Digitally Archiving Print Zines and Other Fanworks

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For Preservation and Academic Study

For Preservation and for Fans to Read

From a 2014 Discussion

In July, 2014, some fans discussed preserving print fanzines in a Tumblr post that began here [Dead link] [1]. Some excerpts from this discussion are below. They give an overview of some of the issues and concerns fans have regarding digitally preserving fanworks.

The original question:

In terms of fandom losses, I find it interesting that there is some hostility or reluctance towards digitally archiving fannish ephemera. Eg, people tend to sell fanzines or give them away, but tend to dislike the idea of scanning them and putting them online. I guess it's a mix of 'I'm getting rid of these because I'm not in that fandom anymore so why would I go to the trouble?' but also a little 'I don't feel that it would be right to distribute this content freely'. [2]

Some responses:

Ahhh, you make it all sound so considerate. :/

To be fair I think yes, there is a real concern by a lot of people that the artists who made the work either cannot be found or aren’t alive anymore and so are unable to approve reproduction of the works. It certainly was NEVER on anyone’s radar that those zines would be important some 40, 30 years later. The few “don’t reproduce this publication” warnings were put there not to prevent archiving, but because creating and mailing those things were expensive propositions. The creators/publishers were justifiably worried about people xeroxing them. Nobody (that I’ve ever heard of) made a living off of zines, but they were genuinely concerned with at least making enough to break even.

But there is another side to that coin which is a little less flattering, but comes out of generation who were quite justified in their pathological paranoia: that “keepers of the ephemera” were/are dead set on keeping the whole fanfiction thing out of sight. They don’t want to share, they don’t want people to find these works, they don’t want to make it easy because of their perception of fanfiction as a secret that could ruin people’s reputations if revealed (which was true, and for some people still is). For them, fanfiction is a “closed group, invitation only” mentality, and find the idea of just spreading that history around is very threatening.

I do think that mentality is fading, due to AO3 and the OTW as well as Orlando Jones and Clark Gregg and other “fan-celebs”, not to mention younger generations of fans who just don’t see any reason to be ashamed of what they love.

As an archivist, my position is pretty weighted on the side of “scan all the things!!!!!” but I get why some of my older peers feel that is inappropriate and even dangerous. Also as an archivist, I have to admit that the issue of scanning/opening 20th century collections that may or may not be out of copyright and with the original creators/owners unknown or un-locatable is an evergreen and contentious topic in my profession. [3]

You know, it’s hard enough losing favorite stories that were never *in* ‘zines. Stories that got eaten because the only copy was on a website that got attacked — or sold — or just stories that were disappeared when the author decided that they weren’t good enough anymore.

It’s not like I don’t get it — my handle *is* the name I go by in RL, because, back in ‘98, I *was not thinking clearly*. Additionally, there are a bunch of stories which will never go up on my AO3, for various reasons.

However, that doesn’t mean those stories won’t be available — at the very *least* upon request.

I honestly don’t understand fan-creators who don’t make as many of their fan-works as humanly possible available. It’s just — for me? Debchan — who I could just *shake* for how many of *her* works aren’t available these days — explained it to me this way, way back in 2001 or so:

"Your Old Shame is some other fancreature’s Golden Oldie. Don’t take it away from them."

And really, you would think that all it would take is *one* example of “AGH DAMN IT I CAN’T FIND THAT ONE AWESOME METHOS/KRYCEK/LESTAT WITH THE RIMMING AND THE CORSETS ANYMORE” for *any* fancreature to vow, with the passion and strength of a million billion suns, to keep *their* bizarro pervoid crossovers up forever.

But it doesn’t.

And yeah, I *also* get not wanting to be — and not being *able* to be — connected to your ancient sleaze, but this is what changing the pseuds is for.

Put things up on AO3 as a collection — “these stories are from this glorious Duran Duran zine from 1987; names have been changed to protect the guilty. :D”.

Some people will need it explained in small words, but those small words *totally exist in many languages*.

As for recouping the cost of the zines… well, I get that, too, but how many of these zines are we talking about here are even still in print? If I can’t get my *hands* on the Wiseguy zine I’ve been wanting since I heard it friggin’ *existed*, *nobody* is getting any dosh.




I really, *really* want old-school fandom *there* for the new-schoolers — and the middle-schoolers like me, for that matter. *heh*

There’s no virtue in hoarding all these wonderful old fanworks in the dark. [4]

Scanning can be a pain in the ass, but I agree that fanworks should be distributed freely unless the author specifically asks that they aren’t.

I mean, 30-40 years ago, I’d imagine people would have thought this whole interwebs thing was pretty nifty. Certainly cheaper than having to print zines!

But fandom history is also super interesting.

There’s also no reason you couldn’t scan them and THEN sell them because somebody somewhere is going to want a hard copy. [5]
This all applies to music vids too. My heart is still broken that the Kinda version of Godsmack’s Voodoo is no longer on the internet.  :/ [6]
I admit that I wouldn’t want anyone digging up and redistributing my old fic. Mostly because it was just horribly written, but also because there are elements of it that I wouldn’t include these days, having grown considerably in my awareness of ethics.

Beyond that: I think the belief that fanworks have somehow ceased being controversial merely because they’re no longer underground is both wrong and dangerous for some. It’s true that we no longer have any real risk of being sued by actors for defamation or by creators for copyright infringement. It’s also true that the vast majority of actors and creators are no longer personally offended, even by explicit or seriously kinky works. RPF still wigs out many, which is understandable, but at least slash isn’t as big a deal as it was before we started making huge strides in LGBT acceptance.

However, the opinions of the people whose works and faces we borrow for our amusement are only part of the potential backlash. A LOT of fans could still lose their jobs, family support, a place to live, etc. if their work was ever connected to their real name somehow. Using pseuds or even changing them only helps a little. All it takes is pissing off the wrong person, and good luck keeping your identity secret for long.

In my case, I’ve stopped trying to keep my fan and professional lives separate, but I only did so because I switched career paths and no longer have a boss to worry about. (I still run some risks, though: since I write YA novels, people could theoretically object to the fact that I also write explicit fic,) If I wanted to return to a career as a journalist, though? Well, let’s just say that I couldn’t. A journalist’s name is their reputation, and my name is now linked with a whole lotta porn.

There are also dozens of other careers that could be ruined if those links get made. Pre-school teacher? Swim coach? Church secretary? Good luck trying to get/keep a job if people know what you write or draw in your free time.

Many LGBT folks still have to be closeted to ensure that they don’t lose their jobs or worse. People who create adult fanworks run the very same risks. Hell, people lose their jobs all the time just because it’s discovered that they consume adult works. Creating them is a far bigger deal. If someone has chosen to hide their previous works, chances are that they have a very good reason for it. Respect that choice, yeah? [7]
I do understand that there are very good reasons for people to take down their fanfic and other fan works, for people to not want to be publicly identified with it. I understand that.

However, I would argue that there is another perspective, and one which is extremely relevant - the matter of preservation of culture. Because this is not a new thing - quite the contrary. I mean, I work at the institution that for more than 300 years has received the legal deposits of all printed works in my country - books, magazines, newspapers, cds, dvds, playbills, ikea catalogues - everything. For preservation of culture. Because that’s what you do. Because you collect and preserve so that in 300 years someone can sit down and read some ridiculous thing or other. Because it has worth, so much worth, that the thought of not doing so is simply impossible.

But who is preserving fanworks? Who is making sure that these will always be accesible? Nobody. Partly because it’s internet selfpublishing a lot of it and what isn’t is often published in the US, where legal deposit seems to be tied up with copyright in weird ways. And frankly? That horrifies me.

I do understand the ethical concerns for the fan creators involved, but I will argue that preserving culture - any culture - is also an ethical concern. But I am sure some middle ground could be found - ensuring the anonymity of authors and the preservation and availability of the stories, the art. For instance, in the case of the old-school physical fanzines: scan them. Today, not tomorrow. Afterwards, lock down the actual pdfs, but take the stories and post them somewhere for anyone to read. The authors that are known and can be contacted will be free to either claim them (under any pseudonym or name of their choice) or let them be completely anonymous. Stories by authors that cannot be found will be posted anonymously along with an invitation for the author to come forth and identify themselves, if they so want to.

See, I get that this is complicated. I get that there are ethics involved - it’s just. I am a librarian. I look at fandom and I see a library and it is vast and glorious and full of treasure and crap - and it’s on fire. This library is burning, flames rising up at random to eat away stories.

And perhaps I am a silly person, but I do believe that fanfic has just as much cultural value as more traditionally published cultural works, that it is just as important to preserve, say, that embarrassing Mary-Sue-gets-tentacle-raped-by-the-Hogwarts’-squid that you’d really rather forget you ever wrote, as it is to preserve, say, Shakespeare. Perhaps I am silly. But it doesn’t change the fact that if I were to spend too long thinking about that burning library, I fear I might just begin to cry. [8]
I get it, but I think an exception has to be made for living creators of any works, with the same logic used with copyright. The decision of whether something is worth archiving should at least partly be in the hands of the person who created it. Choosing to distribute a work isn’t choosing to release ownership of it.

Also: Author anonymity simply cannot be guaranteed. In virtually every case, at least one or two people know the real name of who created a given work, and it takes very little for that to get out. I know of people who were maliciously outed in the middle of flamewars and ended up facing some very serious consequences for it. That people might want the power to destroy things that could be used to blackmail them seems reasonable to me.

If nothing else, consider the chilling effect that this would have on the creation of works: If people knew that their works could be archived against their will, and therefore might someday be used against them, chances are good that many might choose not to create those works in the first place. And then how much poorer would we be? [9]
And how much poorer will we be if we loose our past?

Also, I am going to respectfully disagree: no, I don’t actually think that the decision of whether something should be archived should be in the hands of the creator, not once they’ve chosen to publish it and thus release it into the world. Partly because I think that everything should be archived .- who are we now to say what will matter 10, 50, 1000 years from now? And probably partly because I live in a country where, if you publish something, you are legally obligated to hand it in for preservation purposes (unlike in the US, where - like I said - it seems to be all tangled up with their weird version of copyright law) - even if it’s the flyer from your local pizza place, then it’s worthy of preservation. And if that’s worthy of preservation, and I do believe it is, how are you planning on ever convincing me that any fanfic is not?

I suppose, to protect anonymity, we could do something less like a library and more like an archive - that is, that fanfic could kept classified for x numbers of years, the way materials in national archives often are.

Anyway, I doubt we’ll ever agree on this - if nothing else because, well, I’m too much of a librarian as far as this argument goes. But I really do believe and hope that we - that fandom - should - that fandom needs to find some way to walk the line to ensure both preservation of culture and preservation of anynomity (as needed). Because I cannot imagine not at least trying. I mean, do you want to be the one to explain to the future that we let this particular type of culture just vanish? [10]
I’m also firmly on the side of, everything that can be scanned and put up freely *should* be scanned and put up freely.

Ideally it should be scanned and put up in such a manner that real names don’t see an uptick in google results — maybe zipped with a the zine title and and volume/issue number as the name, and table of contents protected behind a login wall?

because, well, my family is full of drug addicts and alcoholics and a handful of felons … all of whom are *less* protective of their past choices than a lot of folk I’ve seen having conniptions over stuff they published in zines 30 years ago being available in the world.

Like. That’s my history and where I’m coming from, and I just do. not. get. the paranoia at all. [11]
Yeah, I’ve never really seen the problem either. The number of people who’d mind that I’ve written fic - even the Lost BDSM one and the underage South Park crackfic - is probably miniscule. And my guess is most of them would mind that I’ve declared my bisexuality on local television too.

I remember some years ago a vidder saying as if it was self-evident that of course no vidder would put their stuff up on YouTube, and I pointed out that not only did I have mine up there but several others did too. (I’ve had two vids taken down, so she did have a point, but I still think the fear was somewhat larger than was merited by the threat.)

Of course, living in Sweden probably helps - religion plays no big part in our society, and if any copyright holder wants to go through the trouble of suing Swedes, they’re busy with the Pirate Bay people. [12]
As someone who owns over 800 zines, some very rare, who worries about what will happen to them after I pass, my vote would be to scrub the names off and scan everything. The idea that thousands of stories cannot be scanned because there is the potential for two writer’s to be outed is a scare tactic that is so overused to control society. As an early fan of X-Files I saw a flame war between two listmoms over the title of a zine they produced turn into the loss of an entire archive of stories on Ter/ma. This was after the MKRA site was lost. We got back a lot of the stories after a couple years but much was lost. Geocities took down hundreds of tiny websites filled with stories…now gone forever. Like the librarian said, every story is valuable and should be preserved. I have been archiving my OTPs in three fandoms for twenty years even when I am no longer reading them. So grateful that I did because after a ten year absence from X-Files I found myself reading through that collection and hundreds of the stories were no longer on line anywhere. [13]
I am loving this discussion.

When thinking about preservation, I mentally divide the practice into two categories: online and paper (or tangible). There are practical considerations that impact them differently.

Online. Most everything that is posted on the Internet is already being archived without permission. (and no I am not talking about the NSA). The Internet Archive crawls and grabs entire websites. You can ‘opt’ your website ‘out’ if you are the owner or if you place a “no index” code on the website. But the archiving is automatic and is being done without permission. The argument is that if advance permission is needed to archive the billions of webpages, very little of our culture would be saved. In fact in the UK, where they have paper deposit laws (everything published on paper, one copy must be deposited into the British Library), online archiving was off limits until recently. Up until last year, British archivists needed to get advance permission to archive a website. And thus, less than 1% of Brittan’s culture was being preserved – far less than was saved by the medieval monks. The UK archivists finally fixed this last year (I have a link below). Thankfully, when the Internet Archive started in the early 2000s they decided to develop a different archiving method (opt out), one that offers more preservation possibilities. The ability for content creators to opt out *after the fact* is pretty much the cornerstone of most online preservation. It is meant to balance the needs of preserving culture with the creator’s desire to control their works and seems to becoming the standard online archiving approach in most countries (see the blog entry below about Australia)

Paper. As for scanning tangible items (books, music) and putting them online, well as Cooper pointed out, that is different and an issue that many libraries and archives are still working their way through. UCLA digitized a Mexican folk music collection without permission from the artists or copyright holders. However, their solution to the copyright/permission issues was to restrict access to the music as part of a Special Collection. I don’t think they are offering an opt out in their collection, but under US fair use laws opt out may be more of a process choice, not a legal one. The key is that simply scanning for preservation does not (and should not) automatically equal to posting it openly online. In fact, when I learned a few years ago that many groups of fans were already scanning their zines, I started chatting with them. For the most part, they were scanning for themselves, knew that posting the zines online might raise privacy and creator control issues, but wanted to find a place that would preserve their scans. There are many US universities that are collecting paper fanzines but only two that are accepting scanned fanzines. One does not have current plans to make use of them. The other, Texas A&M University, started a pilot project last year to place the scans inside a restricted access or special collection. There are a lot of other restrictions as to what goes into the collection (publisher permission is one of the more important factors), but you can read about it here: Sandy Hereld Memorial Digitized Media Fanzine Collection.

Privacy. And last, how to address the privacy concerns for fan creators. This issue impacts both online and paper fan fiction. For online fan fiction, the only way to proactively prevent automatic archiving is to use the “no index’ tag when you post. But once you post something online, you lose a lot of privacy and personal control and that is simply a factor of online life whether someone ‘archives” your website or not. In terms of zines that were published over the past 40 years, when universities began collecting the paper versions, many of them entered the zine details into their catalogs which are now online and searchable. Typical library catalogs include the publisher and the author names (if a novel). One of the things I suggested for TAMU’s digital catalog was to abbreviate the names of the slash contributors (again, most catalogs don’t list the names of all contributors to anthologies, so the issue was limited to publishers and novels).

Anyhow, if you or anyone else is interested in helping submit zines to the TAMU digital repository or contacting old zine publishers, writers, and artists for permission, they can send me an Ask or contact the archivist (contact info is on the TAMU Special Collections page). Also, there is nothing stopping fans from trying to locate zine publishers and others to get permission to post the zine fic online. In Star Trek and Starsky & Hutch fandom, there are organized efforts to move zine fic online. And some fanzine publishers have posted their zines and letterzines online (ScotPress, the family of the editors of Contact, the editor of The Southern Enclave, a Star Wars letterzine). So if fanzine preservation is your thing, you do not have to limit yourselves to academic projects. [14]

Further Reading


  1. ^ Unfortunately, itisnotaphase's tumblr where tawghasa's ask was first posted and discussed has been deleted but the post itself was saved at Wayback Machine: Original Tumblr Ask by tawghasa (dead link), Archived version
  2. ^ tawghasa Original Tumblr Ask by tawghasa (dead link), Archived version , July 6, 2014
  3. ^ itisnotaphase Original Tumblr Ask by tawghasa (dead link), Archived version
  4. ^ teland, Archived version
  5. ^ jabberwockiepie
  6. ^ psifitopia
  7. ^ textualdeviance
  8. ^ oneiriad
  9. ^ textualdeviance
  10. ^ oneiriad
  11. ^ lemonsharks
  12. ^ kattahj
  13. ^ alexeilea
  14. ^ meeedeee