[Via John Scalzi] Gordon Van Gelder over at Fantasy & Science Fiction is conducting a survey on the subject of paying to read short fiction online.
My own answers, for what they’re worth:
When you read a story online that you like, do you feel inclined to support the publisher of the piece?
Not unless the publisher is also the author. Good writing makes me want to read more by that writer. What excites me about a publisher is good publishing.
In the case of print publishing, that means a well-designed, physically pleasing book or magazine, reasonably priced for what it is. Ready availability is also a plus, although Amazon.com and the postal service pretty much have that covered.
In the case of online publishing, what you’re really talking about is a highly specialized library service, and I judge it in much the same way I judge a bricks-and-mortar library. Does it offer stuff I want to read? Is it easy and pleasant to use? Is the price of admission reasonable? This last question is a killer for people hoping to charge a subscription for online magazines, because the “holdings” of an online publication are generally absurdly small. If someone opened a library across the street from your house offering nothing but back issues of F&SF, how much would you pay for a library card?
Have you ever subscribed to a print magazine on account of a story you read on their site?
If all I want is a hard copy of the story to keep, I’ll fire up my laser printer. If I want a nicely printed copy of the story to keep, then I might buy that particular issue of the magazine, although it’s usually better to wait for the story to appear in a collection of the author’s work.
The only reason to subscribe to the magazine is if I want to collect the magazine, which I almost surely don’t. If I just want to read the magazine I’ll either read it for free online, or buy a copy of the latest issue at the airport to read on a flight and then throw away.
Most magazine publishers post their Hugo- and Nebula-nominated stories online for free. If F&SF started charging the cost of an issue to read these stories, would you do so?
No. I’d also point out that in the case of the Hugos, which are voted on by fans, you’d effectively be charging the judges for the privilege of deciding whether to give you a prize. Not a great strategy if you like winning.
Do you think the prevalence of free short fiction online has made you less inclined to pay for short fiction?
No, the public library system did that. As every library patron knows, the correct price to just read a story—as opposed to owning a physical copy of it—is free.