ReaderCon Panel Recap: “The New And Improved Future of Magazines”

The first panel on Saturday that I attended was titled “The New and Improved Future of Magazines 2”, the second panel on the subject (the first, hosted on Friday afternoon, was one that I wasn’t able to attend). This one looked at the changing role of magazines in the internet and digital age.

As physical magazines have noted dropped subscription rates, there has been much attention paid towards online pro and semi-pro magazines available in a variety of formats. The panel, hosted by Robert Killheffer, and featured Sean Wallace, Leah Bobet, John Benson and John Joseph Adams, all with a fairly rich and varied background in the short fiction market.

The first point that was raised during the discussion was that good magazines required good editorial oversight regarding its selection of stories and authors in order to bring about a certain level of quality for the magazine or anthology as a whole. This, rather than the specific format in which the stories are released, is the more important factor in gaining readers and retaining them. John Joseph Adams, who’s edited several anthologies and is the current editor for Lightspeed Magazine noted that the distinction between a print story and something that can be read on multiple formats is a fairly meaningless distinction: readers want good stories.

One case in point is Lightspeed Magazine itself, which is available through several different means, free online, with audio components, and can be downloaded for the Kindle and ePub formats. Accessibility, Sean Wallace noted, regardless of format, is the future of short fiction. Maintaining a range of ways for readers to get the stories allows for a magazine to best supply content to a fairly saturated market of reader devices.

John Benson noted that the online market is an exciting one, although it has been around for a number of years at this point. Leah Bobet noted that one of the semi-pro magazines that she edits for has been using the internet for a while, and that while it is exciting, there are means in which this needs to be done, both in the format of the stories, but also the stories themselves.

One argument that was put forth was that print and online magazines don’t need to be enemies—they can complement one another, providing content in different ways. The traditional magazine market releases with a set schedule, as an interval, with all of their material and a lead time associated with that, while online sources (and non-fiction SFF sites as well) can release material far more often and keep people returning to the source.

A counter argument to all of that is that there is the potential for an entirely new style of storytelling. The current convention for this sort of thing is that the page on a screen is similar to a printed page, and as Leah Bobet noted, that doesn’t have to be the case considering all of the resources available to authors that can be used to enhance the story. Non-SF sources are undergoing the very same challenges, attempting to retain readers by adding in different types of content. While this is a possibility, John Joseph Adams noted, there’s still little market for it, and more of a market for the traditional style of stories. That might change, however, as audiences get mature and adapt to new tools with which to read.

Magazines, and by extension, short fiction, isn’t dead, and seems to be on a bit of a resurgence with digital mediums. At the end of the day, it’s the story that really counts, not the medium.

Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer, historian and longtime science fiction fan. He currently holds a master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, and has written for SF Signal and io9, as well as for his personal site, Worlds in a Grain of Sand. He currently lives in the green (or white, for most of the year) mountains of Vermont with a growing library of books and a girlfriend who tolerates them.


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