NOTE: this article first appeared in the pages of SFWA Bulletin 152, Winter, 2001.
ALSO: This Dialogue was written at the dawn of the serious e-publishing age, more than a dozen years ago. It was true and accurate for its time, but you should know that we tackled the subject again perhaps a decade later, and that column will eventually show up here. — Mike, 22 DEC 2013
MIKE: Welcome to the 21st Century. Not much has changed. Magazines haven’t upped their rates. Neither have book publishers. Science fiction movies are still pretty awful.
But suddenly, finally, electronic rights are starting to look like they’re finally worth fighting over when your publisher makes his inevitable grab for them—and from what I can glean, just about every publisher in the business is grabbing with both hands these days, even though they have no idea what to do with them.
For the period of 1994-1999, I got perhaps one solicitation per week from a different start-up web publisher. They were all the same: they would make me rich tomorrow if I’d just give them stuff for free today. Just about every one of them is dead and mostly unmourned.
But in late 1999, people starting paying for e-rights. The one I mourn the most is Galaxyonline.com. They bought tons of articles—1,000 words minimum for $500 US, which meant if you wrote the minimum wordage you got 50 cents US a word—and they had some of the best writers in the field: Silverberg, Haldeman, McCaffrey, Benford, Rusch, etc. I originally agreed to write one article a month for them; within a few weeks they had asked for two a month, and their checks were good as gold. Ben Bova was the publisher, and M. Shayne Bell and Rick Wilber, both accomplished gentlemen with long histories in the field, were his assistants. They even began publishing fiction—and then, by Labor Day, they were moribund.