How the market has changed

Science fiction author and blogger John Scalzi, has done some homework for the rest of us to show how much a writer could once hope to make for a short story, in comparison to what he is likely to make now.

This evening I came across another article discussing how Robert Heinlein got his start in the science fiction writing business. The story is that back in late 1938 Heinlein, who could have used a bit of cash, wrote a story to submit to a contest for Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine, the grand prize of which was $50. Heinlein wrote the piece, decided it that too good for Thrilling, and submitted it to Astounding Science Fiction instead, which accepted it in 1939 and paid him $70 — $20 more than he would have got at Thrilling. The money was so good that Heinlein decided this writing scheme had its advantages and decided to keep at it. Thus was the power of a penny a word — Astounding’s going rate — in 1939.

As I was reading this again I was curious as to what at penny in 1939 would rate out to here in 2007, so I used the Consumer Price Index Calculator from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to find out. Turns out that to you’d need fifteen cents in today’s money, more or less, to equal the buying power of that 1939 penny. Dropping Heinlein’s $70 into the calculator, you find that it was the equivalent of $1,034.89 today. Which is, you know, fairly decent.

Read the rest here, most of which is devoted to showing that modern short story publishers don’t pay anything like that amount.  I’m not surprised since the means for publishing stories has proliferated.  At one time there were only a few sources for short stories and the few who made it past the gate keepers could be paid better.  Now it is probably easier to get published in a forum somewhere but more difficult to make much money for one’s labors.  (I’m guessing here, if someone wants to correct my uneducated guess that there are more forums for short stories than their used to be, I’m open to a counter-argument.)

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