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The last ten days have seen, as they frequently do, a minor ripple go through the internet. Astonishingly though, this ripple has had nothing to do with Optimus Prime’s colour scheme or the latest chapter in the rolling fight between the Science Fiction Writers of America and, amusingly, several American science fiction writers.
No, this one hit closer to home. Specifically, this one was about science fiction magazine circulation. But don’t worry, those of you already skipping to the reviews, or the internet, or going to staple things to your forehead, this article ISN’T. At least, not directly.
Long story short, every year Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology runs the distribution numbers for Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Interzone and every year, frankly, it makes for pretty depressing reading. Numbers are down, in one case circulation has dropped by 13 PERCENT since the previous year and it’s hard not to look at those figures and feel like there’s little point in going on. If those figures are to be believed, we’re a dying breed, literally. Genre readers and writers are getting old and new people, according to those figures at any rate, aren’t coming in.
Comic author Warren Ellis dropped the pebble into the pond on this one, posting the figures up on his website early last week. Ellis is an agitator without peer a man who is fully prepared to throw a grenade into a room and then watch the results and this was no exception. Within days, several authors had broken cover and started discussing ways the figures could be raised, the magazines saved. Cory Doctorow, on boingboing.net went as far as effectively laying out a survival strategy that would not only put the magazines’ content in front of more people but raise their profile and bring them, from Doctorow’s point of view at least, into the closing decade of the 20th century. We live in a world where copyright is no longer mandatory, where podcasts (More on those in a moment) and rss feeds and pdfs can reach HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of readers and for magazines not to take advantage of that sort of technology, Doctorow argues, is not only foolish but potentially suicidal.
He’s hard to disagree with on this one too. Doctorow’s a passionate, articulate and phenomenally talented writer who has made his bones, by and large, by giving his books away. If you’ve not read his stuff, then beat a path to his website and start with Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom. One of the finest science fiction novels of the last twenty years and you can read it, for nothing, legally. Tens of thousands of people did and a lot of them went and bought it anyway.
But that’s a whole different ballgame. What these figures have shown, what the people who broke ranks to discuss them have demonstrated is that we live in a world where there is nothing BUT alternative content models, nothing BUT, to use a profoundly offensive phrase, paths to market. An author can build their fan ase without going NEAR a publisher at this point, and then, go to that publisher, or that magazine with thousands of people in tow.
It’s a point that John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades (Again, beat a path to this man’s door. The website will be at the bottom of the page) made later in the week. Scalzi steered the middle ground between Doctorow’s passionate triage and Ellis’ sniping by pointing out that of the last seven Campbell Award winners, precisely ONE was published in the ‘big three’ US magazines prior to winning the award. Scalzi’s point is both simple and devastatingly effective. Take a step back and it becomes clear that these magazines are just part of a larger picture, a richer, more vibrant and healthy picture than those sales figures ever begin to demonstrate.
Which brings us back to podcasting. I’m going to put my hands up here and say I’m a huge, huge podcast fan. I’m lucky enough to work for a podcast I’ve followed since the beginning (Pseudopod.org) and I’m a huge fan of authors like Scott Sigler, Matt Wallace (Again, Failed Cities Monologues is something you need in your life.), Matthew Wayne Selznick and many more. Every, single, one of these people have thousands of listeners, many are now making the jump to mainstream media (Wallace is screenwriting, Selznick’s first book is out with his second to follow, Sigler regularly dominates the Amazon pre-order charts) and they all, almost without exception have done it themselves.
And yet for many podcasting is still a dirty word. One of my abiding memories of the last year is the response several people had to the word ‘podcasting’ at a BFS meeting in London. Varying from disinterest to outright disdain, it was something which hadn’t seemed to register, a nebulous concept with nothing to back it up and a vague sense of the cheap and cheesy.
Tens of thousands of listeners. In some cases hundreds of thousands. A building block to a career, and all you need is dedication, the cost of website hosting and a thirty pound headset.
And that’s even before we get to livejournal, or the success of sites like 365tomorrows who do one flash piece a day and have done so for the last three years. There are as many ways to get your work out there now as there are authors and yes, all of them require application of effort, and yes, all of them require moving outside your comfort zone but IT’S TIME TO DO THAT.
We have never been in a better position than we are now. Genre fiction is mainstream fiction and anyone who argues that point clearly doesn’t own a TV. Lost and Heroes are the two most successful TV shows of the last four years, one a superhero series, the other a piece of philosophical science fiction/horror. Look at the critical success of graphic novels, of science fiction and fantasy movies (And dull as the SAW films may be, they take three times their budget every, single, time.) of the return of Doctor Who to the TV and it’s massive success. Look at Primeval, at Cape Wrath, Stephen Moffat’s Hyde, Jed Mercurio’s Frankenstein even the BBC’s Robin Hood. This is OUR time, WE are the mainstream now and there has never been a better time to take advantage of that fact.
So if you’ve got an idea, do it. Make a podcast, start an LJ novel, hell produce tiny pieces of fiction on twitter, I know people who do. Stop worrying about how small the campfires are getting and go and make one of your own. Because this is our time, our chance and we will never have a better opportunity than the one we have now.
www.warrenellis.com –Warren Ellis
www.boingboing.net – Rolling science culture blog to which Cory Doctorow contributes.
www.craphound.com Doctorow’s website
http://scalzi.com/whatever/ – John Scalzi’s blog
Authors http://www.scottsigler.net/ – Scott Sigler’s homepage. His new novel, NOCTURNAL, launches on Halloween.
http://matt-wallace.net/ – Matt Wallace’s homepage with a link to The Failed Cities Monologues, his superb piece of science fiction noir.
http://www.mattselznick.com – Matthew Wayne Selznick’s homepage
www.escapepod.org – Steve Eley’s science fiction anthology podcast
www.pseudopod.org – Its sister show Pseudopod, fronted by yours truly.
www.podcastle.org – The fantasy show, launching soon
Podcasting DIY – See Hub’s own podcast tutorial in issue 3 available from http://www.hub-mag.co.uk/backissues.html Audacity
audacity.sourceforge.net/ The industry standard audio utility. So easy even I can use it and available for both Mac and PC.
No headlines available for the last few issues, so feel free to drop some comments in here for all of them… 🙂
Hot on the heels of the Mike Carey interview a few week ago we have one with UK horror luminary, Shaun Hutson this week, as well as the usual mix of reviews and short fiction – a bit of a racy one this week, so hold on to your hat, grandma…
Much excitement here at Hub Towers as we publish a tale by one of my favourite writers, Mike Carey.
Also in this week’s issue, the first full-length prose work by another top-notch comic writer, Warren Ellis.
Another winning tale of hope and determination, a batch of reviews, and an interview with one of my favourite writers, Mike Carey.
With all this Ferrero Roche we are surely spoiling you…
Ten Thousand Spaceships, 1 library, a DVD, a book and a partridge in a pear tree…
you know the drill…
Tales of aliens, death and bloody big robots!
Leave your message after the beep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!
An excellent little piece of sci-fiction, along with a review of the latest Stephen King novel, and a DVD about a big hairy elephant…