I ordered a copy ofArgosy a couple of weeks ago because the description the site gave (and a few reviews I had read) of the mag sounded cool, but the real attraction was that it featured art by Bill Sienkiewicz, who I adore. It's a bit on the pricey side, but since my only trips and purchasing of late appear to involve McDonalds and teenage girls, both relatively cheap, I figured I'd cough it up. I'm glad I did. From a standpoint of Argosy as an object, it's beautiful. Arriving in a slip case and filled with brown ink images of Sienkiewicz's art (the whole magazine is printed in that ink colour), it's laid out with a simple creativeness that gives you, without having read any of the magazine, an appreciation of it as an object. The result of this is that I'm actually looking forward to sitting down and reading it.
Truthfully, I was never a big magazine reader. Two or three, sporadic issues of other things here and there. In recent years they're dropped to one, Too Much Coffee Man, which isn't a short fiction magazine at all.* Instead of talking about that magazine, I'll refuse on spec fic stuff, and just keep the flow of reasons why I don't read many. The main reasons, I think, is that the non-fiction I like to read can be found on the net, to such an extent that I don't think I'd buy a magazine these days for non-fiction. In addition, with all the reprint anthologies floating around, I'm never at a loss for short fiction, and the Year's Bests pick a nice selection from the actual magazines, so there doesn't seem to be much of a point in buying a whole heap of magazines that I'll likely not read (and if I am at a loss, I can find short fiction the net as well--often put up in the award season by the magazines). The other side of why I kicked magazines for the most part is the patchy content, the fact that they're mostly as ugly as sin, and cost around the price of an album or paperback, give or take. Granted, I usually have to spend another five bucks there, but what's five bucks these days? You can't even get enough petrol to drive home for that now.
Out of the three reasons I listed, the ugliness of magazines is my common complaint, especially in the speculative fiction scene. Now, understand, I don't not buy things because they're ugly. If I heard enough good things about a magazine, and it caught my interest, I'd buy it. But rarely do I hear anything that equals that kind of buzz. The periodical word appears to float along in a little bubble in that regard. Still, it must be said that the digest format of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Asimov's doesn't appeal to me at all, and I can't really figure why they've remained in such a static form all these years. But of course, as much as I dislike the pulp inspired digests, I break out in a rash when I see the magazine format of things like Interzone and Realms of Fantasy. There's just something so very awkward about those pages and, in the case of Realms of Fantasy, every time I've seen it it's had this ridiculous fantasy cover that reminds me of the TSR books I read when I was twelve.
Locally, however, things rarely rise to the standards of the overseas magazines. There's a very real reason for this, of course, which is the cost involved with producing a magazine. The small press here is supported by people, not publishers, and while there are cases of Government funding (mostly for Aurealis) the truth is that not as much money is available to be pumped into the scene.
The cheapest magazine floating around at the moment, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which retails for about eight bucks, is simply hideous. Granted, I'm not the audience that Andromeda is aiming for in content or... well, just about anything, but the entire thing is revolting as an object. A simple tour through the site will see if you agree with me or not. My reaction is identical when I'm placed in front of a copy of Dark Animus, the pulp horror magazine which goes for about the same price**, but again, like Andromeda, doesn't have me as a target audience. For a couple of bucks more, you can pick yourself up a copy of Borderlands, the magazine that was born out of Eidolon's remains, but every time I've seen it, I've been reminded of the cheaper magazine, Fables and Reflections, which I never thought much of content wise, and which was also as ugly as sin. Since I've only heard mixed things about the content, I've never been able to shake that...
That leaves Orb and Aurealis, which returns to the argument of cost, though from what I understand Orb is now more of a yearly anthology in keeping with Polyphony and the Agog! collections.
I guess, what I'm saying is that with magazines, I'm attracted to things that catch my interest as an object. Cost only becomes a factor when it's your regular magazine (usually digest) and it's comparable with the cost of a book or CD or a cheap DVD even. When it's like that, I ask myself what else I'm getting. In the case of Argosy, it was Bill Sienkiewicz's art and buzz around it as an object. This is not, I might add, something that I limit to the speculative fiction scene, either, since I haven't bought a copy of the literary magazine Meanjin for years. Sure, I liked it content wise (essays mainly--fiction was minor) but that interest was served elsewhere and I don't need to spring the fifteen bucks on it or go to the trouble of finding it.
That raises another point: I don't like subscriptions.
A lot of magazines are easier to find through a subscription. Newsagents don't really keep them, and bookshops are, from my experience, sporadic at best and a bit more expensive. You can find them on the web, though usually this involves going to the website, and if you like the website of a magazine enough to be going there regularly, you're either looking to submit or get yourself a subscription. There's also a point that if you go to a website, you're not likely to learn much about the magazine as an object. Of course, from a magazine production point of view, subscriptions are excellent... but from a personal point of view, I dislike them. Price is one factor, but the main reason is I don't know if I want to buy every issue of a magazine. I don't know what I'll get in the following one, and since it might not be to my taste, I'd rather make the decision to purchase an issue based off actually having it in front of me.
Of course, when you get down to it, the truth is probably that I'm just not a magazine person. What can I say? Still, for my next purchase of a magazine like object, I'll be picking up McSweeney's 15. It's focused on Icelandic authors and comes, according to the website, with an "Icelandic tabloid mini-mag filled with words you won't understand and images that speak for themselves."
How could I say no to that?
* But it's funny and excellent and has virtually nothing to do with coffee.
** I couldn't find an individual price listing around, so I'm guessing. Four issue subscription is twenty five bucks though, so it might even be a touch cheaper.