Spotlight On... OMNI Magazine

The Internet Writing Journal, September 1997
This month's Spotlight is on OMNI Magazine, the first slick print magazine to go exclusively electronic. Since its start offline in 1978, Omni Logo OMNI has published top quality science fiction and horror stories along with the latest developments on the scientific frontier. OMNI has always been in the forefront of technology with regard to the contents of the magazine, so it was a natural progression to be in the forefront of technology in the actual means of its publication. We talked with Ellen Datlow, Fiction Editor and Executive Producer of OMNI VISIONS, the weekly science fiction, fantasy and horror writer interviews, and of OMNI's weekly E-Media show: The Future of Culture. She also edits the annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology. She spoke with us about OMNI's move online, trends in the science fiction and horror worlds, and gives us a sneak peek at OMNI's exciting new redesign of the website's fiction department.

Why did OMNI go online?

"We had already started making the move to electronic publication with our aol site and the internet site.
"The problem is there's so much junk on the web because it is so very accessible. Every company wants to have a website but they have no idea what to put there. There's too little content and a lot of the sites are just advertising a product, which is dead boring. So a lot of these sites that do nothing will close down."
Obviously, economy had something to do with it--paper costs have gone sky high and what better magazine to make the move?"


"We are trying to recreate the OMNI of the beginning, taking what we can of print and adding as much interactivity as possible. In the nonfiction area this means edgy and entertaining science. And for my area, the fiction we want to become the hub for the sf, fantasy, and horror comunity on the net. We're having a great time with the medium and as we learn more about the Web, the site evolves. We're in the middle of a fiction redesign from top to bottom that we hope will be up by early-mid September."

OMNI has a wealth of content to offer its readers. One of its most popular features over the years has been the IQ Tests that it has offered its readers. Now, with the help of Virtual Entertainment, OMNI offers readers a chance to test their abilities including verbal, numerical, inductive reasoning in an interactive format.



In addition to the award-winning fiction which graces OMNI's pages, OMNI readers have the opportunity to learn about the latest trends and happenings in the scientific world, read interviews with the leading lights in scientific fields and explore current social issues in a depth and breadth not possible in the traditional, non-interactive print format.
"We don't sell subscriptions. The only way we can survive is by advertising or sponsorships. It's a new medium and the web society is still trying to figure out how to make money."
A recent issue featured Dr. Jane Goodall warning about the approaching millenium, a chat with cult deprogrammer Ford Greene and an investigation of the cult mind set such as the one that recently destroyed the lives of so many people in the the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. Readers can take the interactive Delphic Poll and test their visionary skills by predicting the date of future events. OMNI first instituted its Delphic poll in 1978 when it asked readers to predict when, if ever, the USSR and communism would fall due to an internal revolution. Many of OMNI's Delphic Poll predictions have come true already, such as the Martian landing which 20% of 1984 Delphic Poll participants predicted would happen between 2000 and 2020. The Delphic Poll is now totally interactive. Participants can see a running tally of response totals in real time.

The change from print to online has allowed OMNI to explore these interactive options on the Web. Ellen elaborates:

"We're doing more interactive material on the Web--fiction and nonfiction: Live Science, which provides on the spot reports from laboratories and research centers, a fiction round-robin, during which four writers post their additions to an ongoing story over a period of a month."

"We've been running a series of round-robins with four professional writers creating a short story online for a period of a month with a bulletin board for comments from the "audience." The first was by Jim Patrick Kelly, Rachel Pollack,Pat Cadigan, and Nancy Kress. The second was by Maureen McHugh, Karen Joy Fowler, Terry Bisson, and Rosaleen Love.
Ellen Datlow's Universe
And we're starting a new one in mid-September with Jonathan Lethem, Elizabeth Hand, Kathleen Ann Goonan, and Kim Newman."

"We've been publishing new fiction by James P. Blaylock. Cherry Wilder, Robert Silverberg, Simon Ings, Michael Bishop, Brian Stableford, Howard Waldrop, and Michael Kandel"

We asked Ellen to give us a hint or two about the new fiction redesign.

"We're trying to make the graphics smaller, in bits and pieces rather in large gifs, so that all the pages will load quicker.
photo
Photo by J.K. Potter
Unfortunately, this means the cat photo of me, by J.K. Potter will probably be taken down, although it's been deconstructed for the new design. The review and links will look better (they were never designed but simply "put up"). We're trying to have the look of my areas be of a piece. The featured fiction story will look pretty much the same in style. We're trying to give the salon a feel of an actually "bar/salon" along the lines of the Star Wars bar, with aliens from Wayne Barlowe's Guide To Extraterrestrials. In general, better looking, faster moving, and easier to navigate."

On the subject of making money on the Web, Ellen said,

"We don't sell subscriptions. The only way we can survive is by advertising or sponsorships. It's a new medium and the web society is still trying to figure out how to make money."

What are the latest trends you see in your genre?

"Clone stories in sf, torture and mutilation in horror."

Photograph of Ellen Datlow As Fiction Editor, Ellen is responsible for selecting the first-rate fiction which has always been the hallmark of OMNI. Ellen gives practical tips to writers on the OMNI site which are of great use to writers hoping to land a spot on OMNI's fiction page.
Deluged with submissions, she has her own personal pet peeves as an Editor concerning the submissions she receives. They are:

"No SASE. Writers who obviously have not read the guidelines or asked around as to how to professionally submit a mss."

And the future plans for OMNI?

"We are trying to recreate the OMNI of the beginning, taking what we can of print and adding as much interactivity as possible. In the nonfiction area this means edgy and entertaining science. And for my area, the fiction department, we want to become the hub for the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror comunity on the Net."


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