At the end of Simon Owen’s recent piece on finding a profitable model for genre ezines, he made a point of ending with the number of dead markets listed on Ralan.com. That number of 649 has since moved up to 650.
A bug started buzzing in my head. His article was specifically about online markets, but that number actually combines print and online markets. A quick bit of research identified 269 print markets and 320 online markets. The remaining 61 didn’t contain enough information to tell.
Ok, 320 dead online markets. It’s a big number, but it in no way demonstrates that the online magazines have cornered the market on failure. Still, I wanted to get a better understanding of what had gone wrong with these online markets, so I looked at pay rates. A stunning 157 (nearly half) of these markets paid $10 or less per story. That’s just wrong on so many levels. What were they thinking? Let me spell this out more clearly:
IF YOU ARE GOING TO START ANY KIND OF MAGAZINE, PAY YOUR AUTHORS SOMETHING REASONABLE.
The SFWA defines pro-rate as 5 cents or more. It’s an arbitrary baseline and probably long overdue for a change, but it is still something officially recognized in the field. A number of magazines pay in the 2-4 cent range. Not great, but at least they are making an effort.
PAY PER WORD, NOT WITH HOLLOW PROMISES.
I was shocked by the number of markets that stated they wanted to pay on royalties from subscriptions, donations, or shares of the advertising. Let’s be fair here. Tell them exactly how much they’ll be paid (in US dollars, not Monopoly money) before you print the story. If you can’t, think twice before you start your magazine.
Yes, I am aware of a few good zines that fly in the face of what I’m suggesting, but believe me, they are the exception, not the norm. You need to ask yourself, why anyone would sell me a story for that rate when there are other markets that pay better. If you can answer that question with an honest positive for the author, I’d love to hear it.
When I looked at the “failed” online markets, I found three zines that occasionally paid pro rates and only ten that would qualify as pro-markets. The ten were: Dark Matter, Feral Fiction, Future Orbits, Getting It (erotic), Infinite Edge, Lenox Ave, SciFiction, Suck, Trabuco Road and Would that it Were (historical/ghost). These publications paid their authors well, but couldn’t, or decided not to, make a run of it. It seems to me that they represent a good group of people to ask about the potential pitfalls.
I know… Learning from the mistakes of others is simply crazy talk. But maybe I’ll do it anyway.