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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-02-12 05:47
Subject: [writing] The state of the e-zine
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:thoughtful
Music:morning sounds
Tags:publishing, writing
Bloggasm has a fascinating (and well-researched) article on the state of the genre e-zine. Simon is essentially tackling the economic end of the Long Tail as it exists in publishing.

Me, I'm a big fan of the Long Tail. Essentially, by reducing or eliminating up-front capital investment (specifically at this point via e-publication and print-on-demand), publishing can take a lot more risks with theme, content, material, etc. That immense flexibility comes with the elimination of economic reward. Quite literally a case of "it takes money to make money." Work on the Long Tail doesn't get widespread distribution or promotion.

Obvious problems exist here. We're generally conditioned to production quality. Go look at any book from a New York trade house and compare it to a local independent. You can almost always spot the difference at a glance. Different production processes, different philosophy of cover design, a whole number of subtle cues. As publishing never developed a significant punk aesthetic (unlike, say, recording), those differences in packaging quality affect reader choice. If you want punk publishing, the zine world awaits you.

E-zines don't have quite the same issue with design, largely because there's not a well establishing professional aesthetic there. Such as that does exist, it is easily replicable by a competent Web designer with some graphic arts skills, much more so than in print design.

Another issue is editorial proxy. One of the things you buy when you pick up Analog or an Ellen Datlow edited anthology is a group of stories selected by an editor you trust. A random anthology, or a novel from an unknown independent publisher, doesn't have that trusted branding. It has to work harder to win you over.

Likewise e-zines. Some brands have been established. SCI FICTION, discussed extensively in the Bloggasm article, was a megabrand on the scene. Strange Horizons is powerful. Jim Baen's Universe leverages a publisher's brand to attract and secure readers. Others are a shot in the dark, until you see a review you trust, or a writer you like appearing there.

Simon's point was economic, not editorial. I'm more interested in the editorial end myself, but then I am not a publisher. I can cheerfully disregard the economics, at least until my favored markets threaten to evaporate. Still, at the bottom, how do you monetize something that most people perceive to be free, that moves at relatively small volumes? And without monetization, the writers don't get paid. That I cannot cheerfully ignore. I work for free from time to time, but this is a professional career.

Interesting problems, obscure solutions.
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oldcharliebrown
User: oldcharliebrown
Date: 2008-02-12 14:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think you can directly monterize short fiction, so much as treat it as a subcomponent of an entertainment vehicle, which brings in consumers. Leveraging that audience, whether it's for advertising, products, or something else, is the hardest part of all this.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-12 14:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Agreed. But what you're articulating strikes me as a monetization strategy that involves a wider play. This in turn pulls away from the notion of independent, high-risk publishing. A pretty paradox.
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oldcharliebrown
User: oldcharliebrown
Date: 2008-02-12 14:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Can you expand on the notion of independent, high-risk publishing, with regards to viable short fiction publishing models?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-12 15:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Can you expand on the notion of independent, high-risk publishing, with regards to viable short fiction publishing models?

Well, that's sort of my point. I don't yet see that there is one, and I'm not sure how there can be, given the volumes involved. Not unless consumer price resistance relaxes enormously. Which seems unlikely, to put it mildly.
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2008-02-12 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
He left out the two highest-paying online markets I'm aware of (since the demise of scifi.com): Jim Baen's Universe and [redacted because I'm not sure it's public yet -- major publisher, launching a blog/social networking/fiction site in the next month or so]. Both of which are effectively spin-offs of traditional book publishers looking for new ways of leveraging their relationship with their authors for publicity and marketing, and at least breaking even along the way.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-12 14:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm well aware of the [redaction] and the associated model. I'm not sure it counts, as that will not be an open market for a long time. Your point about JBU is certainly spot on.
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2008-02-12 15:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
how do you monetize something that most people perceive to be free, that moves at relatively small volumes?

I think it's important to have a variety of media to augment value. This is where I think Intergalactic Medicine Show succeeds-- in addition to speculative fiction, they have provided audio recordings, comics, and weighty essays in their for-a-price offerings.

They're also working to bridge the gap between virtual publishing and Real Life publishing by putting out an anthology of selected stories, due out from Tor in August.
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oldcharliebrown
User: oldcharliebrown
Date: 2008-02-12 16:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is probably one best way to do this, and one way that we'll be recouping expenses ourselves, though our annual budget is a bit easier to recover from, both for Clarkesworld Magazine and Fantasy Magazine (probably in 2009 or 2010). Baen has already issued its The Best of Jim Baen's Universe earlier in 2007, and it has another volume coming out later this year. Strange Horizons had a few volumes several years ago.
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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2008-02-12 23:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How is mainstrean different to SF or Fantasy? Is it merely setting?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-12 23:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Are you talking about genre tropes? (Trying to understand the intent of the question.)
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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2008-02-12 23:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suppose that would be it. A Mainstream fiction story as compared to a SpecFic. Is there a real difference in methodology other than the setting?

For some reason I've had the impression that a mainstream work is essentially a snapshot of a life situation. Now I am at a writing spot where I think I need to clarify.
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Jay Lake: writing-genre
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-12 23:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing-genre
Well, remember that genre is really a marketing artefact. That being said, the biggest difference is between First World and Second World assumptions. A genre story has to define everything, at least by implication. (Not on the page!)

For example, when John Updike says "Rabbit is rich," we all know he means someone named Rabbit is wealthy, either in money or in some metaphorical manner.

When a genre writer says "Rabbit is rich," "Rabbit" could be a person, an animal, a spaceship, a civilization, food; "rich" could be wealth, a state of humorousness, fuel/air mixture, fattiness of the sauce.

Mainstream fiction is anchored in the First World, and while mainstream often uses genre tropes, they are introduced as exceptions. (In a sense, this is how Magic Realism works, specifically -- introducing the fantastic into a set of First World expectations.)

Genre fiction uses those tropes as the default, and part of the process of the story is how explicitly those tropes are revealed or explored.

Does that help?

(FYI, this will grow to a larger, more complex blog post later...)
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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2008-02-12 23:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I believe it does.

A mainstream story would be composed in the same manner that a gerne story would be. The elements in genre that are accepted as a natural part of existance by the character would be the intrusive, probably unbelievable elements to the mainstream character.

Am I on the right path to deeper understanding?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-13 05:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Mmm, yes, I think so. I'm not sure this qualifies as deeper understanding, but you seem to have it.
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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2008-02-13 15:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Cool, and thanks! I'll be watching for your more in-depth post.

I also posed this question on my LJ. From the replies, it apparently is a touchy subject to some...

I can have fun with that, if I weren't looking to learn for a project and had an interest to play.
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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2008-02-13 03:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
...and I will read it eagerly!
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