Call to Arms Part II
by Christopher McKitterick

Wherever science fiction readers and professionals gather these days, it seems that conversations inevitably lead to dire forecasts for SFs future (you have been talking with other readers, havent you?). Especially, we hear gloom and doom about the magazines:

  • SFs readership is aging and were not attracting new, young readers.
  • Subscription roles are declining.
  • Paper, printing, distribution, and other costs are driving the industry into poverty.
  • The magazines cant possibly stay in business; such-and-such is sure to fold by next year.

And so on... you get the picture. Lets be honest and admit there is a problem. Okay, now its time to move on to finding a solution. What can we do about it? More to the point, why should we care?

(I sure hope youre asking yourself what you can do. It seems that the folks who most often sadly shake their heads as they prophesize the death of SF arent thinking beyond their dark forecast. Dammit, dont just sit there and await the inevitable like some beached sea mammal! You are an SF reader that noblest, most intelligent, most future-thinking, etc. of all readers, arent you? Do something! Show that you care!)

If you love SF, you should care about keeping the magazines alive because they are the very heart of the genre. Others have made convincing arguments that SF is a genre today because of the magazines. They provide the forum and idea playground that develops new writers and literary movements, they are diverse in their subjects and authors, they publish new voices alongside those well-known, and they allow experimentation in form and idea that simply cant be sustained in longer forms. The magazines keep the book industry vibrant by feeding publishers proven (in the short forms) authors, and they allow an alternative for authors not interested in writing novels. They are a great way for readers to discover new voices without the risk of buying novels by unknown authors. They take us to new worlds many times over in each and every issue.

When I was a boy, I read the anthologies and magazines almost to the exclusion of novels. By sticking with short stories, I didnt need to worry about spending all my reading money on a single book that might not provide the magic I sought. Every collection of short stories or issue of a magazine contained at least one story that fed my imagination and stirred my sense of wonder. And I could read a story in a single sitting, even during my most distractible years, while a novel might easily end up getting closed and staying that way. I firmly believe that getting short SF into the hands of young people is not only good for those youngsters and civilization as a whole (long story; see A Call to Arms part one from a few years back), but is necessary to maintain the health of our genre.

So, what can each of us do to keep the magazines alive and vital?

I challenge every reader of this magazine to do the following. This means you and me. If we all act on as many of these suggestions as we can, we will not only save the magazines but also ensure a vibrant future for the genre we love.

  • Take part in the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's youth-giving program. For more information, check back to this page soon.
  • Get involved in the Webs of Wonder program and help develop and share SF-teaching curricula. See for more information.
  • If youre reading this, you really need to subscribe if you dont already. Fill out that free-postage card and send it off.
  • If youre a writer, subscribe to every magazine where you want to publish. This is not just for the magazines well-being, but is also your only hope of matching your stuff to the right market.
  • Gift a subscription to at least one person every year. Give a subscription instead of a like-priced present. A magazine is a monthly reminder that you care. Some of them will continue their subscriptions after the gift expires, too, doubling your efforts and expanding our readership.
  • Gift a subscription to a young adult. If you have a child and youre not already doing this, get on it! Without the infusion of new readers, SF has no future.
  • Gift a subscription to a local library, especially a junior-high or high-school library, but a college or public library would be grand, too. Most dont subscribe to all the SF magazines, and many dont subscribe to any of them. This is usually tax-deductible, so what are you waiting for?
  • You have a business? Buy advertising in the magazines. You might not reach as many potential buyers as you would with an ad in TIME, but its much cheaper and SF readers buy all kinds of stuff too! If you wouldnt act on the previous suggestions because they feel like charity, this is how you can support the SF mags while investing for your own future.
  • You manage the advertising budget of the company you work for? Allot part of next months (or years) budget to go to the magazines. Its no less cost-effective than any other venue. Buy a color ad and really stand out!

If each and every one of us acts on only one of these suggestions, we can assure the future of SF by keeping its heart the magazines beating well into the future. Do the following now, right now, before the impulse fades:

  • Write down a list of people and libraries for whom a subscription is appropriate.
  • Find the phone number of the libraries and call to see what magazines they carry. If they dont already carry your favorite, ask how to make your donation. Librarians are very helpful.
  • Call the advertising department of this magazine and find out how much it costs to advertise your product or service. Buy a full-page ad that runs for a year and youll likely get a big price break; some magazines offer the same discount if your ad runs in every other issue. (Note that ads in online magazines offer instant traffic to your website.) Do this for all the magazines.

Tomorrow morning, Im sending off three gift subscriptions for friends and family. As soon as I print this out, Im going to call the library of the local high schools. I'm going to spread the word to schools and libraries that the Center for the Study of Science Fiction is looking for organizations and young folks to register (anonymously) so that generous-minded SF readers can supply them with books and magazines. Im going to do this because I refuse to be one of those people who bemoans the death of SF and then sits idly by as my worst fears come to be. Thats not the SF mentality!

What are you going to do to keep SF vital and strong? Answer with action!

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