A few more notes on the “Big Three”

…or…”What? Two posts within a week of one another that aren’t about C&I or OA? What is this world coming to?”

The most recent post was about the “Big Three” science fiction magazines and the fact that, as of January 2017, each one publishes six very large issues a year (to save money on postage and handling: the amount of fiction appears to about the same, the equivalent of one longish novel in each two-month issue).

I thought I’d add a few notes about the “Big Three” and my own reactions to them.

What’s so Big about the Big Three?

In 1980, Analog and Asimov’s each had about 100,000 circulation. That’s a lot for a print fiction magazine of any sort. F&SF ran about 60,000: still enough to make it one of the Big Three–especially since so few other magazines survived for very long (sigh: I do remember Galaxy and [Worlds of] If).

At this point, these three are mostly survivors of the pulp fiction era. By 2004, Analog was don to something like 40,000; Asimov’s to something like 30,000; and F&SF to something like 20,000. By 2009, those numbers were 26,000; 16,000; and 17,000 respectively.

The latest figures I can find for print circulation are lower, but not that much lower. The latest USPS form (in the Jan/Feb 2017 issues of Analog and Asimov’s, which curiously arrived on the same day) are–for the year as a whole–19,963 for Analog and 13,966 for Asimov’s; the latest-issue figures are in both cases nearly the same. The most recent figures I can find for F&SF have print circulation just under 12,000; I’ll update this post when the USPS form appears. (Unlike Analog and Asimov’s, F&SF actually publishes issues within the cover date range.) All three have electronic subscriptions as well, probably numbering in the thousands: it’s quite possible that overall circulation has stabilized. On the other hand, I wouldn’t pay more for a lifetime subscription than for a five-year subscription…

These are three distinctively different magazines, even if all three use small type on cheap paper (they’re still pulps) and the two A’s are the same length and published by the same company. Here’s my current personal take:

Analog

The one with the visible gears–this is very much the Hard Science Fiction place, also in some ways the traditionalist magazine. If you know about the Sad Puppies…well, they’re more likely to appear here than in the other two. It’s the only one where you can expect letters saying that certain stories Really Don’t Belong Here.

I’m finding more and more that the gears show in the writing as well. While some first-rate writers appear here, there’s more clunkiness here than in the other two; I’m finding a couple of authors that appear all the time where it’s liberating to give up after a few pages, something I almost never do elsewhere.

No fantasy. Humor tends to be frowned on (except in short-short “Probability Zero” pieces). Lots of science and “science” articles.

I’ll look at this one very carefully when renewal time comes around (like the others, subscriptions tend to be around $37/year or $63/two years: these mags just don’t have many ads). Maybe after decades of reading I’ve gotten too young for Analog.

Asimov’s

To my mind, the best writing tends to appear here (but F&SF is close), and there’s a broad mix of all types of science fiction, including humor and some fantasy. For a long time, you could predict that a significant percentage of Nebula and Hugo short-fiction and editorial nominees would be from Asimov’s, and as of its 40th year, the magazine notes that stories have won 53 Hugos and 28 Nebulas, with editors receiving 20 Best Editor Hugos.

[I just slapped together a little table using Wikipedia’s lists of Hugo nominees and the find function. Here’s what I find from 1978–when Asimov‘s began–to the present:

Analog Asimov’s F&SF
Novella 34 80 28
Novelette 32 78 30
Short Story 27 77 33

That suggests something about writing quality, I think. (Asimov‘s editor has apparently been nominated every year but one, and won half the time.)

Here’s a similar table for the Nebulas, chosen by writers–again since 1978:

Analog Asimov’s F&SF
Novella 23 75 42
Novelette 15 66 56
Short Story 8 55 48

Anyway: I’ve read Asimov’s from the start (kept ’em for 20 years but lost them somewhere along the way, more’s the pity: were it not for the mailing labels defacing covers, that collection would probably be worth something…) and I’m likely to keep reading it for years to come.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I think the order of the title is significant: F&SF is particularly strong on fantasy and the occult, and tends not to have much hard science fiction. It uniquely runs cartoons and reader competitions, and has a healthy respect for humor.

I’ve read it for decades off and on, and am likely to keep doing so; I sometimes think I’m likely to outlast the magazine (which could, unfortunately, be true for all three). I’m not sure I have a “favorite” between Asimov’s and F&SF; both seem to have high editorial standards and publish a wide variety of good fiction.

Trying to imagine a Venn diagram of the three–that is, with overlaps for stories that could appear in more than one of them without raising the ire of the readers (that being apparently mostly an issue for Analog), I’d guess about a 20%-25% overlap between Analog and Asimov’s, about a 30%-35% overlap between Asimov’s and F&SF, and maybe a 5% overlap (if that!) between F&SF and Analog, although that overlap would have been higher before Asimov’s came along.

[When do I read these magazines? Back when I was speaking, we were vacationing, and I was attending conferences, I mostly read them during travels. Now I read them at lunch–and I’m about half a year behind, one reason that Analog may get cut.]

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