EZine: The Pulp and The Grind
The fight for Creative & Editorial Freedom
EZines were all the rage in the nascent stage of the internet; long before the boom and bust of the dot com empires. EZine or a web-only magazine was a natural metamorphosis of the dying Pulp Fiction Magazines in print media. So are they to die again?
Pulp Fiction was the term used for popular literature in magazines that appeared from as far back as 1920’s till the 60’s and were printed on cheap paper, mass marketed at inexpensive rates. These gave birth to the styles we still see in Genres such as Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and all other Speculative Fiction.
The E-Zine as a business and cultural entity
As far back (in Internet Generation) as 1984 the EZine made online appearance as the “Cult of the Dead Cow” magazine http://www.cultdeadcow.com/ which is still in print after 20 years. They started on the BBS (bulletin boards) and are now still surviving the many phases of online economy.
Today many EZines are battling for clicks and sponsorship, some even reduced to openly ask for donations. They continue to publish Fiction and Non-Fiction online, free for readers worldwide. The Editors who go through the slush pile of Submissions of fiction do so as volunteers; that is, they don’t get paid. Running a website, sustaining archives, attracting talent and readership and then to scour for sponsors, the very business of an EZine is an example of online entrepreneurship by ardent fans with a passion for Pulp Fiction. It is an icon of self-publishing raised to a new level of web-media. There is yet to be found a successful business model for running an online magazine. They are not even aiming to make profit, they would be happy just to break even. And few are able to achieve that.
Black Mask Magazine, http://www.blackmaskmagazine.com/ the very soul of pulp fiction which saw the introduction to writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Erle Gardner, was revived online but failed to generate any revenue through its back issues. They also own the rights to cult brands such as Dime Detective, Strange Detective Mysteries, Terror Tales among others. Strange Horizons http://www.strangehorizons.com/index.shtml runs on donations by patrons and is probably the only volunteer-run EZine to be making any money to stay afloat. The Thrilling Detective http://www.thrillingdetective.com/ is still winning awards and fans but yet to see any profits from it. It was the Winner of 2008 Gumshoe Award for Best Crime Fiction Website. Hardluck Stories http://www.hardluckstories.com/ had announced in 2008 that they have decided to stop publication after their 5 year run and put out their last issue in 2008 (it was a free to read, non-paying market run by an author who is now busy). Bikernet http://www.bikernet.com/fiction/ publishes fiction as an add-on for its readers and is otherwise mainly a motorcycle magazine and successful at that. Chizine http://chizine.com/ won a Bram Stoker Award for Horror fiction in 2000 but is yet to catch on with the business of making profit through an EZine. Helix http://www.helixsf.com/, Revolution SF http://www.revolutionsf.com/ (surviving since year 2001), Pulp and Dagger http://www.pulpanddagger.com/pulpmag/contents.html, Big Pulp http://www.bigpulp.com/ and Anotherealm http://anotherealm.com/ are some other web-only magazines trying to cruise in the murky sea of information highway of the web. Helix announced finally that they are shutting shop after their 2 year run. Apparently Helix, a paying market for fiction couldn’t find support from its readership in monetary terms to continue operations.
Among these upstarts are also some seasoned businessmen trying to make money and investing funds to raise the bar in web magazine standards. They pay competitive remuneration to their fiction contributors and are backed by experienced media and publishing honchos. SciFi http://www.scifi.com/ is a website by SciFi Channel and is just a big online advertisement for their TV channel. They closed their fiction department as it was not attracting enough hits compared to their other popular sections online. They lost a great opportunity to capitalise on their TV brand and carve a niche in publishing world. But others like Futurismic http://futurismic.com/ are making new business models. They have a single strong sponsor who gets exclusive advertisement coverage and are thus able to pay an astronomical (in EZine world) sum of US$ 200 to their original fiction short story contributors. Apart from this their website is in blog format making it familiar and also allowing the benefit of updated content everyday. Most Web Magazines are quarterly or at most monthly, so there is no content to attract clicks on a daily basis. Futurismic, with its blog format plans to attract more hits with new content on a regular basis.
Fantasy Magazine http://www.darkfantasy.org/fantasy/ is another such EZine who has a single backer in Prime Books who hope that the free short stories will encourage the readers to buy from their catalogue of novels, thus boosting the Fantasy Market. They are currently offering “Fantasy Friday: blog for a beer” scheme where contributors submit a blog and if published get US$ 10 and Fantasy Magazine gets easy fresh content of good quality from fans. Thus they too intend to run an updated website and not an occasional issue to avoid losing eyeballs.
But these big players have not discouraged the original volunteer driven, peer-reviewed journals as envisioned by the Netizens of the nascent internet.
Astonishing Adventures http://astonishingadventuresmagazine.blog-city.com/ are paying a decent fee for fiction now after their first issue garnered interest and are also publishing the magazine in print to be sold on Amazon.com thus making the best of both worlds of self-publishing. Freedom Fiction Journal http://freedomfriends.in/ aims to not only revive the speculative fiction genres such as Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, etc but to also give hope to other classic Pulp Fiction genres such as Detective, Hardboiled, Noir and Splatter fiction among others. Freedom Fiction http://freedomfriends.in/ has listed their first year run to start with an issue released in October 2008 and February 2009 each; an issue every 3 months. After the 4 issues in quarterly format they will publish an Annual Digest of anthology of the first year’s stories. They even encourage writers and digital artists to experiment and break all the rules.
Apex Book Company http://www.apexbookcompany.com/apex-online/ are already into print media and maintain the free short fiction page only to create reader interest similar to Prime Books’ Fantasy magazine venture. Elbow Creek http://www.elbowcreek.com/ is the only surviving E-Zine I found which is dedicated solely to Western Genre. They are a branding exercise for Elbow Creek Mall which sells Western apparel.
The fate of these speculative genre E-Zines endeavour is not necessarily speculative. Space Westerns http://www.spacewesterns.com/ are going strong with a good portfolio of issues released and available for free reading online. Sicence Fiction Trails http://www.sciencefictiontrails.com/ and Raygun Revival http://www.raygunrevival.com/ are also going along for the long haul with the latter releasing its 50th issue in January 2009. Paradox Mag http://www.paradoxmag.com/ has found its unique niche market in Historical Fiction. However their wares are not for free and on sale at their website. Their survival proves that finding a niche segment which has loyal readership will go a long way in determining success. Space Westerns also has such a segment – space operas and cowboy style pulp in space, SciFi Westerns, etc. Besides fiction they have also a good mix of articles, interviews and artwork.
It will be important to note here that even in the print media the churn of magazines is similarly high. The only players surviving Speculative Fiction Genre in printed magazines are Asimovs Science Fiction http://www.asimovs.com/, Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/ and Analog Science Fiction http://www.analogsf.com/ ; the big 3 flying the flag for a dying genre.
So what is the future of EZine? Will it continue to bring us spellbinding fiction from unknown amateur writers or will book companies takeover from volunteering fans of the genre to make websites that are just a poor front to sell their print novels?
With the growing ease of using the internet, self-publishing and competitive rates of webservers/bandwidth, it seems only those dedicated to the craft of Pulp Genre will survive, irrespective of what cash is stuffed into the dot com. Against quality fiction, the big players won’t stand a chance if they meddle with Editorial decisions to direct the thought-flow of the market. Such manipulation can’t be capitalised on when in today’s World Wide Web, any and everyone is an author in their own rights.
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