The decision has been made. The announcements have been sent.
IROSF will suspend publication after the February issue.
If this were a storefront, the only work remaining would be the sad, lonely task of selling the last of the goods that the distributors wouldn't offer refunds for. Packing up the office. Emptying out the halls.
Plenty of people around these United States have been doing a lot of that. I'm glad that's not really the situation here.
First of all, we have the great joy of publishing two more outstanding issues (this one included). Believe me, we aim to go out with a bang, not a whimper, not a firesale.
It's true that the proximal cause of our suspension is financial, but there's a lot more to it than that, and to share with readers both old and new the fullness of this decision, I'd like to go back a few years.
It was 2003. I had been writing full-time for about a year. I had a couple of novels in the trunk, about a score of short stories wandering from market to market. I wasn't entirely happy with my work, and considerably less happy with the success of the work. A number of factors came together to inspire The Internet Review of Science Fiction, and at least one of them was good old procrastination! I had spent the prior eight years as a professional programmer developing back-end software for Internet applications such as Amazon.com. Software engineering was not only a rewarding activity, it was something I was demonstrably good at.
By way of studying the short story form, I had taken up reviewing the major magazines. Contemporary readers may not recall this, but before Lois stepped up to be our short fiction reviewer, yours truly did the job. That had already had a burgeoning life on a personal web site. Another pet project had been a short fiction market database that was miles better than the others out there. Slowly, a grand master plan began to come together. Something that would combine my passion for the genre with my skill at software development as well as explore some ideas about Internet publishing.
IROSF was the first major step in that master plan, and it was the last.
I found myself no longer in the luxurious position of not having a steady income. Writing wasn't paying any bills. (I think I did underwrite a beer with one story, and a dinner with a second.) IROSF had never been intended to pay bills (remember, it was the first step in a master plan). IROSF also turned out to be quite a bit of work.
I did the first few issues entirely by myself. I concocted a number of fictional editors, including one John Frost, to help me out and make the whole enterprise seem a little more professional, but it turned out that they didn't make the workload any lighter. Fortunately, before long some amazing volunteers did show up, and I will never forget those first intrepid volunteers, one of whom is with us to this day! (Yoon Ha, you know who you are.) Joy Ralph, Travitt Hamilton, Carey McGee and Yoon Ha Lee were the first real team to take IROSF to the next level.
Many other volunteers came and went over the years, culminating in our most amazing, Stacey Janssen, without whom IROSF would have perished many, many issues ago. I continue to expect great and wonderful things of Stacey in the future. But even with volunteers, each issue took a lot of work, and volunteers turn out to be real people, with other things going on in their lives.Which pretty much brings us to the present day. The money ran out a while ago, and we've been scraping along as best we can. The master plan has gone no further than a slowly developing gleam in my eye. Writing has been a slow and largely unproductive hobby for a few years now.
I want to be clear that it's not just about the money. I continue to believe that with the right energy behind fund drives, advertising, and perhaps some further experiments with subscription models and/or donation mechanisms, IROSF could potentially break even this year. Stacey and I talked about these options in depth, and on some days got ourselves psyched up to try it.
But here's the thing. If Paul Allen (noted Science Fiction enthusiast and my current (albeit at a certain great remove) employer) were to hand me a couple of hundred grand and tell me to turn IROSF into a business, I would decline. Or rather, I would pitch him the master plan. Because IROSF by itself has been a wonderful experience, and, from all the positive feedback over the years, I think it has been a worthwhile gift to the science fiction and fantasy community. But it's not a business model, and will always be, at best, a labor of love.
No, the empty coffers are just an excuse. A really good excuse to go back to the original mission and see if we can't do something a little more significant. Something that changes the way publishing itself works.
We know that digital distribution is changing the way people buy their reading material. We know that the music industry, the film industry, and the television industry are all in deep experimentation, struggling--in some cases with, in most cases against--the changing times. Journalism is completely on the rocks. Publishers, distributors, and booksellers are all in the same boat, and the past six years have taught me a thing or two about the struggles that face even a very small, distributed publishing team.
My conclusion is that now is the time for that old master plan, now thoroughly updated and juiced with new possibilities that didn't exist back in 2003. I can't hold down a job, continue to improve the IROSF experience, and undertake new experiments in publishing.
So that's the deal.
The Internet Review of Science Fiction has been a tremendous experience for myself, and for many of the other editors, and even if we never bring it back into print (a possibility I do not rule out), I think it will be remembered by more than a few readers.
Thank you, readers!
Thank you, editors!
And as for what the future will bring... stay tuned, and stay in touch.
Oh, the title of this editorial? Yes, that's actually a bit of an aside. One time, years ago, I was visiting a friend in Rome. My instructions were to take a bus to "Penultima Fermata." I didn't speak Italian, and had always sort of thought that "penultimate" was something even cooler than "ultimate." I was expecting the bus to pull up before some grand and ancient ruin, or perhaps a suave european luxury resort. But actually it was a nondescript stop in the suburbs. It was the next to the last stop.
I actually think this next-to-last issue is a pretty sharp one, and I expect the ultima fermata to be downright outstanding, but I just couldn't get away from the title. We'll see if Stacey lets it through...