Nine issues. It’s hard to believe that later this month we will be celebrating two full years of publication. We’ve been blessed in that time with the most supportive readers and the most talented writers that any magazine could ask for.
Earlier this year, AE was officially accredited as a professional market by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. There are fewer than thirty publications worldwide so recognized, placing us in such rarefied company as Asimov’s, Analog and Canada’s own ChiZine. More and more of these markets are offering their stories for free online, as AE does, but thus far we are the only professional market to embrace Creative Commons licensing (or any similar model).
We’ve talked before about the practical reasons why we believe Creative Commons licensing is in the best interest of reader, writer and publisher alike. There’s an emotional side to it too, though. Science fiction has always been a fandom, a community where content consumers and content creators mingle, interact and learn from each other. With this sense of tribe comes a desire to share, to riff and to nurture that makes SF a natural fit for things like copyleft, crowdfunding, wikis and fanfiction.
But one thing that doesn’t get talked about very often is the difference between fostering an involved community and exploiting it. Amanda Palmer, known for her fervent fanbase, recently faced some backlash for using unpaid fan musicians on her Theatre is Evil tour (which the fans themselves had kickstarted). I have no doubt that she was operating with the best of intentions, but she unwittingly kicked up a storm. And, in response, she did the best possible thing: She listened; she opened a good faith dialogue and she reconsidered her position.
We made some false starts early on ourselves. In the first iteration of the AE Micro contest we published all submissions on the site, rather than only the winners, and thus required that entrants grant us certain rights just by entering. Later we ran an illustration contest which, by its very nature, equated to asking artists to work for us on spec. In both cases we were offering cash prizes and acting in good faith but, after hearing feedback from contributors (and potential contributors), we recognized that we were nonetheless in the wrong.
We are fortunate to have a community so eager to be involved in the authoring of our shared culture. A treasure like that needs to be respected at every turn. The Internet, social media, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding — the magnitude of the change these technologies have wrought upon the art world as a whole (and science fiction literature in particular) is only just beginning to make itself known. The way art is created, the way it gets distributed and the way artists get paid are all being shaken up and no one knows where it’s all going to land. We at AE, like Amanda Palmer with Theatre is Evil and Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his excellent hitRECord project, are all exploring different ways of engaging the community while ensuring that money flows always towards the content creators.
In all this uncertainty though, there is one unwavering truth that we have embraced: when you offer something for free, you create value; when you ask for something for free, you destroy it.
— D.F. McCourt
& the AE editorial board