Mary Robinette Kowal made a wonderful point on tonight’s Sofanauts. In a discussion on the iPhone as e-reader Mary argued that e-books and online ‘zines would not kill printed publications. But the publications that survive will be the ones who understand the value of the physical object they are producing. I could not agree more.
You do not have to look too far find people saying that the old digest magazines look ever more shabby and unappealing. Almost every element from the outdated cover art, through the cheap paper, poor layout and dull typography to the uninspiring format conspire to deter readers from valuing the object. Its an ethos from the days when a real readership for speculative fiction existed at newstands, train stations and drug stores. Whatever is left of that audience now read paperback novels, and readers who just want a quick fix of sf are soon going to have thousands of options on their digital device of choice.
The readership that remains for short speculative fiction is one that expects more. Or at least I do. I want amazing stories wrapped in amazing publications. I want illustrations as thoughtful and imaginative as Clarkesworld. I want design with the kookiness and humour of Electric Velocipede. I want bindings as well built as Postcripts. I want formats as crazy and experimental as McSweeney’s. I want it all…and I want it now! And of course I can have it, but I want more.
I’m certain there is a market for a super high production value periodical that combines top quality design with excellent storytelling. I’m willing to concede that such a publication would need considerable capital to set up, not least because it would need a substantial marketing campaign to establish a subscriber base. But I really have no doubt that such a magazine would not just capture a substantial part of the speculative fiction readership, but also capture a new audience who love spec fic but just don’t know it yet.
I hope some enterprising publisher steps up to the plate soon and knocks the short fiction publication ball out of the park, because I want to hold that magazine. And maybe read it as well.