Reprints at the Speed of Light

Lightspeed Magazine cover (20 January 2012)

Lightspeed Magazine. Click to visit their website (link opens in a new page).

Getting a short story published in online or digital formats can feel like an open casket wake. Readers gather around the body of text and comment on how funny/disappointing it was. Within a week, a month at best, the story’s buried under the next issue. A few get resurrected for anthologies and some show up on standardized tests in a zombified form. But for most stories, publication is the end of the line.

Sure, it’s still there if anybody wants to search for it, but all on-line readers want are new stories and new experiences. To hell with the past, the Internet is all about the immediate!

While it’s easy to blame the Internet for the truncated lifespan of a short story, this sentiment is wrong. In her 2010 essay about the adversarial relationship between digital and print publications, Lisa Maclean perpetuates the oldest stereotype about the ‘net being a “completely ephemeral [medium].” To be fair, Maclean didn’t create this stereotype.

Most of users treat the Internet as if this was totally true. If it’s not on the first page of Google results, it doesn’t really exist. Those 10 “Friends” whose status updates never float to the top of the Facebook feed are easily deleted for a Burger King Whopper. And while Numa Numa guy was viral for a while, antibodies have already finished their work.

A small shift in the digital market is saving post-published stories from the digital graveyard. This year Lightspeed Magazine received three Nebula nominations for three excellent stories it published over 2011:

While all three stories are worthy of their own essays, the online magazine that published them is a shining star in the constellation of fantasy and science-fiction publications. It also deserves recognition for going beyond original fiction.

Begun in 2010 as a science-fiction market, publisher John Joseph Adams (check out his page here) purchased the online magazine’s sister publication Fantasy, combining the content and staff of both. Each month, Lightspeed puts out an equal amount of original fantasy and science-fiction.

Four of their monthly offerings are also reprints.

Unique? No. But part of an elite minority in the genre world? Yes. There are too few quality markets publishing reprints. Without resorting to a Duotrope search only a couple titles are readily recalled: the Holy Audio Trinity (Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod); Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine; and Innsmouth Free Press. But of all these publications, Adams and his staff have perfected the balance of new and reprinted.

This literary reincarnation is a boon to everybody. Sticking with Lightspeed as a case study: for Adams, as a publisher and anthologist, reprints allow him to reach readers who may not be intrigued enough to buy a themed collection by showcasing one gem. For readers, who can only follow so many publications at once, this allows them to sample what they’ve already missed. And writers, for whom every story is like a child (or at least a beloved Frankenstein-style creature), get the joy of watching their creations live again and possibly make new friends.

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