I like short stories. I read them, and I write them. I grew up subscribing to and reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and a bunch of others, some genre, some not. And as I got older, I began to understand the financial tightrope that many of these independent periodicals walk — a tightrope funded by contributions, subscriptions, the occasional ad, and perhaps a second mortgage.
I also understood that any resource that makes it a bit easier for these pubs to find and keep readers — like the ability to gather subscribers through Amazon’s Kindle Periodicals program — can make all the difference in keeping the books (and their walk on that tightrope) balanced.
Until that resource goes away.
Last March, Amazon stated that it was dropping all of its print and Kindle magazine and newspaper subscriptions — a new policy that went into effect on September 4th this year. Since that announcement, independent publishers have been scrambling to figure out how to make up for the loss in income that would ensue when many of their subscribers would suddenly disappear. Subscribers who, according to Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld Magazine, could not be contacted directly and redirected to other subscription methods because “none of us know who these subscribers are.” Because they were subscribing through a third party: Amazon.
The result? A recent editorial in the August issue of Fantasy Magazine reads:
It is with real sadness that we have to announce that October 2023 will be our last issue. People will want to know why, of course, and the answer is the expected one: Unfortunately Fantasy never reached a point of paying for itself, and with the Kindle Periodicals mess it’s just not sustainable.
In other words, Fantasy Magazine fell off that tightrope.
It’s not all that surprising. As I mentioned above, many of the independent pubs that depended on Kindle Periodicals have loyal readerships, but compared to publications like The New York Times or even (dare I say it) The Verge, they have small staffs and even smaller budgets. Many are genre publications that sell to a specific audience: science fiction and fantasy, mystery, horror, romance, young adults, and so on. Under those conditions, if they can manage to break even after a couple of years, they’re doing very well.
So when today’s major retailer of reading material shrugs and says, “Hey, you’re on your own,” the tightrope begins to shake.
Some will regain their footing. A proportion, including Clarkesworld, has been invited to become part of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, where people pay a monthly fee for access to books and “select” magazine subscriptions. Although from some of the comments I’ve heard from magazine editors, even those who become part of Kindle Unlimited will not be seeing the same income as they did with straight subscriptions.
Others will simply have to try to convince their readers to subscribe directly via the publications’ websites or through lesser-known sites such as Weightless Books. That will be hard. Locus, which covers the science fiction / fantasy / horror market, quotes Lynne Thomas, the editor of Uncanny (which was not invited to be part of Kindle Unlimited), as saying, “This could not have come at a worse time for SFF periodicals, since so many of us are also weathering the storms of reduced advertising revenue and the possible death of Twitter, which is vital for crowdfunding projects.”
I’m aware that a lot of the people reading this don’t buy subscriptions to publications — they put up with ads (or use apps to eliminate the ads) instead so that they can read online without having to pay anything out of pocket. And hey — me, too! I read a lot of free stuff online, so yeah, I get it.
But if you’re someone who, like me, enjoys reading short stories, genre or not — and especially if you have a favorite publication — it may be a good idea to find out how they support themselves and do what you can to help them stay on that tightrope.