find the story often changes with each reading and I take away something new. .

    Oh, and I’m 30.

  33. rreugen on February 27th, 2009

    When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?

    Sort of.
    I always click on the ads, because I read that this is a way for an online publisher to get revenue.

    Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?

    Again, sort of.
    The reason for subscribing to F&SF for me was that I discovered how the editor’s selection of stories was much to my taste. I discovered that by following the TOC’s published on the website, reading free online stories and stories selected in anthologies.

    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?

    No.

    Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?

    No.
    I would like to see F&SF go online and like it even more with a print-on-demand option. I would like to be able to pay for individual stories.
    I would like to see a nice, serious online magazine that uses the medium at it’s best, not like the e-zines of today which only try to copy the looks of the print mags.

    And, Gordon, to point to Scalzi that those who read the story on his site are not paying costumers is a little unfair in my opinion.
    They are paying costumers. My Internet sub is more expensive then the sub to F&SF. And by clicking pages and ads on websites, I redirect some of those money MYSELF to the authors/publishers I want.

    I think that the Internet Free Fiction lacks in quality, generally speaking. And I think some of it it’s your fault, actually. You are a good editor, a serious publisher and the owner of one of the most valued and respected magazines of the genre. If you would start publishing online more, with the same respect for quality and literature that you show to the print magazine, it would set a quality benchmark that is sorely needed.
    I think tor.com tries for that, and you can see how important that site had become.

  34. Harvey Wartosky on June 7th, 2009

    Gordon,

    I have been a subscriber since 1957 and am now a lifetime subscriber. I have read every issue cover to cover including the 1949 first issue that I located in a dusty used book store in Cincinnati.

    I unconditionally approve of your print publishing style and enjoy the tactile experience. I like to move from one room to another or outdoors without lugging some apparatus.

    Only one recommenddation, The reprint of the Robert Block story, The Hell-Bound Train, was wonderful. I would like to see in each issue a classic story that you choose, Nebula winner or not, in each issue. Select from some of the great names like Kuttner, Blish, Vance, Zelazny. The list goes on.

    Thank you for making my life richer.

  35. Brianna Harris on August 5th, 2009

    Personally I think you made a very good choice when you asked everyone to give their ages when replying to this post. I am 24 years old currently and I know that my reply today and my reply five years ago are very different.

    When I was still in my teens I had very limited funding to spend on things like magazine subscriptions no matter how much I liked the material. No, make that no matter how much I loved the material. Whenever I could find something free online that was of quality, I would eat it up –almost literally devouring those few precious tidbits of prose. Sure, I would have loved it if I could buy it, but it wasn’t even a possibility for me back then. I was very grateful. It helped to keep me hooked on certain websites/Authors. But I couldn’t pay for it. Not then.

    Now however I have a steady job with a good income. My situation has changed drastically, and I think there is no doubt that I would subscribe to a magazine based on one good story that I was able to read online for free. Of course my continuation of that subscription would depend entirely on the rest of the content I found there once I made my initial investment.

    This isn’t only true of free content online however. If I am at Borders browsing through magazines and happen to read an intriguing story in one of them while waiting for my coffee, I am very likely to bring that magazine home with me.

    On a similar line, I hate to buy books and magazines online if I cannot read something of what is inside. I have no idea if I am wasting money on something I am not interested in.

    This reluctance to buy unknown material is something that has obviously come to the attention of Amazon and other locations (ie: Audible). Consider the Kindle (Electronic Reader). When creating their online bookstore for the Kindle they made sure that everyone could download and read one full chapter of the book they wanted before they actually made the purchase. This is also a method used on their main website where you can “preview” books. I am not sure of the exact statistics, but I am guessing that more of the pre-viewable books are sold on average.

    As for whether or not I would pay the full price of an issue for a single online story….the answer is no. Not for just one story that was originally part of a collection selling for the same price.

  36. Frances Grimble on October 23rd, 2009

    This is October 22–and I just received the April/May issue with your editorial on this blog. (It may be the fault of my local PO.) I don’t view this website often. So it seems a bit late to comment on your questionnaire, but I will anyway.

    I run a small press (books). My strong feeling is that free content absolutely, almost always, undermines paid content. And that this trend increases as time goes on and readers are more and more trained to expect publications free.

    But, my experience is that many if not most readers don’t admit that getting freebies does not make them buy more publications, at times and places when they think publishers are keeping tabs. They do not want publishers to stop posting free content on the grounds that it is not working as marketing. It is easy for readers to claim that free content makes them pay for more fiction, but publishers have to see whether their numbers are actually working that way.

    Most readers who have no connection with publishing, are clueless about all the editorial and production stages that take place between submission by the author and the printing of the publication. They see publishers as unncessary middlemen, and even as greedy profit takers. They have no idea of the necessity of distributors and wholesalers and if they even understand these exist, definitely see them as greedy profit takers. Their model is that publications should flow straight from the author to readers–at practically no cost because they think hardly any work is being done. They think fiction authors especially are writing primarily for fun and so can do perfectly well without being paid.

    I think publishers need to reverse this trend and reset expectations. By not giving away so many freebies, and by explaining to readers what goes into editing and producing publications and how readers benefit from those steps.

  37. nathaniel dortch on January 1st, 2011

    I have seen and read a lot of fantasy fiction novels and short stories and they all seems
    to based around the exact story lines and characters like harry potter style and with only
    british white actors and actress, just like the nardia series.

    And i have written good stories starring african american and asian characters and my
    co-workers and family and friends keep telling me, why don’t i try to get these stories
    out for our minority races, like the african american, hispanics and asian cultures.

    To see a different approach for our children and young adults to see that we exist
    in fantasy and imaginations fiction and quality stories also. by me nathan dortch.

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