I was recently made aware of what could be a disturbing trend. Apparently, several faith-themed, digital spec-fic publishers will be scaling back, if not completely ending, their operations.
Johne Cook, editor of Raygun Revival, recently announced the closure of their digital mag. At least, the latest incarnation of it. In doing so, he shares what appears to be a common theme among some of these indie pressers. Lack of time and money. In One Last Story Johne explains:
So what’s the story? I wish it was something glamorous like juicy Overlord in-fighting or stepping aside to resume our recurring feud with that hack Ming the Merciless, but the truth is far more pedestrian: we’re losing money. Our gracious publisher, Every Day Publishing, has been exceedingly supportive but has been taking a loss since we started a year ago February. Grand expansion plans never quite coalesced, and while we did publish some exciting content by some up-and-coming stars and some established heavyweights, the traffic never grew enough to put us in the black and we never quite achieved the critical success which might have changed enough of these components to stay closure…
In short, we’re running on empty, and despite bringing in some really solid support in the form of our first Overseer (Keanan Brand), phenomenal big-name interviews and serial novel publication from Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and the services of more slushpile editors (Slushmasters), we couldn’t get enough things going to increase our readership enough to keep paying authors at the rates to which we have become accustomed. While we could have returned to more modest token payments, I wouldn’t do that to our Slushmasters nor our readers. (emphasis mine)
Raygun Revival has been putting out quality stories (and artwork) for quite a while. In fact, they published one of my short stories not long ago. So it saddens me to hear this and I can only hope that another incarnation of RR will emerge sometime soon.
But Johne and his troops aren’t the only ones struggling.
Lyn Perry, senior editor of ResAliens and Fear and Trembling — spiritually-themed sci-fi and horror, respectively — shared that he will be taking a hiatus from the mags. Along with this, I was made aware of another Christian editor who will be shutting down their digital mag at year’s end (although this remains unconfirmed to me as of this writing).
I queried Lyn about this series of events and asked him if he thought this signaled some sort of trend. Are spiritually-themed digital mags on the decline? If so, why? Lyn graciously gave me permission to reprint some of our exchange:
…one issue is that it’s labor intensive (and costly) to host a venue for writers of “Christian” spec fic … and is often done as an expression of “love” for the genre (and thus run more like a hobby) than for profit. So I concur with Johne on the two issues he mentions – cost and burn out.
And then Lyn offers this interesting insight into the mind of the indie publisher:
…maybe the bottom line regarding “the struggle” for those of us trying to offer spiritually-infused speculative fiction is also validation. Is there anyone “above us” (a bigger organization, an award organization, an established publishing presence) that looks down and says good job? Nope. If there were, maybe if we received more recognition (and thus more traffic – and money enough to pay the bills, lol) then we’d be more encouraged to keep going? Not sure. I think I feel that a bit.
…I’ve had dreams of becoming the spiritual equivalent of Clarkesworld. But it takes pro money (and a lot of work and that’s something I don’t have to offer. Hmm, maybe I came full circle – labor and cost, but validation is an issue too, possibly.
For the record, Lyn said he doesn’t consider this as indicative of waning interest in spiritually-themed stories. Honestly, I have some doubts.
Anyway, it got me thinking. If these are not isolated incidents and really indicative of a trend, here’s four additional theories as to why:
- Christian speculative fiction is not as popular as enthusiasts portray it to be.
- Christian spec readers are not willing to pay for digital fare.
- Hardcore spec readers have migrated elsewhere.
- Running a small press is harder and more costly than we often believe and portray.
I’m sure there’s other possibilities. And of course, this could be complete bluster on my part. Much to-do about nothing. I don’t know. Are these closures and scale-backs indicative of something bigger brewing at the level of faith-themed spec zines? Do you know of other Christian spec mags that are in fact thriving? Or is the publishing picture for digital mags just a lot bigger than these isolated incidents? I’d love to hear your thoughts.