Ticonderoga Online Logo Issue 8: Winter 2006

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Filthy Lucre

There's an old joke, and it goes something like this:

Q: What's the last thing that goes through a bug's mind when it hits the windscreen?

A: Its arsehole.

Welcome to my windscreen.

Part I — free transit zone

Writers have never had it so good. Each year seems to break last year's record for the number of stories published in genre magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia. Seems that everyone's got a story to tell and the market's expanding to meet the demand.

Hang on, did I say market? What was I thinking.

Each year seems to break last year's record for the number of stories published in genre magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia. But having enough publications out there giving homes to stray stories is only half of the market, and, dare I say, the least important of the halves.

Unless they're hiding it well, pretty much every independent story market right now is struggling. Struggling to find enough stories, struggling to find the right stories, and, importantly, struggling to make their story market pay.

Editing and publishing is an uphill battle in Australia. It's a mug's game. The regular lament is that, "distribution is a killer" but that's only part of it. Finding people willing to buy magazines and books, or advertise or otherwise throw money at websites is another killer.

The business models for indie presses and websites can generally be broken up into three types: beg, steal or borrow.

Begging is the most common; for print publications it involves begging readers to buy them, stores to stock them, and distributors to distribute them. For online publications it's about begging advertisers to come on-board and begging readers to donate.

Borrowing involves piggybacking a publication off a more lucrative business, like the way SCIFICTION was part of scifi.com and the Sci-Fi Channel, in what's often called "value adding" (another name for bullshit).

Stealing is where you don't pay for contributions[1]. The publication gets contributions for a "steal". The writer gets paid in prestige and the publisher has less debt.

For the record, TiconderogaOnline is a hybrid of all three: you can donate here, or get details about advertising with us here (we'd appreciate it); this site is also effectively funded by the mound of potential debt that is Ticonderoga Publications (adding value but subtracting income); and finally we don't pay all our contributors, and those we do pay we don't pay enough.

See how easy it all is.

For the record, below is a rough snapshot of a year in Australian indie sf and what it would cost the intelligent and discerning reader:

Agog! $25/year (one anthology)
Altair Books ($200 for one of everything listed on their catalogue)
Andromeda Spaceways $49/year
Antipodean sf FREE!
Aurealis $38.50 (four issues)
Borderlands $30.00 (3 issues)
Brimstone (watch this space!)
CSFG ($20.35 for The Outcast)
Dark Animus ($25 for 3 issues)
Mirrordanse (approx $40 for two titles/year)
Orb (approx $15/issue)
Potato Monkey ($12.00 for four issues)
Shadowed Realms FREE!
Ticonderoga ($100/year — three titles plus)

(Many of these titles are available at the excellent Aust Speculative Fiction website.)

A big year would cost the discerning reader approximately $600, a smaller year maybe $400. Fifty dollars a month, tops. About the price of a tank of unleaded and a kilo of bananas, and much better value for money.

Something to think about next time you're looking for something to read.

Part II — where have all the readers gone?

I've attended three conventions this year, in three cities. One had a large fan focus while the other two seemed to be aimed more at writers. This may have been due to the local demographics, or to do with their respective programs. I suspect it's a mix of both.

Either way, the most important people get the ghetto-side welcome to the cheap seats treatment. The most important people — and I know I'm going to get hate mail for saying this — aren't the editors, artists or even the writers; they're the everyday punters, the readers. The people we write, edit and illustrate for.

The folk who make it all worthwhile.

To put on a cynical, capitalist hat for a moment, these people are the consumers, the target market. There's no point trying to tell a writer to buy a book, they're all too busy writing to have a decent income[2].

Show me the money? Show me the readers and I'll show you the money. I think that what Australia really needs is a whole pile of wonderful people who read fast and have large, disposable incomes. These are the people that we want to see coming along to conventions, with a big shopping bag in one hand and a fat wallet in the other[3].

The folk who regularly ask the verboten questions: where do you get your ideas? When is book 3 coming out? Why do you write short stories?

There's no prestige in being a reader: it's the unsexy continent in the Glamorous and Sexy World of Publishing (TM), the one that gets forgotten on occasion among the lands of writers etc, or taken for granted in a publish it and they will come mentality.

And they shouldn't. There should be no stigma attached to someone standing up and saying, "I'm just a reader" — next time, hug that person. Shower them with cocaine and hookers. Tell them to stand up and be proud.

There ain't no just about it: they are readers, and should be proud.

You make it all worthwhile.

For those about to read, we salute you. (The cocaine and hookers will be emailed to you shortly.)

*   *   *

All rants aside, astute readers will noticed there are a few changes this time around. We're staggering the uploading of this issue, to keep readers coming back week after week. The end result will be more reviews, more interviews and more content overall. In this issue there's a cheap publicity stunt competition, where two lucky readers can win copies of former editor Lee Battersby's debut collection, Through Soft Air (kindly donated by the author). You can also keep up to date on this site through our live news feed, and for people who don't like forums we've got a livejournal (https://ticonlivefeed.livejournal.com/) that you can comment away on and will feature additional content from time to time.

There's a lot going on at Fort Ticonderoga. Read now, and come back next week for more. And the week after, TiconderogaOnline Issue 8 will be continually updated with fresh content until Issue 9 is uploaded. More reviews and interviews are still to come.

In this issue we've got two of the best stories you're likely to read this year: folk looking for Australianness in fiction need not look past Peter McGregor's "... at half past four", also his first paid sale; and for stunning imagery and an overall feeling of something not quite right we present Lee Battersby's "Fade".

We've also interviewed debut novelist Martin Livings and respected writer Simon Brown; internationally unknown columnist Steven Utley talks about what it's like to be internationally unknown; plus reviews of all the latest and greatest publications.

All this, for free.

The editors


[1] Before all the non-paying publications out there reach for their lawyers, I'm not implying an actual act of theft. If a writer willingly gives a publication for nothing then that's their business. Taken metaphorically, it implies getting something for nothing, which is what readers are effectively getting.[back]

[2] From a more altruistic viewpoint it can also be argued that writers and other creative folk have made their contribution at the office through their underpaid artistic endeavours, so getting them to hand over cash is effectively double dipping. But the title of this editorial is Filthy Lucre, not Altruists Anonymous.[back]

[3] I could also describe the valued contribution readers make in promoting debate, adding colour and providing fresh air to conventions. But one thing at a time, and I refer again to my comment above on the topic at hand.[back]

Through Soft Air - debut collection by award-winning Lee Battersby