Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

April 4, 2014

How To Get My Money – Periodical Edition

I read a lot of periodicals. I have subscriptions to fifteen magazines or journals, and buy individual issues of countless others. I try to at least look at each one, even if I don’t always read them cover to cover. I feel as if I might have some grounds for talking a bit about why people might read your publication, and why people might not.

Here is a step by step guide to how I will approach your publication, as a reader; what will convince me to read and what will drive me away.

A shiny new ‘zine appears! 

Yay! I click through to the website. Oooh, looks interesting.

Can I buy an issue to read on my ereader?

If I can, I will buy it right away. I might hesitate if the only retailer is Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble or some other giant. If it’s direct, Weightless Books or Gumroad, I won’t even stop to think. I will BUY. I will read! Horray!

Can I subscribe to an e-edition?

If the ‘zine has a good track record or speaks directly to my soul, I will subscribe without too much thought. After all, I spend $20 on a book, why would I balk at spending the same amount of money to get 4-12 issues emailed directly to me? I love esubscriptions. This is why I have six of them.

Can I buy a paper copy?

Okay, so not everyone is putting together digital ‘zines. That’s cool. I like paper better anyway. I will buy physical copies if the total cost of the issue plus shipping is under $20. I will likely subscribe if it is something I really love. I love mail. This is why I have nine physical subscriptions.

Does it have an awesome mobile site?

Once I cannot buy an issue or subscription for comfortable reading, things get tricky. I used to read on my phone, but this resulted in a rapid decline of my eyesight, headaches, and general discomfort. I can read in short bursts, but I will not curl up with an issue on my phone.

If I have to read something on my phone, it had better be optimized for mobile reading. The text size has to be big enough, or adjustable. The menus must be simple. There can’t be ads or flash graphics reloading things every thirty seconds. Preferably, the text should take up the entire screen, so I don’t have to zoom (and end up with scrolling issues).

Some ‘zines have got perfectly serviceable mobile reading experiences (Apex Magazine and Ideomancer do good jobs). I tend to open these ‘zines in web browsers and leave them there for weeks. Maybe I will get to them, maybe I won’t.

Do I have to read it on an old-school website?

I probably won’t read. It’s too hard. It’s uncomfortable. I will only bother if a specific story has been recommended to me so many times that I can’t look away.

I mean, I get it. It’s free. You’re all working for free. But it is because it is free that I’m not as likely to read if you make it hard for me. I paid for my other magazines. I’m invested. Given the choice between reading something that hurts my eyes online, and reading something I paid for on my Kobo, I will do the latter every time. And I do have to choose – 15 subscriptions, after all. I can’t read everything.

A quick note on Kickstarters:

I acquired a large number of my subscriptions through Kickstarter. If you are running a Kickstarter for your periodical, it is an early subscription campaign. If you are running a Kickstarter for a periodical and your core tier is not “SUBSCRIPTION”, then you are doing it wrong. Any Kickstarter campaign, whatever it is for, should sell, fundamentally, the thing you are making. Probably for cheap, like an early bird special. It is dead easy for a supporter to see that $15-$20 tier and say, yah, I’ll throw you a twenty. And I get a subscription, which would cost me $22 if I waited! Good deal! This is where most of your supporters will lie. Your subscribers too. You will have contact with these supporters for the rest of the year. They are your core constituants.

Tiers full of postcards, prints, signed books, Tuckerizations, critiques… these are cool, but this isn’t what you are selling. This is the extra stuff, the honey that sweetens the pot of Zine Tea. If I have to pay ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS to get the equivalent of a subscription, you have missed the point. I want to love your product. It looks like a cool product. Please sell your product.

A quick note on free ‘zines who do everything right:

You produce a great product, you make ezine subscriptions available and you do it all for free. You are AMAZING. But I still want to give you my money, and you are making it hard by giving it all away. I know, I could just click the PayPal button. I probably won’t. I will procrastinate. I will think, “I should throw some money in the tip jar some day.” I won’t get around to it.

It takes very little “extra” to get me to pay in. Release the paid material a week ahead of the free edition, as Beneath Ceaseless Skies does. Maybe include an extra story in the e-edition. Send me a t-shirt, I don’t know. But do something to fish for that money. You might think you don’t want it, but you do. Give it all to your featured author if you feel bad pocketing it. Buy your slushies Starbucks gift cards. But do take the offered money and put it to work. If you don’t, somebody else will, and that person might not be as awesome as you.

So, how about you? What makes you read a ‘zine? Leave a comment even just to say hi!



4 thoughts on “How To Get My Money – Periodical Edition”

  1. Merc_Rustad says:

    A big thing for me is availability of at least some stories online (doesn’t have to be all of it them if the ‘zine is subscription-based, but some kind of sample so I can determine if I want to invest in more).

    I actually do most of my reading on a computer because I can open tabs with stories and have them available for when I take a break for other things, like homework (or, as you mentioned, optimized for mobile, since I can read while at the bus stop or in between classes). Also, I feel less guilty about not reading everything all at once if it’s not stacked up on my Kindle staring at me. >.>

    I do like to see subscriptions as options, however–the more accessibility options for readers, the better (and usually the more I like a ‘zine if it has good layout and options for reading).

  2. Charlotte says:

    I think my biggest argument against reading in tabbed browsers is that I have the attention span of a goldfish. I like books best because they don’t link to anything. I like ebooks second-best because they don’t link to anything easily. I didn’t even get all the way through your comment without tabbing over to Twitter to hit reload. Yah, not good. I think it’s a nervous condition.

    I think this is why Daily Science Fiction works for me – the stories are short, I read them underground, and I can get through them in the amount of time between ticks. But I’m having the worst time reading the latest Strange Horizons and Kaleidotrope. I need to be able to isolate the stories for optimum reading focus.

    But you’re right – variety is the real key. The best option: all of the above. Clarkesworld has this all figured out.

  3. Merc_Rustad says:

    CW is great. (I do wish SH and a few others had subscriptions, though–in the case of SH, I rarely get there every week, so some kind of monthly digest would be of real interest to me, personally.)

  4. Very well-said. My only caveat is that digital-rights-management of any kind is a deal-breaker for me. I want to *own* the stuff I buy and, perhaps more to the point, I run Linux and can’t/won’t be bothered to spend any (more) time (than I already have) trying to figure out a way to decrypt something I’ve bought and paid for – but can’t read.

    As others have said, if you make it easy for me to give you my money, and you don’t treat me like a thief, I’m a hell of a lot more likely to *give* you my money instead of going to the black and grey markets.

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