Locus Online


It's a year now since Locus went Online, and the website is still very much a work in progress. In case it isn't clear to anyone yet, Locus the magazine is produced by Charles N. Brown and a full-time staff of several in Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco. Locus Online is maintained entirely by me, Mark R. Kelly, located in a district of Los Angeles, four hundred miles south of Locus HQ in Oakland, on a strictly spare-time basis (I have a day job). Obviously much of the content of the website is derived from the magazine, or forwarded to me from the magazine; we exchange email almost daily. The website continues to grow and change, partly as we Locusfolk ponder the future of Locus and how much of it is appropriate to put up on the web, and partly as I try to build the website about science fiction that I would like to read and hasn't so far existed. I am, of course, grateful to Charles Brown for the latitude he's given me in determining the design and content of the website representing his magazine. I'm having fun -- but what do you think? One thing I've learned about 'publishing' is that you get very little direct feedback about what your readers like or don't like. Currently Locus Online is receiving about 280 hits per day to its front index page. In a month that's roughly the same number as subscribe to the magazine, but of course many of the web visitors are repeat customers. Despite those numbers, we get only one or two emails per month with comments about the website, either hearty ''great job!''s or kindly corrections of errors or misspellings [it's Arrow Cutting, thank you]. Let us know what you think. We may not comply with every suggestion, but we'll certainly listen.

One recent story I've made no attempt to cover here is the takeover of Random House (et al.) by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. If you follow the publishing industry at all, you've no doubt heard about it already; certainly the story has been thoroughly covered, even in places like Time magazine. (And the story will be covered in Locus magazine.)

If you're not up to speed on the topic here are a couple links: a Washington Post article about the effects of the sale, in which the author states that he found no one who ''had any idea what it all meant''. (This link may not work for long, depending on how WP archives its material.) And an essay on Salon that speculates Bertelsmann's strategy involves web marketing of books, bad news for independent bookstores.

The Web -- medium in progress
Meanwhile, publishing online is not doing too well lately. Omni Online has expired, to no one's great surprise, since the long-standing question has been, how were they making money? Another online publication also folded recently, the literary magazine Word (the site is still there, like Omni's). Meanwhile Slate has retreated behind a subscription wall, drastically cutting down its circulation but perhaps providing the necessary income to keep going without Microsoft's subsidization. As a side-effect, the subscription barrier makes it nearly pointless for other websites to link to Slate, the same effect that the archival systems of most newspaper sites have, thus defeating one of the great advantages of the web over the print medium -- the easy interconnectedness.

In short, the web is still very much an evolving medium. Things people thought would work on the web turn out not to be working, like publishing serious literary or journalistic material. Perhaps it's only that so few people are inclined to sit and read at the computer screen, as has long been complained; for many people, perhaps, using the web is more like TV channel-surfing. Nevertheless, many magazine and newspaper sites publish their entire current-issue contents on the web (for free) and obviously it's not cutting into their paid circulations, or they wouldn't be doing it. Perhaps such web publishers are only doing it because everyone else is doing it, not wanting to be left out when the key to making money on the web is finally discovered. Serious readers, meanwhile, apparently like hard copies, even if the same content is available online.

All of which is why we at Locus are not thinking so much about the notion of putting the entire magazine on the website, either for everyone or behind some subscription wall. (Another reason is that doing so would require resources of time and effort that aren't currently available.) But that's today; tomorrow may be different.

I am off to a software conference in Salt Lake City this week, so some of the more routine updates to the site (like author appearances) will have to wait a few days. I have a new set of magazine/short fiction profiles almost ready, and perhaps I will try posting them on the road. After that I have a number of books lined up for review, either in my monthly Locus short fiction column or here on the website: among them, the Kim Mohan anthology More Amazing Stories; Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga; The Fantasy Hall of Fame; collections by Fowler, Denton, Ellison, and Weiner; the anthologies Tesseracts 6 and Arrow Dreams. (Fair warning: I always have twice as many magazines and books begging to be reviewed as I actually find time for.) And I plan website coverage of occasional nonfiction books of the sort I read anyway and figure should be of interest to SF readers. (I did briefly cover Yourdon's Year 2000 book, and that book about pi, on an Aether Vibrations page, but I have in mind somewhat more substantial reviews.) First up will be K. C. Cole's The Universe and the Teacup; after that, Paul Levinson's new book, books by David Gelernter and James Hogan, and possibly E. O. Wilson's Consilience if I get to it in a timely fashion.

The week after next I'll be attending the Nebula Awards weekend in Santa Fe, and later this year I'm tentatively planning Westercon, Worldcon, and World Fantasy Con. See you there?

--Mark R. Kelly
19 Apr 1998

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.