Uploaded July 28, 1997
Infinite Edge and Beyond: SF Roundup Talks to Mike Totty About the Newest Online Science-Fiction Magazine
Interview by James A. Bailey
Mike Totty is the Senior Editor of Infinite Edge, an attractive entry into the uncertain world of commercial online fiction publishing. He graciously agreed to spend some time discussing the ins and outs of starting this new venture.
JB: The obvious first question, where did the idea for Infinite Edge get started and how did it evolve?
Mike Totty: It started out as an argument in an sff.net newsgroup (news://news.sff.net/sff.workshops.critters). It was a pretty standard "future of publishing is the internet..." discussion. I was arguing that net publishing was many, many years from becoming significant. I cited lack of revenue, labor-intensive work as factors that would keep a professional level e-zine from succeeding without complete subsidization such as Omni and IIRC, TomorrowSF enjoy.
People disagreed. We discussed the nuts and bolts of what it would take, etc. Donors stepped forth interested in trying, a world-wide core group was formed to distribute the work so it wouldn't be too much on one person.
And we decided to go for it.
JB: It's hard to imagine that you would go to all of this effort without having a goal in mind. What do you hope to accomplish with Infinite Edge, and what's your plan to see this through?
Mike Totty: The idea was to create a model for a doable, professional, electronic, sf market. We had hoped that we would be successful enough to show that with just a little seed money and some ad revenue you could put out a quality product and pay 5 cents a word to attract the highest quality fiction. The idea would be that others would copy our model. I like to say we wanted to expand the number of markets available to reject my stories.
JB: Although you are nominally "in charge," Infinite Edge is unique in that it is truly a cooperative effort involving many different people. This spreads the burden, an important consideration since nobody expects to get paid. Who all is involved and what are their responsibilities?
Mike Totty: Well, the distributed workload has worked in some areas, but not as well in others. Submissions are handled by a group of five people. Judy Roberson-Steele handles snail-mail submissions. Monissa Whitely handles fantasy, Greg Peterson handles science fiction and Laura Blackwell handles horror. Sherwood Smith helps oversee things and serves as a senior editorial advisor.
I pretty much handled most of the technical stuff, page-coding, graphics, editorials, science section links, movie/tv reviews, and the writer/fan/genre section that has yet to go up. I've also failed miserably at generating ad revenue.
Lorrie Kralka has served in several capacities, including trying to help me with advertising.
JB: I also find it fascinating that for the most part, none of you have "met" each other, yet you are involved in quite a complicated project. What are the advantages and disadvantages to working together through the Internet?
Mike Totty: The advantages are that a diverse group can "come together" on a common project. It means a variety of input as well as a larger group to distribute work.
The disadvantages are management, communication and coordination. It is difficult, at times, to delegate crucial tasks and monitor their progress. People become less interested and you don't realize it. This happened a number of times. That means you have to jump in a pick up the slack either by delegating or just getting the job done.
I won't say that I have done a particularly good job in managing things. It is a new enterprise and I am extremely busy outside of the zine. I ended up doing too much and not passing it along to people who could handle it.
Several lost interest because I didn't do a good job of keeping everyone involved and assigning tasks.
All that aside, the resulting zine is something of which we can be proud. Whether the project succeeds overall or not. We have produced a quality product with top-notch fiction.
JB: Now that you're well into it, with the first issue posted and attracting readers, have there been any aspects of this business, good or bad, that have surprised you.
Mike Totty: The thing that has surprised me the most is how friendly and helpful those in the sf community have been. Most, even those who don't like e-zines, have been very receptive. Editors and authors alike have been tremendously supportive. Were I better at selling advertising, I think this venture could be quite successful. Not necessarily from a profit standpoint.
JB: While web publishing has many advantages over printing on paper, it's by no means as simple as people may think. What were the steps you had to take to get the ball rolling, and how difficult was that?
Mike Totty: It's really very simple. You decide where your site will be hosted. Andrew Burt of Critters (an online genre-writers workshop) fame, provided free space on nyx.net. E-mail and $100 and we had an Internic-registered domain -- http://www.infinite-edge.com/~infedge/. Our next step was to get the word out to start the flow of submissions. Then, it's coding and normal page design stuff. We did a lot of things by review committee.
JB: Without doubt, the biggest challenge of online publication is tapping a revenue stream. Everybody expects content, with a very few exceptions, to be free. For example, even Microsoft's Slate online magazine had to abandon its plan to make the site subscription based because of resistance from the readers. How then are you trying to present Infinite Edge as an attractive option to advertisers, since so much depends on them?
Mike Totty: Well our plan was to make an attractive product, that included quality fiction from name authors and build a solid reputation in the community, then mass-solicit to the primary advertisers in this genre. We've done all of that (IMHO), but so far, poor results on the advertising front. We are coming up on desperate times. Our success or failure depends on raising revenue in the next six to eight weeks, at least enough to replace the stories up on the site now.
JB: The initial impetus for Infinite Edge may have been to provide a professional online market for writers, but to be successful you have to make readers happy. What can a visitor to your site expect?
Mike Totty: Quality writing, entertaining stories, fun features, interesting interactive areas, useful resources.
JB: Thank you, Mike, for your time with this. Best of luck and success to you and the others with Infinite Edge.
Mike Totty: Thanks, Jim. We appreciate the time to tell you about our little magazine.
Critters: Online SF/F/H Writers Workshop
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