From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Audience Participation: Why Don’t Readers Comment On Fiction?

This month, Fantasy Magazine online turned one year old. It was in November of last year that we started publishing fiction and non-fiction on a weekly basis. Last June we launched the second version of our design and revamped the non-fiction offerings a bit. Over this time traffic has increased and we’ve gained more new readers, plus had some really amazing discussions (particularly on Fridays).

I’m really happy we have such a high level of participation from our readers, but we can’t help but notice that the comments section of our fiction is sparse or non-existent in many cases. We know you’re reading the stories (I’m obsessive about stats), but you rarely comment on them.

This is not limited to Fantasy, I know. Most online magazines offer a way for readers to comment on stories, whether on the page itself or in a forum topic. The only place where I see consistent commentary on stories is the Escape Artists forum. The audience there is vocal and brutal, but very engaged (which is awesome).

Recently, Sheila Williams mentioned that though the Asimov’s forums are very active, readers rarely discussed the stories.

…mostly they get on there and argue politics; we call it the basement. …they hardly ever talk about the stories. There are a handful of dedicated readers that talk about the stories, but they are the minority. What I have seen in the past in the ’70s and the ’80s, there were dozens of letters coming in a month. We don’t get the letters anymore. I think back in the ’80s we had more correspondence coming in on the stories than I see in the comments on the forum.

You would think that there would be far more commentary on stories on the Internet, considering how easy it is to broadcast your opinions to the world. Yet in the case of SF/F mags, we seem to see less.

I’m sure this doesn’t mean that readers aren’t liking the stories. They may be congratulating the author personally or writing opinions on their own blogs. That’s fine, too. But we, the editors, really like seeing what the readers think, too.

If you read a great story online or in print, what moves you to comment on it at the magazine itself? Assuming they’ve made it easy by providing a forum post or other comment section, what would make you take that extra step? What keeps you from doing it? Is there something editors can or should do to encourage readers to comment?

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