Great Recession impacts SciFi magazine coverage

The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 has already begun driving many newspapers into failure. The book and magazine distribution company Anderson News was recently forced to suspend operations after popular science fiction magazines refused to pay an increased distribution fee.

Source Interlink (the power behind Anderson News) struck back at major publishers with a lawsuit. Source Interlink alleges rival companies are trying to ruin its business.

I don’t know who has said what to whom, but it seems to me that the traditional print news and magazine market is suffering serious losses in readership and advertising revenue. Sovereign Media recently suspended publication of Realms of Fantasy. SF Scope speculates on a possible revival of the magazine.

In another story about traditional SF print media, SF Scope reports that Walter Lapine, formerly of the defunct DNA Publications, is coming back to print media. Lapine even told SF Scope that his new venture, Print-on-Demand publisher Wilder Publications will be launching a new line of reprints for old science fiction titles.

Traditional journalism is collapsing at a pace that may destroy the industry, if not this year then perhaps within the next 10 years. Any traditional print publisher that relies on advertising revenues will find it hard to compete with online advertising venues.

Maybe a form of sponsored or subsidized print journalism and magazine publication will emerge from the chaos of current economic tribulations. Wealthy patrons may keep elite magazines alive for sentimental purposes, at least for a while. But it seems more likely to me that traditional publishers will have to find an online revenue model or go out of business.

Yahoo! could have helped these publishers monetize .PDF versions of their magazines and newspapers, but Yahoo! just discontinued its .PDF advertising program — the only one I am aware of. Of course, people can still use Yahoo! and Google (among other large advertising networks) to monetize their Web sites. Or they can send HTML-email newsletters to subscribers, embedding custom advertisements.

The science fiction and fantasy publishing industry have to compete with well-established, content-rich “fan” sites like IO9, Gateworld, TheOneRing.Net, and other mega sites that are able to convert massive numbers of pageviews into profitable advertising inventory. And then there are major online magazine sites like SciFi Wire. The window of opportunity is closing for publishers to build their online presence.

Even recent entrants to the traditional SF publishing field like SciFi Now Magazine are taking a huge risk by not offering their content online. You can buy print magazines online but you cannot read the stories. That is such 20th century-style thinking.

As more companies fail and go out of business, the few survivors may grow stronger — but ultimately the companies that build large online audiences will stand the best chance of succeeding in the long term. The best model may not yet exist, but without experimentation it’s almost certain that today’s SF publishers will be overshadowed by forward-looking publishers who bring fresh content to the Internet and monetize that.

SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.


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