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Omni was a science and science fiction magazine published in the US and the UK. It contained articles on science, parapsychology, and short works of science fiction and fantasy. It was published as a print version between October 1978 and 1995. The first Omni e-magazine was published on CompuServe in 1986 and the magazine switched to a purely online presence in 1996.
Omni also released issues on cassette, compact disk and had its own television show. It ceased publication abruptly in late 1997, following the death of co-founder Kathy Keeton; activity on the magazine's website ended the following April.
Omni was founded by Kathy Keeton and her long-time collaborator and future husband Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse magazine. The initial concept came from Keeton, who wanted a magazine "that explored all realms of science and the paranormal, that delved into all corners of the unknown and projected some of those discoveries into fiction.”
Dick Teresi, an author and former Good Housekeeping editor, wrote the proposal for the magazine, from which a dummy was produced. In pre-launch publicity it was referred to as Nova but the name was changed before the first issue went to print to avoid a conflict with the PBS science show of the same name.
Guccione described the magazine as "an original if not controversial mixture of science fact, fiction, fantasy and the paranormal". The debut edition had an exclusive interview with Freeman Dyson, a renowned physicist, and the second edition carried an interview with Alvin Toffler, futurist and author of Future Shock.
In its early run, Omni published a number of stories that have become genre classics, such as Orson Scott Card's "Unaccompanied Sonata", William Gibson's "Burning Chrome", "New Rose Hotel" and "Johnny Mnemonic", and George R. R. Martin's "Sandkings". The magazine also published original science fiction and fantasy by William S. Burroughs, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Carroll, Julio Cortazar, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and other mainstream writers.
The magazine excerpted Stephen King's novel Firestarter, and featured his short story "The End of the Whole Mess". Omni also brought the works of numerous painters to the attention of a large audience, such as H. R. Giger, De Es Schwertberger and Rallé. In the early 1980s, popular fiction stories from Omni were reprinted in The Best of Omni Science Fiction series and featured art by space artists like Robert McCall.
Omni entered the market at the start of a wave of new science magazines aimed at educated but otherwise "non-professional" readers. Science Digest and Science News already served the high-school market, and Scientific American and New Scientist the professional, while Omni was arguably the first aimed at "armchair scientists" who were nevertheless well informed about technical issues. The next year, however, Time introduced Discover while the AAAS introduced Science '80. Advertising dollars were spread among the different magazines, and those without deep pockets soon folded in the 1980s, notably Science Digest, while Science '80 merged with Discover. Omni appeared to weather this storm better than most, likely due to its wider selection of contents.
In early 1996 publisher Bob Guccione suspended publication of the print edition of Omni, attributing the decision to the rising price of paper and postage. At the end of its print run the circulation was still reported to be more than 700,000 copies a month.
Omni first began its online presence as part of Compuserve in the summer of 1986. On September 5, 1993 Omni became part of the America Online service. The AOL unveiling took place at the 51st World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco. AOL subscribers had access to much of the Omni printed archive as well as forums, chat groups and new fiction. After the print magazine folded, the Omni Internet webzine was launched on September 15, 1996.
For the first few months the new website was integrated into the AOL service, replacing the existing AOL Omni interface. Now free of pressure to focus on fringe science areas, Omni returned to its roots as the home of gonzo science writing, becoming one of the first large-scale venues to deliver a journalism geared specifically to cyberspace, complete with real-time coverage of major science events, chats and blogs with scientific luminaries, and interactive experiments that users could join. The world's top science fiction writers also joined in, writing collaborative fiction pieces for Omni's readers live online.
A short-lived syndicated television show based on the magazine's format (and called Omni: The New Frontier) aired in the United States beginning in September 1981, hosted by Peter Ustinov. In 1985, extracts of the 1981 television series were re-edited and repackaged into four television shows hosted by Keir Dullea under the title Omni: Visions of the Future. Episodes were titled Futurebody, Space, Amazing Medicine and Lifestyles in the 21st Century.
Equally short lived was the Omni audio magazine labeled "Omni Audio Experience," containing verbal versions of the kind of fare the magazine often featured. The first tape contains stories on subliminal advertising, memory, an interview with science fiction author Ray Bradbury - and the big draw, dramatizations of two Bradbury stories from his "Martian Chronicles." The second tape has an extended dramatized story by Arthur C. Clarke - "The Rescue" - and something called "word jazz."
In September 1997, Keeton died of complications from surgery for an intestinal obstruction. The staff of Omni Internet was laid off, and no new content was added to the website after April 1998. General Media shut the site down and removed the Omni archives from the Internet in 2003.
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