Thursday, April 23, 2009

Periodicals Then, Now, and Then Again

A much wider range of much better and more varied content is, essentially, what we want from periodicals as they move into the new electronic world.

To be avoided is the way too many genre publications homogenize into a single tone, with narrow parameters of taste and style, due to single editors dominating for decades.

Quality becomes harder to sift from chaff as quantity and other factors change established methods and filters. Used to suffice if the ms looked pro. Now it is within everyone's grasp to format properly, check spelling, and so on. Used to be prior publication in semipro zines meant a lot more than it does now, when so many pub their own ish.

Editors now must be all the more alert to the cutting edge while knowing in detail most if not all the history of the genre.

Doing all that on top of editing and sifting slush is a murderous burden. To lighten it, we may turn to rotating or guest editors, even though this solution prompts the problem of producing a consistent product to keep readers' interests.

Seems an impossible mix, doesn't it? Maybe each issue will have to stand alone, more like an anthology. Or maybe subscribers will be able to choose content for themselves rather than rely on an editor's tastes. Perhaps picking among sample openings and allowing subscribers, say, ten choices per month from the loosely categorized pools of content will solve this problem.

Television is an alternative model, with readers choosing one story here, another there, from an array of publications.

No matter what model shakes out as a new industry standard on Kindle or Online, definitely look for more series characters like Sherlock Holmes and more continuing serials like Dickens published. These are how reader loyalty will be encouraged. It only makes sense, once you get past value-added gimmicks. Remember hypertext? Links are taken for granted now and no big draw. Gimmicks will come and go, but a good story well told, and a familiar character that pulls you back, are perennials.

The goal for new periodicals, then, is to become a sole source for something with continued popularity. Think: Dresden Files Emag and so on. This requires editors to develop the skill set not seen since Victorian days. They will want to cultivate a wide variety of writers so they can spot new enthusiasms and trends, new favorites and new popularities. They will also need to keep an eye out for great longer works that can easily be offered in exciting chunks that will guarantee continued interest between installments. Each segment will have to be exciting itself, too. And they’ll have to find appealing characters, as in the Pulp era. New versions of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Tarzan.

That’s why I mentioned The Dresden Files, one of today’s hottest repeat characters in genre fiction. And yes, Harry Potter comes to mind, too, as the perfect kind of book to have formed the foundation of a new kind of periodical, although it would have been doled out in smaller dollops and stretched over a longer period.

Any thoughts about what you’d want to see as the next phase for periodicals?

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