Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines 2020

Since 2014, I've compiled an annual ranking of science fiction and fantasy magazines, based on prominent awards nominations and "best of" placements over the previous ten years. Below is my list for 2020. (For all previous lists, see here.)

Method and Caveats:

(1.) Only magazines are included (online or in print), not anthologies, standalones, or series.

(2.) I gave each magazine one point for each story nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, Eugie, or World Fantasy Award in the past ten years; one point for each story appearance in any of the Dozois, Horton, Strahan, Clarke, or Adams "year's best" anthologies; and half a point for each story appearing in the short story or novelette category of the annual Locus Recommended list. (In 2020, one of the "year's best" is based on a tentative Table of Contents.)

(3.) I am not attempting to include the horror / dark fantasy genre, except as it appears incidentally on the list.

(4.) Prose only, not poetry.

(5.) I'm not attempting to correct for frequency of publication or length of table of contents.

(6.) I'm also not correcting for a magazine's only having published during part of the ten-year period. Reputations of defunct magazines slowly fade, and sometimes they are restarted. Reputations of new magazines take time to build.

(7.) I take the list down to 1.5 points.

(8.) I welcome corrections.

(9.) I confess some ambivalence about rankings of this sort. They reinforce the prestige hierarchy, and they compress interesting complexity into a single scale. However, the prestige of a magazine is a socially real phenomenon that deserves to be tracked, especially for the sake of outsiders and newcomers who might not otherwise know what magazines are well regarded by insiders when considering, for example, where to submit.

Results:

1. Asimov's (191.5 points) 

2. Tor.com (174.5) 

3. Clarkesworld (167.5) 

4. Fantasy & Science Fiction (131.5) 

5. Lightspeed (128) 

6. Uncanny (72) (started 2014) 

7. Subterranean (64) (ceased short fiction 2014) 

8. Analog (63.5) 

9. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (51) 

10. Strange Horizons (46) 

11. Interzone (33.5) 

12. Apex (30.5) 

13. Nightmare (25.5) (started 2012) 

14. Fantasy Magazine (17.5) (merged into Lightspeed 2012, occasional special issues thereafter, scheduled to relaunch in November 2020) 

15. Fireside (15) (started 2012) 

16. Slate / Future Tense (11.5) 

17. The Dark (8.5) (started 2013) 

18. The New Yorker (7.5) 

19. McSweeney's (7) 

20t. Black Static (6.5) 

20t. FIYAH (6.5) (started 2017) 

20t. Tin House (6.5) (ceased short fiction 2019) 

23t. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (6) 

23t. Shimmer (6) (ceased 2018) 

23t. Sirenia Digest (6) 

26t. Electric Velocipede (5) (ceased 2013) 

26t. GigaNotoSaurus (5) 

28t. Conjunctions (4.5) 

28t. Omni (4.5) (classic popular science magazine, briefly relaunched 2017-2018) 

28t. Terraform (4.5) (started 2014) 

31. Boston Review (4) 

32. Postscripts (3.5) (mostly ceased short fiction in 2014, occasional pieces thereafter) 

33t. B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog (2.5) (started 2014)

33t. Beloit Fiction Journal (2.5) 

33t. Buzzfeed (2.5) 

33t. Harper's (2.5) 

33t. Kaleidotrope (2.5) 

33t. Matter (2.5) 

33t. Paris Review (2.5) 

33t. Realms of Fantasy (2.5) (ceased 2011) 

41t. Future Science Fiction Digest (2) (started 2018) 

41t. Intergalactic Medicine Show (2) (ceased 2019) 

41t. Mothership Zeta (2) (ran 2015-2017) 

44t. Black Gate (1.5) 

44t. Cosmos (1.5) 

44t. Daily Science Fiction (1.5) 

44t. e-flux journal (1.5) 

44t. Flurb (1.5) (ceased 2012) 

44t. MIT Technology Review (1.5) 

44t. New York Times (1.5) 

44t. Weird Tales (1.5) (off and on throughout period)

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Comments:

(1.) The New Yorker, McSweeney's, Tin House, Conjunctions, Boston Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Harper's, and Paris Review are literary magazines that occasionally publish science fiction or fantasy.  Slate and Buzzfeed are popular magazines, and Omni, Cosmos, and MIT Technology Review are popular science magazines, which publish a bit of science fiction on the side. e-flux is a wide-ranging arts journal. The New York Times is a well-known newspaper with an occasional series of "Op-Eds from the Future". The remaining magazines focus on the F/SF genre.

(2.) It's also interesting to consider a three-year window. Here are those results, down to six points:

1. Tor.com (64.5)
2. Uncanny (53) 
3. Clarkesworld (49.5)
4. Lightspeed (44.5)
5. Asimov's (36.4)
6. F&SF (33)
7. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (21)
8. Analog (19)
9t. Apex (15.5)
9t. Nightmare (15.5)
11. Strange Horizons (12.5)
12. Slate / Future Tense (9)
13. Fireside (8)
14. FIYAH (6.5)

The classic "big three" print SF magazines are Asimov's, F&SF, and Analog. The three-year list makes clearer how these classic paid-subscription magazines have been challenged by free online magazines, especially Tor.com, Uncanny, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed (all founded 2006-2014).

These three-year results also confirm, I think, my decision to use a ten-year window. For example, my impression from chatting with people in the field is that Asimov's is still arguably the most prestigious venue in the mind of the median SF insider, though increasingly challenged by Tor.com and Clarkesworld -- just what the ten-year results say.

(3.) Looking back on my original 2014 list, I'm struck by these differences:

(a.) More magazines are represented in 2020. Twenty-nine magazines appear on the 2014 list; fifty-one appear now. Now, that's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, since my methodology changed in 2015 to include the Locus list and go down to 1.5 points. However, the more comparable 2015 list still only contains forty magazines. Although several magazines have closed since 2014, overall there are now more opportunities to publish in venues that are regularly read by Locus editors and Best-of editors and awards nominators. I credit the rise of online magazines, which are less expensive to publish.

(b.) The falloff between the top-ranked and the mid-ranked magazines is less steep in 2020 than it was in 2014. For example, in 2014, the top ranked magazine (Asimov's) earned 8 times as many points as the tenth ranked magazine (Lightspeed). In 2020, the 1st:10th ratio was only 4 to 1. I'm inclined to credit, again, the rise of free online magazines. The rise of such magazines means that publication outside of the bigger circulation print magazines doesn't doom a story to obscurity. This makes it easier for authors to choose other magazines that they personally like for whatever reason. Another factor might be better communication among authors, allowing authors to find magazines that are a good fit for their stories.

(c.) The relative decline of Asimov's and F&SF. Both are still terrific magazines! But in 2014 they were the two giant gorillas, far ahead of all other contenders: 197 and 146 points respectively, while no other magazine had even a third as many points. F&SF is now 4th. Asimov's is still 1st, but based on the past three years' data, it looks quite possible that Tor.com or Clarkesworld will soon claim the #1 spot.

(4.) Left out of these numbers are some terrific podcast venues such as the Escape Artists' podcasts (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders), Drabblecast, and StarShipSofa. None of these qualify for my list by existing criteria, but podcasts are also important venues.

(5.) Check out Nelson Kingfisher's analysis of acceptance rates and response times for most of the magazines above.

(6.) Other lists: The SFWA qualifying markets list is a list of "pro" science fiction and fantasy venues based on pay rates and track records of strong circulation. Ralan.com is a regularly updated list of markets, divided into categories based on pay rate.

(7.) For fun, I charted the evolution of this ranking over time, from 2014-2020.  The graph below shows the percentage of award nominations and best ofs in the previous ten years for magazines that were in the top ten at any point during the period, excluding magazines that have ceased publication.  Solid lines are the traditional "big 3" print magazines, dashed lines are the four rising free online magazines I noted in (2) above, and dotted lines are others.  (There were some methodological changes during the period, so the values aren't strictly comparable year to year, but close enough.)

[if image doesn't display correctly, click to enlarge and clarify]

[image source]

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