This is a warning call to all the fans out there about what is happening to the genre they love. Perhaps everyone has heard about the so-called greying of fandom, while the genre appears stronger than ever. Well, the genre getting a little grey around the ears is a very real threat. Here's why.
In February (of '98, ed.), Sovereign Media,, the company that publishes Realms of Fantasy and Sci-Fi Universe, announced that it was closing down its magazine Science Fiction Age. For those of you who unfortunately never became acquainted with this magazine, SF Age was a full-sized, glossy magazine devoted to a wide variety of science fiction. Not only did it contain great stories, but book reviews, media articles on television shows and movies, a gallery section devoted to a particular artist every month, and tons of other interesting things. Science Fiction Age was a great magazine, and I'm sorry to see it gone, as much because it was a great source of stories and information as because it was a good, paying market for short fiction. What's truly sad is that maybe we could have done something about it, though no one seems to care enough to bother.
The bottom line was that SF Age was not making as much of a profit as the other magazines that Sovereign publishes. It made money all right, with the help of ads that often paid for the entire cost of the magazine, but it wasnt enough to keep the publisher interested. If a company publishes several magazines, and one of them is making a few dollars less than the others, they will drop it in favor of another magazine that performs as well as the others. It's the same mentality of the super chain bookstores. If they order four copies of Amazing Stories and sell three, and five copies of a wrestling monthly and sell all five, guess which one gets dropped? Science Fiction Age wasn't the only magazine faltering however. Every major genre magazine in the business (those with a circulation of more than 25,000 copies) has seen a loss in profits, according to Locus, the news magazine of the SF world. And there aren't very many of those: Fantasy & Science Fiction, the reincarnated Amazing Stories (which has had to offer some fiction starring Star Trek, Star Wars and Babylon 5 characters to help them stay in business), Asimov's, and its sister magazine Analog. I just got a card in the mail from F&SF stating that they were raising their subscription rate, so what does that tell you? It tells me that SF could be in big trouble, especially since its the only genre that has such a large body of short stories. Writers rely on these magazines to showcase their talents and practice their art. How are they supposed to learn how to write novels if they can't stretch their legs in the short story? And when a full-sized glossy like the Age, which was famous for having more advertising than any other genre publication, bites the big one, what chance do the little small press guys have? When people become more interested in who is pictured half naked on the cover of Maxim, and when die hard fans cant even find a copy of Pirate Writings (now Fantastic Stories of the Imagination because they are behind said copies of Maxim, the small, specialty presses don't stand a chance. I have to drive twenty miles south to a Barnes & Noble and get on my hands and knees to get the magazines I enjoy, and I still don't always find what I was looking for. The Barnes & Noble I visit put their copies of F&SF and Asimov's underneath, below eye level next to Publisher's Weekly, some writing magazines, and Heavy Metal. Now I don't mind getting down on the carpet on my hands and knees to find what I enjoy. I'm used to it. I don't like it, but I'm used to it. This problem is only going to increase as more independent bookstores are hunted down and shot by the chains. Today bookstores such as Barnes & Chernobyl, like many companies, get ahead not by offering a great product at a fair price, but by buying up all the smaller companies that do. Want a specialty niche magazine? Too bad, because the only bookstore in town is Borders and it's either not on their order guide or the pimply-faced kid you ask gives you a dumb look and says he's never heard of it, and he would know if it existed, because he's been working there three days.
These problems seem daunting, and they may lick us yet, but there are some things you denizens of Coaxial Cable Land and Modemville can do. First of all, if magazines are your thing, buy subscriptions. This is where magazines get most of their money. I must admit that I have been a little negligent in this department. Subscriptions can be expensive, especially for more than one magazine. I'm a student, and I don't have that kind of cash. But I do plan on keeping a couple of subscriptions when I get a real job. Many of you are in similar situations, but I imagine just as many are much better off and can afford a subscription. Where books are concerned, find an independent bookstore and support it. No, I don't mean pay their rent. Go in and visit and buy stuff. Many used bookstores have a large collection of out of print SF paperbacks, and a few of them also carries new stuff. A bookstore where I live not only has old stuff, but can order anything that the B. Dalton in the mall can, and at a large discount. Also, look into indie publishers. SF seems to be a large specialty niche in the publishing business, and many times, the only way to find something is by going through a small press. Companies like Wordcraft of Oregon and Mark V. Zeising put out quality SF books by talented authors that you can't get anywhere else. These publishing avenues are a much-needed reminder that Gardner Dozois doesn't dictate what gets read and published.
You may not think that fandom is getting older, but it is. Sure, millions of people flock to see genre movies, and many of them are young kids. But those so-called genre movies are nothing more than action flicks with an SF premise, poorly done and scientifically inaccurate. And those people are seeing movies and watching television shows, not reading. An estimated 27 million adults in the United States are functionally illiterate. Combine people who can't or won't read with SF fans who get their genre fix from a television show and a book about that television show, and you have an ugly picture. What you do with this information is, of course, up to you. If you feel as I do, then buy subscriptions to the magazines you enjoy, or urge like-minded friends or relatives about worthy SF books and movies. But, if you want Richard Hatch to star in his own Battlestar Galactica flick, then you deserve whatever happens to you.