When is a Periodical Not an Anthology? (Hint: Never)

There are plenty of stories of authors not being paid what they are owed, and a thousand times as many stories about authors not being paid what they are worth.

This story is kind of about both.

Back when publishing began…no, we don’t need to go back that far.  Back when pulp magazine publication began, authors were compensated in one way and one way only:  all rights to their submitted work were purchased outright by the publisher, sometimes for as little as a quarter of a cent per word.

The author got one check, and, beyond a slightly enhanced ability to sell again to that same or a very similar  market, pretty much nothing else.

Sometime prior to WWII that changed, with periodicals purchasing more limited rights (often for that same quarter or half-a-cent per word), such as “First North American Serial Rights”, which translates to that publication being given the right to be the first one to publish that story anywhere in North America.  The author got paid for that use and was then able to re-sell the same work to other markets, such as to a European publication, reprint magazines, anthologies, collections, etc., though usually receiving a lower word rate or flat “reprint” fee.

Well before that, the concept of the “anthology” was created, first (and frequently) a collection of poems, but eventualy expanded to shorter fiction and non-fiction essays, more often than not with a theme.

Original anthologies* compensated their authors in a manner different from periodicals, with rights and payment handled in a manner very similar to novels.  The author received an advance (a payment “in advance of sales”) and would then receive a pro-rated percentage of royalties (usually half going to the editor/creator and half split between all of the authors) after the advance had “earned out” (royalties equivalent to the advance had been earned).

While the methods of compensation have expanded greatly in this present era of electronic and self-publishing (for the love, for copies, flat fee), the “professional” markets – those generally regarded as the prestige markets, still generally follow the previously described schemes:  periodicals paid a one-time fee for limited rights; anthologies paid an advance and then royalties for limited rights  This is the landscape that largely prevails today.

Why then were anthology sales and periodical sales treated differently?  They are essentially offering the same product – a collection of stories by different authors, packaged together, often with additional materials (introduction, author bios, illustrations, etc.)

They were treated differently because the two different publications had wildly different availabilities in the market place.

Periodicals were primarily distributed through store (newsstand) and subscription sales.  The periodical distribution business insured that once the cover date of a publication had reached its expiry date, that magazine issue, and all of its contents, would no longer remain in general distribution.  The methodology used by distributors to compensate their retailers insured that copies unsold by their shelf date would be returned for credit, thus placing a finite limit on the availability of the issue and its content.

This worked for authors because the magazine appearance supposedly exposed their work to a wider audience, after which they could sell to secondary markets because only those who owned specific issues of a periodical retained access to it.  Anyone else seeking out that story would have to find it in a re-sale publication (such as an anthology), or in a collection of the author’s work, both of which earned the author additional compensation for the story (or by hunting down and purchasing a “back issue” of the magazine in question, usually in very limited supply and subject to complete unavailability).

In other words, the nature of periodical publications helped to create and to sustain the secondary market by limiting the availability of its product.

Anthologies on the other hand (books in general) are presumably intended to remain available to the purchasing public not “periodically” but “perpetually”.  Yes, they do go out of print over time, but that is the nature of the publishing business, not the methodology (and books that go out of print are, more often than not, books that either did not sell all that well to begin with or have reached the end of a relatively long period of marketability.  Few books ever achieve the status of being permanently in print).

These days, with electronic  editions, websites & et al, there is no longer a  difference between a periodical and an anthology.  BOTH remain perpetually available, at least in electronic format (presuming that the publisher has any intention of making a profit).

Electronic editions of magazine issues (not to mention physical Print On Demand -POD- copies)  remain available well past their supposed (cover) expiration date, just like anthologies that remain available on line.  “Back Issues” are no longer limited by the available inventory of unshipped or remaindered copies.

I would argue that the method of compensation used for periodicals these days no longer reflects the landscape that led to different forms of compensation to begin with.  Authors do not get any enhanced promotion, or exposure to wider markets through publication in a magazine, or at least no more or less benefit than selling a story to an anthology, for the very reason that the periodical is no longer removed from availability  after a set period of  time (and of course the perpetual problem that publishers of all kinds of greatly curtailed their promotional efforts steadily over the past several decades).

I would argue that if periodicals want to be fair with their compensation, they need to adjust their methods, and that they can do so in one of two ways:

They can remove all editions of their publication from availability after a set period of time (how about a month for print and a year for electronic; with a contractually limited number of “back issues” retained), or, they can pay an advance and royalties, just like they would for an anthology, ensuring that each time an issue is purchased, the author sees some compensation.  There also remains room for a variety of hybrid approaches (a set non-royalty based annual fee, for example).

The former has issues, not the least of which is – who is going to monitor and ensure that unsold “copies” are no longer available to the general public? There are no “distributors” in the mix anymore who serve this function.  But, also owing to technologies, it is possible.

The latter would complicate periodical sales and add a financial burden which may further negatively impact an art form that has been struggling, but it should not be author’s sole financial responsibility to maintain the viability of a periodical.

The bottom line is, authors are not receiving the compensation from periodicals that they ought to be, given the changes to the publication of periodicals that have occurred in the current era of electronic publication.

*Many reprint anthologies only pay a flat “reprint” fee


The Experimenter Publishing Company, LLC, publisher of Amazing Stories magazine, Amazing Selects novellas and partner publisher of Amazing Stories Classics novels and anthologies,  currently pays the SFWA minimum word rate (8 cents per word) for acceptances for the magazine;  it pays a negotiated advance and a high percentage royalty rate for Amazing Selects novellas and industry standard reprint fees (when applicable) for both magazine and anthology publications.
We will happily switch to any payment methodology that representative bodies addressing genre publications and authors choose to adopt.

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