Print may be dying all over, but is that any excuse to let science-fiction magazines retreat to the internet or non-existence? Of course not! Here's our five step guide on potential ways to save this venerable tradition.
It makes sense that we'd end up talking about sci-fi magazines during Bookvortex week; after all, sci-fi pulps and magazines are responsible for publishing the first published works by writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula Le Guin, as well as early work by Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, so it'd pretty hard to imagine science fiction without them. But, as Warren Ellis, amongst others, has pointed out, the magazines' audiences are shrinking, and their impact blunted. Instead of just surrendering to the inevitability of the death of print, though, we thought we'd offer some possible ways for the magazines to survive for a little while longer, at least...
Sell Out (1)
If Marvel Comics can manage to become the subject of a $4 billion buyout, then I can't help but feel that sf magazines have done something wrong to be facing extinction. But what is that something? It might be the lack of repeatable franchise characters; one-off stories don't necessarily scream "multi-movie possibilities" to lazy producers looking for the next Spider-Man or Batman, after all. But maybe the fault is that sf magazines aren't doing the screaming themselves. Superhero comics have ensured their immediate future by, whether intentionally or accidentally, turning themselves into idea farms for other media. Why can't SF magazines do the same thing? They may not own the IP of everything they publish, but they own the venue: Couldn't magazines survive by becoming, essentially, agents and talent scouts for television and movies as much as publishing venues in their own right?
Go Highbrow Fetish Object
Where is the science fiction McSweeneys? A magazine that changes format and size with each new issue so that every edition is constantly an event for more than just its content? Maybe that would be too much for some longtime collectors, but by making each issue more of a standalone book instead of "just another" edition, there's potential for luring in new readers, even if it's just on novelty value alone. And, let's face it: Shouldn't a science fiction magazine of all things try and look new and unexpected as often as possible?
Sell Out (2)
Saying something like "Finding alternate revenue streams" sounds a little too much like I know what I'm talking about, but let's ignore that for a second and ask: Why can't magazines like Asimov's and Analog leverage their brand into merchandise based on, for example, the amazing cover art from years gone by, and use that to fund the magazine? Why don't we see Interzone licensing its name to Syfy for some Twilight Zone-esque anthology (Or, getting back to comics for a second, a comic book version of the magazine and/or adaptations of some of the most famous stories in the magazine's history)? Are the magazines' histories really worth so little?
Embrace The Mainstream
Maybe this is just my experience and bias talking, but it seems to me that sci-fi literature - and especially sci-fi magazines - are content to stay within their existing niche market, head down and hope for the best. There's no advertising (Considering the likely cost, understandable), and seemingly no outreach to anyone who's not already aware of the existence of the magazines. Considering the mainstream success of SF movies or TV shows like FlashForward and Fringe (Both of which offer more esoteric science fiction ideas than, say, Heroes or V), this seems more than a little frustrating. Am I missing various online efforts to entice people to read The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction, or is there really no attempt being made to get the word out?
Four words: Megan Fox's Astounding Stories.
Like that wouldn't raise readership. Sadly.