Friday, February 18, 2005

Crimson Dagger: Online Mystery Fiction Magazine

This February issue launches Crimson Dagger: Online Mystery Fiction Magazine. Since this is the most recent ezine to actually charge real money for granting one the privilege of reading it, I simply couldn't resist purchasing a copy. In this post I'm going to review the overall magazine itself, it's "look and feel", and then review the stories separately.

In general the zine has an attractive look. The pages are attractive and easy to read. In this issue there are three stories, three book reviews, and four regular columns. I was familiar with two of the authors, Charles Schaeffer and Jeffrey Marks. Mr. Schaeffer had a short story, and Mr. Marks is one of the regular columnists.

The columns deal with craft and networking. Mr. Marks' column, "To Sign or Not To Sign", talks about author signings taking off from the Atwood imbroglio. It was well done and offered some sound advice. Another column about punching up dialogue, "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" by Roseanne Dowell, also offered some excellent pointers. The other two columns, "Extreme Mystery Makeovers" by Janet Elaine Smith and "So You Want to Write a Mystery" were more introductory in nature and were of a survey nature, trying to cover an enormous amount of ground in under a thousand words. Definitely targeted to the rank beginner, which is not a bad thing.

Now let's get to the nitty-gritty, the cost. Crimson Dagger, ostensibly to be issued monthly, is available for $2.50 for a single issue, an annual subscription for $24.00, or they have a pay-as-you-go subscription for $2.00 a month. One thing here that raised a red flag to me was the fact that on the page titled "Coming Up In The March 2005 Issue" was nothing more than "To Be Announced". Now it seems to me that a zine that wants to publish on a monthly basis would be well served to have a couple of months' worth of material already in hand before publishing their first issue. I fear that their publication schedule is in grave danger.

Moving on. When you buy a single issue of the zine, that issue is delivered to you by email in a zip file. Apparently if you buy a subscription you are issued an ID and password to access the online version. The file extracts into its own separate directory. The zip file contains a myriad of HTML and image files. Not one of those files is named "Hey Dummy! Start Here." After my initial shock, I found two files, one named "index" and another named "menu". I picked one at random and was able to get into the zine. Basically it recreates the website on your computer with all the hyperlinks and formatting intact. This was annoying. I virtually never read ezines on my computer. I convert them to PDF files or ebook files for reading on my PDA. I would have thought that a zine delivered by email would have been a single file. Goes to my Third Pillar, Ease Of Use that I'm going to discuss this weekend.

Once I discovered the form, I converted the zine to a PDF file myself which took about 3 minutes. Not onerous, but an annoyance. The publishers could have done that for me in the same amount of time and kept all the hyperlinks intact. The PDF was only 750kb, so the bandwidth needed to transfer it would have been endurable even on dial-up especially given the convenience of the resulting file. Something the publishers should consider for the next issue.

Promotion is also seriously lacking. I saw only one mention of the launch on the Short Mystery Fiction Society list. Nothing else. You can't expect people to buy your zine if they don't know it exists.

My most serious concern with this zine, other than promotion, is the fact that they pay their writers in subscriptions, not in real money. Of course, they promise that sometime in the unspecified future they may start paying actual money to the people that make their magazine worth reading. This zine charges for the advertisements and classifieds that they publish. They charge you, the reader, for the privilege of reading their publication. So why can't they pay, even at the beginning, an author $5 or $10 for the sweat of their brow? Of course they have other expenses, but nothing compared to a print publication. If Shred of Evidence can pay $10, without all the advertising and subscription and single-issue income, why can't Crimson Dagger? Once they begin really making money, they can increase the author's remuneration.

In short (too late for that), Crimson Dagger shows promise, and I hope they succeed; but if they don't address some issues quickly, I fear for their future.