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November 30, 2007

How To Create A Modern SF Magazine?

Adam Rakunas has posted a business plan for his and Jason Stoddard's "new SF magazine idea".

Niall and Jonathan have already responded.

Here's what I think.

Make stuff free. Use Google Ads. Etc.
It's the obvious thing to do isn't it? Well, it was. Until everyone realised that making money like this is really hard unless you're BoingBoing or can launch multiple niche blogs like Gawker. In software circles there's a debate going on at the moment, with some companies such as 37Signals charging for software and doing okay (see the post Fleeing Free), whilst others believe in open source, and others believe in charging for consultancy on open source products, and yet others giving stuff away and hoping for Google Ad, tipjar money. There is no definitive conclusion, beyond saying that some people do okay with free, some people do okay with charging. My feeling is that if you have massive page hits you can do ads, otherwise you'd be better of charging. If the magazine is good enough quality why would people not pay for it?

You Can Lose Money Too
One thing that often gets lost in these "moving to digital" discussions is that it still costs money. Say you get Dugg or Slashdotted or BoingBoinged... your bandwidth spikes, your website crumples, no one clicks any ads, stays all of ten seconds on the site and then at the end of the month you have to cough up for half a Terrabyte of bandwidth costs. Yes, you can lose money running a website. (And yes, hardening your website to load is the easiest part these days when you can throw multiple EC2 images at it, but it still costs.)

The audience
Being inclusive and including gamers, slashdot readers and people who watch Doctor Who is very easy to say, but difficult to do. PORTAL (cough!). Everyone wanted to be a portal. Of course. Who's achieved it? (I had this conversation briefly with Brian and Ariel Darren at Alt.Fiction.) So, on this point I agree with Jonathan that everything will fragment. In effect you'll just end up with 5 different websites, and then when the fiction part makes no money you have to decided whether to keep it running... Haven't we been here before? Oh, yes, Sci Fiction.

The other stuff
Well, if you can get $1M to give away, why not? User voting, might as well. All the other obvious stuff, might as well.

This all sounds a bit negative. What I'm trying to say is that there's no silver bullet for a business to succeed, and being on the web doesn't change that.

1 Comment

I think you're absolutely right on several key points there, mate.

Don't get me wrong, I do hope the BSI takes off and is a huge success, because there's always room for more content and the more people who are switched on to sf-nal content, whatever the media, the better, in many respects.

But when all the really smart guys - guys like Seth Godin, for instance - are saying that the way forward is to focus on providing as close to 100% of the content needed by a specific niche as you possibly can and build a fanatically loyal fan-base for what you do (which was one of many reasons for moving from The Alien Online to UK SF Book News a year ago) then you have to wonder if the scatter-shot effect is going to pay dividends.

Again, I really, really hope it does succeed. But I think it's going to need to be absolutely incredible from nanosecond one, because there's a lot of other sites out there doing the same sort of thing in similar ways...

And if that makes me a nay-sayer then I'll be quite happy to eat humble pie when the founders sell up to Google in a couple of years and retire to the Bahamas... :)