as the industry moves online

An Archive of Our Own, one of the big fanfic sites, is working on implementing “subscriptions,” where you can designate particular authors (or fandoms or tags or what-have-you) and be informed when new stories get posted.

It occurs to me that, as more and more short fiction publishing moves online, how useful this could be. I mean, I post links when stories of mine go up, so if you read my LJ you hear about those things. But that requires you to follow a bunch of different separate feeds, and it buries the story links in the noise of everything else you read. Maybe some online ‘zines tag their stories in a way that allows you to tell Google Reader or whatever, tell me whenever Clarkesworld publishes a Cat Valente story — I don’t know; I haven’t tried — but if she then publishes a story in Lightspeed instead, you won’t know about it. How technically difficult would it be to create an aggregator site that covers all the online ‘zines (ending at whatever bar the site’s operator chooses), and then once you pick an author from their database, notifies you whenever that author publishes something, wherever it might be? I have no idea; IANenough of a webgeek to do that kind of thing myself. I imagine it would require some amount of cooperation from the publisher’s side, tagging the pages according to the aggregator’s requirements, etc. The benefit, however, is that it drives traffic to your site; and if I discover a lot of the writers I’ve subscribed to are being published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I might start checking out who else they print, because clearly that place fits my taste. (Heck, print magazines could even benefit, with a blog that advertises the latest ToC.)

I dunno — maybe it would weaken the sense of loyalty to particular publications in favor of the writers. We still haven’t solved the problem of funding online magazines, and if something like this makes it harder for Strange Horizons to raise money, etc, because people are no longer self-identifying as “SH readers” but readers of one author or another, then that would be a problem. But if you really like Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya stories, it would be neat to have something automatically alert you when one of them pops up, even if it’s in a place you don’t normally look. It seems to me this fits with the a la carte trend I’m seeing in how we consume media: Tivo to pull down the programs we want to watch, iTunes selling us individual tracks instead of whole albums, etc. I’m reading some serialized stories online, and I know having new chapters pop up in my reader, without me having to go check for updates, is damned convenient. If short story publishing in general had something like this, I’d use it in a heartbeat.

0 Responses to “as the industry moves online”

  1. Marie Brennan

    An interesting possible outgrowth of a subscription site notification site might be not just to subscribe to particular authors that you enjoy, but instead to some person whose taste in stories that you like.

    That too. To some extent you can get it now with the people who review short fiction on their own sites; but it isn’t automated in a way that lets people really hop on the bandwagon.

    It would also be awesome to subscribe to particular tags, but I suspect that’s harder to implement. It can work on AO3 because of the tag-wranglers keeping everything in order, but standardizing that across multiple different sites wouldn’t be as straightforward. (I’m not sure it’s even straightforward on AO3; probably not.)

  2. kateelliott

    This makes sense to me. I’m not loyal to, say, a particular record company. In fact, I generally don’t even know which labels release which artists. I look for artists on iTunes, not record companies.

    I can see that in a niche marketplace in which you are essentially reading a magazine because you like the editor’s taste in stories and the variety and chance you can read something you wouldn’t have otherwise, this model may be a problem. That I have no answer for, except that surely both are possible.

    • Marie Brennan

      Well, it depends on how the aggregator presents the stories: if it does so in a fashion that drives you to the magazine site or replicates the masthead, then the user can see if they’re constantly going to the same source, and check out more of their offerings.

  3. jennifergale

    A lot of fanfiction writers use the Memories feature in LJ to store links to their various stories. This is usually noted somewhere in the author’s User Info page. Because most authors seldom stick to a single website (which is a bit like what you’re describing), this is seen as a tool to help readers find their other stories.

    Alternately, some fanfic writers keep what are called “fic journals,” which only contain links to said stories and require a second LJ subscription from the reader. This last is something where an RSS feed feature is already available. I know readers can sign up to get alerts each time certain LJ authors update their journals, and this is often how my friends track such updates…especially from authors who don’t update frequently.

    Again, people tend to put links to these fic journals in the User Info section of their regular LJs.

    I don’t know if this is helpful information, but there you go! 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      It doesn’t solve the problem, though, of having to track a bunch of different sites: even if pro writers made feeds just for story links, you’d have to seek out all those individual feeds. I’m interested in something more universal than that — sort of a “TV Guide” thing that would track a broad cross-section of what’s published professionally, in a single place. (Obviously the AO3 comparison only applies to stories on AO3 — it doesn’t help with anything not posted there — but it’s what gave me the notion.)

  4. Anonymous

    I am enough of a geek to know that this would not be especially difficult. In fact, you could hack a really ugly version of something like this together in a weekend, methinks. The hard part would not be doing the feed aggregation (feed aggregation is easy), but rather determining who the author is. Some sites put the author’s name in the “author” field of their feeds, while others publish all of their entries under an editor account, with the actual author’s name somewhere in the text. But that would most likely be solvable with some simple heuristics.

    In order to encourage traffic to the actual publishers, I would probably only publish the titles and a teaser in the feed itself, encouraging people to click through to the magazines for the full content.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, the author part is what I meant about cooperation from the publisher’s side; it would be easier if that were standardized, so the aggregator’s code knows where to look for the data.

      I was thinking either a selection and link, or something that reproduces the masthead etc. of the publishing site (rather than, say, Google Reader’s method of pouring the content out of its frame) so you’re aware of where the story comes from. The former would probably be better for creating ‘zine loyalty, but would likely reduce readership of any given story by some amount; any time people have to click through, some of them will decide not to.

      • alecaustin

        Obligatory ‘not a lawyer’ caveats, but I suspect that redistributing the content might run into rights issues, as even with the masthead and such, as it seems suspiciously like a(n electronic) reprint. Presumably sites that wanted to provide people whole stories rather than selection and link would want to have their contracts explicit allow for this sort of RSS-style distribution.

        You’re completely right about the drop-off in terms of users who’ll click through a link, though if people are getting a high volume of story content delivered to them, they’re likely to get overwhelmed and skip past it also.

        • Marie Brennan

          How is that handled now? Google Reader almost always provides me with the whole text of a post, and technically that’s a reprint of somebody’s original content. Do you mean it’s an issue for how the contract between author and publisher is worded? Hmm, I’d have to dig up a cross-section of my contracts to see whether their wording implies a conflict or not.

          (Electronic media in general have so thoroughly borked copyright, it isn’t even funny.)

          • alecaustin

            Blog and RSS aggregators basically work off of the principle that you’re spreading people’s freely provided content around, so why would they object? And in the context of blogs, they usually wouldn’t – though occasionally someone like the AP tries to come up with some sort of scheme to charge people for quotation practices that are probably covered by Fair Use.

            Things can become a bit dicier when you’re getting into reproducing content that’s known to have re-publication value (i.e. whole stories, that sort of thing). The potential for people to say things like “You’re publishing my story in a way that isn’t covered by the contract!” goes up a bit, and I’m pretty sure Daily Science Fiction and similar markets have contracts to account for this kind of thing.

            Electronic Media has totally borked the traditional conception of copyright, in all kinds of ways. I’ve written white papers arguing that people should try to us free content to leverage audience goodwill to the advantage, but that isn’t always viable.

  5. rachelmanija

    I would definitely use something like that, and if it was available and easy to use, I would probably end up reading way more short stories than I normally do.

    • Marie Brennan

      That was part of my thought, too; subscribing to Podcastle and Escape Pod has markedly increased my short story consumption, because those show up automatically in iTunes and wait for me to get around to them. (Mind you, I do those in spates, since I mostly only listen to short stories while traveling — but it does happen eventually.)

      • tchernabyelo

        Likewise, I read more stuff from Every Day Fiction and Daily Science Fiction than any other online markets, because they come to me. And when I do read one of the other online magazines, even if I find an exceptional story, I don’t necesssarily go and track the author’s other work down. But I should, and so something like this would be very handy.

        However this is the nexus of an upcoming struggle in the whole entertainment field. Publishers (both book/magazine or music publishers) and media companies (TV and movies) really really want to increase their branding and cross-selling capabilities, because branding has been show to work big-style in other areas. So the last thing they want is people going cross-market for a particular content producer. Whether this will lead to more exclusive contracts (as has long been the practice in the record industry) in other fields, I’m not sure; it would not surprise me. I understand it’s actually common practice in the movie industry for stars to be contracted for X pictures to one of the big companies, but branding there remains largely invisible (can you remember the production companies of the last five movies you went to see?), though the corporations would love it to be otherwise…

        • Marie Brennan

          I don’t know about the entire short-fiction publishing field, but in SF/F it’s enough of a shoestring operation that just getting more eyeballs on the content would be a big victory; anybody who tries to enforce some kind of exclusivity in contracts would likely get laughed at. (IIRC, this was part of Orbit’s notion for their short fiction program, and it was roundly mocked by the pro authors I know. To make it work, they would have to offer a substantial monetary benefit to the author, and nobody’s really in a position to afford that. I don’t know where things stand with Orbit now, though.)

          • tchernabyelo

            Oh, at the moment the power lies more with the producers than the packagers – unlike (historically) the music industry. But to some extent the producers do NEED the packaging (the “filter” service they provide has value, as the self-publishing “revolution” has shown).

            But media is THE big industry, THE big production concept of the 21st century. In the 20th century, it was physical consumer devices, but now, it’s shifting ot the content that those devices provide (which is why since the 70s and Betamax-vs-VHS we’ve had all the platform struggles). There is (the potential for) enormous amount of money to be involved here, and I’m pretty confident that at least some corporations/organisations are looking very seriously at ways in which their “filter” role can be extended, not reduced, to ensure they get as much of a slice of the big pie as possible.

            That said, I accept that short fiction is a small crumb of said big pie. But what happens to the big pie may well affect what happens to the crumb. We’re already seeing more novel contracts going for global rights rather than US/UK/whatever, and I seem to be seeing more contracts asking for (usually non-exclusive – but not always!) perpetual rights.

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