When Magazines Struggle

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

The news came via a handful of flimsy postcards.

Four beloved fiction magazines were altering their formats to print only “double issues.”

The catch?

They were dropping down to bimonthly releases.

The quality quartet – “Analog Science Fiction and Fact,” “Asimov’s Science Fiction,” “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” and “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine” – have all been monthly publications, more or less.

For the last several years, they’ve been published 10 times a year – in eight regular-sized issues plus two double-sized issues.

But now current owner Dell Magazines, a subsidiary of Penny Publications, best known for its monthly flood of crossword and puzzle magazines, decided to switch them to bimonthly status and so notified its subscribers in postcards.

Is the change because of declining sales?

Most likely. Every print publication out there has taken serious hits in recent years. I work for a daily newspaper. I don’t need to be told how readers prefer their publications free, if at all. Fiction magazines – especially ones devoted to short stories – seem especially poised to take a beating in this environment.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

The editors of each of the magazines in their new format – the Jan./Feb. issues are now on sale – tried to put a positive spin on the move.

The new calendar means room for longer stories, greater editorial flexibility (no, that doesn’t sound vague at all), and the ability to maintain subscription prices at their current levels.

Here’s what wasn’t said:

In terms of actual page count, readers will take a loss.

Let’s do a thing I like to call Fun with Math:

The standard issue for each runs 112 pages; the double issues are 192 pages. (Yes, I recognize a “double” issue should run 224 pages. Go yell at Dell. I don’t set page counts, I just report them.)

So in a typical year, “Asimov’s” would release 1,280 pages (eight regular issues for 896 pages, plus two double-sized issues for 384 pages).

Under the new schedule, “Asimov’s” will print 1,152 pages (six double issues at 192 pages).

That’s a loss of 128 pages a year – just over one regular issue.

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

That’s six to eight stories that won’t see the light of day. Six to eight writers who won’t get a break, who will lose a paycheck. Mainstream outlets for fiction are already so limited, it’s distressing to realize the four most successful genre magazines are cutting back.

Oddly, Dell has placed these magazines all on the same release calendar. Given that you have two mystery and two science-fiction magazines, it would seem to make more sense to vary them – say, “Asimov’s” and “Hitchcock” in January, “Analog” and “Ellery Queen” in February.

Instead, they’ll be competing against each other for space on magazine stands every two months.

Two months between releases can be an awfully long time, especially in a landscape that seems to grow ever harsher.

“Ellery Queen” is 75 years old. “Hitchcock” turned 60 this year. “Asimov’s” turns 40 next year. All four have introduced scores of terrific writers over the decades and won a raft of literary awards.

I am a bit sentimental when it comes to these magazines.

I was 12 when my Aunt Ruth, a longtime subscriber, started pushing her copies of “Hitchcock” into my hands. These were incredible gifts.

Asimov's Science Fiction.
Asimov’s Science Fiction.

I was 16 when “Asimov’s” hit stands, and it quickly became “my” magazine.

“Asimov’s” also was the first professional publication to consider my writing – and to reject it. That form rejection letter broke the speed barrier to my mailbox. (I deserved it; the story was terrible.)

I still have the first couple years of “Asimov’s” in a box, and I managed to snag the late, great Isaac Asimov’s signature on my copy of the debut issue when I was in college.

Now I’m collecting all over again, all four titles.

I subscribed because given the lack of bookstores in my area, my new home might as well be in the great forests of Montana. Now I fear I am witnessing the last days of a profoundly entertaining art form, one that should be savored and celebrated.


2 thoughts on “When Magazines Struggle

  1. It’s funny how I now smile when I meet someone who reads anything in hardcopy.

    I used to read running and cycling magazines, but today they’re at least 50% advertising. And the rest is recycled from one issue to the next.


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