Entry updated 8 July 2022. Tagged: Publication.
A term that emerged in the 1930s, originally as "slick-paper magazine" to distinguish what many regarded as the quality magazines from the Pulps. The slicks were also known as the "heavies" or "glossies", because they were printed on coated stock to allow better reproduction of photographs, as much for advertisements as for the editorial content, which made each individual issue considerably heavier than a pulp. The "glossies" had been around for far longer than the pulps. In America the pedigree of the "quality" magazines usually descends from Harper's New Monthly, founded in June 1850, and includes Putnam's Monthly, Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's Monthly and Lippincott's Magazine; but the magazine that really brought together quality with illustrations was the Century Illustrated Magazine, which took over from Scribner's in November 1881. The Century proved highly influential, provoking the appearance of the English Illustrated Magazine in Britain in October 1883 and the revived Scribner's Magazine in the USA in January 1887. These magazines inspired George Newnes to start The Strand Magazine in Britain in January 1891, publishing a quality illustrated magazine at a low price, sixpence. Newnes in turn inspired American publishers and McClure's Magazine was launched in June 1893 at an equivalent cheap price, encouraging Frank A Munsey to reduce the price of Munsey's Magazine. The Cosmopolitan followed suit. To compensate for the loss in revenue, these magazines needed to double or treble their circulation, and to carry a considerable amount of advertising. In fact the one brought the other, with the result that the magazines were able to pay high wordage rates and attract the best writers. Whereas Pulp magazines paid basic rates, usually a cent a word, the glossies would pay up to a dollar a word by the 1920s. P G Wodehouse observed in 1909 that he would get $50 a story from the pulps but up to $300 for the same length stories from the slicks.
These standard-size "glossies" frequently ran science fiction, especially in The Strand and Pearson's Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan and McClure's Magazine in the US; but these weren't yet what would become called "the slicks". The move towards these began in 1896 when the Ladies' Home Journal integrated the advertising with the magazine contents rather than have thick advertising sections fore-and-aft. This allowed greater flexibility and encouraged the magazines to adopt the larger letter size, usually with three columns of print, one or more of which could be given over to advertising. Over the next two decades, and particularly during and after the First World War, the major "quality" magazines adopted this format. Cosmopolitan, for instance, under the ownership of William Randolph Hearst, changed from September 1916. Everybody's Magazine followed in November 1917. Hearst also owned the British Nash's and Pall Mall Magazine (see Pall Mall Magazine), which eventually went to letter (A4) size in April 1923.
These "big slicks", as they were often termed, were expensive to produce and distribute, and needed large sales and heavy advertising. As the advertisements appealed mostly to women, the big slicks tended to favour the female market, and though they still ran plenty of fiction, it was usually mystery fiction or human interest, rather than science fiction. Cosmopolitan's last major sf serial was "The Moonmaker" by Arthur Train and Robert Williams Wood (October 1916-February 1917) whilst Hearst's International serialized H G Wells's Men Like Gods (1923) from November 1922.
There were other magazines also treated as "slicks" but not published in the big glossy format. These were almost small-tabloid in size because, for most of their existence, they were weekly. The big three amongst these, especially for their fiction, were the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly and Liberty. These were more family magazines, catering for men as well as women, and were more likely to run some sf. Collier's was the main American market for Sax Rohmer, especially his Fu-Manchu series. Rohmer also appeared regularly in Liberty, which during the 1930s was owned by Bernarr Macfadden and edited by Fulton Oursler, both partial to the wild and wonderful. Liberty was the only slick market to serialize one of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novels, Tarzan and the Lion Man (11 November 1933-6 January 1934; 1934). It also published a series of vignettes by Ray Cummings on life in the future, though perhaps its most striking serial was Lightning in the Night by Fred Allhoff (31 August-16 November 1940; 1979), depicting a Britain defeated. The magazine that all writers aspired to, though, was the Saturday Evening Post. Before the Second World War it ran only occasional sf, such as Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Maracot Deep" (18 October-1 November 1927) and several stories by Stephen Vincent Benét, notably "The Place of the Gods" (31 July 1937; vt "By the Waters of Babylon" in Thirteen O'Clock coll 1937), now better known by its variant title.
Many pulp writers sold to these three slicks, but few sold them science fiction. The science fiction that they did run tended to be by mainstream writers or those with a literary reputation. Ray Bradbury had already proved the point on which Murray Leinster had advised Robert A Heinlein, which was that anybody could sell fiction to the slicks provided it was written well enough. In one week in 1945 he sold three separate stories to Charm, Mademoiselle and Collier's, and though these were really childhood fantasies rather than sf, Bradbury had made his reputation in the Pulps. From then on, though, he would sell regularly to the slicks including the Saturday Evening Post with "The World the Children Made" (23 September 1950; vt "The Veldt" in The Illustrated Man coll 1951) and "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (23 June 1951). His anthology, Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow (anth 1952), selected stories almost entirely from the slicks.
After the Second World War, when the atom bomb detonated a global awareness of the power of Nuclear Energy and the threat of atomic Holocaust, the markets responded. Philip Wylie opened the gates – initially with an article, "Deliverance or DOOM" (September 29, 1945 Collier's Weekly), followed by the story "Blunder: A Story of the End of the World" (26 January 1946 Collier's Weekly) – but the big step was when Robert A Heinlein appeared in the Saturday Evening Post with "The Green Hills of Earth" (8 February 1947 Saturday Evening Post). Perhaps the best known sf of the period by a pulpster in a slick was John Wyndham's "The Revolt of the Triffids" (6 January-3 February 1951 Collier's Weekly), the original serial version of The Day of the Triffids (1951; rev 1951). Collier's was also where Kurt Vonnegut Jr first appeared, with "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" (11 February 1950 Collier's Weekly), and the magazine published Ray Bradbury's classic "A Sound of Thunder" (28 June 1952 Collier's Weekly).
At the time these appearances seemed to suggest that sf had received the stamp of respectability, and for a while the slicks were more accepting of science fiction. However, Liberty ceased publication in July 1950 and Collier's in December 1956 (last issue 4 January 1957) leaving only the Saturday Evening Post, of the major weekly slicks, as a prestige market for sf. The Post continued to run sf during the 1950s and early 1960s, and published an anthology, The Post Reader of Fantasy and Science Fiction (anth 1964).
However, by the end of the 1960s the heyday of the general-interest slick had faded and fiction had become marginalized. Science fiction found a place, though, in the men's magazines. These had grown in number during World War Two, and though much has been made about Argosy converting into a slick magazine in September 1943, this was simply a continuing progress towards becoming a men's service magazine rather than a fiction pulp. It had already adopted the letter-size format from 18 January 1941 and now shifted to thicker newsprint paper rather than pulp with some pages on better quality stock for photographs. The other leading general pulps followed this route, including Blue Book in February 1952 (it had been letter-size since September 1941) and Adventure from June 1953. None of these really became slicks in the accepted sense, and were little more than an evolution of the Pulps for a changing men's market.
The more sophisticated men's magazines really owed their descent from Esquire, which had been launched as a big slick in Autumn 1933. Esquire had not published much sf, although after World War Two it took its quota of Ray Bradbury material, including "The Illustrated Man" (July 1950 Esquire). Paralleling Esquire in its idiosyncratic blend of humour, popular culture and urbane fiction was The New Yorker, which began on 21 February 1925 under its founding editor Harold Ross (1892-1951). James Thurber was a staff member and regular contributor from 1927 onward. The New Yorker was more prone to fantasy but ran some science fiction, typical post-War examples including "The Enormous Radio" by John Cheever (17 May 1947 The New Yorker), "The Hour After Westerly" by Robert M Coates (1 November 1946 The New Yorker), "The Sound Machine" by Roald Dahl (17 September 1949 The New Yorker), and perhaps its most notorious example, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson (26 June 1948 The New Yorker).
In 1953 Hugh Hefner, who had worked in the circulation department at Esquire, left the magazine because he felt it needed a change in emphasis. He took the original zest and guile of Esquire, blended it with the sophisticated wit of The New Yorker and added sex appeal, this potent brew resulting in Playboy, which first appeared in December 1953. Ray Russell soon joined Hefner as associate editor and as fiction editor. At the outset most of the fiction in Playboy was reprinted from other sources and this included a serialization of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" (March-May 1954 Playboy), but the magazine was soon acquiring new material at high wordage rates, starting with "Spy Story" by Robert Sheckley (September 1955 Playboy). Playboy rapidly became the top-paying market for sf. Perhaps the most famous of its early stories is "The Fly" by George Langelaan (June 1957 Playboy). Other contributors included Arthur C Clarke, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and Henry Slesar. There was also a feature about sf writers by Anthony Boucher, "Wizards of a Small Planet" (May 1958 Playboy).
The success of Playboy brought the inevitable imitations, of which the most pertinent to sf is Rogue: this began as Rogue for Men in December 1955, and did not become a full-size slick until May 1959. Rogue was published by William L Hamling, also publisher of Imagination and Imaginative Tales and former managing editor of Amazing Stories. Various sf writers not only contributed to Rogue, but helped edit it, notably Frank M Robinson and Harlan Ellison. It regularly ran science fiction, including first genre sales by George Bamber and George Clayton Johnson plus stories from Charles Beaumont, Damon Knight, Thomas N Scortia and Henry Slesar as well as regular (non-sf) columns by Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch and Mack Reynolds. The August 1962 issue was dedicated to science fiction, to tie in with the World Science Fiction Convention (see Worldcon) being held in Chicago. Perhaps its most memorable story was "Day Million" by Frederik Pohl (February/March 1966 Rogue) in the final issue under Hamling's control. The magazine had never managed to raise sufficient advertising revenue to support its cost.
The other significant rival to Playboy was Penthouse, founded in the UK by Bob Guccione in February 1965, with its first US edition in September 1969. Although Penthouse published fiction it ran little sf but it did provide the financial backing to allow Guccione to launch Omni in October 1978 as a magazine of popular and alternative science. Guccione's partner, Kathy Keeton, had always been interested in parapsychology and New Age studies, and Omni was primarily her concern. Ben Bova was appointed as its first fiction editor, with a budget that sf magazines would only dream about: Omni became the most prestigious market for sf until its demise in 1995, although it was never a science-fiction magazine per se.
Between them, Playboy and Omni were the major slick markets for sf at the end of the twentieth century; although other slick magazines would publish the occasional sf story, there has been no other regular slick market to compare.
Amongst professional genre magazines, the earliest to attempt a quasi- or semi-slick format was Ghost Stories, which appeared in July 1926 in letter size and used coated stock to allow better reproduction of its carefully posed sepia spirit photographs. Published by Bernarr Macfadden and edited by Fulton Oursler, it wasn't initially a companion to Liberty, because MacFadden had yet to buy that title; but it was a companion to True Story and the host of MacFadden's other confession magazines, all of which were quasi-slick. Ghost Stories did not attract sufficient sales or advertising and so switched to standard pulp size and paper in August 1928. A more successful attempt was in the crime fiction field with The Illustrated Detective Magazine, published by Tower Magazines and distributed through Woolworth stores. It ran from December 1929 to September 1935, its title changing to Mystery from December 1932. From its adverts and editorial content it was clear that the magazine was aimed at the women's market, which may have helped sustain it for nearly six years.
Only a few sf magazines have attempted to adopt the slick format. The earliest to use glossy paper was in fact an Amateur Magazine, The Vortex in 1947, though it was in an unconventional wide Digest format. Production costs proved excessive and the second (and last) issue was in standard mimeographed format. Howard Browne had convinced Ziff-Davis that Amazing Stories should be converted to a slick magazine and produced a dummy "ashcan" issue in August 1950, but the financial consequences of the American entry into the Korean War caused the publisher to backtrack and it would be forty years before a slick Amazing was seen when it converted with its May 1991 issue.
The first professional sf magazine to attempt the slick letter-size format was Science-Fiction Plus, published by Hugo Gernsback, first issue March 1953. Gernsback was unable to raise sufficient advertising revenue and sales were low. It switched to standard book paper from the sixth issue and folded one issue later. Analog switched to the letter-size format in March 1963 in an attempt by Conde Nast to bring the magazine in line with its companion slick magazines, but the magazine never became all-slick, simply using quality stock for the science article. After two years Analog reverted to digest format.
The Anglo-Australian magazine Vision of Tomorrow was all on slick paper and ran from August 1969 to September 1970. Although its publisher, Ronald E Graham, was a millionaire, he stopped the magazine the moment he discovered the paucity of sales. Although several magazines tried the letter-size format as quasi-slicks, such as New Worlds in July 1967, Cosmos in May 1977 and Interzone in Spring 1982, none of these had the finances to establish a full-sized slick presence. Vertex had the appearance of a slick magazine when it began in April 1973, though the paper was of a lesser quality, but it fell foul of paper shortages during the oil crisis and converted to a tabloid format in its final days. The British Vortex, which saw five slick issues from January to May 1977, also failed to achieve sufficient sales to meet the costs. Yet, the fact that it could be achieved on a small scale was demonstrated by Arnie Fenner, who produced seven occasional issues of Shayol between 1977 and 1985, and it remains one of the most beautiful of all sf and fantasy magazines. Aboriginal switched to coated stock from its eighth issue (January/February 1988) and sustained this for fifteen issues, until July/August 1990.
Being able to provide the costs to initiate and sustain the magazine has always been the problem with any publisher who tries to produce a slick sf magazine. The sales are never enough to encourage the advertisers or to finance production. Although Amazing Stories took full advantage of its slick appearance to produce an attractive, vibrant magazine in May 1991, there was insufficient investment and promotion to sustain it and it reverted to Digest format in Spring 1994. A second attempt in Summer 1998 fared no better and the print magazine ceased in Spring 2000, with just one online issue to follow. Here an attempt to produce a slick sf magazine resulted in the death of sf's first and oldest publication.
Science Fiction Age, which began in November 1992, and its companion Realms of Fantasy, from October 1994, have been the only slick magazines where the right production and marketing strategies were applied to make them sustainable but once sales began to dip, despite continuing profitability, their days were numbered. Science Fiction Age was dropped in May 2000 as not being sufficiently profitable, and Realms of Fantasy was sold by its publisher, Sovereign Media, in 2007. Subsequent publishers retained the magazine's slick format but it struggled to survive and ceased in October 2011. Only the British Interzone, which went through a considerable facelift under its new publisher, TTA, boasted a glossy, full-colour slick presentation, but even that eventually succumbed, dropping to a smaller, what could be called simi-slick format in September 2012.
With continuing falling sales for Print Magazines and with Online Magazines becoming more viable, the likelihood of a regular full size slick sf magazine is increasingly remote, though occasional issues may appear. Uncharacteristically The New Yorker published a science fiction issue for June 4/11 2012. Although the "sci-fi" element was only part of the magazine and listed separately on the contents page, with contributions by Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Ursula K Le Guin and China Miéville, it was integrated with other sf-related stories and features by several mainstream writers throughout the magazine. Had it not been labelled a "science fiction issue" and featured a comic Superhero cover, the issue could easily have been accepted as standard. But the need by the slicks to still identify "sci-fi" as something else remains a barrier to full acceptance and integration.
The following is a list of general interest (i.e. non-genre) slick magazines and pre-slick glossy magazines for which there are entries in this encyclopedia: Cavalier (2), Collier's Weekly, The Idler, Liberty, The Ludgate Monthly, McClure's Magazine, Munsey's Magazine, Omni, The Overland Monthly, Pall Mall Magazine, The Passing Show, Pears' Annual, Pearson's Magazine, Pearson's Weekly, St Nicholas Magazine The Saturday Evening Post, and The Strand Magazine. Other forms of periodical publishing are discussed under Boys' Papers, Comics, Dime-Novel SF and Juvenile Series. The entries for History of SF and Publishing include discussion of the importance of the magazines. An anomalous slick-format magazine is the science journal Nature, which began regular publication of short-short sf in 1999. [MA]
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