When we started SH, our dream was that instead of trying to find a corporate backer, or relying on ad sales, or scrambling for subscriptions (which might end up dictating content, as we were forced to use 'big name' authors in order to draw subscriptions), we could create a sf/f magazine that was a truly open market for new writers, a level playing field where editors would only have to consider what stories/poetry/etc. would be, in their opinion, the best. It sounds simple, but it's really very hard to do when you're editing -- so often, financial considerations, in one form or another, can't help but influence your decisions. You think, 'oh, this is a great story, really brilliant, but it just doesn't have broad enough appeal -- if I publish stories like this, people will stop buying the magazine.' So you sacrifice the story you really love, for the sake of one that you think other people will like more. The safe story. I don't think that's the way to a great magazine. And the only way out of that trap is to take money out of the equation. That's why we were committed to no corporate backer, no ads, no subscriptions. A magazine that was free to the public, that we hoped the public would grow to support, over time.
We knew it would take time to build readership and community support. SH costs about $15,000 a year to publish, with almost all of those costs going directly to paying authors and artists. (A tiny bit is spent on web hosting and promotional activities, like the SH tea parties at conventions.) When we started the magazine, we found private donors willing to underwrite those costs -- with the understanding that we would work towards growing the readership each year, hoping that eventually the magazine would be self-supporting, based on small contributions from the readership. In the first year, we raised $1000 from the general reader pool. The second year, $2000. And so on, until now Strange Horizons is in its sixth year, and is aiming to raise $6000.
It sounds like a lot of money, but we're raised $4200 so far. Can we raise another $1800 today? I don't know. If a typical magazine subscription is $30/year, that means we'd need just sixty people to send in that $30. Sixty's not so many, not when I remember that even in the first year we published SH, the downloadable version was downloaded more than 2000 times -- we had to document that, to gain SFWA professional status, so the number sticks in my head. That's a lot of readers. Some of them must actually like the magazine. But do they like it enough to donate $30, when they don't have to? That's the question. It's the great experiment that is SH -- can we create a magazine that the general readers love enough that they will support it financially -- even when they don't have to?
SH won't go under if it doesn't make its fund drive goals. We'll call up our large donors and admit that we'll need to tap their generosity a bit more this year. Can we have another $1800, please? And because they love science fiction and fantasy, because they love Strange Horizons, they'll write the big checks. But to be honest, that was the one thing I hated when I was running SH -- putting that much of a financial burden on a few people. It would be so much better if we could spread the support through the community. Many hands make light work, as they say.
Sixty people, donating $30 each. If you love science fiction, if you love fantasy -- if you love literature in any of its forms, please consider donating. The drive ends at midnight tonight.