Economic doom indeed: Fantasy, SF, and horror publishers and publications scaling back and shutting down

Okay, so this developing trend doesn’t rank up there in severity with things like peak oil, spiking unemployment, riots around the globe, and dead bees. But it’s still quite interesting, at least to somebody like me, who has written horror for years, spoken on panels at several genre conventions, and made a lot of personal friends in the industry.

FYI, I’ll point out in advance (before you read what follows) that the drumbeat of doom for speculative fiction books, publishers, and magazines isn’t just a matter of our current economic disaster. The advent of the Internet began causing problems in the print publishing world — and not just the speculative fiction wing of it — well over a decade ago, and this has been the topic of much discussion. And even before that, the publishing industry in general was suffering something of an identity crisis, accompanied by problematic changes in sales patterns, as traditional business models came into conflict with the new realities of a globalized marketplace (and mindset) and a mass audience whose sensibilities are shaped more by visual media than the written word. So bear in mind that those factors are definitely in play as well.

That said, read it and weep:

realms-of-fantasyITEM: The major genre magazine Realms of Fantasy has announced that it’s shutting down, as reported at SF Scope. Note the ominous tone of some of the story

Realms of Fantasy is closing down following publication of its April 2009 issue. Managing Editor Laura Cleveland told SFScope the news came very suddenly, indeed, even Editor Shawna McCarthy (currently on vacation in Italy) hadn’t been informed yet. The only reason we got the story is that rumors broke through the blogosphere today.

Cleveland said the April issue is currently at the printer, and will be published. The reasons she was given for the closure were plummeting newsstand sales. “Subscriptions are good, and advertising, until very recently, was fine.” She blamed the economic downturn and newsstand distribution for the closure.

Publisher Sovereign Media first got into sf magazine publishing with Science Fiction Age, which Scott Edelman edited through its eight-year life. SFAge was closed while still profitable to make room for an even more profitable wrestling magazine. Realms of Fantasy has been with us for fifteen years and “was coming up on its 100th issue,” Cleveland said. “We were excited about the special Halloween issue we’d been planning, which would have been our first.”

The staff is obviously harried by the news, and that it’s become public so quickly. Cleveland had been hoping to tell the authors and artists the news before it broke publicly. The magazine wasn’t carrying a large inventory, she said, although she did note that they’d recently purchased a number of stories which now won’t be published.

I truly feel for all of those writers who are now discovering that their pleasure at having been accepted by such a fine (and well-paying) publication is now short-circuited.

On another note, a brief news item about this event at the Website for Locus, the industry-standard magazine about speculative fiction publishing news, offers this bit of intel that would seem to add some weight to one possible answer to the question of whether reading as a pervasive pastime will experience a resurgence during this new era of economic devastation: “The closure is primarily due to plummeting newsstand sales, the problem currently faced by all of the fiction magazines. ‘We’re shelved in the back of the bookstores’ [says managing editor Laura Cleveland]. ‘Nobody can even find us.'”

f-and-sfITEM: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, one of the true giants among current fantasy-SF-horror mags, has announced that it’s cutting back from a monthly to a semi-monthly publication schedule (six issues per year). The announcement was made by the publisher and editor, Gordon Van Gelder, in a blog post:

The March 2009 issue will be the last monthly issue. Starting with the April/May 2009 issue, we’ll be publishing one issue every two months. Each issue will be 256 pages (16 pages longer than our last Oct/Nov issue) except for this year’s anniversary issue, which will be a jumbo.

….We’ve made the change because rising costs—especially postal costs—and the current economy put us in a position where we either had to raise our rates severely or cut back somewhere. Given the state of the economy, I decided a cutback in frequency made the most sense. We’ll lose a little more than 10% of our content this year, but we should be in a great position for the coming years.

In light of the terrible economy (and other bad conditions) that we’re facing for the indefinite future, I fear that Gordon’s hopes for a happy ending will be dashed. I’ve hung out with him a couple of times at a couple of conventions and found him to be a very pleasant man. So I do hope things turn out okay. Of course, the original Depression era was the time when the legendary pulp magazines of American cultural history had their golden age — Weird Tales, Astounding Stories, and so on — so maybe this can happen again in a new depression scenario (he said hopefully, while remaining severely skeptical of his own hope).

ybfhITEM: The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, an absolute icon in the genre world (with a 21-year history) and the gold standard among American publishers and readers for where to find the best stories and most important new authors of fantasy, SF, and horror, has just been discontinued by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, as announced by the editors. There’s no indication of the reason, but this occurrence does line up well with the general trend here. Fortunately, Ellen Datlow, who has always edited the horror half of the anthology (and whom I also know and like personally), has announced that she has been offered a deal by Night Shade Books to do a horror-only anthology. But still, this is all rather earthshaking news for the large crowd of us who are involved in and passionate about this wing of the publishing world.

madITEM: Finally, Mad Magazine has cut back from a monthly to a quarterly publication schedule and has pulled the plug on two spinoff magazines. And this news has a wider relevance, for Mad is part of the DC Comics empire — yes, those same DC folks who bring us Superman, Batman, and so on — and Mad‘s cutbacks come as part of a big shakeup in DC’s employment situation. And this shakeup in DC may be a harbinger of much bigger things to come, since DC is itself part of the vast Warner empire. Um, do you note the implications here?

Here’s the Mad news, and also the way its implications extend outward:

Worrying a little bit? MAD Magazine goes quarterly

Newsarama, January 23, 2009

Today’s economy is tough enough to even make MAD Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman worry, apparently.

The venerable humor magazine today announced that starting with issue #500 in April, it will move to a quarterly publication schedule from its current monthly. The magazine’s version for younger readers, MAD Kids will cease publication with the issue on sale February 17th, while the final issue of MAD Classics will go on sale March 17th. Both of the spinoff magazines launched in 2005. Circulation numbers for the magazines were not readily available.

Handling the news with style typical of MAD, Editor John Ficarra said, “The feedback we’ve gotten from readers is that only every third issue of MAD is funny, so we’ve decided to just publish those.”

MAD is a part of DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Bros. Earlier this week, news broke that the media giant would be cutting costs across its companies, and laying off up to 10% of its workforce, worldwide.

For more about the Warner Brothers situation, see the January 21 Reuters Blog post “Dark days in Hollywood“:

If that notion of a recession-resistant entertainment industry hasn’t already been debunked, just get in touch with one of your pals out in Hollywood. They’ll tell you how bad it is — how jobs are disappearing.

Warner Brothers Entertainment is the latest to cut staff, announcing 800 jobs would be lost, or 10 percent of its worldwide staff.  NBC Universal and Viacom have already cut jobs, and industry watchers expect more job cuts to be announced by Walt Disney and Sony Pictures.

Perhaps more than other layoffs, the Warner Bros cuts send a signal of just how bad business looks. The New York Times points out, “While not unexpected — Warner had been quietly preparing Hollywood to expect cuts — the layoffs rattled the movie capital because the studio is regarded as one of the industry’s healthiest. With a parade of hits like ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Get Smart’ and ‘Four Christmases,’ Warner recorded global ticket sales of $1.77 billion in 2008, up 25 percent from a year earlier. But DVD sales plummeted in the fourth quarter and orders of scripted television programs — a huge Warner business — are expected to decline as networks cope with tumbling advertising sales.

In light of all these things, I think I can say with confidence that while we’re not going to be seeing nearly as many movies as we used to, and while we’re certainly not going to see as much genre writing on bookstore shelves or newsstands as we’ve grown accustomed to having, one thing’s for certain: we can all see the writing on the wall.

About Matt Cardin


Posted on February 4, 2009, in Arts & Entertainment, Economy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. oh wow, I didn’t know about the MAD magazine news. I was a faithful reader from like age 10 to 16. Really looked forward to it each month, though it was pricey by kid standards.

  2. I loved it during that same age bracket, too. Sad to see it fall on hard times.

  3. It’s funny – wasn’t fluffy entertainment like comedies and musicals all the rage during the Last Depression? Or is MAD considered too biting and edgy?

  4. From what I gather, MAD has been neither biting nor edgy in a good long time.

    As for YBF&H, the impression I’m under is less that the series was cancelled and more that the publisher caused so many problems that the series was withdrawn, but done so before another deal was put into place. The series may return (under a new umbrella, natch) in about two years. For 2009 and 2010, Ellen Datlow is contracted to do a “best of” antho for NightShade instead.

  5. I’ve kept up with MAD lately and they are still pretty funny and print enough current events/political humor to keep me reading. But apparently not even the brainchild of William Gaines is safe in this climate. Sad indeed.

  6. So basically, if I want job security, I should forget authorship and go for teaching in public schools? 🙂 If so, that’s alright; I was considering it anyway.

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