Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The sale of Lightspeed and Fantasy: sort of like good touching/bad touching?

I find it intriguing that, seemingly, no one else finds it intriguing that Prime Books sold Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine - i.e. two incredibly popular, professional, and hot-button e-zines - to John Joseph Adams, their editor (viz. THE editor of science fiction and fantasy in today's world). I don't find it intriguing because I doubt Adams' abilities in the least: I'm more than sure he can handle the job. I just find it strange that everyone's too busy congratulating John to ask:

WHY WOULD A SUCCESSFUL PUBLISHER OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY BOOKS DIVEST ITSELF OF TWO OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY MAGAZINES CURRENTLY IN EXISTENCE?

It took Tor years upon years to realize the potential inherent in loss-leading with short fiction by huge names. I scroll through Lightspeed's fiction list and see David Farland, David Brin, Ursula K. Le Guin. And Prime wants to let all that go? Then again, I don't see Prime's name in any highly visible real estate on the website - so maybe they just Business Model-Failed. But I just can't fail to notice that John's comment, "I believe the possibilities for growth are tremendous," must be in stark contrast to what Sean Wallace believes.

It's great that these magazines will continue to live - for now. But what, exactly, was the conversation between Adams and Wallace? Did it start with Wallace saying, "Things are going so incredibly well with the magazines right now that I would like to divest myself of my most speculatively valuable and innovative assets!" I suggest: probably not. It's more likely that these magazines are sinkholes or financially stale. And that possiblity clashes mightily with any optimistic vision one might hold of the future of short, electronic fiction.

That said: the "labour of love" thing is great. I respect, for example, that Strange Horizons thrives on donations. That's incredible. That's awesome. But Lightspeed is a pay-zine, and they just got sold to the editor, and John Joseph Adams didn't respond to my tweet inquiring after the physical state of his magazines' finances (solid, liquid... gas?), so now I'm going to point my finger at this mess and demand explanations, controversy, sex and debauchery from all parties.

Please someone expose the flaws in my logic. Please someone elevate me on a pedestal. Please, Internet, GIVE TO ME YOUR RESPONSE.

-bn

8 comments:

  1. Yeah, this seems like a conversation that might have started with Sean Wallace saying, "Umm, I am closing these sons-a-bitches down. We pay out a combined $1000 a month for content and gain very little out of it," and John Joseph Adams being like, "Hmmm, I will take these magazines off your hand for one dollar."

    JJA's anthologies sell pretty well, maybe he thinks that some kind of anthology based on Lightspeed/Fantasy will allow the magazine to break even. Or maybe I am totally wrong, and there is enough money to keep it running. Either way, no one is making a profit off these magazines.

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  2. He'll break even and sell anthologies. Bonus: Freedom! This is one of those 'business risks' that entrepreneurs take from time to time.

    I hope it works out [because I love submitting to these magazines]!

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  3. David, I agree: I, too, love submitting to them. But the funny thing - and the thing that makes me do some more wondering - is, I never read short fiction basically ever. And yet I also can't imagine anyone but short fiction WRITERS reading short fiction. I dunno. I'm probably delusional.

    Also, I just don't like reading on-screen.

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  4. It could be as simple as the following: I have twin one-year daughters, and the last few months have been horrible in lining up nannies or babysitters. (We're now looking into full-time daycare). If you know anything about the DC area, well, it's that child-care is very expensive. Book publishing is my full-time job, and it can be very distracting not to have someone watching over my babies. If I do it, then my business clearly suffers. I can not focus on both books and magazines. Something had to give. It seemed like a good idea to spin off the magazines, instead as the books are my main cash-cow. :p

    The magazines are not a labor of love, actually. LIGHTSPEED broke-even within six months, and was on track to start making money once the Amazon subscriptions was in play (next month). If I thought any magazine was not on track to be profitable, I would kill it in a heartbeat. At the end of the day I have to justify any labors to myself, in terms of time, energy, and return.

    The magazines were sold for more than $1.00, which is the usual way to drop a print magazine (because of subscription liability). An online / ebook magazine is a different kettle of fish, however. I won't say how much the two magazines went for, but to give you an idea WEIRD TALES was sold for $30,000.00. (And that didn't include the license from Viacom/MTV). I would not have sold the online magazines, cheaply. :)

    The press release was quite clear about the reasons . . . the book publishing is really exploding, and I have to focus on that, absolutely. In my marketing classes we were taught about resource allocation. My resources are limited. So my business decisions are a reflection of that.

    No one has really noticed, but in recent months I also spun off JABBERWOCKY, cancelled a few marginal print projects, stepped down from CLARKESWORLD, etc, all efforts to streamline my workload. Otherwise you lose sight of the ball.

    I hope that clears things up! (Even as we speak, my babysitter has called off today, I'm stuck in the living room, and watching my babies scream at each other for one taking a pen from the other . . . ) :p

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  5. Cool! Thanks for stopping by, Sean. You have slaughered my cynicism and brightened my hopes, as well as giving me better insight into the publishing industry.

    Word up.

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  6. I'm always happy to answer any questions, when I have time or energy or both. It actually isn't hard to break-even or make a profit on an online magazine, really, at all. Somewhere I posted a spreadsheet showing how it could be done, cheaply, or else I've emailed it to a number of people.

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  7. That's good to know. I've always wanted to start an e-zine called "Natural 20" with submission guidelines stating we ONLY accept stories about your D&D campaign.

    I think it would be a critical hit.

    ...

    (Please excuse my poor sense of humour.)

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  8. Wow, even better! Looks like I was a little pessimistic in my comment.

    I read piles of short fiction, and it's good to know it's a viable business model in e-magazine form.

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