Jason Rennie, the founder of Sci Phi Journal, has announced he will depart from the magazine at the end of June. Jason tirelessly built up an audience for intelligent science fiction storytelling that captures our wonder at the universe, as well as our fears for life on planet Earth. Quite a number of authors were given their first break by Jason. He will be irreplaceable. But we are left with a decision: do we abort the mission, or do we go on? As somebody who loves philosophy, science, and science fiction, I know which choice I prefer. SPJ has a loyal readership, leading me to conclude that you also want this endeavour to continue. So I will take on some of Jason’s role, whilst working with current and new team members to build on Jason’s legacy. If you have a few moments, please let me explain how we intend to take SPJ forward.
One of Jason’s greatest strengths was the way he networked and promoted SPJ by reaching out to people on a one-to-one basis. That is just one of the reasons why Jason cannot be replaced, and also explains why his time has been consumed by so many other ventures. I doubt I could match Jason’s Herculean efforts, so I will try to grow the popularity of SPJ using a different approach: by throwing money at it. Increasing the readership of SPJ is good for all of us. It will introduce the writers to a wider audience, increase awareness of the artists, stimulate greater interest in the philosophical and scientific disciplines we care about, and ultimately lead to better rates of pay for everyone who contributes. The revenue-sharing model of SPJ meant the magazine was always guaranteed to break even, but it left no money for advertising and meant writers could never be sure about how much they would receive for their work. From July, the following changes will take place:
- all fiction writers will be offered a fixed rate per word;
- writers of non-fiction will no longer be offered pay, but there will be increased emphasis on promoting their work elsewhere;
- fewer stories will be published, but their average length is likely to increase;
- there will be more non-fiction articles about philosophy and science, and a clearer separation in the presentation of fiction and non-fiction;
- SPJ will be run at a loss, with much of the additional expenditure focused on growing the audience through web advertising;
- the website will be revamped and moved to a faster server;
- the paywall for subscriber-only stories will be removed, so all stories can be read by all visitors to the website;
- paying subscribers will receive a quarterly digest emailed directly to their inbox or to their e-reader; and
- paying subscribers will also receive free digital copies of any future SPJ anthologies or other spin-off publications.
The plan is simple: if the readership grows, then the number of paying subscribers will rise, which will allow us to pay more to writers, and eventually return the magazine to profit. Loyalty will also be rewarded. Authors that regularly contribute stories or articles will be first in line for increased rates of pay. The most loyal subscribers will receive special one-off benefits, such as the opportunity to acquire original artwork, or to set the challenge for the writing contests we intend to run in future.
I have repeatedly mentioned money because I am a practical guy, and because authors like to eat from time to time. However, I want to be clear about why I am taking on the running of SPJ: “philosophy” means love of wisdom, and this will be a labour of love. I believe the telling of stories is an important route to wisdom, and is a way to explore the universe with our mind. You probably feel the same, and I have faith that there are many others who also feel as we do. If I am now trusted to take care of some of the practical aspects of SPJ it is because I have learned a thing or two about running websites and businesses over the years, and because I used to listen to Jason’s Sci Phi podcast back when he did them, and because I somehow stumbled into administering this website after offering to debug a glitch in another of Jason’s sites, and because I visited Australia late last year, and so met with Jason and talked about his plans for the future and the prospect that he might step down as Editor-in-Chief. Otherwise, my CV boasts enough education to know the difference between Schopenhauer and Scruton, and enough leisure to distinguish Asimov from Aldiss. I have even had a few stories published using my pen name, Ray Blank, but contrary to the beliefs of some rumour-mongers at SF gossip site File 770, my name in the real world is Eric Priezkalns, and you are welcome to google it and hence discover my lack of experience at science fiction publishing. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the fact that Jason also lacked experience when he started SPJ, and I will benefit from working with the excellent team he assembled, which includes Ben Zwycky, who has agreed to be Editor of the revamped publication.
It is fitting that SPJ will be both an exploration of what human minds can achieve through collaboration, and an experiment in changing the way we share stories, science, and philosophy. As a relative outsider, I am bemused that SF publishing has not adapted more to 21st century technology. Historian and philosopher Thomas Kuhn observed that:
In science… novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation.
The same might be said of novelty in publishing. Jason attempted quite a few innovations during his time as Editor-in-Chief of SPJ, and now we are going to attempt many more. But I think if any audience can cope with innovation, it is this one. Scientifically curious, philosophically open, and mindful of the impact of technology, I would like to think we are the people who could make a collective success of a publication that aims to deliver thoughtful and imaginative stories to the widest possible audience. And I believe we will do that not by tweaking existing commercial models, but by fostering a community of people willing to engage in dialogue via the medium of creative writing. I am excited by the prospect, and I hope you will join us for the ride.