As Barbara Krasnoff reports on The Verge, Amazon ended its periodicals program on September 4, 2023. The program allowed you to subscribe to several magazines as part of your Kindle Unlimited membership. Unlike books in KU, magazines were not required to be exclusive to Amazon or paid by pages read. Readers with a paid subscription to KU could get a subscription to those magazines at no additional charge.

As Barbara explains, any resource that makes it a bit easier for magazines — many of which were Indie or small-press — to find and keep readers can make all the difference in keeping them alive.

Now, however, one of these resources has gone away. So, what happens now?

Amazon KU magazines | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Walking the tightrope

Many independent periodicals walk a financial tightrope, funded by contributions, subscriptions, the occasional ad, and perhaps a second mortgage.

Last March, Amazon stated that it was dropping all of its print and Kindle magazine and newspaper subscriptions — a new policy that has now gone into effect. Since that announcement, independent publishers have been scrambling to figure out how to make up for the loss in income that would ensue when many of their subscribers would suddenly disappear. Subscribers who, according to Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld Magazine, could not be contacted directly and redirected to other subscription methods because “none of us know who these subscribers are.” Because they were subscribing through a third party: Amazon.

The result? A recent editorial in the August issue of Fantasy Magazine reads:

It is with real sadness that we have to announce that October 2023 will be our last issue. People will want to know why, of course, and the answer is the expected one: Unfortunately Fantasy never reached a point of paying for itself, and with the Kindle Periodicals mess it’s just not sustainable.

In other words, Fantasy Magazine fell off that tightrope.

What’s next?

It’s not all that surprising. Yes, many of the independent pubs that depended on Kindle Periodicals have loyal readerships, but compared to publications like The New York Times or The Verge, they have small staffs and even smaller budgets. Many are genre publications that sell to a specific audience: science fiction and fantasy, mystery, horror, romance, young adults, and so on. Under those conditions, if they can manage to break even after a couple of years, they’re doing very well.

So when today’s major retailer of reading material shrugs and says, “Hey, you’re on your own,” the tightrope begins to shake.

Some may regain their footing. Many, including Clarkesworld, have been invited to become part of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, where people pay a monthly fee for access to books and “select” magazine subscriptions. Although even those who become part of Kindle Unlimited will not be seeing the same income as they did with straight subscriptions.

“Everyone has been scrambling to make up the difference in revenue,” Clarke explains. “While the impact will range from publication to publication, the cuts are significant enough to endanger many of them. At present, direct subscriptions, Weightless Books, and Patreon are where many of us are directing former Amazon subscribers to go.”

That will be hard. Locus, which covers the science fiction / fantasy / horror market, quotes Lynne Thomas, the editor of Uncanny, as saying, “This could not have come at a worse time for SFF periodicals since so many of us are also weathering the storms of reduced advertising revenue and the possible death of Twitter, which is vital for crowdfunding projects.”

(A curious follow-up detail: while Uncanny was not initially among those invited to join Kindle Unlimited, it did receive an invitation several weeks later. Why Amazon chose not to originally invite Uncanny and then to include it later — along, most likely, with other independent publications — is an interesting topic for speculation.)

if you’re someone who, like me, enjoys reading short stories, genre or not — and especially if you have a favorite publication — it may be a good idea to find out how they support themselves and do what you can to help them stay on that tightrope!

You can read the full article on The Verge.