Preventing the end of times for SF/F magazines

A few weeks ago I mentioned that the New York Review of Science Fiction was in need of more subscribers. Now comes news that Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field, is in similar straights. According to Charles N. Brown's editorial in the Dec. 2008 Locus, "The economic downturn is hitting the publishing industry (and Locus) hard." He says that this is the worst year yet for Locus, and while they had saved some money during the 1990s, the "stock market weasels are gnawing away on that." He adds that he hopes people will consider giving the gift of subscriptions this holiday season. I encourage people to check out this PDF of the October 2008 Locus, which is meant to introduce the magazine to new readers, and consider subscribing.

This news has gotten my old thinking cap to thinking, and I wonder if the next year will shape up to be a painful one for SF/F magazines. When money is tight, I know that people reconsider their priorities. My worry is that some people will cut back on subscriptions to genre magazines. Normally, this might not be that big a deal because once the economic downturn turned around, people would rediscover their favorite magazines and resubscribe.

But as Charles Brown said in his editorial, bookstore sales of Locus are way down. This is because fewer bookstores are carrying SF/F magazines. I know that when I stop by bookstores these days, I see fewer copies of all the genre magazines--if the store even carries the magazines anymore. This means that when the downturn ends, it will be that much harder for new and old readers to find these magazines and consider subscribing (or resubscribing).

The only solution I see to this is for SF/F magazines to be even more aggressive in using the web to both promote themselves and provide an alternate income stream. For example, my mother has a new Amazon Kindle reader. She loves it and constantly downloads books to read when she travels. If she wanted to, she could purchase a Kindle subscription to either Asimov's and Analog for only $2.99 per issue. Why aren't the magazines promoting the hell out of this option? As for Locus, Charles Brown says that their website is barely paying for itself. While I love Locus and eagerly await each issue, perhaps the magazine should consider putting all of its content online, but require a paid subscription (maybe $30 a year) for online access to this material. This way people who like the print magazine can keep receiving it the old fashion way, but those who like to read online could have that option. And why can't you purchase a Kindle subscription to Locus?

Don't mistake what I'm saying. I love the SF/F magazines I subscribe to. I sincerely hope I'm wrong about what this economic downturn will do to SF/F magazine subscriptions. However, my hunch is that the next year will end up being critical for the genre's magazines, and in order to survive they are going to have to be extremely innovative.