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Online Magazines

Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Publication, Theme.


This entry provides an overview of digital, electronic and web-based magazines. There are now far more online sf magazines than print ones, and although many online ones can be downloaded or published by print-on-demand, they are usually initially accessible only via the internet rather than the newsstand. Online magazines may be referred to in a variety of forms, the most common of which is Webzine, because they are published on the worldwide web. Some digital magazines preceded the web, and these are more appropriately called E-Zines or electronic magazines, because they may be available in other forms and may be distributed by e-mail. Early Audiozines, particularly those available on CD-ROMs are also digital magazines. These are sometimes referred to as "disk magazines", but the name has not permeated the sf medium. The Argentinian magazine Axxón, produced by Eduardo Carletti, which began in September 1989, was distributed in disk form for twelve years before it established a website in November 2001.

Discounting the 1982-1985 Starlight SF for its specialist distribution (Prestel) and relatively minor fiction content, the earliest networked fantasy and sf magazine was which first appeared in December 1984. It was created by Ornoth Liscomb at the University of Maine to develop a fantasy Shared World. It was available via e-mail distributed through BITNET, a university computer network that had been established in 1981, and which by 1984 was used by about 3000 mainframe computers. It appeared at occasional intervals until August 1988. By 1986 e-mail gateways had been opened between BITNET and other networks and FSFnet was offered to other subscribers. It proved sufficiently popular that when Liscomb left university it was continued by John White, but relaunched as Dargonzine, the name under which it continues today. Its website, opened in April 1995, hosts full archives of all releases.

Other enthusiasts were taking advantage of the e-mail gateways to various networks to distribute magazines. The first true online sf magazine – assembled in a traditional issue-by-issue format – was Quanta, started in October 1989 by Daniel Appelquist, then studying computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. His editorials in successive issues (variously bimonthly and quarterly) plot the growth in subscribers, starting at 120 and by October 1991 reaching 1800. Quanta survived through 22 issues until July 1995; though most of the contributors did not continue in the world of sf, they did include Tom Maddox and the future Videogames analyst Bruce Woodcock. Early in his development of Quanta, Appelquist was assisted by Jason Snell, who was also a contributor and, like Maddox, a Cyberpunk enthusiast. Snell soon launched his own magazine, InterText, in March 1991: this wasn't wholly sf but ran a wide range of Speculative Fiction. Intertext ran for over thirteen years, and 57 issues, until November 2004. Both Intertext and Quanta developed websites and their back issues can be downloaded. They were not only in the vanguard of all online sf magazines, but developed many basic principles which, in pre-broadband days, allowed magazines to be read simply and easily.

A few other online magazines appeared before the worldwide web exploded, including Time Pilot, from Gary Bryant, which began in January 1993 and presented itself in the form of a future newspaper, and Twilight Zone, a Dutch magazine in English, from Richard Karsmaker, issued in April 1993, but which soon ran into legal problems over its title. Intermix, run by Michael Hicks from 1994 to 1997, not only included fiction in its monthly E-Zine offerings, but allowed website interaction between readers and writers via its live online forum. All record of Intermix on the internet has long since vanished. The oldest surviving online magazine, Planet, produced by Andrew McGann, began in January 1994. It was distributed via various e-mail and online bulletin-board services before developing its own website in 1996, during which period it underwent some long delays. Planet was at the forefront of developing a body of amateur writers who would soon be contributing to an increasing number of online magazines as their primary market. Their fiction was competent, usually adequate, often quite clever, but rarely of the standard expected of professional magazines, unless, as also happened increasingly, the online magazines were able to reprint material. Planet managed to do this early on, reprinting work by Spider Robinson. Since 2004, Planet has switched to being a blogzine, a more convenient form for many of the Amateur Magazines.

With several amateur magazines having explored the territory online, it was the turn of the professionals, and 1995 was a watershed. No fewer than three professional magazines went online that year, each using a different model. The major one was Omni Online, the online version of Omni magazine. Omni had already established an online presence, first via Compuserve in 1986 and then via AOL in October 1993, with added interactive features including a chat-room. A year later it was decided to cease publication of Omni and place everything on the internet, although the print edition of Omni did continue beyond the launch of Omni Online in February 1995. Omni Online included new fiction by Pat Cadigan, Robert Silverberg, Dan Simmons and others. James P Blaylock's "Thirteen Phantasms" (October 1996 Omni Online) was the first online sf/fantasy story to win an Award. Editor Ellen Datlow also instigated a Round-Robin story feature. Unfortunately, Omni was no longer as financially viable as it had been twenty years before, and its parent company had made considerable losses. When publisher Bob Guccione's wife, Kathy Keeton, who had been the driving force behind the magazine, died in September 1997, the soul drained out of the enterprise and Omni Online ceased in March 1998.

The venerable sf magazine Galaxy went online in July 1995 as Galaxy E-Zine. The magazine had recently been revived in print form by E J Gold, but in order to save costs he experimented with an online and disk version. Initial results were promising as Gold found that the magazine and online bookshop were getting five hundred visitors a day. Soon, though, Gold ceased the traditional issue form and simply posted the stories on the website in a steadily accumulating library. This was the first of the cumulative webzines.

The third major development in 1995 was the launch of Science Fiction Weekly on 15 August, established as an independent site by Craig Engler. This was intended as a weekly magazine of science fiction news, reviews and Interviews, though it did subsequently run some short fiction. In April 1996 the magazine moved to the "Dominion" website hosted by the Sci Fi Channel (see Television) and by 1999 the magazine came under the Channel's ownership. In 2009 it was merged into the Channel's Sci Fi Wire (with the Channel itself becoming SyFy), which in 2010 became the sf news site (see Online Newszines).

These three developments between them were a major step forward in establishing publications online. It wasn't just in the USA, either. In Italy, Delos Books in Milan had launched Delos SF as an online magazine in December 1994, with its own website from April 1995, and over the next two years online magazines appeared in Spain (Aurora Bitzine and Nova Fantasía), Finland (Aikakone) and Poland (Fahrenheit).

The one significant problem was in making an online magazine pay its way. Omni Online had the financial backing of Guccione's publishing empire, but still only lasted three years. Galaxy E-zine started out paying but this soon lapsed. Science Fiction Weekly became affiliated with the Sci Fi Channel and so had greater resources, but ran virtually no fiction. At the end of 1995 Ken Jenks set up Mind's Eye Fiction, which was more a website than a magazine. It stored stories and novels; visitors could download the first part of a story for free but had to pay if they wanted to finish reading it. The author received 75% of the income. This was the most enterprising scheme of the time. Other magazines tried to pay decent rates, believing they were saving costs on printing and distributing, but were not able to attract advertising or paying subscribers. The test came with Tomorrow: Speculative Fiction, edited by Algis Budrys, which had run as a Print Magazine since September 1992 but which went online from April 1997. At the outset the magazine was offered free, and Budrys was pleased with the response, but the moment he began to charge for access the numbers dropped away and the magazine ceased in August 1999, though the site continued for a short while, running a number of Budrys's older stories.

Other magazines that attempted to pay decent rates but which soon fell by the wayside were Kaleria (March 1996) edited by Samuel E White – the first non-commercial, independent online magazine to pay professional rates, Speculative Fiction and Beyond (July 1996), Infinite Edge (October 1997) and Papyrus (February 1999). Even Event Horizon, the magazine started by Ellen Datlow in August 1998 after the folding of Omni Online, survived little more than a year.

Two models seemed to work. The first were those which like Mind's Eye Fiction opted for a share of income. These included the Canadian Spaceways Weekly (5 September 1997-January 2001), run by Rigel Chiokis, which had been an amateur Print Magazine that converted to an online weekly subscription service; Peridot Books (from June 1998), which later became Allegory, and is still operating; Outside (see Far Sector), which began by paying a standard word rate but soon shifted to an income share; and Ideomancer which, once established, switched to a fixed word rate. The alternative was simply to pay a token fee for fiction but on the understanding that stories could be resold or reprinted across other online magazines and thus maximize the income. There were, of course, many online magazines appearing that paid nothing, but still found plenty of contributors keen to get the exposure that the internet provided. Some of these were host sites. For instance Infinity Plus was established in August 1997 by Keith Brooke as an archive of sf short stories. Brooke approached authors to see if they were prepared to donate stories to his website and most authors agreed to donate one or two, partly for the exposure, and partly to keep older stories available. James Patrick Kelly, who donated a story, wrote in his "On the Net" column in Asimov's (January 1999), after listing several classic authors, "There's no reason these writers should be out of print in the age of the world wide web." Infinity Plus and the SF Site, launched by John O'Neill and Rodger Turner in June 1997, are both websites that could be classified as magazines, though cumulative in nature rather than individual periodic issues. The SF Site served as host to both Asimov's and Analog magazines before they developed their own websites, which emphasizes its wider role as a "portal" site – especially after it established the "Fiction Home" sub-site in December 1998, through which readers could access all the professional and many semi-professional sf magazines.

Access to the internet continued to improve, especially with the spread of broadband from the start of the 2000s. Several magazines that began at the end of the twentieth century have survived through to the present, including Anotherealm (began July 1998), started by Jean Goldstrom; The Martian Wave (September 1998) one of the Sam's Dot group of magazines; Cafe Irreal (February 1999), run by Alice Whittenburg; Quantum Muse (April 1999), run by Michael Gallant; Ideomancer (October 1999); and the two longest surviving professional online magazines: Chiaroscuro (began July 1999), also known as ChiZine, founded by Brett Savory, the first online magazine to win a genre award (the Stoker in 2001); and Strange Horizons (began September 2000), started by Mary Anne Mohanraj. Strange Horizons has achieved what many other magazines yearn for, and that is being entirely supported by donations. Other magazines also had the good fortune to receive significant donations to sustain them, at least for a while, notably Timothy Cooper's Speculon (began August 2000) and Eileen Gunn's The Infinite Matrix (August 2001-April 2006).

As interest and access to the internet increased and as better revenue streams were developed, a growing number of professional and semi-professional online magazines appeared. Those with separate entries in this encyclopedia are listed below.

A to E. Abyss & Apex, AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Æon Speculative Fiction, Apex, Aphelion, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Bewildering Stories, Bourbon Penn, Bull Spec, Clarkesworld, Compelling Science Fiction, Cosmic Speculative Fiction, Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, Darker Matter, Dark Planet, Electric Spec, Electric Wine, E-Scape, Eternity, Event Horizon, Expanded Horizons.

F to L. Fantastic Metropolis, Fantasy Magazine, Farrago's Wainscot, Far Sector, The Fifth Di ..., Fireside Magazine, Fiyah, Flurb, Forever Magazine, Fortean Bureau, FTL (2), Full Moon SF, Fusion Fragment, The Future Fire, Future Orbits, Futurismic, Galaxy E-Zine, Galaxy Online, GigaNotoSaurus, The Grantville Gazette, Heliotrope, Helix SF, The Hub, Ideomancer, The Infinite Matrix, InterText, Jim Baen's Universe, Lightspeed.

M to Z. The Martian Wave, M-Brane SF, Metaphorosis, Mothership Zeta, Neverworlds, New Ceres, Oceans of the Mind, OG's Speculative Fiction, Omni Online, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Planet Magazine, Port Iris, Quanta, Quantum Muse, Ray Gun Revival, Redstone Science Fiction, Revolution Science Fiction, Samovar, Sci Fiction, Scifi Dimensions, Serpentarius, Shadows of Saturn, Shimmer, Spacesuits and Sixguns, Speculative Fiction and Beyond, Speculon, StarShipSofa, Strange Horizons, Subterranean, Tales of Moreauvia, and Would that It Were.

The expansion of the internet and the growing expertise of web designers and editors has allowed the development of huge diversity in online magazines – far more than could be supported by ordinary print magazines, other than as Amateur Magazines – which have proved more attractive and successful online. Amongst them are a number of specialist magazines: Antipodean SF (began February 1998) the first Australian webzine devoted solely to Flash Fiction; TSAT or Transformation Stories (December 1998-October/November 1996), dealing solely with stories of transformation; Would that It Were and A Different Path (January-July 2003), both running only Alternate History fiction; Anthro (September 2005-July 2010), with stories of anthropomorphism; Labyrinth Inhabitant (Winter 2008-Winter 2011), dealing with ancient constructs; and the self-explanatory Steampunk Tales (began October 2009). In addition are Bewildering Stories, which has provided an extensive, full-size magazine every week since July 2002; Lone Star Stories (February 2004-April 2009) with its focus on Texas-related fiction; Gateway, Residential Aliens (began July 2007), Third Order (September 2007-December 2008) and Digital Dragon (June 2009-current), all of which use sf to explore religious issues (see Religion); Expanded Horizons which looks beyond cultural boundaries at many ethnic issues; Kalkion (began April 2009), which is also cross-cultural and has an English and Hindi edition; and Freedom Fiction Journal (September 2008-May 2010), based in India, which explored issues of human rights.

Online magazines can be downloaded in a variety of forms, either to an e-reader as an ebook, or direct to a computer as (most typically) a PDF, or published as a print-on-demand book. The diverse options of the internet led both Asimov's and Analog to provide digital editions of each magazine as early as 2002. As of 2011, the digital edition of Asimov's accounted for 25% of the magazine's sales. Subterranean (print May 2005-November 2007) and Fantasy Magazine shifted from print to online in 2007 with more success than either Galaxy or Tomorrow a decade earlier. Whilst some are forecasting the end of the print magazine, the future of the online magazine is far from resolved, and the next decade may bring further discoveries and possibilities for both options. [MA]

see also: Audiozine; Online SF Resources; The Silent History.

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