Print Is Not Dead

Don’t be daft. Of course print isn’t dead. I make a reasonable living off it. Over in the world of words-and-pictures, I can write 44 pages that do little more than fetishise the English longbow and make a profit. The peculiarities of distributing comics through a firm-sale system — one that is actually open to sf magazines, too, though I don’t doubt the process is difficult for them — have kept the Anglophone medium alive in all its weird breadth for almost thirty years now. Additional distribution systems are of course required, because that market is dependent on new stories opening faster than old stores die, and that’s not a trick that’s yet been pulled off to anyone’s satisfaction. And, you know, I could list a dozen other things wrong with it. And have. But when everyone else is muttering that Print Is Dead, comics continues to quietly move millions of units a month. Last month, I wrote a comic that did in excess of 100,000 copies on firm sale. And while it’s true that some stores may well be stuck with them, the others have created a reorder velocity requiring Marvel to go back to print on the book.

Neal Stephenson wrote a book that was more than 3000 pages long, that had to be released in three volumes and then eight smaller volumes, and they still let him in the door. THE WIRE, possibly the most fascinating and annoying music magazine on the face of the planet (where else would a music reviewer stop in the middle of a piece to start jabbering about fucking Marx?) is still plugging away, and THE BELIEVER (a print magazine about print books, in the 21st Century? Surely madness!) seems to be going from strength to strength. Christ, SONGLINES just passed its fiftieth issue, and I never would have predicted that. British newspaper sales, as a whole, average an annual slip of around 3%, but some quality Sunday papers post continual rises — the Observer gains something like 5% per annum, I think. And, of course, newspapers like The Guardian have embraced the modern hybrid operation, running a very strong website.

All of which is to say: when I run the sf magazine figures, I’m not saying that Print Is Dead. I’m not even saying that No-One Wants Short Fiction. I’m saying, I’m afraid, that something is wrong with those magazines. Not even, necessarily, with the content. That’s entirely subjective. The objective view seems to me to be inescapable: the packaging and marketing just isn’t working. And I think it’s probably too late for them now. So, now, I wait for new entrants to take their place — be they a resurgent print magazine like WEIRD TALES, or an emergent leader from the web space.

And that, most of you will be glad to hear, will probably be my last thought on the topic. (Unless someone pokes me with a sharp stick.) I don’t see myself running these numbers next year, unless something wildly dramatic happens. From here, it looks like Game Over.