Thursday, November 08, 2007

Another market sadly passes...

I know it's been a while since I've posted here. I've been focused on a couple of projects, as well as posting a lot on my OTHER blog, Pressed for Answers.

But I wanted to address the recent demise of a paying market, Great Mystery and Suspense. An email announcing the end of publication of GM&S magazine was recently sent out by its publisher, Vicki Lipira. I've spoken with Vicki several times about her magazine, and in fact have had two stories published in her quarterly, small-format mag.

Vicki and her husband, Mike, had a dream of a print magazine for mystery and suspense fiction, but with a difference: "wholesome" stories, with no overt sex, no bad language, no unnecessary blood and gore. It's an unusual way of looking at stories which may contain murder, violence, theft, drugs and other things normally considered to be unwholesome. But I understood, as I have tried to establish similar standards for my own online 'zine, Crime and Suspense.

The authors published in the pages of GM&S were a diverse lot: myself, B J Bourg, Barry Baldwin, Patricia Terrell, Simon Wood, Stephen D. Rogers, Tom Purcell, and many others. She also ran non-fiction articles such as an interview with Carol Higgins Clark by Charlotte Adelsperger, and the occasional poem. In short, even though she published many authors whose names may be new or unknown to you, Vicki also published many better-known and very experienced authors. The stories ran the gamut from traditional and PI mysteries to cozies to supernatural/crime crossover stories. You could always find something to enjoy in an issue of Great Mystery and Suspense.

But having a dream doesn't always mean it will come true. Reality intrudes, sometimes all too harshly. Vicki and her husband, Mike, were more than generous when paying authors for their work. Authors were paid $50 for longer pieces, $25 for shorter ones. The zine was 64 pages plus a cover, so that meant 11 or 12 pieces per issue, probably averaging around $475 paid out to authors, per issue.

They were generous to others, too. GM&S ran public-service advertisements for missing children. The last page was always a list of links to other places of interest to crime fiction readers, including competing ezines, publishers, organizations, etc. My ezine was listed there, as was my publishing house, and Vicki never asked us for a dime. She did it out of courtesy and a desire to help fellow authors and publishers.

But there were no paying ads in the magazine that I ever saw, even though her rates were very reasonable. The truth is, I was just about to put in an advertisement when Vicki contacted me about the possibility of the ezine shutting down in the near future. But "just about to" from one advertiser is not going to save the boat from sinking.

The proliferation of "free" content on so many online sites has made it difficult for those who charge a fee to make a go of it. We have become so accustomed to so many free things (freeware, free information, free sites, free this and that) that we often balk at paying, even when the price is reasonable and the product is desirable. "I can get that same sort of thing for free at [you fill in the blank here.]" I think it's an American thing that is growing, perhaps, along with the idea of super-sizing everything for a few pennies more.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was signing books at the Fall Festival in Calhoun, Georgia, and a couple of ladies came up to my table to look at my books. They looked at the front covers, read the back cover, flipped through the books and seemed on the verge of buying. One of them asked me "How much are your books?" The books they were looking at were $8.95 each, perfect-bound books, and I told them the price.

One of the women looked scandalized and put the book down with a decided thud. "I can get a big, thick book for that much!" she said. (My books were about 200 pages and 230 pages, respectively.)

I just smiled and bit my tongue, thinking at the same time, "Yes, and you can get a FREE copy of the telephone directory, which is MUCH thicker, but you wouldn't enjoy reading it."

But back to the demise of Great Mystery and Suspense... Those of you who only borrow magazines from others or read them in the library, please consider: that magazine is not going to stay in existence without subscribers or buyers.

I'm not saying that subscribers pay for the production of the magazine. Far from it: a mag like Great Mystery and Suspense costs about $2.25 to print and $1.60 send out, and it was only $25 to subscribe for the four quarterly issues, including postage. When you consider that many large-format magazines are published monthly, in full-color, and only charge $22 per year for subscribers, you might wonder about that. But I have a big listing of magazine markets in front of me, and it tells a lot about each mag. Some are not honest enough to release their advertising percentages, but here are some that do: Field and Stream: 112 pages, 32% advertising; Fate: 128 pages, 15% advertising; Brides: 186 pages, 50% advertising; Playgirl: 96 pages, 30% advertising.

The more advertisers a magazine is able to attract, the more cheaply they can sell their subscriptions. They know that it's not subscribers who pay the bills--it's the ads. But lest I be misunderstood, though subscribers themselves are not the life-or-death of a magazine, circulation IS! For example, Inside Kung Fu (130 pages, 65% advertising!!) has a subscription base that is only 15% of its total circulation of 110,000! The rest are sold through newsstands and bookstores. But it IS circulation--110,000 printed, published copies, placed out there and available for the public to peruse and purchase. That circulation figure is what impresses advertisers, and why Inside Kung Fu is able to sell so much advertising space, even with a small subscription base. They probably don't really care very much how many of their copies in bookstores actually get sold, because as long as they can report that big circulation number, they can sell a lot of ad space, and that's what pays the bills.

A small, relatively-new magazine like GM&S doesn't have as much of a chance of selling ad space. After all, nobody much knows about them. They're an unknown quantity. I believe GM&S was only carried in one or two bookstores, so that part of the circulation figure was depressed, and I'm willing to bet that they had 100 subscribers or less--not because they were not a good magazine (because they WERE) but because (1) people had not heard of them and (2) there are so many sources of "free" crime, suspense and mystery stories on the 'Net, "why pay for them?" It's the same old saw that Mom's used to tell their daughters in the Fifties: "Honey, why would he buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?"

Let's put the numbers together for a moment:
  • Four issues a year
  • Average of $475 per issue for stories, so $1900 a year to authors
  • Printing costs for 200 copies per issue (to fulfill 100 subscribers and have some for one-off sales): minimum of $450 per issue, so that's another $1800 annually
  • Cost of sending out 100 copies (postage and such) $160 per quarter, so that's $640 annually
That adds up to about $4340 per year in expenses. It doesn't include the cost of the website, hosting, etc., which has to happen.
  • Income from subscriptions: $2600
  • Income from advertisers: $0 (that I could see)
  • Net income from another fifty copies of each issue sold as one-offs:$107.50 per quarter, or $430 per year
All that adds up to $3030 annual revenue. We're still in the red by over $1,300 annually, and that doesn't include the website and other operating expenses (phone, electricity, etc.) which would take us even deeper into the hole. Even if we only printed 100 copies to fulfill the subscribers' needs, it would reduce the expenses by $900 a year... but also reduce the income by $430 a year, so that's a net gain of only $470.

Now, don't get the idea that I'm criticizing Vicki and Mike for what they tried to do. They were troopers for sticking it out as long as they did, in my estimation. The truth is, though, as a new venue with very few people who knew about them and a low circulation, it was very hard to convince advertisers to pay for space. And Vicki was so generous with payments to authors from the outset that the little bit of money coming in from magazine sales just bled away.

In retrospect, they might have done better to
  • pay lower fees to authors for the first year
  • try to line up advertisers from day one
  • work on getting their mag into places like coffee shops and bookstores as well as relying on subscriptions, even if they didn't make any money on the retail sales, because it would all count as circulation.
But it's easy to sit to one side and observe like I'm doing here. I don't disagree with their decision to stop publishing. I think they did the best thing they could do, under the circumstances. I think they have a strong grasp of the First Law of Holes: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!

But I'm going to miss Great Mystery and Suspense.