Market Insights: Jonathan Laden, Daily Science Fiction
A guest blog? By me? You do know I haven’t sold a story since 2005, right? Ah, well.
In fact this invitation owes to Michele’s and my decision to start Daily Science Fiction, not to my own writing career. At www.dailysciencefiction.com, anyone who signs up will get a story delivered to their email every weekday. For free. We pay professional rates and serve up shorter pieces from Monday to Thursday, plus a longer story on Fridays to read over the weekend.
We aren’t insiders, but we aren’t oblivious either. We know that many members of the science fiction community aren’t asking “What inspired you?” Rather, they’d like to know what we were thinking. Or possibly what we were smoking.
Here’s the thing. We’ve been hearing SF’s most knowledgeable professionals decry the fading SF short story market for years (note that it’s not the quality of the fiction that most complain about, rather the shrinking reach of magazines and anthologies.) After extensive complaints, the experts usually conclude it all makes sense for many reasons, from the death of the niche newsstand and the small bookshop to the pervasity of video games to the incomprehensibility of true post-singularity societies.
That’s all been true, but it has also seemingly been true for decades that few publications have had the resources and/or the interest in a sustained period of investment for growth. Is harvesting a cash cow the cause or effect of a mature, declining market? I don’t know. It may be that the economics of dead-tree publications simply can’t work any more. (The evidence for that is widespread, from the sale of Newsweek for one dollar to Gourmet magazine’s demise with several hundred thousand paid subscribers.)
We do know there’s a great deal of wonderful fiction available, from bigger names and relative unknowns. We know there are readers out there… more people read more words today than ever before. We know that fantasy and science fiction is read voraciously by young adults, and that today’s parents are prouder than my own were when their children dive in.
We also know that forming a semi-pro zine and putting out an issue every six months did not fulfill our own need to create magazines. Fictitious Force lasted six issues and published some nice stories by some authors who have had some nice successes in the field, but it reached almost no one. Most of its authors don’t even remember it existed.
I was at a conference for my day job a couple of years ago where the speaker made a case that email delivery was the future for magazines. I don’t know if he was right, but it got me thinking about how wonderful it would be to get a story in my email every day. Michele and I got to work plotting how we could pull it off.
Now we’ve been putting out a new story every weekday since September first of 2010, upsetting some, and we believe, pleasing many more. Thanks to the novelty of our model, and the professional pay rate, we’re drawing a bunch of nice fiction from first-time authors and Hugo winners alike. (Check out our website for hours of reading fun.)
A (weekday) daily email is not a traditional magazine. It presents different challenges. Our first surprise was how much readers prefer short, flash length pieces in this format. Every time we publish longer pieces, even strong pieces by award-winning writers, we get feedback about how the story was too long. We believe that’s more comment on the dynamics of the medium than on the writers’ tales.
One other big difference is that email has very little staying power. That’s one reason why our stories will all be printed in an old-fashioned book as well as flitting out over the intertubes. (We wouldn’t mind covering some costs thereby as well, of course.)
A third difference is that our readers get only one story a day. Despite claims to the contrary, we don’t publish many more words than a traditional magazine, but it is only one story at a time. If a reader–or many more than one–doesn’t like that story, they can’t flip to something else to get the bad taste out of his or her mouth. It’s bad feelings for Daily Science Fiction for the next 24 hours. Ouch.
On the other hand, we meet readers where they are, we provide a short fiction break in an otherwise harried day for many, we make frequent contact, we’re easy to share and easy to tout. Best of all, the price is right: a subscription to Daily Science Fiction is free. Thanks to the lack of paper and postage costs, it will be for years to come.
Is Daily Science Fiction the wave of the future? One of many possible futures, we like to think. We hope you’ll participate in this future, with your readership and fiction submissions, as well as other visions presented by Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and others of our favorites.
Think I’m crazy? Tell me so in the comments. No one else has been shy.