For quite a while there’s been a lot of hand wringing and finger pointing by fans of horror, fantasy, and science fiction concerning the waning fate of our short fiction print markets. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
Fortunately, I’m not writing this to rehash the decades-old argument of why the print markets are dying and how to save them. I’d like to discuss an emerging technology that might have a hand in deciding the future of our print short fiction publications.
Print on demand (POD) services are certainly not new, but the quality has improved greatly in recent years. The small press book publishing markets are going through a bit of revitalization thanks to the high quality physical product and decent price-per-unit offerings from places such as Lightning Source, Booksurge, and Lulu. Granted, the interior content is a mixed bag depending on the publisher, but I always tell people the small press market is like any other—be sure to do your research before you part ways with your money. Trust me, it doesn’t take much research to find out if a press is reputable.
That’s the book industry. Using print on demand technology for magazine production at a reasonable price has only recently made an appearance for all the publishing entrepreneurs out there in the world.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make while publishing Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest was ending its print run and making it digital only. I made the decision because I grew tired of dealing with the middle men of the industry—the distribution companies. I found them to have unreasonable practices regarding trying to sell a literary journal to the masses.
I was going along my merry way, publishing Apex Magazine as a digital zine, until my senior editor, Deb Taber, said “Hey, have you checked out this new MagCloud service?”
Deb is like a demon speaking through the mouth of an animal—when she speaks, you listen.
I checked out MagCloud, found them interesting. I dug around at other magazine POD services such as CreateSpace and Lulu, too. Let’s just say the urge to bring my beloved Apex back to print was too much.
I made the jump.
Eventually, I went with MagCloud. They charge a flat twenty cents per page to print your zine. But the twenty cents per page includes full color (exterior and interior) and an inexpensive shipping cost to customers (approximately $1.50 per copy). The user interface is so simple it’s ridiculous (you upload a print-ready PDF and you get an immediate preview proof along with a free printed proof). CreateSpace makes a really nice product (see Shock Totem), but their shipping costs were a turn off. Lulu also does nice work, but they’re way too expensive.
The July issue of Apex Magazine was the first for us using MagCloud. We ended up at 32 pages with an 8.5" x 11" trim size (about 25,000 words of content), so I had to set the magazine price to $8.00 in order to make any noteworthy profit.
How was the end product? It’s a really nice saddle-stitched full color magazine. MagCloud uses HP Indigo printers and the colors come out sharp and bright. The paper quality is high (80lb gloss). The magazine is shipped from the printer in a clear protective plastic bag.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with the physical product (naturally, the interior content rocks). Twenty cents a page is pricey no matter how you shake it, but I hope that if MagCloud gains in popularity, it’ll be able to bring down the price per page.
Final analysis? We’re still a few years away from magazine POD services making a real impact on our beloved print publications like book POD services have done for our books. In the meantime, it looks to provide a nice service to guys like me who simply have to see their publications in print and those readers who love the feel of paper underneath their fingertips.