Warren Ellis runs the numbers on the dismal state of science fiction magazines — Asimov's circ is down 13 percent; Interzone is running 2,000-3,000 copies per issue; Analog (which should really change its name back to Astounding) is selling through at 32 percent. This is pretty depressing news.
I think the biggest impediment to the magazines' sales is that there's no easy way for people who love the stories in them to bring them to the attention of other, potential customers. By the time you've read the current issue and found a story you want everyone else to read, the issue isn't on the stands anymore and the best you can do is to try to get your pals to shell out to pay for an ebook edition.
Contrast this with the online mags, whose stories stay online for months — sometimes forever. If you love a story in Strange Horizons, you can paste a quote from it into your Livejournal, use the first line as your sig, email the URL to your brother, print the first page and tape it up in the toilet at work.
Is it any wonder that the online mags dominate the awards?
If I were running the mags, I'd pick a bunch of sfnal bloggers and offer them advance looks at the mag, get them to vote on a favorite story to blog and put it online the week before the issue hits the stands. I'd podcast a second story, and run excerpts from the remaining stories in podcast. I'd get Evo Terra to interview the author of a third story for The Dragon Page. I'd make every issue of every magazine into an event that thousands of people talked about, sending them to the bookstores to demand copies — and I'd offer commissions, bonuses, and recognition to bloggers who sold super-cheap-ass subscriptions to the print editions.
Sure it's lot of work, and a huge shift in the way the mags do business. But hell, how many more years' worth of 13 percent declines can the magazines hack?
Someone recently said to me, "Well, what could you do to save them?" And I said, well, no-one's asking, but there's probably about twelve things that could be done. And they said, "Well, maybe, but what I really meant was – why try? Why not just bury them and start anew?"
And then someone else asked me why there's still an sf magazine called "Analog."