Jul 17 2008 8:19pm

Forget Subscribing, Are You Even Reading Short Fiction?

So yesterday I asked people how many print genre magazines they subscribed to. The response, both in the comments and via the poll on my blog, indicate that most of you don't subscribe to very many magazines. Considering that for many years running, subscription numbers have been dropping, which leads to people crying out about the death of short fiction, it's not surprising that few of you are subscribers anywhere.

Electric Velocipede 14 cover For my part, subscription numbers have been growing, but my numbers are small enough to be inconsequential in the larger scheme of genre magazine publishing. And even with the growing subscription base, it's just barely keeping up with my increasing costs. Every year that I've published Electric Velocipede (that's the cover for the new issue on the left) has seen an increase in shipping costs. This year I've seen an increase of about 65% over last year in printing costs, and it's an increase of 100% from two years ago.

For me, gaining 20 - 30 new subscribers makes a big difference. For the Big Three science fiction magazines (Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction), 20 - 30 subscribers won't make a noticeable impact. Sure, they wouldn't turn them away, but . . .

On the same token, interest in online fiction is growing steadily. There are several online markets that pay professional rates. These same markets are garnering much the same interest from year's best anthologies as the larger newsstand magazines in terms of reprints and honorable mentions. The print magazines still hold an edge, but you have to consider that of the Big Three, Asimov's is the youngest publication at 31 years of age.

By contrast, high profile online markets like Strange Horizons or Clarkesworld Magazine have only been around since 2000 and 2006 respectively. The highest profile online market, Sci Fiction (the fiction won three Nebula Awards, a Theodore Sturgeon award, and editor Ellen Datlow won the Best Editor Hugo twice), was closed in 2005 by its parent company. Also, I think I need to make mention that should become a force in the online fiction market.

I'd rather read short fiction than novels any day. But that makes sense considering that I publish a magazine and edit anthologies. What about you? Do you read short fiction? Do you like it?

1. BruceB
I'm probably representative of a significant chunk of the sf/f/h readership in that I do read and like a lot of short sf, but what I like doesn't match up well enough with any magazine's selections to make a subscription feel like a good deal. Looking at my shelves, I see single-author collections outweighing the collections; the collections are pretty much all edited by Dozois, Datlow & Windling, Jones, Pelan, or Hartwell. This changed some in the years I was regularly going to cons, because I could browse at publishers' tables; for some reason perusing samples online doesn't have the same oopmph when it comes to getting me to buy.

I genuinely regret not being able to better articulate my criteria, so as to either help out someone interested in satisfying them or discovering that someone already is.
Arachne Jericho
2. arachnejericho
I like short fiction. It's just really hard to buy only the short fiction you like.

For instance, I totally will buy anthologies that are by one author I know. And if the intro to a short story is compelling enough, I'll take a chance on an author I don't know. But if I buy an anthology by various, I usually end up being displeased every single time. I'll like some stories, and love some stories, but the stories I hate don't leave great memories.

When I realized that I basically read SF&F for the times when Ted Chiang showed up, I started buying it in the store whenever "Ted Chiang" showed up on it... and let my subscription lapse.

I've got a Kindle, only had it a few days, but already the idea of being able to snatch any short story, individually, a la iTunes or eMusic, is very compelling. I don't mind paying for the stories, I'm not looking for a free ride for fiction anymore than I look for a free ride with music. I have a choice---it isn't decided for me. And I may make bad choices. Such is life. Unfortunately, that market does not yet exist, though the niche does.

This is all possibly hypocritical of me to say. You know how it is. You *should* buy anthologies, and you *should* buy magazines, and you *should* subscribe if you want to be a good SF citizen. But I'm afraid I'm a horrible SF citizen that way....
Irene Gallo
3. Irene
Mary Rickert's Map of Dreams is fantastic. One of the few story collections I've read cover to cover. I discovered her through Fantasy and Science Fiction and have felt indebted to Gordon and John ever since.
Joe Sherry
4. jsherry
I much prefer (overall) to read novels, but I definitely like a good short story. I love Awards time for that reason, it gets more authors in front of my face and free stories from professional publications.

My budget is tight, though, so while I can borrow most any book I want from my local library, it's not going to help me read Realms of Fantasy or Analog (for example), or find EV or Weird Tales. I frequently don't have the spare cash to subscribe and sometimes I'm short on being able to purchase single issues (more expensive, I know, but if you only have $4 at a time...)

I really like the free online mags (Subterranean most of all, but Chizine and Clarkesworld, too), but sometimes I forget the new stories and since I don't read online as much as I used to, I'm missing on them...and Subterranean introduced me to both Lucius Shepard and Joe Lansdale.
Joe Sherry
5. jsherry
Oh, I do read some anthologies and short story collections. I try for 10 of each a year.
John Ward
6. jlward
I love buying anthologies.

Sure, it's kind of like buying a pig in a poke, but I've been able to find several new authors whose work I now follow as a result of taking a chance.
Soon Lee
7. SoonLee
I read both short stories & novels. They fulfill different niches; more characterisation in a novel, more experimentation in short stories. And for different moods too: do I feel like a short read or do I want to get stuck into a chunky novel?
Soon Lee
8. SoonLee
There are also writers who are better at (or write exclusively) either novels or short stories. I'd hate to miss out on e.g. Ted Chiang's stories just because I didn't read short stories.
Benedict Leigh
9. Benedict_Leigh
I like short stories - but don't like the form factor of magazines. I buy anthologies, and also read ebooks (e-magazines, if that's a word?).

There are writers I'd buy a magazine for (Chaing, Bujold, Schroeder, etc) but mostly it would just gather dust. I also hate (even if I understand the commercial reasons for it) the practice of multipart stories split between issues.

I like the idea of an itunes for short stories, especially if combined with recommendations etc.

On a technical note - a lot of the comments on this page seem flagged to me (although I didn't flag them).
Laurie Ashton
10. LMAshton
I read mostly novels as that's what I enjoy. But I should note that I usually go through 2 novels a week, more or less, so thicker novels give me more reading time, which is important from the point of view of running out of available reading material. However, the husband has a lot of pre-wedding anthologies that I've been making my way through here and there, and while I enjoy them, short stories end too soon for me and the disjointed styles from one story/author to the next isn't as easy reading as a good novel for me.

On the other hand, short story collections by a single author or set in a single universe is equally as enjoyable to me as a novel, probably because I don't have to gear up for a totally different style or universe every ten or twenty pages or so.

Having said all that, I also know that my brain doesn't work the same way that everyone else's does.
Martin Sutherland
11. sunpig
The less free time I have, the less likely I am to read short fiction. I think it's probably because picking up a magazine with many stories in many styles involves a certain amount of experimentation, when I am looking for something a bit safer. When I find a story I enjoy, I want to stay involved with it for longer.

As LMAshton notes above, short stories end quickly. Jumping from one to another is a kind of task switching, which involves some cognitive overhead. In that sense, reading short fiction can be seen as a more active process than reading novels. (And potentially more tiring when one just wants to relax.)
John Klima
12. john_klima
Whew! Lots of things to consider here. I have to agree with the sentiments of a magazine's contents not matching my reading tastes, i.e., finding only one story an issue that I really like. It would almost be like buying a book and only enjoying one chapter; you'd be really cheesed off by that.

You won't be surprised to hear that I feel there's a whole new post (or posts) that can come from that.

@sunpig I have the opposite feeling. The less free time I have, and I don't have much, the more likely it is that I'll read short fiction as I can actually complete a whole story in one sitting.

Novels are very hard for me to read these days as I tend to have the 30 minutes during my lunch as reading time and nothing else. Big, thick novels are practically impossible for me to read.

I was about 100 pages into ACACIA when I had to return it to the library (after a renewal) because it was so rich and dense I just could not read it any quicker. That's why I often end up reading young adult or noirish mystery novels.
13. paulw
I've been reading a bunch of old short stuff in digital form lately, thanks to gutenberg. I think it's a good form for all those little bits of time, but I'm not sure about the business model. (In a way this goes back to the rereading discussion -- how much would people be willing to pay for something that gives them a single 10-20 minute period of enjoyment?)
Arachne Jericho
14. arachnejericho
Re: paying for something of 10-20 minutes of enjoyment.

A short story can be re-readable. People seem willing to pay around $1 for 20 minutes of entertainment. Is it enough? Dunno.

Then again, how much would people really pay for one song? Around $1 or so. Is it enough? Apparently.

People are lazy. Most of us would rather pay $1 than hunt and convert Project Gutenberg text without nice formatting; or $1 than trying to hunt down a song we like across the music sharing networks that is actually at a decent encoding/bit rate. Many of us would rather pay 10 cents to automatically whispernet something onto the Kindle than convert for free and then upload over USB.

Never underestimate lazy + official source looks/sounds good and is easy to find.

Yeah, yeah, consumerism, blah blah etc.
Francis Turner
15. FrancisT
I'm reading less and less. I thought having a Cybook and using while traveling would get me back to reading short fiction but it hasn't. I find myself just reading novels anyway.
Mary Aileen Buss
16. maryaileen
I generally dislike short stories. There are exceptions, of course (there are always exceptions). If it's an author I know and like, especially if it's connected to the 'world' of their novels, I'll read it and often enough enjoy it. But a short story by itself usually isn't enough to satisfy me.

I get almost all my short stories from anthologies checked out of the public library. I only pick them up if there are one or more stories by familiar, well-liked authors; often I just read those and skip the rest.

I used to read more short stories, but the return on investment (of time) isn't high enough for me.

So I'm not the target audience of magazines.
Soon Lee
17. SoonLee
The less time I have, the more I'm inclined to read a short story; less commitment.

And more & more, I'm avoiding big fat multi-book series. It's a huge commitment of my time & for most part, very few writers are worth that.
paul wallich
18. paulw
I don't know if a buck is the right price point for 10-20 minutes. A book that costs $6-7 in paperback is 2-10 hours, depending. A two-hour movie is $10 plus extras first-run (but then the movie theaters aren't exactly doing great business) or a few bucks for rental. So unless you're targeting a market that doesn't care so much, or can peg each story as a special event, it looks like the going price for generic paid entertainment is more like $1-2 an hour. And unless you have access to a good cheap aggregated payment infrastructure (see Amazon or Itunes) you have an issue to deal with.

Not anywhere near insuperable, just an issue.
Laurie Ashton
19. LMAshton
Jumping from one to another is a kind of task switching, which involves some cognitive overhead. In that sense, reading short fiction can be seen as a more active process than reading novels. (And potentially more tiring when one just wants to relax.)
Exactly! Cognitive overhead, task switching, more active process... A much more succinct way of saying what I was trying to get across. Thank you! :)
Jo Walton
21. bluejo
I buy Asimov's and F&SF on months when they have a Robert Reed story, or otherwise a story by an author whose stories I like. This works out to buying one or other of them most months. I buy them from the news-stand, it would defeat the object to subscribe.

I read them in the bath.

Short stories are just the right length for reading in the bath, and if I should happen to drop it in, well, it's only a magazine. (I haven't dropped one in, ever, and I've been doing this for years, so don't worry.)

I also read the Dozois Best Of, every year. I've been doing this for maybe twenty years.

And I read occasional short fiction online, but not all that much. I look at things if my friends link to them. I read all the Hugo nominees, before I voted. In theory short fiction online ought to appeal, but in practice it doesn't, somehow, for reasons I can't quite pin down. A new physical copy of an SF magazine has a candy-bar appeal that a new edition of an online magazine doesn't. Maybe it's because I can't read them in the bath?

(Disclosure -- I hardly ever write short stories, but all the ones I have ever sold have been to online magazines. This is largely because I am very lazy about printing things out to submit. But it means I'm thrilled online magazines exist, even when I mostly don't read them.)
Sherwood Smith
22. Sherwood
I like short fiction as well as long. However, over the years my habit has been to invest long chunks of time into novel reading, and stuff short work into fractured days with tiny bits of dead time, like standing in lines or waiting for an appointment.

What I find myself wanting is to listen to short work. I'm a couple of tech gear acquisitions away from that, but when I can, I plan to explore the various podcast sites.
Gary Gibson
23. garygibson
For me, short fiction was something I read a lot of during my twenties, but hardly since. I have about a hundred issues of Interzone, which I bought religiously through the Eighties. Same for Asimov's and one or two others. Not at all since then, partly because the stories in the magazines I'd previously favoured were starting to feel increasingly familiar.

I bought a Sony e-ink reader recently, which appears to have revived my interest somewhat. It's certainly cheaper to purchase, say, Asimov's online from time to time, but I've started looking at shorter work online otherwise since acquiring the ebook reader. But I'm definitely more of a novel-reader now.

I'm tempted to suggest people tend to read short fiction when they're younger, and round about the time they develop a strong interest in fiction. Over-familiarity might be one likely reason for a subsequent waning interest. Also, a lot of people who read a lot of short fiction in the first place tend to be people who also want to be writers. If people either get to the point where they decide they're not going to be writers or do in fact become published authors, perhaps it results in a waning of interest.
Fragano Ledgister
24. Fledgist
My wife and I subscribe to Asimov's, Analog (though I find both the editorials and the science fact columns increasingly far too preachy in a screechy sort of way), F & SF, Realms of Fantasys (just started that one), and Baen's Universe.

What I find myself doing is reading a lot of short stories in a gulp, in between novels.
A.R. Yngve
I used to read a lot more short fiction when I was younger, when -- irony! -- much fewer short SF stories were available.

Nowadays, the problem is the opposite: The amount of available short fiction -- in print, online, through -- is so huge it overwhelms me.

Too much choice and not enough time! What to do, what to do...?
John Klima
26. john_klima
The comment about enjoying short fiction earlier/younger intrigues me. I'm the opposite, as I've gotten older, I've enjoyed short fiction more and more, and I find novels very difficult to read.

Of course, I do have a young child, and dedicated reading time (for a novel) is difficult to come by.

And, this year I've probably read more novels and nonfiction than short fiction for the first time in eight years. I think I was suffering from a little burnout.

I think what you read is completely dependent on the type of time you have to devote to it. The thought above about short fiction not being the most relaxing reading is something to consider, too. I also think access has a lot to do with it.

When you can go into a bookstore or library and come out with SOMETHING to read, it's typically a novel. Much of the current short fiction, at least where print is concerned, is not available on any sort of newsstand, and that makes it hard for people to find.

Anyone want to volunteer and help me with distribution? :)
Sarah Edwards
27. sarahedwards
I love short fiction, but I can't read too much of it at once - it takes as much headspace for me to appreciate two short stories as it does a decent-length novel, although the novel takes longer to actually read. So, I seem to have developed a tradition of dedicating a year to a particular genre magazine. Two years ago I read everything on Strange Horizons; this year I have an Asimov's subscription. But I'm also reading anthologies - I have Ekaterina Sedia's Paper Cities on my shelf right now.
Eoghann Irving
28. Eoghann
I'm primarily a novel reader. I like the longer form which allows more time to invest in the characters and their story.

The other problem I have is that short fiction tends to be more experimental and thus frequently less to my tastes anyway.

I feel like I should read more short stories, but I really don't have the free time for something that would be done out of a sense of obligation.
David Dyer-Bennet
29. dd-b
Huh; I have a strong impression that "anthology" is strongly preferred for groups of stories by different authors, and "collection" is strongly preferred for groups of stories by a single author.

And I cannot find a single online source suggesting this usage distinction.

I know I didn't imagine it.

Is this a genre usage, or somebodies personal quirk that I got infected with, or something nobody else in the world has ever heard of?
Debbie Moorhouse
30. GUDsqrl
Now, as I was going to say, before the site went down :D.

I love short fiction. It's my favourite form.

For my issue of GUD magazine (to be released shortly!), I evaluated nearly 1600 submissions, the majority of which were short fiction. So I think I can safely say I'm reading it ;D.

Apart from that, I buy every Dozois' Year's Best that comes my way, snap up anthologies and collections at every turn, and generally am never happier than when curled up with a book or magazine of short stories.

SCIFICTION is sadly missed, at least by me.

(oh, and I definitely think "anthology" is a selection of works by different authors, and "collection" is a body of work by a single author.)
Laurel Amberdine
31. amberdine
"I think what you read is completely dependent on the type of time you have to devote to it."

Agreed. I generally prefer novels, but once I start reading something, I rarely manage to stop to do anything else until I'm finished. So, short fiction is a lot safer when I'm supposed to be working!

Regardless of the time issues, though, I would read more short fiction if I found it more reliable. Back when I subscribed to several genre magazines, an annoying number of stories in every issue were depressing, disgusting, or made me go "huh??" once I reached the end. I am all for challenging fiction, but I'm still reading for relaxation and entertainment. I'm plenty capable of making myself depressed or confused, if I wanted that, without paying for it.

Novels rarely do that to me. (Or, at least, they give indication in the cover and/or opening of what to expect.)
Debbie Moorhouse
32. GUDsqrl
I don't think I've ever read anything more disgusting than a story in Interzone where the humanoid characters lived on...well, dinosaur products. Sheltered, me?
33. Matt Arnold
Most of the fiction I consume is in short form. I tend to listen to a lot of it on podcasts, because it fits into my drive time. For instance, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Drabblecast, Variant Frequencies, and 365 Tomorrows.

I tend more toward anthology purchases than novels. I love anthologies. No magazines though. Anthologies work better than a subscription commitment for me, because my periods of reading off of paper are intermittent. I then give the anthologies away on

I don't like clutter, and I perceive magazines as clutter.
Blue Tyson
34. BlueTyson

Most novels are average. in general I like short stories more. And that is 1-4 hours of ordinary, although the last time I read an 800 page book I don't remember - not really interested in spending that much time on one single story, in general.

One novel is likely to be ordinary - but in a decent anthology there will be good stuff.
Kevin Riggle
35. kevinr
I read a fair bit of short fiction, online and off. It's always been important to me -- Asimov's short fiction was one of my gateways into SF, when I was a kid -- and there are some authors (Asimov, Brin, Clarke) whose short fiction I like much better than their novels. They just tell better stories in that form, for me; other authors, their short stories leave me cold, but I love their novels; and some authors, I'll read in any form they write in.

In dead-tree form, I almost always read single-author collections -- the abovementioned three, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein. Occasionally I'll read a collection built around a strong theme, eg. there's a virtual reality collection I have that I rather like, but by in large single-author is key. I think some of it is consistency -- of tone, theme, setting, whatever -- and predictability, in that I'll probably enjoy any, say, Neil Gaiman short story I read, and I know I can go to a Neil Gaiman story or anthology when I'm hungry for the kind of thing Neil Gaiman might write. Sometimes I'll seek out a favorite author's work in the anthology it's first published in, because I just can't wait, but I don't tend to feel the need to do so. The Year's Best and so on anthologies almost always leave me cold, and anthologies built around as nebulous a topic as, say, hard SF tend to be too hit-or-miss to keep my interest. It's probably somewhat consistency and somewhat that I think Gardener Dozois and I have different tastes.

Online, Shadow Unit is the only written fiction I read consistently -- it's serial short fiction. Otherwise I'll read short stories that people mention favorably or that I run across which catch my interest (eg. the Stross story on the front page) or fanfic if I get a good rec from a friend. I read lots of webcomics, though, some of which are story-based and SFnal -- Freakangels and MegaTokyo, notably. Some of that is that they're less time committment than reading a short story, and some of that is that there are good tools to keep tabs on when they update (LJ feeds and I just haven't had a reason to find a bunch of online fiction sites I like, plug them into an RSS reader, and then remember to check it regularly yet -- sites which integrate into my existing toolchain, I'll keep visiting for longer.

So, I'd say short fiction isn't dying -- it's just finding new homes and forms.
Bruce Arthurs
36. bruce-arthurs
Print: Asimov's, Analog, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, occasional anthologies

Online: Irregular; I tend to mostly read short fiction online when I've heard someone else praising it, or an author I like mentioning it. So it's more individual stories rather than fiction websites. I've dipped into Strange Horizons, Subterranean, Helix, Clarkesworld and a few others, but I don't read any of them regularly.
Grant Stone
37. grant_stone
I read a lot of short fiction. Try and read a few anthologies every year and have a handful of magazine subscriptions, but they're expensive when you live down here at the bottom of the world. I still can't quite get used to reading online. I don't think this is reading of a screen - I spend all day in front of a computer after all. I think it's more about how easy it is to context switch into another browser window, IM, or some other distraction. When the Kindle finally reaches New Zealand I'll be first in line.

But these days, most of my short fiction consumption is via podcasts. I have to drive to work so reading's out. Escape Pod, PseudoPod, Podcastle are all excellent. And if you haven't checked out Starship Sofa you're missing a treat (and I'm not just saying that because I'm a volunteer there)
Jay Tomio
38. JayTomio
I read short-fiction almost exclusively when it's an author collection or if a story pertains to something of interest I read in novels a Martin or Erikson story or novella). Anthologies are such mixed bags these days that it hardly ever equals out in value IMHO.

I think the real problem for me is that short fiction readers are already 'heads' and thus a lot of the time the printed anthologies and collections are consisted mostly of rereads for them. For instance - sure, China Mieville was on fire at the time, but 'Looking for Jake' was a collection of mostly stuff I had already read. I'd wager to say if that collection was Bas-lag heavy new short stories you would have seen quite a bit more interest (not saying it didn't garner interest already - I would know the bottom line). There is not enough of giving people what they want in short fiction IMHO - and I know that very idea is a 'sin' to many a bit too deep in the sub-sub-sub-culture. It's not a question of this or that for me - but that there is only 'this'.

I think I have always appreciated stuff like Holly Phillips or Matthew Rossi collections because those books served as an intro to those writers for me. So basically it's a lot of retread for me even from the best and if you are a 'niche', small publisher you have to expect your readers are such fans and have read the content in previous publications. With Helio, anytime (with few exceptions) I received a fiction submission from a 'familiar' name it was a reprint opportunity (from a plankton in a big ocean perspective!)
Jeffrey Richard
39. neutronjockey
Without repeating what I said on your related post: I'm reading short fiction more and more. It wasn't until I gave writing short fiction a shot that I realized there was a lot more under the hood.

Short fiction writers, really good ones, make it look simple. So to return to that statement: yes, I probably read 2-3 shorts a day.

I'm not surprised to see an online trend in the short fiction market--- I would be surprised less to see magazines using electronic delivery as their primary format at using hands off POD technology (such as lulu or fictionwise etc) as their secondary modality of delivery.

Neil Clarke
40. Clarkesworld
I spend more time reading short fiction than novels. It's primarily a time thing and the switch happened right around the time we had kids. It's probably a 60-40 split right now. Previously it would have been about 40-60.
41. Nora
I'm "subscribed" to some online magazines, which is how I think of it. I pay $25/year in donations to STRANGE HORIZONS, which doesn't seem like too much to pay for a subscription to a mag that gives me new fiction every week. It's generally fiction I like, so it beats the percentage I get with print mags like F&SF, which give me only .5 stories I like per issue (basically a story every other issue). I'm told they've slightly altered their content lately, so I'll try reading again, but I was subscribed to F&SF for a year and thought it was a bad investment.

I'm also a subscriber ($5/month) to ESCAPE POD, a podcast 'zine, because I commute and their short stories are just about the length of my morning commute.

I don't yet have a Kindle or Sony eReader, but that's my next big purchase plan, and at that point I imagine I'll read more online fiction, because that'll make it more convenient for commuting. The print 'zines aren't -- like I said, the chance I'll find something I enjoy within one of them is slim. I'd rather download stuff story-by-story, and carry mostly stuff I know I'll enjoy.

I do still read REALMS OF FANTASY on occasion, but I don't subscribe -- I buy copies off the newsstand when I see a name on the cover that I'm interested in.
Debbie Moorhouse
42. GUDsqrl
See, that whole "buying off the newsstand" thing isn't much of an option here in the UK (unless there's a Borders near you), altho' I did once find a newsagents that sold Analog. It's subscribe (if you can) or do without. Hence the attraction of Year's Best anthologies.

On the shelves of WH Smiths (the big newspaper/magazine retailer over here), you'll find SFX and various tv-tie-in-fanzine type magazines, lots of Marvel comics, but no SFF short story magazines. Not a one.

At GUD, we've made the magazine available in print (which is our own preferred medium), .PDF and we've also made Issue 0 available for the Kindle--we're working on later issues too. We've even discussed marketing it as a CD on top. We're always open to suggestions :).
Paul Jessup
43. pauljessup
Last year I had a ton of subscriptions. Subscriptions to foreign magazines, ones close to home, ones that carried my short stories and ones that hadn't. Subscription to zines, to the big 3, to everything and anything I could my hands on.

I would jump for joy each time I got a magazine in the mail. Now, I've let a majority of my subscriptions lapse. Why? Most magazines aren't worth the money, sadly enough. I was finding fewer and fewer short stories I liked in the big 3. The zines had continually good content, each issue I would read from front to back and enjoy. But I'm still letting most of the lapse due to the fact that I'm reading more and more great fiction online.

It's a fact I'm not proud of. I love print, and I love getting stuff in the mail. Yet, each time I think about keeping a subscription to some magazine, even if they have great fiction, all I can think of is how I'm getting some great fiction for free, online....

And with the rising cost of postage, subscription rates are going up faster and faster. I love short fiction...but like I said, more and more of it I'm reading online or in collections and anthologies.
Debbie Moorhouse
44. GUDsqrl
So is paying to publish fiction and trying to recoup at least some of those costs by selling copies shortly going to be dead? Is all short fiction to be free? Are all writers of short stories to be hobbyists?

That's probably great for the readers. Not sure about the writers, tho!
Laurel Amberdine
45. amberdine
So is paying to publish fiction and trying to recoup at least some of those costs by selling copies shortly going to be dead? Is all short fiction to be free? Are all writers of short stories to be hobbyists?

That is an excellent question, Ms. Sqrl...

I imagine that well-edited, quality short fiction has enough appeal to draw potential customers to either commercial sites which display the stories, or to online magazines with ads. Even at a (snort) whopping 10-cents-a-word, paying writers is a pretty cheap way to get high quality content. So I think magazines can still be profitable, and writers will still get paid.

But, yeah, as more and more venues start giving away excellent fiction, it is going to be increasingly hard to charge for it.
Paul Jessup
46. pauljessup
Hobbyist? What?

Ok, if that's the case- then why are most of the newer ezines paying pro rates? Apex Digest, one I edit slush for, switched to online and is paying pro rates. Clarkesworld- paying a rate that beats the tar out of the big three. And there are more practically daily going online and paying five cents a word or MORE. And they have higher exposure than any magazine I've been in until now.

Don't get me wrong- I still like print mags. But more and more I'm finding that I'm turning online for my fiction. And I'm enjoying it. And it's making it very hard for me to keep on subscribing to print mags.
Paul Weimer
47. PrinceJvstin
I'm more parsimonious in my reading of short fiction than I used to be. I rely on anthologies, both original and "best of" to get a short fiction fix, rather than the magazines.

I've considered subscribing to Baen's Universe now and again, and I do follow "Shadow Unit", too. I don't like reading over-long text in an online format, though.

All this does, I realize, mean that I will necessarily miss stories I might like.
Jonathan Wood
48. JWood
My one subscription is to dear old EV. Partly it's because I already have way more stuff to read than time to read it. Partly it's because I think EV deserves the support, as it's putting out some of the best stuff I've read and there was subscription drive on. Partly it's because most of the good stuff is available for free online.

Normally, if I want to read a short, I'll print it off and read it on the train home. I'll also buy anthos. But magazines... they're rarely pleasant physical objects (at least I find), and, yeah, like I said, I can get stuff that's just as good for free.
Debbie Moorhouse
49. GUDsqrl
Honestly? I don't know how they're paying those rates. Maybe they'll come along and tell us :).

But there must be a reason why Fantasy Magazine, Night Train and Apex have all gone online-only in the not-so-recent past. Maybe they found they could afford the stories, but not the printing/distribution?
Corey Feldman
50. coreyjf
I enjoy short fiction, just like I enjoy a shrimp cocktail or pig in blanket. But at the end of the day, it is just not as satisfying as a full meal. A good short is like a tasty little snack, it is great when you are short on time and a nice supplement, but it couldn’t come close to sustaining my literary needs.
Michelle Muenzler
51. drachin8
I read short fiction. But I have to admit, until I started writing a couple of years ago, I let my short fiction passion of youth fall to the wayside. Part of that was because my brother was the one with the subscriptions, so I always read his magazines and never got in the habit of buying my own. Part of it was just forgetting what fun short fiction could be (sad, I know). I spent over half a decade buying mostly novels and a few anthologies, whatever I happened to run across in the bookstore that looked interesting.

Looking back, I missed out on a lot, but I'm not sure what would have bridged me from dependency on my brother's habits to my own. And it is pretty sad that it took writing shorts to get me back into reading them. Embarrassing, actually.
Jonathan Wood
52. JWood
I have to say, ditto on not reading short stories until I started writing them. Until then they were lost on me.
John Bastion
53. JustAnotherJohn
If we're talking the difference between what I BUY and what I READ... I read everything. But I don't BUY short stories, save for the VERY occasional collection by a favorite author.

Now, I READ quite a bit of short fiction online. But that's all free, I don't pay for any of those.
Neil Clarke
54. Clarkesworld
Honestly? I don't know how they're paying those rates. Maybe they'll come along and tell us :).

Clarkesworld Magazine pays ten cents per word. The money to cover this expense is generated from a variety of sources. In addition to the free online edition, fiction from each issue is also published in signed limited edition chapbooks and an annual anthology (Realms). We also take donations and use the ad blocks on the site to promote the books I publish through Wyrm Publishing.

I don't believe that any one of these revenue streams (on their own) is a reliable and sustainable method of generating the proper amount of money to fund an online magazine. This is especially true of donation and advertising-based models.

At present, we're completely ignoring the subscription model.

Hope that helps. I'd be happy to talk further about this in email if you like. There is enough to be said about this topic that could hijack the entire thread. :)
Fred Coppersmith
55. FCoppersmith
I definitely find I'm reading more short fiction than I used to, if only because I think it's easier to chart new developments in the field and sample new voices than with the larger-form works. Collections and anthologies offer some of this -- especially best-of-year reviews that do a lot of the heavy lifting for you -- but with arguably less variety and certainly less immediacy. I also think there's still a lot you can do with the short story that you just can't do with a novel; it's a very powerful form for a good writer and can be a rewarding experience for the reader.

That said, I don't have a lot of subscriptions -- and I sometimes worry that I've picked the absolute worst time to be running a zine of my own. (Certainly a print zine, at any rate.) In some ways, the problem is one of too much variety, too many options. Readership may be on a slow and steady decline, but I think it's tough to argue the same for the sheer number of venues for short stories. There's been an explosion of them, many offering quality work and paying professional rates. But where does the reader begin? Or find the time? And just how much is one willing to spend on the unknown quality that most of these venues (my own included) represent?
Debbie Moorhouse
56. GUDsqrl
Only here could that happen!

Thanks for the info. Certainly deserves its own thread :).
Alex Dally MacFarlane
57. Alex.Dally.MacFarlane
I definitely read and enjoy short fiction. It's a different form to novels. It can do different things. Interesting things. I'm subscribed only to 2 at the moment, I think: LCRW and EV. I buy others irregularly: Shimmer, Sybil's Garage, Flytrap, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov's, Postscripts, Interzone. I buy a reasonable number of anthologies and collections.

By contrast to Paul Jessup above, I find it hard to embrace online reading. I struggle to read a short story online (and the idea of me reading a whole novel on the screen is laughable). I need something in my hands, I need pages to turn. Scrolling the mouse isn't enough. It's a mix of being a fidgeter, finding screen-words less captivating of my short attention span than paper-words, and aesthetic preference. (Not that I dislike online fiction. It's just less enticing for me as a reader than it seems to be for others.)
Fred Coppersmith
58. FCoppersmith
You're not the only one. I spend a hefty chunk of my day sitting in front of a computer screen, either working or reading blogs and news, so when I reach for something to read, I usually want a physical object. This is why I find e-book readers so intriguing, but the hefty price tag has kept me from trying them out just yet.

Online, it's audio podcasts (Podcastle in particular) that get the most of my (admittedly limited) attention.
John Klima
59. john_klima
Whew! We sure have moved along to lots of different ideas. Don't worry, we'll be having MANY posts on the sustainability of short fiction, both print and online. I have lots of thoughts on the subject.

I was hoping to have a little more time before I had to bridge the subject. :)

So let's try to stay on whether or not you read short fiction, and watch the next couple days for when I post about the future of short fiction.
Debbie Moorhouse
60. GUDsqrl
Okay boss.

I feel much the same as ECoppersmith--I spend so much screen time reading slush, editing, copy-editing, proofing, reading for review, etc, that when I read for pleasure, I want a physical book, not another set of words on a screen. Changing to an actual book facilitates a change in approach, the turning off (hopefully) of the internal editor, and it's just so much easier and more comfortable. I can't imagine snuggling up in bed with my husband, our cat, and a computer. And as for e-readers...a book doesn't break if you drop it!
Shweta Narayan
61. Shweta-Narayan
I've been reading more short fiction as I've grown older, but I'm not sure it has much to do with age. More with the Datlow/Windling anthologies, which got me hooked.
Dan Bell
62. belldl
I primarily read fiction in three modes- short bursts on my phone (pdb format) when I have more than 30 seconds to kill when I'm out and about (and usually public domain stuff, but I just learned about FictionWise magazines so that might change).

Dead tree reading it's probably 70/30 novels over shorts. I religiously buy the Dozois (and non-genre 'Best American') collections, as well as collections which come out from favorite authors, or if I hear a good recommendation on one.

. . .and you didn't mention, but I'll also list that I buy about 4-5 comics a week. Half DC/Vertigo half indies, plus the occasional tpb compilation.

I don't think I have any innate preference between short and long forms - it's the story itself not the format which makes it good, but shorts are so often hit-or-miss, even if it is a favorite author.
Samantha Brandt
63. Talia
Someone recently bequeathed upon me 30 years worth of Analog magazine, so I've been doing a lot of short story reading recently.
Samantha Brandt
64. Talia
Hello, department of redundancy department.
Josh English
65. JoshEnglish
With gas prices hitting way-too-much a gallon, I can't afford to drive to work, so I listen to short fiction and other writing-related podcasts on the bus.

I only subscribe to one magazine, Analog, but listen to Escape Pod, Castlepod, Clone Pod, Writing Excuses, Slice of Sci Fi, and Starship Sofa. I would love to start a good science fiction novel podcast, but I haven't found one yet.

Five and a half hours a day on mass transit means at least one short story a day, and on that count I'm "reading" a lot more than I used to.
Samantha Brandt
66. Talia
Josh, check out Brave Men Run by Matt Selznick. Teenage protagonists, but a lot of fun. has quite a few very good sci fi titles as well (I'm currently enjoying Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell).
shawn j. bagley
67. lokilokust
personally, i tend to prefer short fiction to novels, often because there is much more room for experimentation in the short form.
Cormac Russell
68. retch
I read, and like, short fiction, but I don't really read Analog anymore, not even sure if we have an active subscription. At this point random short stories are too hit and miss, I mostly read them online when somebody I trust (Boing Boing for instance) points me to them, or when an author I like releases a book of short stories.
Jay Doyle
69. weateallthepies
I love short fiction and will generally read whatever I can get my hands on. Apart from Interzone I'll grab copies of Asimov's and Analog if I see them in Borders.

I buy the odd collection and I'm currently working through Harlan Ellison's huge doorstep of a collection which is superb even if I have read much of it already.

I read loads of the online mags but in random bursts of enthusiasm/spare time. I also listen to a few of the podcsats mentioned.

Biggest issue as with all my reading is finding time. I could include my family although my daughter might be a bit young for Ellison at 2 1/2 so I'll have to start her on something lighter. :)
Andreas Black
70. andreas_black
given that, these days, most my reading is at lunch, in the car (not while driving), or in a waiting room, um... waiting, I typically enjoy short fiction moreso than novels.

I have grown pickier as I get older. I used to read entire anthologies and magazines cover to cover. Now, I give up after a page or so if the story doesn't grab me.

When I do get to read novels, it's typically when I have more time on my hands.
Joe Sherry
71. jsherry
While I didn't subscribe like Paul (Jessup) did, I've found the online magazines far more appealing. It's as much accessibility as it is content (though, content is king). I can get to the new Subterranean or Apex (I'm glad the digest went online), and get the new stories and if there's a stinker, I'm not as disappointed as if I subscribed and didn't get a good issue.

I just need to break down and subscribe to Baen's Universe.

I have issues reading stories on screen, though, so I either copy the stories to word and print them out, or I copy them over and read them in smaller chunks during my lunch break at work. Despite the amount of time I'm willing to sit in front of a computer, I get distracted and just can't read all of a longer story in one sitting online.
MacAllister Stone
72. MacAllister
I'm the person behind Coyote Wild, and we don't deal with the subscription model at all, either. We also don't pay professional rates, though, which I'd like to remedy in the not-too-distant future.

I've loved short fiction pretty much since I started reading, and subscribe to several of the print magazines, as well as being a regular reader of many of the online 'zines.
Dave Bell
73. DaveBell
For me, a part of the problem is that I'm on the wrong continent. Thankfully, it has become enormously easier to subscribe to an American magazine, with the Internet and the development of a US banking system which didn't fall over at the sight of anything not a US dollar.

(I'm serious: I had to get a special sort of bank draft, "drawn in dollars on a US bank", the first couple of times I subscribed to ASF. Credit cards were still a little unusual back then.)

But the other side of all that is that it's like living in a dreafully tiny community in the middle of nowhere. If you want a magazine you have to commit to buying every issue, direct subscription or a standing order at the store.

My tastes changed. But there wasn't a way of experimenting, of trying a different magazine, short of that long-term commitment. I couldn't pick up a copy off the rack, glance at the contents, read the editor's little blurbs, and make a slightly-informed choice.

So I got out of the habit of short fiction.
Jeremy January
74. jhjanuary
I prefer short stories. I especially enjoy science fiction and fantasy in a short story format likely thanks to Neil Gaiman's books which have me scrounging up any short story I can find by the author. I do purchase Asimov's Science Fiction occasionally.
75. PamM
Yes, I read short fiction. Yes, I read a lot of it. I subscripe to or have subscriped to an average of ten various genre magazines each year over the past seven years. I buy other individual publications when I'm interested in the fiction the editors publish or when I am wanting to read stories by particular writers. I buy collections and anthologies. Although I do read a fair number of online stories, I do not read as completely in that area as I would like. This is mainly due to limiting or limited time spent in front of the computer. I have printed out fiction from online publications to read at a later date, but there is occasionally flaws in that method (cut off text). Very frustrating.

Why do I do this? Why do I read so much short fiction? I love good stories. I love the discovery. And, I'm curious. I like to know what is being published by who and where in genre. It's escapism and it's enjoyable.
Soon Lee
76. SoonLee
DaveBell, if you're on the wrong continent...

I'm in New Zealand where it's either online or subscription. We simply don't see any of the genre periodicals on our store shelves with any regularity.

The internet has been a real boon. It's allowed people in my situation to access works, to connect with like-minded fans and generally be part of the community with much greater ease.
Kelly McCullough
77. KellyMcCullough
I used to read a lot more than I do now, both novels and short stories. Twenty years ago the ratio was probably sixty percent novels, thirty percent short fiction, ten percent non-fiction. These days it's fifty percent novels, forty-nine percent non-fiction, and one percent short fiction.

Part of the change is simply that when I've got small chunks of time for reading I privilege the kind of non-fiction that I can use as fodder for my own writing over short fiction. Part of it is that as the years have gone by the short fiction that's being published in the field has been stuff that's of less and less interest to me. I'm not sure if that's because the short fiction I've picked up reads (to me) ever more and more like writers writing for writers at the expense of accessibility, or because I've changed such that the short length just doesn't hit my story buttons any more.
Sandi Kallas
78. Sandikal
Earlier this year, I realized that I missed reading short fiction. Every once in a while, I'd see a link to a short story and would really enjoy it. I considered subscribing to one of the magazines, but they were too expensive. I got the 23rd edition of Dozois' science fiction anthology and found it hit or miss. The thing is, I love reading full-length novels.

Recently, I've discovered podcasts. It's a great way to get my short story fix. I listen to Clonepod, Escape Pod, Pod Castle and Starship Sofa. I can listen while doing other things. My house is getting clean and I still have time to read books.
79. Drake Koefoed
I wish someone would pay even just a little bit to hear about the Cats of Eternity, and Admiral Jessica Trayne.

I don't have much interest in doing a novel length work, because if you can do it in a few words, why would you want to use many?

EL-T, the reconstructed Sabercat, sends y'all a rowl.
Gary Gibson
80. garygibson
I said either here or on another of John's entries that I didn't read short fiction any more. I take it back; I'm reading a lot since I recently got an ebook reader. Not only is it easy to get hold of books that would otherwise be out of my reach both physically and financially (I'm currently staying in Taiwan), they not infrequently cost less than they would in the paper editions back home. This is particularly true of many anthologies and fiction collections. So I'm a reborn short fiction reader.

There's a potentially very positive aspect to ebooks in relation to short fiction. Publishers rarely produce collections of short fiction in meaningful numbers any more because they long ago ceased to be cost-effective; much of my early reading was done through the medium of collections by well-known sf authors that would be deemed financially unworthy in the modern age.

Without the requirement for printing, binding and shipping, it would be nice to think that short fiction collections could achieve some kind of rebirth in the age of the ebook.

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