Economic doom redux: REALMS OF FANTASY and DREAMS OF DECADENCE shutting down

It’s official: Realms of Fantasy magazine is now history, as announced by publisher Warren Lapine at the magazine’s website today (“A Farewell Note from the Publisher“) and repeated by Locus (“Realms of Fantasy Folds“).

We’ll all recall that ROF previously announced they were folding early last year. Some of you will also recall that I discussed this here at The Teeming Brain in post about the raft of economic troubles plaguing speculative fiction publishers these days (“Economic doom indeed: Fantasy, SF, and horror publishers and publications scaling back and shutting down“).

In that post I observed not only the troubles plaguing ROF but the ones plaguing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Mad Magazine, and I referenced the folding of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the economic troubles in Hollywood that were delaying the release of various films.

Looking at the wider causes and implications of the trend, I said:

[T]he 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.

. . . . 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.

Then, of course, Warren Lapine, veteran refashioner of failed publications that he is, swooped in and took over ROF, giving it an injection of new life. These 20 or so months later,Β  he says in his farewell note that he had high hopes, and that he tried every trick in his considerable arsenal of publisher knowledge and skills to make ROF turn a profit.

But none of it worked. And now he says the following, which resonates in unpleasantly harmonious ways with what I was intuiting about the shape of things last year:

I invested more than $50,000.00 of my own money into reviving this magazine. I tried every traditional method I could think of to increase the circulation, but nothing worked. I also spent a great deal of money trying nontraditional methods. I advertised online with Google and Facebook, neither of which came close to covering their costs. And we created DRM-free electronic versions of the magazine to see if that would help increase our circulation. Sadly, the DRM-free versions never sold more than twenty five copies per issue, and the Kindle editions sold fewer still.

. . . . Ultimately, I believe Realms failed because of a terrible economic climate. When I purchased the magazine I did not believe that the worst economy since the Great Depression would actually get worse; that was a mistake.

So there you have it. For more in a similar economic-doom-for-entertainment vein, consider that movie-industry titan MGM has had its future publicly questioned in the last few months over economic troubles that seriously hindered its operations, as seen in the fact that, e.g., its production of a new James Bond movie has been indefinitely delayed. MGM’s entire movie production arm is pretty much shut down. And now, in just the past couple of weeks, they’ve begun working their way through a prepackaged bankruptcy pending debtholder approval.Β  Oh, and their chairman and co-CEO just left.

Meanwhile, Borders shut down its U.K. division, and Barnes & Noble puts itself up for auction a few weeks ago.

So the closing of Realms of Fantasy occurs in this wider context. Note that Warren is also closing his other magazine, Dreams of Decadence. Both have been prominent fixtures in every major bookstore’s periodicals section. Now they’re gone. Douglas Cohen and Shawna McCarthy, the editor and fiction editor of ROF, have also offered their public farwells.

There’s no punchline here. There’s just the obvious observation that we’re all living in precarious and uncertain times. Personally,Β  I continue to love the Kindle I got last year, and more and more of my reading — an increasing amount of which consists of free material gleaned from the Internet — is shifting to it. So I’m a participatory part of one trend that’s crucifying the publishing industry as we know it. At the moment I’m thinking there’s nothing to do about the digital publishing revolution but ride the inevitable wave — while bearing always, always, always in mind that the seismic shifts beneath the surface of our way of life continue, and that our globally networked and financialized economy really is a house of cards, or rather a gas bubble, or rather a crazy-tilting house built on a catastrophically cracked foundation. Of course, the same metaphors apply equally to our wider way of life at large here in Imperial McWorld.

About Matt Cardin


Posted on October 18, 2010, in Arts & Entertainment, Economy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. This is really intelligent and thoughtful. thanks for posting it.

  2. I too was disappointed to see ROF is closing up shop. I’ve enjoyed my subscription for a couple of years, but I also understand Mr. Lapine’s decision. At some point it just is not cost effective. Like you, I too have been a participant in the crucifixion of publishing (via my Nook) but I also believe that digital may open up vast opportunities for previous un-pubs to get quality, thoughtful work out to the masses. The rules will (hopefully) no longer apply that a work must fit the criteria of a genre or risk not getting published because larger houses don’t know where to put it. The same plutocracy that has crippled us financially is equally guilty of censoring the reading material available to the public. Worse, it has impeded the creativity and independent thought that harken revolution. Capitalism has been a death blow to art for decades. The eternal cynic, I hope for enlightenment and long for rennaisance; but in truth I expect the apocalypse.

  3. Autumn Shelley, thanks for your post. I understand your frustration; I’ve been pretty angry myself at times about the publishing business, especially when alternative voices or ideas are deemed “not viable.” In the late 1970s about 50 publishers controlled some 60% of what was published; today 6 publishers control over 90%.

    The trade book system (bookstores) flourished during the 1990s as Barnes & Noble (and Borders, etc.) put up big-box stores and loaded them with inventory; hardbacks at $20 and later paperbacks at $12. Big advances to authors meant that at least some authors could go back to their studios to write the next book, while the publisher printed many copies and worked to sell them through the big box stores.

    All of that is now going away, and it’s unclear how good/bad the new approach will be. Authors now have instant access to publication through (print and ebook) or hundreds of other outlets. What Amazon has done to B&N, Borders, etc., I understand now Book Depository is doing to Amazon.

    And maybe that’s the new world order: Each of us creates and (nearly) gives away our creations. Anyway, Autumn, if you can take the long view, you might see the perpetual churning. Wait, and the plutocracy will have been replaced. Tim

  4. This is a surprise to me given the apparent health of magazines like Rue Morgue, Fangoria, and the new Famous Monsters, not to mention the continued popularity of the fantastic genres, especially the boon in academic horror analysis. I wonder if this is an indicator of the need for these publications to shift to an electronic format. If only I knew of some like-minded colleagues who I could work with to launch such a publication for Kindle and Nook. πŸ™‚

  5. Keep a watch out for Realms on the newsstand and in your mailbox. The pulse is faint but the line is not flat yet.

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