BOOKS: Internet and the Publishing Industry

I know, I know, the Internet and its effect the publishing industry has been hashed and rehashed with a side of stirred tomatoes hundreds of times.
Yet Gordon Van Gelder, editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction still doesn't seem to get it.

In a recent interview with Tor, Van Gelder talks about the relationship between online and printed fiction and calls out several noted SF/F writers including John Scalzi, Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow, arguing that while these three succeeded in building strong online communities and translating that online base into printed sales, hundreds of other authors failed.
It's a simplistic argument that ignores one main point -- Scalzi, Stross and Doctorow work hard on their Web sites and **gasp** their fiction is actually pretty damn good.
Check out Scalzi's none-too-happy response to the interview, where he addresses some of Van Gelder's comments, particularly the idea that Fantasy and Science Fiction would suffer horribly if it gave away printed copies for free.

Scalzi writes:

Moreover, I’m not 100% impressed with Gordon’s logic regarding how giving away 42,000 copies if F&SF would be the financial ruin of the magazine. As it stands now, it almost certainly would be, but that’s because the magazine’s in an ill-advised format for advertising and appears from the outside to rely significantly on its subscription base for revenues. But it’s entirely possible that, in a format that was actually ad-friendly (and with an ad sales staff that knew how to work it) F&SF could give away copies and make revenue in other ways, primarily through ads.

Scalzi continues:

The problem I have with print people blaming the Internet for their troubles is that blaming the Internet allows them to ignore — and indeed, actively avoid – taking responsibility for their own acts that have contributed and are contributing to their current bad times. This happens with all print media, but SF is really hot on it. And it’s bunk. Long before the Internet could have been an active threat, subscriber numbers at the science fiction magazines were dropping. If the Internet is a dire threat to them now, it’s in no small part because they made themselves sick enough to be picked off by one major threat or another, and it just happens it will be the Internet that will deliver the coup de grace (in fact it’s rather more likely it’ll be problems with magazine distributors, but hey, why not blame the Internets anyway?).

I’ve no doubt Gordon will note that his real world issues as a publisher are more complicated than I’ve made them out to be here, and I’ll grant this is almost certainly correct. But at the end of the day SF magazines are where they are today not just because of the Internet but because a series of choices their publishers made, reaching back decades, some of which do involve the Internet but many more of which do not.

Internet stuff aside, Van Gelder does get a lot of stuff right. He's right when he says the Internet lends itself more readily to innovative marketing models rather than publishing models, but Van Gelder has to realize the two are not mutually exclusive. That, I think, is the biggest ideological problem in the publishing industry today.

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