Crossing the Chasm, Part 2: Embracing the Other

Following up on “Crossing the Chasm, Part 1,” let’s look at some ways we can get more people to become science fiction fans. Specifically, how we can move people from “popular metascience” to text-based science fiction.

But first, disclaimers: This isn’t about bashing the text SF outlets. And it’s not about elevating the mainstream sites. I’m thrilled with the fiction at Futurismic, Strange Horizons, Tor, and other online venues. I’m happy to see that Tor is creating a community and marketing to it. I’m just hoping we can make the community bigger.

Investigating the Audience
Let’s start by understanding what drives sites like i09, BoingBoing, NewScientist, Popular Science, PhysOrg, Wired, Slashdot, and Gizmodo.

“Wait a minute!” you’re saying. “This is a lot bigger list of sites than you mentioned before.”

Yes. It is. But it started with a single site: io9. I chose i09 as a baseline because it is most closely related, content-wise, to text SF venues. In addition to movie reviews, superhero polls, game trailers, they also have book reviews (and a book club) and frequently point to items like Locus’ recommended reading list–just take a look at #books or #bookreview on their site.

From io9, I used Quantcast to find other sites with high affinity to i09 (see sidebar capture), then drilled into those sites to find other affinities. The list above isn’t all-inclusive, but it gives us a pretty good picture of the person we’re looking for: interested in film and game SF and cutting-edge technology with a hint of the bizarre and offbeat.

Let’s compare that to the site affinities for and The Internet Archive. There’s no correlation between Tor’s affinities and i09’s. Which means we have an opportunity to understand what the “popular metascience” audience is looking for–and introduce them to text SF.

Understanding the Content

Take a look at the articles on i09 and its affinity sites, and you’ll quickly see connections to text SF–even in surprising spaces.

At this moment, Gizmodo has an article on the front page about time travel–a photo from the 40s which appears to show a man in modern dress, carrying a modern camera. i09 has an article about alternate history with links to multiple sources from literature (and from comics), an SF book review, and a post from their Weekend Short Story club.

New Scientist and PhysOrg are full of headlines to prompt the next wave of near-future SF speculation: brain recording, black hole effects in nanotubes, the connection between robots and cloud computing, and using viruses to split water for hydrogen.

So, how do we help these millions of readers make the connection to text SF? By joining the conversation in a relevant way, by helping them to create content, by sharing–and, in some cases, through advertising and sponsorship.

I’ll tackle the free ways to participate first.

Free Ways to Participate

Commenting. As you scan the headlines, you’ll quickly find an SF topic or three you know something about. You may even know more about it than the author. Or you may not agree with them. In either case, don’t fume silently–comment.

If that “breakthrough” movie was actually covered 20 years ago in print SF, let the readers know and provide a link (politely.) If you’ve written the definitive text on the subject, let them know (again, nicely.) If you’ve just published a story or a book that shows where their shiny new technology might lead them, tell them about it. Tie in to what they’re talking about. Make it constructive and relevant. And suddenly, people get the connection to what’s happening right now and what’s happening in text SF.

I’ve found that many tech-focused people really enjoy talking to science fiction writers–as long as you’re not coming in with a haughty “well, I know way more about this than you” perspective. Join the conversation. You’ll meet some amazing people. And increase your profile.

Creating. Where do these giant sites get their content? Everywhere they can. Use their tips form or contact information to let them know about the book you just published that explores the ramifications of the brain implants they just talked about. Send them a copy of your near-future anthology for review. You won’t always get mentioned–but that’s how PR works.

Better yet, if you can write an article for them, do it. If you think you have a great idea for an article, send a quick query to the editor and see if there’s an opportunity. In either case, you’re contributing to the community, raising your profile, and–maybe more importantly–seeing how their audience reacts to your ideas.

Sharing. I’ll preface this one by saying that I’m not an editor at a major or minor publishing house, nor have I ever been, and I’m not privy to all the wheeling and dealing that’s going on in the publishing world. So, I may seem monumentally naive when I ask, “Why isn’t the publishing industry providing their freely-available stories to sites like i09 or BB?” Exposure on is great. Exposure on i09 or BB would be even better. Yes, i09 links out to stories and novels, but readers won’t necessarily leave the site. It’s better if the content could appear in situ.

What would be even better is a properly tagged feed of all freely available stories (and novels for sale.) Imagine reading an article about the latest Mars rover–and having stories about Mars exploration instantly available. Or reading about the next blockbuster movie–and having fiction that inspired it available to read or buy.

Of course, now we’re venturing out of “free.” Capabilities like this aren’t exactly something a large site will give away. But what if it was set up as a revenue sharing opportunity? Would it be worth it?

Maybe. And maybe not. But hey, I can dream.

Next up in Part 3: paid ways to participate–some surprisingly cheap.

April 18th, 2010 / 938 Comments »

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