The Demise of SciFiction

Earlier this month, a message appeared on SciFi.com’s SciFiction website from editor Ellen Datlow. Evidently, SciFi.com (which is owned by the SciFi Channel) has decided to cease online publication of SciFiction, leaving Ellen without a job.

I’m dumbfounded.

Over a seventeen year period, Ellen Datlow built Omni magazine into the premier market for science fiction and science fact. When Omni ceased publication due to the financial difficulties faced by General Media, Bob Guccione’s publishing company, Ellen ran the online version of the magazine — successfully — for three years. With the final demise of Omni‘s online version, Ellen collaborated with Robert Kilheffer on the Event Horizon website for a short time before being hired to edit SciFiction for SciFi.com in 1999.

Like Omni, SciFiction quickly became the premier market for short science fiction. Since the magazine was supported by the SciFi channel’s revenue stream and had no physical print costs, it was able to pay double the standard professional rate for fiction ($.20 per word!) Over its six-year lifespan, SciFiction broke new ground in many ways, most notably garnering Nebula and Sturgeon awards for stories and novellas first published in electronic form. Datlow herself won the Hugo award twice for Best Editor, as well as the Locus Magazine Best Editor award in 2005.

So, why would SciFi.com shut down such a well-regarded publication and editor? No one is quite sure, but suspicion points to finances. Evidently SciFiction wasn’t bringing in enough money, so it had to be cut.

Let’s get something straight; SciFiction was originally published as a loss leader. The idea was to become the industry’s leading fiction market, and with Ellen Datlow at the helm, they did that. It was never intended to make money; it was intended to attract fans of true science fiction. SciFiction was created to lend an air of industry credibility to a cable network becoming increasingly known for its reliance on formulaic original programming. Faced with declining ratings, I wonder if the SciFi.com brass decided that it was easier to cut Ellen’s salary and eliminate a well-paying fiction market rather than spend the money and time necessary to improve the quality of the network’s original programming. I don’t know for sure, and I’m not enough of an industry insider to have all the facts.

But I do have a blog (of sorts.) And I know an e-mail address where people can write if they think this was a poor decision. Write to feedback@scifi.com if you wish to express your displeasure.

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