I received some sad news this week. Jim Baen’s Universe will be no more after the April 2010 issue. Jim Baen’s Universe has been distributing compelling fiction three years now and has quickly become a staple of the short fiction market.
The death of JBU is a tough blow to aspirant writers as no other professional market has made such an effort to nurture new writers. Sam Hidaka has said that the slush forum on the bar, which has served as a makeshift workshop for many writers, will remain open for now but its demise cannot be far off.
I give the good folks at the JBU slush bar, especially Gary Cuba, Edith Maor and Sam Hidaka, credit for much of my limited writing success. Both of my honorable mentions from the Writers of the Future contest were posted there and the unapologetic criticism I received there made those stories better by far. Their feedback has made me a better writer and a more effective self-editor.
JBU is only the latest in a stream of recent closing or near-death experiences for short fiction venues. Realms of Fantasy recently hung it up only to be snatched from the jaw of death by Tir Na Nog Press. Paradox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction closed in May of this year. A small start up venue, Oddlands, closed in September of last year after only five issues. Even the beast, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine has felt the pinch and gone to a bimonthly release schedule. There are many, many more publications, both online and print, who are suffering right now.
The question is why. We used to say that the internet was killing print media but JBU is an online publication. If this were true then JBU should be fine. Many other online publications have gone under as well so that logic simply doesn’t fly anymore.
Another consideration might be that short form fiction simply isn’t what readers are looking for. Recent success stories include epic series such as the Harry Potter series and Twilight. Both are multi novel sets with some books weighing in the five to six hundred page range. I would never speculate that short form fiction is ceasing to exist but it seems evident that demand is dwindling and publications are going to need to think of new ways to attract readers.
I believe that the time isn’t far off when publications are going to have to look at publishing in a whole new way. JBU tried something new with their Universe Club which provided them much needed capital early on but ultimately regular subscriptions never grew strong enough and they became too dependent on the Club income. I think there are two points of interest to make note of. First, The Universe Club was a success and readers enjoyed feeling like they were part of the magazine rather than just subscribers. This probably kept many of them subscribing longer than they would have otherwise. Secondly, the subscription model is still necessary and must be nurtured with as much care if not more than before.
I don’t pretend to know what they next big thing in periodical publishing is but one thing is certain. Editors all over the industry are watching as each of these guys fall. I hope that they are taking the time to analyze and learn what they can do to insure they don’t suffer the same fate.