It looks like the WSFS committee investigating the fanzine/semiprozine split is going to report at the Business Meeting at this year’s Worldcon. Neil Clarke has a report here explaining what they have decided. The actual report and and some minority reports from dissenting members of the committee, is available here.
The objective of most of the people involved has been to try to find a clearer definition of what constitutes a semiprozine, because the existing definition was deemed too confusing and ineffectual. The point of semiprozines, at least as I see it, is that they are run as commercial concerns — in that they pay their contributors, may have advertising and so on — but they are run by people who all have other jobs, and those people often take no pay for their work on the magazines.
This has caused some confusion in the past because many people who are in the SF&F community have a variety of jobs. So, for example, Jonathan Strahan edits reviews for Locus, edits anthologies for other people, and has a day job. David Hartwell edits NYRSF, but also has a full time job with Tor. So focusing on the editors made it hard to see who was professional and who wasn’t.
What the committee appears to have done is shift the emphasis onto the ownership of the magazine. So if the magazine is owned by a company that employs staff, then it is a professional magazine, but if it run entirely by people working for it in their spare time, then it is a semiprozine. The actual rules are a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the substantive change.
Under this rule, magazines like Locus, Weird Tales and Lightspeed, which are all owned by proper companies, are professional. Magazines such as NYRSF, Clarkesworld, and of course Strange Horizons, though as far as I know they continue to ask not to be considered, are semiprozines.
The new rules are still fairly opaque, in that your average voter is not going to be easily able to tell which magazines are eligible are which are not. But that’s because there is no simple and easy rule that can be written. If you want to have a semiprozine category, you will have to have complex rules. Given that, this is probably the best we are going to get. It is certainly a new idea, and I wasn’t sure that the committee would be able to come up with one.
It is worth looking briefly at the various minority reports. I see Stu Segal’s point, in that we have had new winners in the past two years, so things do seem to be getting better. However, I am fairly certain that Locus will win again this year, and the “stop Locus” people would be very unhappy if the committee reported back that Locus had indeed been stopped, and then it went and won again.
Saul Jaffe is right when he says that the rules are still too complex, but it will be very easy for various websites such as the Hugo Recommend LiveJournal, or the SF Editors wiki, and indeed semiprozine.org, to list eligible magazines. Saul’s problem appears to be that he’s still hung up on the issue of “campaigning”, and he’s opposed to anyone even mentioning that they are eligible. I think we have moved well beyond that.
As for Ben Yalow’s proposal, it cuts against the whole philosophy of semiprozines. The reason that I and many other people work on them for nothing is that by doing so we are able to provide struggling writers with additional income. If you stop semiprozines paying their contributors then they become indistinguishable from fanzines. And, as Neil points out, Ben’s proposal will gut the semiprozine category. There will be so few eligible magazines that there will be no point in having the category. Given that Ben is one of the people who wanted to do away with the category in the first place, it is easy to see why his proposal is crafted the way it is.