Today, the number of science fiction and fantasy magazine titles is higher than at any other point in history. That’s more than 25 pro-level magazines, according to a count from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, amid a larger pool of “70 magazines, 14 audio sites, and nine critical magazines,” according to Locus Magazine.
It’s a bit of a golden age for fans, in other words. Many publishers, however, aren’t earning enough in revenue to be self-sustaining without plenty of effort from volunteers.
This news comes from an in-depth report compiled by science fiction author Jason Sanford, who interviewed editors, publishers, and staffers at nine different genre magazines to unpack the secrets of operating a genre magazine in 2020.
First, the good news from Sanford’s report: Not only are there more genre magazines than ever, but their readership is strong overall, and on the rise.
“[T]he readership for most genre magazines increased in 2018 over the year before,” Sanford explained in his full report. “Analog’s total circulation was up 9.9% while Asimov’s was up 10.6% and F&SF’s up 1.5%. Newer genre magazines also saw their circulations increase in 2018 over the year before, with Clarkesworld seeing a nearly 8% increase in paid digital subscriptions while their website had 2,000 more unique visitors each month and podcast listeners went from 2,000 to 14,000 in a single year.”
The bad news? Many magazines owe their success to unpaid volunteers, and their financial futures are shaky unless they can grow revenues as well as their audiences.
I reached out to Sanford for more background about his report, and he highlighted a caveat here: The need to boost revenues is a bigger concern for the newer generation of genre magazines. The pre-internet-era magazines that are still going — Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog: Science Fiction and Fact, and Fantasy & Science Fiction — have built up their digital brands, earning thousands of online readers and “solid financials.”
“For example,” Sanford tells me, “Asimov’s and Analog are published by Penny Publications and utilize paid editorial staff and traditional business models, relying on subscriptions, sales and ads to support their publications. The issue with revenues and the use of volunteer time arises with the newer magazines like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and FIYAH! The Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. While these magazines have strong readerships, they also couldn’t exist without significant unpaid work by their editors and other staff members.”
This article first appeared on forbes.com