Gordon Van Gelder – editor-in-chief of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction – has opened up a debate about genre fiction short stories and their online availability. Understandably, as a publisher of a physical ink-on-paper magazine, he’s wondering if the sheer quantity of free fiction online has devalued the form in general:
Here at F&SF, we’re open to experimentation and for the past year or so, we’ve been publishing one reprint a month on our Website. Last month, the free story was “The Political Officer” by Charles Coleman Finlay. A few days ago, someone posted on our message board that he wanted to read that story. I explained that it was no longer on our Website but he could buy a copy of that back issue from us or from Fictionwise.
As I did so, I realized that I was putting a reader in a position where he had to decide if he would pay for something he could have had for free just a few days earlier… which doesn’t strike me as a good position. I know that I don’t like being asked to make such a choice.
So I started to wonder: has short fiction been devalued by the fact that so many places offer it for free online nowadays?
This is a question that interests me too, for obvious reasons. I run Futurismic because I care about getting good writing in front of the eyeballs that enjoy it, and I compile the Friday Free Fiction posts for the same reason.
The answers to Van Gelder’s questions suggest that some people do indeed think short fiction is devalued by there being more of it available for free, but that strikes me as being counter to basic economic theory – surely the good stuff becomes more valuable when there’s lots of rubbish? [Caveat – I am, by no means, an expert in economics.]
Of course, one’s definition of a good story or book is a very personal thing, and doubtless has a lot of connection to the demographic the reader belongs to, so I dare say there’s no definitive answer.
But nonetheless, I’d like to ask Futurismic‘s readers the same question, though with a different angle to it: do you perceive the short fiction we publish as being inferior because you don’t have to pay to read it? And what effect has the availability of free short stories had on your buying habits?