November 16th, 2005

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I hate insomnia

Every now and then, I am subject to bouts of insomnia. Usually, I am too exhausted for this to happen, but I caught up on some sleep this past weekend. _sigh_ I predict a rather unproductive day ahead, which is unfortunate, as there is much to accomplish.

I have an oven sitting in my basement, to replace the one that doesn't work. It has been sitting in my basement for close to a month now, since the morons Sears hired failed to come prepared and have not been seen since. OTOH, since their installation of our dishawasher destroyed the floor under the sink, this is no big loss. But it does mean I need to find time during the day to call a different plumber who can install my oven.

My office, however, is cleverly designed to thwart such things by introducing random calls and emails when I might have a coherent thought.

Which, oddly enough, brings up a conversation (if one can call it that) with Mabfan. I postulated that I don't care if magazines that publish short SF die as they don't suit my needs. Rather, I anticipate the development of new delivery systems and distribution models that do suit my needs. In particular, I want to wait until a trusted source has reviewed the story and recommended it, in which case I will buy it. The current system requires me to buy a magazine that bundles content and may, on average, produce one story every two months I find worth reading and one story every year that I would buy as a stand alone.

Mabfan responds that if everyone follows my thinking (and many do, as evidenced by the decline in magazine subscriptions) that this will destroy the environment necessary to create professional short fiction, as only the regular payment and distribution that comes from magazine publication can susatin the short fiction form.

But I don't believe this is true at all. To the contrary, I postulate that the development of new distribution models has the potential to increase the volume of professionally published science fiction by democratizing the publishing marketplace. As with so many models on the Internet, it relies on end user control.

The current model, which has not seriously changed since the beginning of the previous century, relies primarily on advertising and secondarily on subscriptions. It's flaw, however, is that it is based on the exercise of editorial judgment byt the magazine staff and relies on a passive user base. This is essentially the same model as commercial radio and television.

Enter the Internet and folks like Cory Doctorow. Suddenly, we have the ability to market directly to interested users. What is still developing, and will continue to develop for the next few years, is the way in which this content gets monetized. right now, many rely on author-direct-to-audience models. But there are other potential models. For example, aggregator sites that require a visitor to submit to certain forms of direct marketing surveys. My hypothetical company, Amogooglester, offers many different schemes. Authors can pay a modest fee to upload material, and will be paid for each user download. In exchange, I will use my knowledge of user habits to make recommendations to users for the type of fiction they like. I might even pay to have well known authors write for my site, or pay the succesful authors (or at least waive the fee) to increase my library of salable content. I will invite authors to link different content-media. Liked the 30-second flash cartoon? Buy the story behind it. I may negotiate for rights to well known SF commodities, such as Star Trek, and invite fanfic which I promise to market. Other possibilities will suggest themselves with some thought.

Whether any of these business models will work remains to be seen. But the fact that internet advertising has now matured so that Google, Yahoo, and others are profitable companies points the way. And while many authors might be daunted by the small rate of return or the odds against success, that same situation obtains in today's short fiction market. Many, many people write short stories for magazines in the hope of publication, despite the fact that even the best per word rate is exhorbitantly low as a source of revenue unless you really beleive you can publish enough to make it worthwhile. All it will take is one success story from an alternate model to inspire hundreds of imitators.

No, short fiction will survive. It is a very resliant form. The current distribution models will change, as they did when the economics of publishing changed to make pulp magazines profitable enterprises.

enough night ramblings.