In science fiction circles, and especially amongst those of us who follow short fiction markets, the health of the fiction magazines is a perennial topic. Each year the magazines publish their circulation figures, and each year they seem to fall further and further.Â There was a blip in the ’90s when Science Fiction Age and Realms of Fantasy came along, but it firmly reestablished itself throughout this decade.
It seems, to me at least, that every year someone would say the death of the magazines, especially the ‘Big Three’ of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, was both imminent and inevitable.Â Yet whenever I speak to someone who works for the magazines they tell me that, although times were tough, things are never as bad as the doomsayers suggest and that the fundamental profitability of their business is sound.
Then, last year, the US Postal Service changed postal charges for magazines and newspapers.Â Suddenly costs went up significantly and everyone seemed to acknowledge that it had just become much more difficult to keep any kind of magazine alive and vital in the 21st Century.Â I’ve been waiting to see how this would affect the magazines, and that’s slowly become clearer.
First, in December, Asimov’s and Analog changed the dimensions of their issues, becoming slightly taller and slightly thinner.Â The amount of fiction published went down by a small amount, but presumably costs were saved. I have no idea how this affects the long term stability of these two worthy publications, but hopefully it’s a positive. There are occasional rumours, never founded in fact, that ultimately the owners of the two magazines will merge them, but given their distinctly different editorial stances and the distinctly different audiences they attract, we can only hope this will not happen.
And today Gordon Van Gelder, the editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, has announced that effective from the April/May issue the magazine will be going bimonthly.Â The new issues will be approximately 16 pages longer than their usual annual double issues, but will result in the magazine publishing about 10% less fiction than usual.Â Van Gelder’s announcement makes it clear that this should reposition the magazine to be stable and profitable into the future.
Whilst this is an enormous announcement, if it proves to be a successful change then it’s a welcome one.Â Van Gelder’s F&SFÂ is one of the best magazines we have and consistently publishes wonderful fiction.Â The magazine started life as a quarterly, before becoming bimontly in it’s second year of publication, then monthly the year after.Â It then moved to 11 issues per year a while back.Â Hopefully we’ll see this new bimonthly incarnation for some time. I certainly hope so, and will be renewing my own subscription when it falls due.