Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Marketing the Big Three

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."


dave hutchinson said...

Sorry, I missed this earlier. That's an interesting set of thoughts, isn't it?
Particularly about the failure of marketing. And the Scalzi piece is interesting, too; I hadn't seen that before, or the Doctorow piece it links to. I'll have to sit down and think about those properly.

Lou Anders said...

Paolo has posted a fourth installment asking what type of magazine could appeal to teenaged girls. Which makes me recall that, a few months back, I saw a friend of mine and his (pre-teen) daughter in B&N. He told me she had to read Fahrenheit 451 for a school assignment. I said to her, "I am so sorry. It will bore you to death. Please don't think this is what I do for a living or that it's in anyway representative of our field," and I took her to a big freestanding display of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies books and said, "Here, read this instead."

I saw them a few months later, and she said she couldn't stand the Bradbury, but that she was on the 2nd or 3rd (I forget) Uglies book and loving it.

I think there are plenty of boys reading Uglies and girls playing Halo. It's just that Fahrenheit 451 is about a middle-aged man complaining that his wife watches too much soap opera, in which nothing at all happens and the one cool monster - the robot dog - never actually appears. My guess is that the world has crossed a technologically- inspired divide sometime in the last 5 years and that anyone coming of age on this side of it will have a hard time relating to golden age and golden age style SF&F, and that what is needed is 21st century fiction that can engage with the environment we find ourselves in today and which teenagers grew up with. I think Paolo's contention that we need to embrace gaming rather than shy away from it is probably spot on, though I don't quite know how to do that apart from tie-in novelizations (which I'm personally not ready to do with Pyr.)

And I still hold up Joel Shepherd as about as good as it gets when it comes to combining strong female protagonist, military SF, kick-ass action, and deep philosophical "what does it mean to be human" SF moments. Justina Robson does this very well, as well, and is probably the female-accessible counterpoint to Paolo's "Armored Magazine."

Blue Tyson said...

Do you mean gaming where the characters basically are doing that - e.g. Niven's Dream Park - but a 21st century version, as opposed to the more actually immersed in it for real tamer Cyberpunk like Tad Williams' Otherland, which has a bit of the gaming stuff as part of the story?

(all as different from Halo or Warhammer novels which are in the Game Worlds as real setting).

Lou Anders said...

Neither. I believe Paolo meant being sensitive to the type of storylines and thrills that gaming offers - he proposed a magazine that mixed military SF aimed at the same segment of the population that plays Halo 3 with gaming reviews and related features. He was talking about a specific demographic, one which he felt read the digest magazines in times past and now games.

Blue Tyson said...

Right, sorry I wasn't clear by the looks. What I was meaning was more about your 'not publishing tie-ins' - e.g. finding books that might appeal similarly.

The 12 year old me was definitely much more wanting to read Dream Park than Fahrenheit 451 (same goes for the now me I guess, too, seeing I still have the former. :) )