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A history of online sf prozines, 1985-2010

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In October of 2010, I decided to write a history on online sf magazines, with a focus on prozines. I wrote about 90% of it, but then I stalled.

I came back to finish it in 2015, and got about 99% done, but then failed to post it. So I've just done a quick sweep through to change dates and check links, and here it is.

I decided not to try to update the content here to cover anything after 2010. The main focus of this article is on the period from 1995 through 2005; most of the post-2005 material is just lists of magazines rather than substantive discussion, so it didn't seem worth adding a new post-2010 section.

I also decided to leave some uncertainties in place rather than waiting until I had every detail fully nailed down. Updates and corrections welcome (see end of article).

Some of my motivations for writing this piece aren't as relevant as they were in 2010. In particular, a lot of the impetus for this piece was that in 2010, I was still hearing the traditional complaints about online magazines (see below); whereas in 2016, I don't often hear people say any of that stuff. Another motivation was to provide information that wasn't available elsewhere, whereas these days there are other resources available, including the Science Fiction Encyclopedia. But I think it's still worth publishing this.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions and sources
  3. 1980s: Nonpaying early electronic magazines
  4. 1990s: The first online prozines
    1. 1990s: Omni Online and Event Horizon
    2. 1990s: Chiaroscuro and Gothic.net
    3. 1990s: Lower-profile pro-paying non-SFWA magazines
    4. 1990s: Other electronic publishing
  5. 2000: The online magazine boom
    1. 2000: GalaxyOnline
    2. 2000: SCI FICTION
    3. 2000: Strange Horizons
    4. 2000: Lower-profile prozines
  6. 2001–2002: My list, plus a SFWA update
  7. 2001–2004: New magazines
  8. 2005: End of an era, beginning of an era
  9. Mid-2005: SFWA update
  10. 2005–2009: New magazines
  11. 2007: SFWA update
  12. 2010 launches
  13. 2016: SFWA update
  14. A note about magazine archives
  15. Updates to this article

Introduction

I keep seeing people talk about the history of online sf venues that pay pro rates for fiction, and I keep seeing them get various facts about that history wrong. So I'm gonna try to provide a more accurate version.

I probably have some things wrong here as well. But this is a topic I've been very interested in since early 2000 or so, and I took a lot of notes in those first few years and did a lot of followup research for this article, so I think most of this is reasonably accurate. That said, I cannot be said to have been an unbiased observer.

Part of the motivation for writing this was that I've been hearing the same tired arguments about online magazines since early 2000, and those arguments are often factually incorrect, especially claims like these:

  • Online magazines always disappear shortly after launch.
  • Online magazines never pay authors professional rates for fiction.
  • Fiction published online never wins awards.
  • Magazines that give away fiction for free can't last.
  • GalaxyOnline was the pinnacle of online sf publishing.

So I'll be rebutting those claims as I go. [Note added in 2016: As I mentioned above, I don't hear these arguments so much anymore, but they were very common in the early 2000s and still pretty common in 2010.]

I'm covering a lot of territory in this piece; there are magazines that people poured years of their lives into that I'm going to just mention in passing. I'm sorry about that; I know how much work (and money) can go into running a magazine. This article mentions nearly sixty online prozines that launched between 1995 and 2010, so it doesn't devote much space to most of them.

Definitions and sources

The question of what counts as a “professional” magazine is a difficult and contentious one. For the purposes of this history, a professional magazine is (roughly) one that pays rates that were considered professional by SFWA for a significant part of the magazine's lifetime; I'm completely ignoring other definitions of professional. I'll be mentioning several magazines that, despite paying SFWA pro rates, weren't SFWA-qualifying for various reasons. I'll also be mentioning a few non-pro-paying venues, but only a few.

(Speaking of SFWA: in this piece, I'm a bit critical of some things SFWA did in the early days of online prozines. So I should mention that (a) I like and support SFWA (I'm an Associate member), and (b) I understand that things were confusing at the time and nobody was really sure where online publication was going.)

Some types of publications I'm not including in this article:

  • Magazines that didn't publish fiction.
  • Magazines that weren't specifically focused on speculative fiction. (Though I'll mention a couple of horror magazines in passing.)
  • Publications that don't feel like magazines to me. (In this context, a “magazine” is (roughly) a recurring publication, published at least a couple of times a year, featuring at least some not-previously-published short fiction on a regular basis.)
  • Non-English-language magazines, though I would love to add information about such if any of you can provide some.
  • Novel-length publications.

A note about sources: The majority of my sources are notes I took at the time and emails I received at the time, including emailed issues of Speculations. (Especially relevant parts of Speculations included Cynthia Ward's Market Maven column and Randy A. Dannenfelser's market report, though I know that market reports are not always accurate.) I've also collected information from the Internet Archive, and from the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (referenced below as SFE), and from various other people's recollections and records, and from Ralan's list of discontinued markets. Most of my awards info comes from the Science Fiction Awards Database.

In general, I'm relying primarily on text documents rather than memories, because people's memories on these topics are often inaccurate; but of course text documents can be inaccurate as well.

In most cases, links are either to a magazine's current website or to an old version of the magazine at archive.org. I've also linked to SFE entries about magazines that have such entries; those links aren't citations for where I got my information (and I don't necessarily agree with or endorse what the SFE entries say), they're just for further information and other perspectives.

1980s: Nonpaying early electronic magazines

Sf magazines that published fiction in electronic form were born in the mid-1980s, with a few nonpaying venues that were generally distributed for free via email or Usenet (and later on floppy disk or CD-ROM). Even though these weren't professional-paying magazines, I'm starting with them, for historical interest.

One of those magazines, currently called DargonZine, launched in 1985, and is still being published for free online. I believe that's the longest-running online sf magazine.

The first electronic magazine I personally saw was probably a nonpaying magazine called Quanta, back in 1989; it went on hiatus in 1995 (after a longer run than many print magazines), but its complete archives are still available for free download from the Internet Archive, as of mid-2016. See also: Quanta (SFE).

1990s: The first online prozines

About ten online prozines debuted in the second half of the 1990s, after the birth of the web.

1990s: Omni Online and Event Horizon

The first and most prominent of the early online professional sf magazines was Omni Online, also known as Omni Internet. In 1995 and 1996, Omni published some fiction as part of its AOL presence, which was known as Omni Online; when the print version of Omni was discontinued in 1996, the magazine and the name Omni Online moved onto the web, including the fiction department, edited by Ellen Datlow. (But as far as I know, the fiction published in the AOL version wasn't transferred over to the website.) This was the first time I know of that anyone paid professional rates for fiction published online, and the first time that a professional sf editor edited a web-based publication. Ellen was, of course, already well-known in the field at the time, as the fiction editor for the print version of Omni and as the editor or co-editor of many anthologies, including the annual Year's Best Fantasy & Horror reprint series.

Sadly, the web incarnation of Omni Online lasted only about a year and a half; despite lots of traffic (a million page views a day, by one account), it didn't bring in enough advertising revenue to keep running, and it was shut down in April of 1998. Its archives stayed online until 2003, when the owners took them down, but they're still available in the Internet Archive as of mid-2016. (Note that the snapshots after 2003 show pages from Penthouse rather than from Omni.) The fiction-archive page as of the end of the magazine's run lists only eight stories, plus a few “round robin” collaborations. The last story published in Omni Online, which doesn't appear on that fiction-archive page, was “Mr. Goober's Show,” by Howard Waldrop.

One story published there, “Thirteen Phantasms,” by James P. Blaylock, was, as far as I know, the first sf story originally published online to win a major award: it won the World Fantasy Award in 1997.

Ellen went on to edit another online magazine, Event Horizon, working with her Omni colleagues Rob Killheffer, Pamela Weintraub, and Kathleen Stein. The magazine launched in 1998, publishing big-name authors and paying pro rates.

In late 1998, Salon published an article about Event Horizon and Omni Online. That article quoted a senior Penthouse editor as saying:

[Omni's] site was not making any money because it was an ad-driven site and the ads weren't supporting it at the level it needed to be supported—through no fault of the editorial staff....

I think that kind of thing happened to websites a lot in the late '90s and early '00s. Advertising revenue looked like it was going to change the face of the web, and then the online advertising market fell apart. (It came back later, in a somewhat different form, but that's another topic.) Ad deals that were supposed to provide the entire operating budget of a magazine suddenly provided no income at all. A lot of deals that had sounded great turned out to be too good to be true. High hopes and heavy hype gave way to disillusionment.

Event Horizon shut down in 1999, due to lack of funding. But it got some recognition along the way; for example, Kelly Link's “The Specialist's Hat” won the World Fantasy Award in 1999.

I think the site was taken down sometime in 2004, but it's still available in the Internet Archive. The fiction archive shows twenty-two stories; SFE says that they published twenty-three stories in all, twelve of which were original to the magazine. I don't know which story isn't in the archive.

See also: Omni Online (SFE), Event Horizon (SFE).

1990s: Chiaroscuro and Gothic.net

The Chiaroscuro (a.k.a. Chiaroscuro, a.k.a. Chizine) and Gothic.net both launched in 1997; both focused on horror and dark fiction, and there was a period when Chiaroscuro was hosted at the gothic.net domain.

Chiaroscuro published a Nebula-nominated and Stoker-winning story in 2000, “Five Days in April,” by Brian A. Hopkins. However, it was a semiprozine paying something like ½¢/word or 1¢/word for the first few years. It started paying pro rates (3¢/word) in 2001, and those rates went up over time. In 2010, it paid 7¢/word for fiction. As far as I can tell, it stopped publishing fiction sometime between 2010 and 2014, but it had a good long run as a prozine.

Gothic.net paid pro rates from 1999 until 2003. (I'm not sure what its rates were before 1999.) It's still running, but seems to have stopped carrying fiction; I'm not clear on when that happened. Although I'm not going to discuss it much in this article, it played a prominent role in the online-prozines world for several years, partly because it was one of the first online venues to officially become SFWA-qualifying.

1990s: Lower-profile pro-paying non-SFWA magazines

In the late '90s, several other online magazines launched that paid professional rates for fiction. (Which by SFWA standards in those days meant 3¢/word.)

Unfortunately, most of them were very low-profile, and few if any of them ended up counting as SFWA prozines.

At the time, SFWA didn't maintain a public list of qualifying venues. To find out if a venue qualified as a prozine, an author would have to send SFWA a note saying that they'd received such-and-such payment and the story was published in such-and-such venue, and did that count? And SFWA would decide. But they wouldn't decide whether a given venue qualified unless and until an author tried to qualify with publication in that venue, and I don't think any of the authors who were published in those lower-profile venues tried to use them as SFWA-qualifying sales.

There were two other factors that might have further complicated things:

  • SFWA had a rule that no venue could count as a prozine until it had been publishing for a full calendar year. (But after a year, sales to it back to the beginning retroactively counted as pro.) This rule was so obscure that in 2000–2001, nobody I talked with other than the SFWA board, not even pro editors, had ever heard of it. It wasn't in the bylaws, nor on the SFWA website. I suspect it was unevenly enforced.
  • SFWA also had a circulation requirement, in addition to the pay-rate requirement, and nobody was sure how to measure the circulation of a free online magazine.

Anyway, it wasn't until 2002 or later that SFWA started routinely qualifying online prozines.

The lower-profile 1990s venues I'm talking about were magazines like the following (in approximate chronological order by launch date):

Kaleria
I've never before heard of this publication, but SFE says that in March 1996, it was the first independent online magazine to pay pro rates. Perusing the archived copies of pages from the site, it appears to have paid 3¢/word for stories up to 3000 words, and it seems to have offered paid subscriptions. Issues could be downloaded as Zip files, or mailed on floppy disc. Submissions could also be mailed on floppies, so I think this was the first prozine to take electronic submissions. It's not clear to me how many issues were published, if any.
Tomorrow
Semi-high-profile because it was the online continuation of a print magazine edited by Algis Budrys. Ran from April 1997 through August 1999, according to SFE. Based on the archive.org pages, it appears to have published about a hundred stories, about a third of which were reprints of Budrys stories. See also Tomorrow (SFE).
Infinite Edge
Appears to have launched in late 1997 and closed by late 1998. I don't know much of anything about them.
Deep Outside
Launched as Outside on April 15, 1998, paying 3¢/word; renamed to Deep Outside in 1999; renamed to Far Sector in late 2002, and stopped paying pro rates, switching to a royalties model; their final issue appeared on January 1, 2007; for more, including their attempts to get recognition from SFWA, see their history page. See also Far Sector (SFE).
Cyber Age Adventures
Superhero prose fiction. Launched in early 1999. Their closing date as an online publication is unclear; different sources suggest that they stopped publishing online at the end of 2001, or sometime in 2002, or in June 2005. (They also changed the site's name to iHero at some point.) According to their editor, they paid $20/story for the first six months or so, then switched to pro rates: first 3¢/word, then 5¢/word. But I don't think they were ever a SFWA qualifying market.
HMS Beagle
Science magazine that also published “literate biology-related SF”. They were publishing fiction at pro rates by early 1999 if not earlier; were still around in November 2000; were no longer buying fiction as of 24 January 2002.
Ideomancer
Launched in 2000 (I could have sworn I had a source that said 1999, but can't find that now); rebooted in 2002 as a semiprozine; my understanding was that it paid pro rates at some point, possibly during 2003 [citation needed], but in the early days it apparently ran on a percentage-of-site-revenue model. Possibly the pro payments were only for flash fiction, or only up to a certain maximum payment? See also Ideomancer (SFE).

1990s: Other electronic publishing

Electronic publishing in other forms was also getting off the ground in the '90s. For example, Brad Templeton's Hugo and Nebula Anthology 1993 CD included almost all of the Hugo- and Nebula-nominated short fiction and novels published in 1992. But my article is specifically about magazines, so I'm not going to talk about the rise of epublishing in general, even for short stories. For example, I'm not going to talk about the short stories that Fictionwise published, nor short stories published in ebook form by Amazon, nor even the stories published on the DNA Publications website.

2000: The online magazine boom

The year 2000 brought a sudden influx of new online prozines, a couple of them very high-profile.

2000: GalaxyOnline

I think that GalaxyOnline may have been the site that left an indelible impression about online magazines on the minds of much of the sf community, because the hype was spectacular and the collapse was sudden. But from my point of view, it never really got off the ground as a fiction publication.

The site launched in January of 2000, to tremendous acclaim. But for the first six months, my understanding was that they weren't publishing fiction. We started planning Strange Horizons shortly before GalaxyOnline launched, so I was keeping an eye on them, even though I didn't read or view most of their nonfiction content. (I say “or view” because some of their content was in video form.) My notes indicate that the first fiction that I saw there appeared in late July or early August of 2000 (in a difficult-to-find corner of the site). Within a couple weeks after that, they posted a new story by Orson Scott Card, and four reprints, one each by Jack McDevitt, Ellison, Silverberg, and Heinlein. (The McDevitt story was published in their original-fiction section, but it was a reprint of an award-winning story from 1989.)

Then, as far as I know, they didn't publish any more fiction. In November 2000, GalaxyOnline bought Amazing, and (in a rejection letter someone I know received) said that they had “changed our focus and our timelines for publication.” They planned to publish Amazing in “an innovative CD-ROM format,” and I got the impression all fiction would henceforth be published in Amazing. Then in mid-December of 2000, Rick Wilber resigned as fiction editor, and sometime around then the plan to publish Amazing on CD-ROM fell through.

By April 2001, GalaxyOnline had split into two sites: Galaxy Magazine and Galaxy TV. The former provided a long list of writers whose work was appearing on the site, but most of that work was nonfiction. There was some fiction, but I think it was all reprints. They also posted a call for submissions, but no info about pay rates; I gather they stopped paying for fiction around then.

So as far as I knew at the time, GalaxyOnline only ever published one piece of new fiction. The site was definitely very high-profile; it got a lot of attention, and a lot of people were excited about its launch and sad to see it go. It's widely remembered both as being a spectacular success and as demonstrating that online magazines are doomed to collapse. But I think a lot of people may misremember the degree to which it was a venue for original fiction.

See also Galaxy Online (SFE), which claims that there was at least some new fiction other than the Card story I mentioned above, including another Card story. That may be true, but if so I didn't see it. But even if I missed a couple of stories, there definitely wasn't very much new fiction.

A general thought: My impression is that part of the reason that the highest-profile online prozines up to this point closed relatively quickly was that the people who controlled the finances had too-high expectations, the same kinds of expectations that fueled the dot-com boom. It seems to me that online magazines that launched later (even only a little later) have, by and large, lasted longer than the high-profile earlier ones—and I think a lot of that is because the newer ones tended to have a clearer idea of what to expect with regard to income. In particular, few of the newer online magazines have tried to make a profit—which is good, because making a profit from online publications has generally been very difficult. (Even Salon took eight years to make a profit, and even then it was only profitable by pro forma non-GAAP accounting.) The only online publication I can think of offhand that made a profit before 2005 or so is the online edition of the Wall Street Journal.

2000: SCI FICTION

SCI FICTION, also known as SciFiction and Sci Fiction, appeared in May 2000.

It paid what I believe was a higher rate for fiction than any other magazine in the field at the time, online or on paper: 20¢/word. It published a fair number of well-known authors. It was backed by the Sci Fi Channel. Because printing costs and page count weren't an issue, it regularly published novellas, usually split across three or four weeks. And it was edited by Ellen Datlow, who had more experience editing online prozines than anyone else at that time.

My feeling is that SCI FICTION did more to legitimize online magazines in the eyes of the field than any other venue did.

On the other hand, that legitimacy didn't tend to extend much beyond Ellen's publications. I lost count of the number of times that I heard people praise SCI FICTION while excoriating online publication in general.

In addition to the general praise, there were also awards. Linda N. Nagata's novella “Goddesses” was the first piece of fiction originally published online to win the Nebula Award, in 2000. Three other stories from SCI FICTION subsequently won Nebulas, and eight more were nominated. Jeffrey Ford's “The Empire of Ice Cream” was the first work of fiction originally published online to be nominated for a Hugo award, and three more SCI FICTION stories were nominated for Hugos over the next couple of years. And Ellen herself won two Hugos for Best Professional Editor during her time on the magazine, in 2002 and 2005, and the magazine won a Best Web Site Hugo in 2005 (beating Strange Horizons).

Although Syfy has officially taken down the SCI FICTION archives, you can still view them at archive.org.

Also, a bunch of the stories Ellen published online in her various venues are now available in her print anthology Digital Domains.

See also Sci Fiction (SFE).

2000: Strange Horizons

When we began planning the magazine that would become Strange Horizons, around the beginning of 2000, we knew of only one or two still-extant online sf magazines, and they weren't widely known. By the time we launched, in September of 2000, GalaxyOnline and SCI FICTION had arrived before us, both making huge splashes, and three other lower-profile prozines had also started (see below).

SH was started by Mary Anne Mohanraj, who had previously run an online erotica magazine, Clean Sheets. Her plan for SH was to make it a nonprofit, running on donations; kind of a public radio model.

I was very dubious about the idea of a nonprofit magazine; I'd never heard of such a thing. But it turns out that there are some other well-known magazines that have had related models (such as Ms. and The Paris Review). And it meant that we didn't have to figure out how to make a profit with online publication, which nobody had yet managed to do. It also meant that, in the US, donations to the magazine were tax-deductible; and knowing that we were a nonprofit may've led more people to be interested in donating to us.

Over the years, a lot of naysayers told us that we would fail just like all the other online magazines. Which is why I'm just a little bit smug that the magazine recently reached its sixteenth anniversary.

Another good decision of Mary Anne's was to staff each department with three editors. We were all volunteers (as most editors on most online magazines have been); having multiple editors in a department let us manage workloads better, and provided resilience when an individual editor got sick or left the magazine.

Some day I may put together a history of my experience as a fiction editor at SH, but most of that is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that we were not as high-profile as we wanted to be among the general sf readership, and my attempts to approach established authors tended to be rebuffed; but we were widely liked among newer writers. We had one of the politest form rejection letters in the business, we had an explicit statement welcoming submissions from authors from underrepresented backgrounds (I think having a woman of color as our editor-in-chief and founder probably also helped in conveying that we welcomed diversity in authors), and we took online submissions, which few other magazines did in the early days. We also published a much higher percentage of new writers than any of the higher-profile magazines did (print or online), and so publication with us became a step on the road to SFWA membership for quite a few authors.

Work published in SH has been nominated for and won a variety of awards; for example, two stories have been nominated for Hugos, and five for Nebulas. For details, see the magazine's awards pages.

See also Strange Horizons (SFE).

2000: Lower-profile prozines

A couple of other magazines that paid pro rates also launched in 2000, though they didn't receive as much attention as some of the higher-profile venues:

Vestal Review
Launched in April 2000. Published only stories under 500 words long. Paid at least 3¢/word, which at the time was a pro rate. They're still going, making them arguably the longest-running online prozine still extant; but they've never qualified as a prozine by SFWA standards. (For more on that, see below.)
Would That It Were
Launched in April 2000. Paid mostly pro rates, though possibly not for stories over 5000 words (which they rarely bought). Historical science fiction, mostly set in the Victorian period. In April 2005, noting that the magazine had “essentially been non-revenue-generating,” the editor said he was switching to an irregular publishing schedule; I don't think there were further issues after that, though SFWA now retroactively considers this to have been a qualifying venue until 2006. See also Would That It Were (SFE).
Speculon
Launched in August 2000; ceased publication in either 2002 or early 2003. (I wrote in email in September 2002 that their last issue had been in April 2002, but other sources later indicated that they published something in early 2003.) Paid pro rates, partly supported by advertising; published roughly eight times a year. See also Speculon (SFE).

2001–2002: My list, plus a SFWA update

I wrote a note on June 1, 2001, which mentioned that at that time there were at least ten online magazines paying pro rates:

  • Chiaroscuro (had just gone up to 3¢/word)
  • Cyber Age Adventures
  • Deep Outside SFFH
  • FearsMag (not covered in this article because it was a horror magazine. Appears to have stopped paying for fiction in late 2001)
  • Gothic.net
  • H.M.S. Beagle
  • SCI FICTION
  • Speculon
  • Strange Horizons
  • Would That It Were

The only one I know of that I didn't mention in my note was Vestal Review, but it's possible that there were others as well.

But despite the plethora of pro-paying online magazines, SFWA remained reluctant to recognize online venues. In January 2002, nearly eight months after I wrote the above list, the only officially SFWA-qualifying online magazines were SCI FICTION and Gothic.net (which paid 5¢/word), and SFWA wasn't making any public statements about what would allow an online venue to qualify.

Strange Horizons started out paying 4¢/word for fiction, higher than SFWA's pro rate cutoff of 3¢/word. (When SFWA's rate went up to 5¢/word, in late 2003, we raised ours as well, though it was a significant hit to our shoestring budget.) One of our goals was always to publish newer writers, who are often very interested in acquiring enough publication credits to join SFWA, so we knew from the start that we wanted to be a SFWA-qualifying venue. (That wasn't the only reason we decided to pay pro rates, of course; we also believed that authors should be paid for their work.)

Not long after we launched, however, we learned about the then-not-publicly-known one-year-of-regular-publication criterion. In September of 2001, some of our authors started applying for SFWA membership based on their SH sales, but it wasn't until March 2002 that we became officially a SFWA-qualifying venue. (But at that point, the qualification became retroactive.) As of March 2002, there were only four SFWA-qualifying online magazines: SCI FICTION, Gothic.net, Speculon, and SH.

One more note about SFWA qualifications: In August 2003, when SFWA published criteria for a venue to qualify, the rules noted that the minimum payment that counted as professional was $50. The main immediate effect was to disqualify Vestal Review, which was the only extant publication that was paying 3+¢/word but less than $50/story, because all of its fiction was under 500 words long. (It had been ruled non-qualifying earlier without explanation, but the new rules made clear why.) One of the SFWA board members involved in the decision told me at the time that it was obvious that anything under $50 was not a professional payment. To me, it's not obvious that any specific given amount is or isn't a professional payment, but we had no objection to paying authors $50 for stories under a thousand words; so SH started doing that, and thereby retained pro status.

2001–2004: New magazines

Over the next few years, most of the new online magazines were semipros, which is to say they paid for fiction but didn't pay full SFWA pro rates. (Some of those semipros are still around, and still publishing good material.) In some cases, they paid 3¢/word, but with a cap on the total payment, so they weren't paying pro rates for their longest stories, and thus didn't quality as SFWA prozines; one of the criteria, as I understand it, was that all original fiction published by the venue had to be paid pro rates. For example, Abyss & Apex, which launched in 2003, initially paid 3¢/word up to a maximum of $40, and now pays 6¢/word up to a maximum of $75. Other prominent semipros included Fortean Bureau and Futurismic. Online semiprozines are largely outside the scope of this article, but I'd love to see someone else write a history of them.

There were several new prozines, exploring various business models and pay rates and publication media:

Nexxus
Ran from early 2001 to sometime in 2003 (sources disagree about when it ended). Most of the content appears to have been available only to subscribers. Achieved a certain level of prominence/notoriety when one of its stories was nominated for a Hugo award in 2003; but the story turned out to be a reprint of a story first published elsewhere with a publication date of 2000, and was thus ineligible. For more details, see the Hugo administrator's writeup of the situation. See also Nexxus (SFE).
The Spook
Launched in June or July 2001, attempting to be a supermarket-style glossy slick magazine in PDF format, with double-page full-color professional ads from big-name companies, and featuring fiction by big-name horror authors. It didn't take unsolicited fiction submissions. It paid $100-$500 for fiction (though rumor has it that they never paid some of their fiction authors); I assume that came out to pro rates, but I'm not sure what lengths they were publishing. In 2003, it changed its name to Metropole. The editor stepped down in early 2004, and I'm not sure what happened to the magazine after that; I apparently had information at one point suggesting it stopped publishing in April 2003.
The Infinite Matrix
Launched by Eileen Gunn in 2001. It was originally sponsored by a software company, Matrix.net, but by the time the first issue launched, the company had decided not to continue funding the magazine. Eileen found other funding; at least for a while, the magazine paid what I believe were the second-highest rates of any magazine in the field. (Possibly even the highest; my notes are inconsistent on this point.) It published regularly until late 2003, then half a dozen pieces a year from 2004 to mid-2006, then stopped, except for one issue in 2007 and one in 2008. (The 2007 material is no longer available in the archive.) I'm not sure whether it continued to pay pro rates for its full run. One story published there was nominated for a Hugo: Cory Doctorow's “I, Robot,” published in 2005. In the early days, I think Infinite Matrix was generally considered to be The Other Respectable Online Magazine (other than SCI FICTION), at least by those who were aware of it; I was tempted to give it a section of its own in this article, but felt I didn't have quite enough to say about it. It was certainly the highest-profile of the online prozines that launched from 2001 through 2004. See also Infinite Matrix (SFE).
Oceans of the Mind
Ran from 2001 through 2006; published in the form of an emailed PDF file. Paid pro rates for most or all of its run. (Was definitely still paying pro rates by early 2005; I have conflicting notes about whether it continued to do so through 2006.) SFWA has officially declared them to not be a qualifying market, but I'm not sure why not. See also Oceans of the Mind (SFE).
Future Orbits
Launched in October 2001; paid 6¢ to 10¢/word, and it was sold in various ebook formats rather than being free on the web. It ceased publication in mid-2002, after five or six issues, without making it to a full year. See also Future Orbits (SFE).
Eternity Online
The print prozine Pulp Eternity (which had an associated website called Eternity that seems to have published at least some fiction at semipro rates) announced an online sister publication, variously known as Pulp Eternity Online and Eternity Online, which was originally planned to debut in early 2000 (later changed to early 2001) and pay 5¢/word. By mid-2000, the plan had changed, and as far as I can tell, Eternity Online never launched; the editor ran into unexpected health issues, and officially announced the closing of his publishing company in February, 2001. See also Eternity (SFE).
I'm mostly not including magazines that never launched in this history, but I'm listing Eternity Online because I had heard of it. Also because it illustrates something that's happened numerous times in the history of sf publishing, both in print and online: when a publication is entirely or primarily the work of one person, and when that person encounters health issues or injury or financial problems, the publication tends to disappear. That's not a criticism of individuals who have run magazines on their own; just an observation that a magazine that's set up to survive a loss or change of editor may be likely to last longer than one that isn't.
Shadowed Realms
Flash fiction magazine; ran from September 2004 to October 2006 or possibly mid-2007.
Feral Fiction
Ran from September 2004 to October 2005.

2005: End of an era, beginning of an era

By mid-2005, some formerly pro-paying venues had become semiprozines, including Ideomancer and Gothic.Net.

And then in November 2005, the Sci Fi Channel decided to stop funding SCI FICTION.

As we had seen with Infinite Matrix, that had always been one of the biggest dangers to a venue that was published by an organization that didn't normally publish fiction. It was nonetheless a huge shock. In the aftermath, a bunch of readers and writers wrote up paeans to individual stories that had been published at SCI FICTION.

But meanwhile, that year and the next, a new wave of high-profile online magazines appeared: Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (October 2005–present), Jim Baen's Universe (June 2006–April 2010), Clarkesworld (October 2006–present), and a few others. (See below for details.) Some of these magazines paid higher rates than the print prozines. A couple of them charged readers money to read the magazine, while others were free to read. At least two of them are still going strong, ten years later, and Clarkesworld has become one of the major short-fiction venues in the field, with several stories nominated for Hugos and three Hugo wins for the magazine itself.

Another new venue in 2005 was Escape Pod, presenting fiction in podcast form. They publish reprints and original stories, and soon launched sibling publications PodCastle (for fantasy) and Pseudopod (for horror). They pay 6¢/word for original fiction, and are a SFWA-qualifying venue.

Mid-2005: SFWA update

In May 2005, there were still claims from established professional authors that online magazines were inherently doomed and that there was no point in trying to sell stories to them. SFWA's official qualifying list had only eleven extant venues total, but it included only three online venues: Chizine, SCI FICTION, and Strange Horizons. All three had been running as prozines for four to five years.

2005–2009: New magazines

This section and the next couple of sections are mostly just lists of magazines. I'm sure there's plenty more to say about them, but I'm less familiar with most of these than I was with the earlier ones.

Here are all of the online prozines I know of that launched from 2005 to 2009:

InterGalactic Medicine Show
October 2005–present. Orson Scott Card is the publisher, and started out as the editor but stepped down as editor in 2006. One story published there has been nominated for a Hugo award, with the help of the Sad and Rabid Puppies. See also Intergalactic Medicine Show (SFE).
Jim Baen's Universe
Ran from June 2006 through April 2010. Pay rates varied from 6¢/word up to 25¢/word depending on various factors, and they published on the order of 120,000 words of material each issue, the equivalent of a 300- to 400-page paperback book. (For example, the first issue contained seventeen standalone stories, plus serials and nonfiction.) They charged subscribers for access to the issues, but in the end found that the subscriber base didn't grow fast enough to keep the magazine running.
They had an interesting optional submission model wherein new writers could post their stories to a password-protected forum instead of submitting through a traditional submission system; readers of the magazine could look at the posted stories and vote up the ones they liked, which would then be considered for publication—a sort of crowdsourced slushpile. During its run, the magazine published two stories that were nominated for Hugos, both written by Mike Resnick, and one story that was nominated for a Nebula. Although the magazine was prominent and paid well, its editors seemed a little disconnected from the rest of the online-magazines world, which may have led them to a stronger belief in the magazine's influence on that world than was warranted. (For example, one of their editors once claimed that in 2005, when they launched, there were no other online prozines.) See also Jim Baen's Universe (SFE).
Heliotrope
Launched in August 2006; final issue was #5, in April 2009. See also Heliotrope (SFE), which says there were six issues, but I'm not seeing a #6 on the magazine's site itself.
Clarkesworld
Launched in October 2006; still running as of mid-2016. Has become one of the most prominent magazines in the field, and one of the best-paying. Has published eight stories that've been nominated for Hugo awards, second only to Tor.com among online venues, and twelve stories that've been nominated for Nebulas, including two that have won. The magazine itself has won three Hugos. See also Clarkesworld (SFE).
Trabuco Road
Ran from November 2006 through March 2007; appears to have published only eight stories, and it looks like they had a cap on payment that meant only some of those stories got pro rates.
Darker Matter
Ran for five issues, from March 2007 through August 2007. See also Darker Matter (SFE).
Fantasy Magazine
Launched in 2005 as a print magazine; went online in 2007; merged with Lightspeed in 2012. [Updated after posting the article: According to Sean Wallace and Cat Rambo, it paid pro rates for at least some of its run.] See also Fantasy Magazine (SFE).
Subterranean Press Magazine
Ran from Spring 2007 through Summer 2014. I think it was invitation-only, so I'm not certain that it paid pro rates, but it seems likely that it did. Two stories published there were nominated for Hugo awards, and three for Nebulas, one of which won.
Grantville Gazette
Launched in May 2007 as a regular magazine (after some earlier irregular electronic publications); still running as of mid-2016. All of its fiction is set in the world of Eric Flint's novel 1632. See also Grantville Gazette (SFE).
Flash Fiction Online
Launched in 2007; still running as of mid-2016.
Illusion TV Presents: Transmitter
Appears to have run from January 2008 through May 2008. I don't know anything about it.
Apex
2008–present; was print-only from 2005 to 2008. (Not to be confused with Abyss & Apex.) One story published there has been nominated for a Hugo award, and three for Nebulas, of which two have won. See also Apex (SFE).
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Launched in October 2008, paying 5¢/word; still running as of mid-2016. Focuses on secondary-world fiction. Two stories published there have been nominated for Nebulas. See also Beneath Ceaseless Skies (SFE).
Tor.com
Launched in 2008, and still running. Pays among the highest rates in the field, and has become one of the preeminent magazines in the field. Has published twelve Hugo-nominated stories (more than any other online venue), and four of those have won, including the first story originally published online to ever win a Hugo, Charlie Jane Anders's “Six Months, Three Days,” published in 2011. In 2014, pieces published at Tor.com won all three short-fiction Hugo awards. Tor.com has also published fifteen stories that've been nominated for Nebulas (more than any other online venue), including one that won. See also Tor.com (SFE).
Crossed Genres
The original version of the magazine, which launched in December 2008 and ran until December 2011, paid only token rates. After a successful Kickstarter, it relaunched as version 2.0 in January 2013, paying pro rates, and was still running as of late 2015. Its mission is to “give a voice to people often ignored or marginalized in SFF.’ It's funded by subscriptions, and published in ebook form as well as on the web. See also Crossed Genres (SFE).

I noticed an interesting pattern in compiling this list: The venues that I originally put on the list, which is to say the ones that I knew about in 2010, are all still running in 2016, except for Subterranean, which ran for seven years, and Baen's Universe, which ran for nearly four years. The venues that I added during research for the 2016 publication of this article, which is to say the ones that I didn't know about in 2010, only ran for a few issues, and most only ran for a few months. That may sound tautological (if they run longer, I'm more likely to have heard of them), but my point is that someone who looks only at the short-lived ones could be forgiven for thinking that online magazines always die quickly, while someone who looks only at the long-lived ones could conclude that most online magazines last a long time. I think the truth is that, just like with print magazines, there's a lot of variation. But even so, nearly two-thirds of the prozines that launched from 2006 through 2009 are still around in 2016.

I noticed another interesting pattern while looking at awards: though there had been occasional stories published online that were nominated for major awards since 2000 or so, the Hugos and Nebulas tended to have no more than two online-published stories nominated each year up through 2009. From 2010 through 2013, there were three or four online stories nominated for Hugos each year; then in 2014, there were eight. It's harder to measure in 2015 and 2016, due to the influence of the Puppies; but my impression is that Hugo nominators suddenly started really paying attention to online venues around 2014. Something similar happened with the Nebulas, starting a couple years earlier; from 2011 on, there've been at least five online stories nominated each year for the Nebulas, and usually ten.

2007: SFWA update

In March of 2007, SFWA's official list of qualifying online venues was as follows:

  • Baen's Universe
  • Chizine
  • Shadowed Realms (subject to minimum payment)
  • Strange Horizons
  • Nerve.com [Not covered in this history because it's not primarily an sf venue.]
  • SCI FICTION through 12/2005
  • Gothic.net from 2/1999 through 2/2003
  • Speculon through 2/2003

I'm not sure why IGMS and Escape Pod weren't on the list at that point; both had been running for more than a year by that time, and I think both were paying pro rates for original fiction. Clarkesworld hadn't yet been around for a full year.

2010 launches

I wrote the original version of this article in late 2010. The magazines in this section had launched by then, but I don't think I had originally planned to include them; my main focus was on the period up to 2005. But since these publications had launched before I wrote the original version of this article, and within the period that this article theoretically covers, I may as well list them.

Lightspeed
Launched in June 2010. Merged with sibling publication Fantasy Magazine in 2012. Edited by John Joseph Adams. One of the few prozines that (as I understand it) achieves gender parity among its authors. Three stories published there have been nominated for Hugo awards (one has won), and fourteen for Nebulas (second only to Tor.com among online venues). The magazine itself has been nominated four times for Hugos, and won twice. See also Lightspeed (SFE).
Redstone Science Fiction
Ran from June 2010 through September 2012. See also Redstone (SFE).
Daily Science Fiction
Launched in September 2010; still running as of mid-2016. Distributed by email (for free), and on the web. Pays 8¢/word, but story length is 100 to 1,500 words, so only stories that meet the SFWA minimum pay rate are qualifying. Presumably this means that as of mid-2016, given SFWA's current $60 minimum payment, a sale to this magazine of a story under 750 words long is not qualifying. (I'm not sure how to reconcile that with the idea that to qualify, all of a magazine's stories must receive pro rates; maybe I'm just wrong about that idea.) One story published here has been nominated for a Nebula. See also Daily Science Fiction (SFE).
Wily Writers
Launched in 2010; published stories in both text and audio formats; started paying pro rates in 2012, I think; appears to have either closed or gone on hiatus in 2014.
AE
Canadian magazine that launched in 2010 and is still running as of mid-2016.

2016: SFWA update

In this article, I'm not listing publications that launched after 2010; but just to give a sense of the current state of the market, here are the online venues listed on SFWA's current official list, as of mid-2016:

  • AE
  • Apex (starting with June 2008 issue)
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Buzzy Mag
  • Clarkesworld Magazine
  • Crossed Genres
  • Daily Science Fiction
  • Diabolical Plots
  • Escape Pod
  • Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
  • Flash Fiction Online
  • Galaxy's Edge Magazine (edited by Mike Resnick)
  • Grantville Gazette (starting with May 2007 issue)
  • Interfiction Online
  • Lightspeed Magazine
  • Nightmare Magazine
  • Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show
  • Star Citizen Jump Point Magazine
  • Strange Horizons
  • Tor.com
  • Uncanny Magazine
  • Unlikely Story

That's twenty-two extant online sf venues that pay pro rates; I don't know for sure, but I suspect that's a lot more than have ever been on SFWA's list before. (Six of them are new in the past year.) Also interesting: of the ten or so print magazines that are also on the official list, only three (I think) are specifically focused on speculative fiction. Which is to say, at this point the online sf-focused prozines far outnumber the print sf-focused prozines.

I'm certainly not going to claim that print magazines are dead; I think they've got a lot of life left in them. But I do take a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing the rise of the online magazines over the years, especially given the number of people who've confidently told me that online magazines never last very long and are inevitably doomed to fail. It's true that all magazines, in any medium, will probably die eventually. But most of the prozines currently on the SFWA list have been running for at least four years now, a couple are at around ten years, and one has reached sixteen.

I should add that the distinction between online magazines and print magazines is getting blurrier. Some magazines that I consider to be online magazines offer print versions of some or all of their material; print magazines have started offering ebook versions. It's possible that in another five or ten years, this won't be a distinction that makes sense anymore.

A note about magazine archives

I've always said that one of the big advantages to online publications is that their archives can stay online long-term. It's not easy to find a copy of a print magazine that was published fifteen years ago; but it's trivial to find a story in an online magazine published that long ago, if the archives are still around.

Unfortunately, it turns out that a lot of publications take their archives offline within a few years after shutting down. I'm disappointed by that. I'm kind of tempted to try to set up a site that preserves the archives of defunct online magazines long-term (with the permission of the authors and rightsholders, of course).

Then again, the Internet Archive already does preserve a lot of this stuff, albeit generally without the permission of the authors and rightsholders, and generally with wonky images and navigation. The archives of Omni Online and SCI FICTION are still there, for example, long after the owners shut down the original sites. That's non-ideal for any authors who don't want their work to stay up (you can request a takedown from the Archive, but I gather it sometimes takes a while), but it's good for readers and historians. I certainly wouldn't have been able to put this article together without the Archive's help.

Updates to this article

I welcome further information to fill in details or correct problems—especially in places where I've written “[citation needed]”—but if you supply info, please let me know its provenance. Over the years, a lot of people have told me a lot of things based on memory, and a fair number of those things have turned out to be wrong; for that matter, my own memory of some of this history has also turned out to be wrong. (And by the way, if you encounter big-name pro authors opining about the history of online magazines without citing sources, you should take anything they say with a grain of salt; most of the public pronouncements about online magazines that I've seen from certain authors have been factually incorrect.) So if at all possible, please base corrections and updates on documents and other evidence, not just memory.

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