Welcome all to the long overdue Digital Science Fiction status report. We’ve been awfully quiet lately, sleeping parrot quiet. I have received a lot of questions on the status of the Digital Science Fiction anthologies, where book 5 is, and if there will ever be a book 5 (or more). In the interest of full disclosure, which may or may not be a good idea, and may or may not come across a little pathetic, here’s what’s up:
Digital Science Fiction is not dead. It’s not folded, wrapped up, closed down, or toast. We’re still here, we still get mail, and most importantly we’re still selling books. In fact, the first four Kindle version anthologies are doing quite well in their genre and category (science fiction anthologies) on Amazon. They’re consistently in the top ten for digital science fiction anthologies; Therefore I Am is, as I write this, sitting at number 1 again on the Kindle science fiction anthology Best Seller list, as a matter of fact.
The paper versions don’t do that well though. I’d say we sell less than 12 of each edition per month, sometimes less, rarely more. They’re still great to have and I personally love them on my shelf, but they’re not big sellers. That’s alright though, as the paper versions were never intended as the main objective for Digital Science Fiction. They’ve always been a bit of an afterthought and just something nice for friends, family, and people that love science fiction and hate new technology (so, like, 5 people).
The biggest hurdle to selling paper books in stores, to be honest, is how the book industry handles returns. Currently we only print books when they’re sold, using print on demand technology. It’s a great system that eats into profit margins because it’s more expensive, but results in no unused inventory. If Digital wanted to be available to regular stores we would have to allow returns of all unsold printed books, at our full expense. Imagine how nasty that would be if a chain printed 2000 books and returned 1600 of them. Whatever the numbers, the situation is untenable for a small publisher with virtually no war chest to speak of. Maybe someday we will be able to fund unsold inventory, but until that day the Digital Science Fiction paper versions will only be available through online sales or stores that are prepared to fund their own unsold inventory. (On a positive note, Amazon now stocks the Digital printed anthologies in regular inventory – which is cool.)
Alright, so if the Kindle and other digital versions of Digital Science Fiction are selling, then how come there’s no book 5? Fair question, and simple answer. There’s not enough money, yet.
The first four editions of the anthology were 100% funded in house through a small internet marketing/advertising company I was running in my spare time. I have never funded Digital with my regular income or savings nor has the company borrowed money for the books. Each edition of the anthology costs about $5,500 to $6,000 to produce, including digital and print layouts, art, stories, and editing. All of these costs, including the author’s fees and editing are paid up front, in advance of the books release. In addition to this amount, there are expenses for some limited marketing of each release (as much as could be afforded) and maintenance of the website and content for the website. Again, this was all shouldered by the internet advertising company in hopes the books would get off the ground and support themselves.
This funding model is where the trouble started. In October 2011 the internet company stopped earning an income. In fact, in October it ended up losing a substantial amount of money for reasons that need not be discussed. Suffice to say though it was the equivalent of about two full runs of the anthology, down the drain, drawn from the war chest, and then some.
As soon as that happened I notified the anthology 5 authors that I was in trouble. I don’t recall getting into the details with them, but I was clear that the first four anthologies were not financially able to fund, on their own, the publishing of the next anthology and beyond. Accordingly, and with much disappointment in losing such great stories to other venues, I advised each of the selected authors in October that I was not able to use their story and encouraged them to immediately submit them elsewhere for publication. I also asked them to remain quiet about what happened, at least until I could regroup and get a sense of things. Each of them has honored that request, to their credit and with my thanks, notwithstanding that they have been asked by others what is happening at Digital. I suppose now they are welcome to say what they like as the cat’s out of the bag.
The good news is, Digital is still selling a good number of digital versions of the first four books. They seem to be popular, have received some great reviews (I know it was you, mom), and are holding their top positions in their genre/format on Amazon. That means they are generating regular and real income. That income is designated for exactly two things: getting the next anthology published and maintaining a Digital Science Fiction presence online.
With respect to the second objective, keeping up online appearances, I have been lax. While I had to suspend my content agreements with two writers as belt tightening, Luke Forney and Kyt Dotson have been writing away, providing awesome content for the website. The problem has been at my end in getting the content posted; I simply have not been doing so. That’s just plain lazy on my part, as it’s not much work, and while I have lots of excuses none of them are particularly compelling. I’ll do better! (But I won’t post all the back-content on the same day, because that would be silly.)
With respect to the first objective, publishing more books, I’m working on it. The sale are building up something of a bank to be used on the next run. While I have considered other funding models, and payment plans for authors and editors, I have rejected them all thus far. It has always been an important goal to be a SFWA qualified venue. That requires, among other things, that authors be paid up-front for their work. Luckily I think that’s the right way too, so there will be no compromise on how and when money changes hands. For authors and editors, it will be when the work is ready to publish. For that reason alone I will not undertake the fifth book until the money is available to finish it. That time WILL come, but it’s not entirely clear when that will be.
As for story submissions, there’s really no point in opening that door at all for the foreseeable future. When it comes time to embark on book 5, I will first go back to the authors previously selected to inquire if their story might still be available, and if they would like to give me a second chance. If it is and they will, then they will be in book 5 — as many as I can get. Thereafter we actually had some terrific submissions past book 5 that were not ‘selected’ for now obvious reasons, and we will revisit those to fill in any gaps. If we still don’t have a complete book 5 then we will open for submissions and put our fabulous troika of story selectors back to work.
In the meantime I will continue to attempt resuscitation of the internet business. It is a finicky field though, with substantial risks, so that’s an undertaking best taken in small steps. Very small steps. If it comes around I will happily redirect income from that venture to Digital Science Fiction. If it does not, Digital will still get to book 5, it will just take much longer.
So, that’s the skinny on Digital. If I’m allowed to have future plans under the circumstances, then I’d say I do. I want to publish more anthologies and continue to introduce new and established writers to our readers. I want to continue to publish quality books with their own style, substance, and unique content. I want to branch out and do specialty anthologies, and in particular one or two dedicated to younger readers. Finally I want to do full length novels. “What!! That’s nuts!”, you say. Maybe, but Digital has a fairly strong base on the internet now, and I have a few techniques that can really drive visibility for our books. This is why the anthologies remain strong in their niche. There’s no reason these techniques can’t be applied to full length stories. The downside will remain, of course, the draconian consignment policies and fully funded return practices of book stores for printed versions of anything Digital produces.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Please comment and ask any questions you like. I’ll answer them. But, it’s not dead yet, may be the answer.