Starlog Shifts to the Web

In the spring of 1980, I was facing graduation and needed a job. I researched 35-40 publishers of books, newspapers and magazines, all in the New York area and all I wouldn’t mind working for. Clearly, some were more desirable than others but I couldn’t be picky. I added to the list, Starlog, since I had been reading the mag since its debuted in 1976.

Of the letters mailed, a handful netted very nice notes saying thanks but no thanks. A few led to phone conversations and only one led to an actual job interview.  During the April break, in the midst of a transit strike, I headed into New York in my suit, ready to wow the publisher at Starlog Press.  A little after our appointment was scheduled for, Kerry O’Quinn, clad in jeans an boots, rushed in, shook my hand and took me back to his office.  We chatted for something like an hour and then he asked to see samples which I would have to mail him.

A week later he called, impressed, and told me they intended to expand and would need a managing editor for Fangoria come September. Was I interested?  Well, I was more a science fiction than horror guy, but I said sure. They offered a low sum which I negotiated up to as whopping $10,000 a year and accepted.

My three-plus years were largely a delight. I got to write for Starlog and Future Life in addition to my work on Fangoria. I met people, learned the ropes, made contacts, and conceived Comics Scene which led to my giving up Fango in exchange for a new project. Comics Scene led to my offer to join DC Comics in 1984 and things proceeded apace.

I continued to write for Starlog for several years thereafter and then the work dried up but I have remained a loyal reader all these years. Its editor, Dave McDonnell, was one of my writers and I helped get him hired just before I left. We’ve been friends ever since. He’s been at the helm for ages now and he has weathered the newsstand declines, managerial indifference, and ownership changes.

This week it became official. Starlog has ceased to be a print publication and will join the plethora of web-based magazines covering the field of science fiction, fantasy, and comics. Like so many sites, it’s being done on a shoestring budget but does have the clever writing and visual touches that are unique to the magazine.

At a time when the UK has a bunch of mags still covering the field and the US has Sci-Fi Magazine still around, one wonders why the granddaddy isn’t still in print. The answer really comes down to the same reason why so many others have faded away. The publishers never exploited the franchise at its height or changed and adapted when the market evolved. The website has always been a hit or miss proposition when it should have contained archives, indexes, exclusives and the like. The Starlog Store concept was interesting but so poorly executed it hurt the brand. A line of books containing its interviews or episode guides or instructional pieces should have happened but were always done hit or miss.

Dave’s editorial approach hewed to the traditions of solid journalism and the design was freshened now and then to keep it interesting.  However, as the news arrived faster on line and mainstream outlets like Entertainment Weekly started grabbing the exclusives, Starlog was starting to feel stagnant. By the time their solid coverage of a film rolled out, we’d already seen pieces with the same people on numerous websites and in other magazines. It was starting to lose ground and lose relevance and nothing Dave could do from his editor’s desk could change that.

When Kerry left, his partner Norman Jacobs, tried and failed repeatedly to extend the franchise, placing more of his efforts into Fangoria which seemed to better catch on with its audience. He subsequently sold the company to the Creative Group and they in turn had no clue what to do with Starlog so ignored it like an ugly stepchild. And now the print version has been suspended.

At its height, Starlog offered the sharpest writing and most extensive coverage every month.  It was the authoritative voice of the field for years and that will be missed. By all means, check out the site and enjoy the new coverage along with the digital archives from its glory years.

I’m going to miss having that arrive in my mailbox every month. After all, you never forger your first job.

13 comments

  • Sounds like a void waiting to be filled by smart people here…

  • Sorry to hear about Starlog, but glad they gave you your first job. I think I’ve told you before, but Comics Scene was one of my favorite magazines as a comic collecting teenager. That was a truly great publication.

  • I agree about the mag’s high standards. I remember when a slew of competitors came out in the early 1990s: Sci Fi Entertainment, Sci Fi Universe, Cinescape. I expected them to light a fire under Starlog and offer something new, but none of them did; they offered nothing that changed the game plan of the genre newsstand. Starlog largely ground them into dust (except for Sci Fi, which has the channel-formerly-known-as-Sci-Fi behind it). If the well-funded British competition had come a decade earlier, when Starlog still had the giant audience (and presumably revenues) to do battle, things might have turned out very differently.

  • Bob:

    Well-said. Your transition to DC helped create the opportunity in 1984 when I joined Starlog for 9k a year! I learned a lot from Dave and enjoyed being a freelancer when I left New York for LA.

    I am going to miss those copies in the mail.

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  • Alan

    Starlog gave me first writing credit. It has been my primary “litmus test” to see whether or not any newsstand is quality.

    It always had surprises in it. How many magazines hide fun news tidbits within the copyright statement?

    Although my readership has varied over the years, I have been a reader since issue one and cannot imagine a world without it in some tactile form.

  • Sad to hear about Starlog but your observations on the title are right on the mark.

    As for UK magazines such as SFX and DeathRay still being on the new stand, that’s more down to their continued success on the UK news stand rather than success in the US. When I edited Doctor Who Magazine in the 1980s its continued publication depended on UK sales, not US presence, which was seen as a bonus in terms of overall profits. It was also only on sale by direct sale in the US.

    Maintaining a presence on the US news stand is a very costly business, and wastage – unsold copies – must be huge simply to ensure any magazine is on display in every major city.

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  • Rick Keating

    I read Starlog every month from C. 1985 to 1994; first via newsstand copies, and then by subscription (I also have a smattering of pre-1985 issues). I enjoyed reading it every month, and still have those copies. In fact, I recently brought them out of storage and put them on a bookshelf in my home office.

    But something about the magazine must have changed near the end, because I not only didn’t renew my subscription, but I also never picked up another issue from the newsstand.

    Ironically, I glanced at an issue in the library sometime within the last decade, commented about an item in that issue, and had my first and only letter to the editor published– long after I’d stopped being a regular reader and subscriber.

    I don’t recall my overall reaction to the quality of that Starlog issue, but I obviously wasn’t motivated to either subscribe again or pick up issues on a case-by-case basis. I guess too much time had passed. As the cliche goes, that (star)ship had sailed.

    And that’s too bad. Like I said, I used to enjoy Starlog. Not every article interested me, but each month there was usually something that appealed. And sometimes, if something caught my attention that I’d previously been unaware of (say re-runs of an SF show I’d missed), I’d vaguely remember having seen a piece in the magazine. And I’d go back to find and read that article.

    On another front, I’d have loved to have written for Starlog, but once I learned they bought all rights I didn’t bother to ever query them.

    Rick

  • Maybe I grew away from it as an adult or found its lack of distribution here in the UK a factor in the latter years, but as a kid growing up in the dreary and mundane London suburbs, Starlog was a godsend. Well-written, fun and gloriously in-depth.
    I fell in love with the mag for a decade, from the Empire Strikes Back summer of 1980 and the mag’s fantastic fourth anniversary ish right through to the Bat-summer of ’89.
    Gonna miss seeing the ‘Log in print but thankfully it’ll be on the web and it ought to implement Bob’s ideas asap.
    Clear Skies, Starlog may the ‘rumblings’ never cease!!

    Lee

  • I am a suspect person to say good things about Starlog, Fnagoria, Teen Idols and all the wrestling magazines published by Starlog. I was part of it. I worked for the company back in 1986 under the supervision of a great art director named Emily Sleeves. All I can say we were laborious people doing our best to have great products.
    Good luck to all!!!

  • Vel Jaeger

    I am so dismayed to just now hear of Starlog’s absence from the print medium. I began subscribing when I saw the first issue at our neighborhood BX at Camp Lejeune. It was perfectly timed in those early years when Star Wars & CE3rdK relaunched Sci Fi in the theaters. I had begun publishing a small Trek zine, and was thrilled to have some of my artwork published in their fan contribution page. As we moved around the country Starlog’s appearance was a wonderful escape. I finally let it lapse somewhere in the late 200s issue, as I had stressful issues to deal with, but I will always have fond memories of its glory years.

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