Science fiction magazines: the “big three” all 6 BIG issues a year

I’ve subscribed to all three of the “big three” of science fiction print magazines for a long time–e.g., I’ve read every issue of Asimov’s, which is in its 40th year, and both Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) even longer.

I put “big three” in scare quotes because none of them have large circulations. (There are other SF magazines, some of them probably in print, but these are the three with long histories.)

A couple of years ago, F&SF switched from monthly issues to bimonthly (that is, six times a year), while making each issue much fatter: the postage costs were killing them financially. Meanwhile, both of the others (which are both published by Dell, also home to two mystery magazines) went to slightly larger but fewer pages–and to 10 issues per year, two of them double-thickness.

Now the shift is complete: as of January-February 2017, all three magazines publish six double issues per year. (They’re double issues so they don’t have to double the length of outstanding subscriptions.)

Initially, I thought the results meant less fiction. Now, I think it may mean more, as fewer pages are devoted to columns, editorials and overhead. So, for example:

  • The November/December 2016 F&SF has four novellas and seven short stories in addition to its two book review columns and film column.
  • The January/February 2017 Asimov’s has one novella, four novelettes and seven short stories plus poetry, a book review column, and three other editorials and columns.
  • The January/February 2017 Analog has one novella, four novelettes and eleven short and short-short stories plus a fact article, book reviews, poetry and several columns.

That’s a lot of text–novellas are 17,501 to 40,000 words while novelettes are 7,500 to 17,500 words.

It felt like I was getting at least a fairly long novel’s worth of reading in each issue. A quick scan and crude OCR of page pairs from each of those issues bears that out. F&SF has smaller pages and a little more leading, but more pages: 256 pages, which seem to average about 370-400 words. In other words, with six pages of overhead an issue could have up to 100,000 words; I’d guess the average is 90,000 or more (given that four novellas alone are at least 70,000 words!). The other two appear to have 650 words per page (roughly), and run 208 pages; given 8 pages of overhead, an issue could have 130,000 words or so, and I’d guess these issues run on the order of 100,000 words.

(Those numbers could all be seriously off–this was just one pair of pages scanned using Canon’s built-in OCR routines. Let’s just say that each double issue is probably between 75,000 and 130,000 words, and quite possibly 100,000 words or more–in any case, at least as long as a novel.)

Now, if I could keep up with them…while still reading actual novels. I wonder how long they’ll survive in these book/zine forms?


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