My friend and exceptional writer Paolo Bacigalupi has posted three linked articles on the state of the "big three" science fiction digests and what can be done to boost their circulation numbers. I rarely just point and say "go," but in this instance, I will:
Science Fiction Magazines Part I - Why are the "Big Three" Dying?
Paolo says: "There’s been a fair amount of talk about the die-off in the short fiction magazine markets. Interestingly, this is often played as indicating their loss of relevance either generationally (sf market is aging) or else technologically (The internet is where it’s at! All else will crumble and fall before it!) or else in the business model - (free content will triumph over paid content). My perception however is that there are some specific things going on with the major sf magazines that heavily affect their success, and it doesn’t have much to do with the themes above. "
Science Fiction Magazines Part II - Marketing in Meatspace
Paolo says: "More than anything - more than changing demographics, or the advent of new technologies, or the rise of free content - I have a sense that the loss of sf readers for the 'big three' markets is actually a failure of marketing and core circulation management practices, not of the sf market as a whole. I just don’t see the big three doing a lot with their current subscriber base and I don't see them actively reaching out much. On one level this has to do with things like the appearance of their websites, whether they offer exciting subscription enticements, etc (which I'll go into later). But even more, it relates to how they use something decidedly unsexy: direct mail. ....Overall, I think the institutional barriers in the magazines may be significantly more problematic for them than the actual state of the SF market."
Science Fiction Magazines Part III - Online Marketing
Paolo says: "My sense of the online sphere is that it remains a place of opportunity rather than threat for a print magazine. Over time, this may change, but the internet provides the best place to attract pre-qualified subscribers, to build a relationship with them, and then to convert them to paying subscribers. Unlike direct mail, this is an area where initial sunk costs continue to pay off over time, and where simple changes can have positive ripple effects far down the line. It also seems like the barriers to change are fewer than in completely revamping the way they do direct mail."