Sci Fi Short Story Magazine - not a scam, just your standard ripoff

A new science fiction magazine called Sci Fi Short Story caught our eye recently. It looks good online, and it's even hiring editors. Sounds great - a professional market in the making, right? Sure, until you read the fine print.

First of all, it turns out that Sci Fi Short Story only pays its writers $3 per story. So it's not a good proposition for writers who are hoping to be compensated for their work. But in an industry where writers are often paid very little, this isn't terribly surprising. More unusual was the magazine's "now hiring editors" ad. Paid editors? Amazing, in this day and age. But their parent company Ring Publications is hiring editors using a compensation system that seemed a little, well, strange. Here's the ad from their website:

Editors are responsible for providing all content for their magazines (including illustrations, if an illustrated magazine) and for editing said content, and are expected to assist with marketing and promotion. Editors are required to provide content in a timely manner. Ring Publications is responsible for layout and design, web design, publishing, marketing, advertising and sales. These functions are not required of the editor. All upfront costs involved in printing and web hosting/publishing are covered by Ring Publications. Editors assume no liability or out of pocket costs.

Editors are compensated with a 30% royalty payment on net proceeds from each magazine they are responsible for. This includes all profit from magazine sales, subscriptions, and advertising.

This sounded a little scammy, so we turned for answers to John Scalzi, author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He said:

It's not even 30% of the royalties, it's 30% royalties on the net, which means a) editors don't get paid until the publishers meet their own costs and compensations, b) the publishers get to define when that point is.

I don't think this is a binary choice between "scammy" or "normal"; I think it's just a couple of guys who want their own science fiction magazine being horribly, horribly cheap to the people who will actually do most of the work to make their property attractive, i.e., the editors and the contributors. The "We'll make money while everyone else works for next to nothing!" ethos is not exclusive to the Internet era, particularly in the science fiction genre, but the ease in which people can do things now does seem to encourage people to have grand business plans without thinking about funding them adequately, or compensating others more than laughably.

It's certainly not a gig I would ever consider or would suggest others consider. It seems doubtful any real money is going to made here, and really, if you're not going to be paid for your work, you might as well work for yourself, volunteer your time to a non-profit like Strange Horizons, or put together a fun fanzine with your pals.

The business practices of the magazine's parent company don't say anything about the quality of stories in the magazine. But it does mean that you might want to think twice before supporting the magazine - as a potential contributor or editor, and as a reader. If you're going to work for free, you might as well create your own magazine, or volunteer at an established non-profit that supports scifi short stories, like Strange Horizons.

UPDATE: We heard back from Craig Gehring, publisher of Ring Publications, who describes his venture as "hobby magazines": "They're webzines. They're free. They don't generate a lot of revenue, generally... Really, it's a for-the-love type of publication." So far, Ring is putting out two magazines, Romance Magazine and Sci Fi Short Story, which Gehring and his wife are editing themselves. He says he's gotten applications from editors who are starting other magazines, and so far nobody's complained about the payment arrangements.

So if there's no money in it, why should people start a new magazine through Ring Publications instead of just going independent? Says Gehring, "There's a lot of editors out there that start for-the-love publications, but some of them don't really have the technical expertise to set up the site or do the layout." His idea is that the editors would go through submissions and pick the best stories, and Ring Publications would take care of everything else. He says that "if this was a commercial venture," then it might be a problem, "but that's not really the point."

Additional reporting by Charlie Jane Anders.