fanfiction: web or zine?

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Open Letter
Title: fanfiction: web or zine?
From: 1800whine (from Steven Ratliff a list moderator: "1800whine, aka rau...@my-deja.com, aka Richard Cranium" [1])
Addressed To: fans on alt.startrek.creative
Date(s): May 20, 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Trek
Topic: Star Trek, Zines, Fandom and Profit, Zine Production
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fanfiction: web or zine? is an open letter written by 1800whine (an admitted pseud) about his/her dissatisfaction with the purchase of a Star Trek: TNG novel published by Orion Press.

It was posted to alt.startrek.creative on October 20, 1998 and generated much discussion in the Star Trek fan community. The original post on alt.startrek.creative had 284 posts by 45 authors, including John J. Ordover (a Pocket Book pro book editor).

It is an excellent example of the pros and cons of printfic vs netfic discussions of the late 1990s and how the decline of fanzines was perceived among the fan community. The posts also discuss pairing preferences, statistics, and many other things.

In October 1998, this topic was also widely discussed in the same venue. See Fanzines and the Internet or "Whither Thou Goest, Orion Press?".

The Original Post

Hi all, I just want to state first that I am posting under an alias. By doing this, I think I can be more honest in what I have to say. I would also like to say that I have been participating in this NG for a few years...as a writer and most definately as an avid reader.

First off, I'd like to say that in general, I like printed zines. I have several of them. And more than likely, I will buy a couple more in the future. But recently, I purchased a zine-novella that quite frankly, wasn't worth a dime.

I kept reading, and reading hoping things would get better. By the time I reached the end, I was a little pissed I had spent 7.75$ on what I consider to be crap. The characterizations were pedantic and unbelievable. In fact, the characters were so 'out of character' I had to remind myself (frequently) that this was supposed to be Picard and Crusher in the story.

I know in the past, there have pleas on behalf of the printed zine. And how web produced fanfiction is pushing this media form into extinction. It has also been argued, in their favor, that we, as a fanfic reading public, should not let this happen. Statements for this argument are that printed zines are a 'higher' quality of writing due to the fact that they are edited. Whereas web produced stories are ground out without so much as a by your leave from the spell checker.

I will admit that the actual full length zines that I have bought are, for the most part, very good. But not ALL the stories contained in these tomes was great. Some were good...some were okay...and some made me go "Hmmm...".

Quite frankly, these are the same responses I get when reading on-line fanfiction. Know what the difference is...it's free on-line. I like it being free.

Another argument I have heard is that people like to hold a story in their hands. Okay, I agree to that too. Know what? I have a printer. Arguably though, it will not print out some of the sometimes nice artwork you get with a zine, but hey, I've got a great imagination.

I know it must be a ego boost to authors to see their work 'in print'. They don't get paid for this, but the reading public pays for it. I guess I just like the idea of the free idea forum of the net. And it seems to me that printed zines are getting a little out of range. It's not the fault of the publishers, the editors, or the writers and artists...it just is.

Extinction is the rule...not the exception.

What do I hope to gain by this...nothing I suppose. I guess I'm just disgruntled after reading that piece of junk. My opinion, of course. That, and 50 cents will get me a coke…maybe. [2]

Some Sample Reactions Reviews

From Gabrielle:
I agree. I'm not crying over the death of printed zines, if in fact, that is what will happen. I like the net. I like putting my stories out there for free. If I'm reluctant to pay for zines, I can't expect my readers to just shell out the bucks. But if they want to, I'll offer it. Every story I put in print is on the Net for free, and by the way, comes to ASC even before it goes on my web site. If I had the chance to read a story first, before deciding to buy it, I might be less against zines. I'd still be a bit miserly, as that's my natural state, but if I read a really wonderful story, I'd probably consider buying it. It's hard for me to put my money out there when I don't know the quality of the product. [3]
From Bevster:
Aren't some of the same people writing fanfic for the zines as post it for free? They just pick and choose which ones to give the zines and which to give the public for free. The difference would be what again? I have a SERIOUS problem paying $22.75 (although I know they don't all cost that much) for a zine when I have a hard time buying hard backed BOOKS by my favorite authors for that amount of money. I believe that's what public libraries are for? Isn't this newsgroup basically an internet public library? Works for ME!

As someone who has posted stories to this newsgroup, I would rather people read them for free than have to pay someone else for my work. I edit my stories and usually have others read them before posting so I don't just fill up space with drek. Why would I want someone ELSE to get money for MY work? If the zines don't pay the writers (which would be illegal anyway because of copyright infringement) what's the point of my MAKING someone buy it just to read one of my stories? Don't see the point of that!

Just my two cents. You don't have to agree with me, but don't flame me for it either. [4]
From J Winter:
Having published a zine, I'm a bit biased. I lost a lot of money on the printed word, but only sleep on the electronic. I think the objection that some zine editors have to stories on the net is when the author turns around and submits them. It's like selling a used car trying to get a new car price out of it. Can't do it. I've heard one well-known and well-respected zine producer lament that a story he published didn't sell well because readers could get it for free on the net. I've also seen stories come out in a zine, spend a few months on the market, then go to the internet, which is not a bad idea.

The problem with the used goods method is that zines depend heavily on people buying them. I can say from personal experience that THEY DO NOT MAKE MONEY. Or if they do, very little. Anything extra from a zine goes into the next zine. So, sell more, and the prices go down. Sell less, and the prices go up, as well as the selection going down.

I prefer the net and the web. I already pay for the ISP's I use, so newsgroups and web space are essentially free. There's no question of production costs, since all I invest is my time. And the feedback is usually immediate.

But zines won't disappear. Not everyone, despite the media's shrieking to the contrary, has a computer. Not everyone with a computer is on the Internet. Plus, some people just simply prefer to read the printed word. I'd probably read more from this group if I had a decent printer. Just easier on the eyes. There will always be a demand for books. As such, there will always be a demand for zines. The net is like TV. Yet another medium. [5]
From Sydvick:
I buy zines, write for zines, and put different stuff on the net. Why? Because it is fun. I especially like to buy old zines. That stuff is not available on the net. Some of the graphics are excellent. I hope both survivive. I agree, the zines make no money,purely a labor of love, it seems. But, I sure don't want it to die. [6]
From Biffan:
As someone who's produced print zines for nearly 15 years, I am appalled at the requested price of them today. Yes, some of the color covers are very nice, and worth the extra cost of color reproduction, especially onto card stock. And, yes, I know the cost of paper soared to nearly double a few years back. But considering that I used to have much of my art screened by a professional printer, and my zine done offset, rather than by photocopy (to which I have no real objection now, with the improvements in reproduction machines and the use of line art!), I know costs, know that photocopy doesn't require the outlay that print does (no plates, etc.), doesn't require a master run of 200+, and that some "editors" are using zines to make money. I also know that some "editors" are far from that; they are publishers, nothing more. I recently sent friends to a zine-heavy convention with a list, and instructions as to who to buy from and who not to. I know reputations of many that have been out for years, and trust their ability. I think the point comes down to Caveat Emptor - Let the Buyer Beware… Used to be, zine eds LOST money on zines. They'd get stories from friends, EDIT them (see postal bills and long distance bills soar!), talk artisic friends into illoing them, talk a printer into printing said zine (quite often right before a convention, where one takes the zines to be sold, to have money to PAY said printer!), and sells the zine at a cost that doesn't begin to repay the production costs (phone bills, postage, screened art, and usually a $2,500 bill to produce a 200 copy run of the 200 + page zine, which usually cost $12. (Figure it. 200 copies. Give 20 copies to writers and artists, you have 180 copies left. 180 x $12 [equals] $2,160, which meant the editor took a $340 printing loss on the zine, not to mention the costs of production, and any shipping, etc. to cons to sell.) At that end, how could one pay a writer or artist, except with a copy of said zine? (Not to mention, the "no payment" rule was what got zine eds around the "copyright" issue - Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas, the controllers of the two biggest genres zines were based around in that day, knew that no one was making money off of it. It was a labor of love - and labor it was, with no computers, manual layout, rub-on lettering, border tape, etc.!) "Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...." [7]
From Randy Landers:
Again, this is all because of a matter of taste. LOL We'll publish say DELTA QUADRANT 8, and one reviewer will say it is the worst zine ever published by Orion Press, and the next reviewer will say it is the best zine ever published by Orion Press. One reviewer will say that BEKi is the least talented self-indulgent hack they've ever read, the next will say that BEKi is the most talented writer the world has ever seen. One reviewer will say that 11pts is too wasteful a typesize, and other will say that 10pts is too small to read clearly. One reviewer will say that we should do a two-column format, and the next will say that they love our single-column format. Who's right? {shrugs}

Frankly, we've limited ourselves on this newsgroup in recent months.

We're concentrating on our new digest format (which saves readers nearly 50% on the price of zines), and we're publishing zines right now in time for Shore Leave. In addition to Sun and Fun…?, we've recently published Imzadi (a Troi-Riker zine) and Antares 3 (TOS genzine). We're going to print Outpost 10 (our DS9 genzine's last issue, edited by Laura Taylor) on Tuesday, Into the Nexus (TOS novella) and Idylls 19 (TNG romance) in the coming week, and more in the weeks thereafter as we gear up for fandom's best convention.

I have to admit that I am hurt by some of the comments made here, and I'm just about to the point where I will leave this newsgroup and withdraw all ORION PRESS material from the ASC archives. I don't mean to sound childish, but it's obvious that this is not the market for our zines. [8]
From 1800whine:
If this story had shown up on the web, I would have read it, still thought it blew, but I never would have said anything. I don't know the author, and unless she specifically asked me for critical feedback, my piggies would never have touched a key to let her know. But, I PAID money for this story. It wasn't free. IMO, that gives me the right to bitch about it. [9]
From Jungle Kitty:
I thought 1800 raised some good questions about the two fanfic media. RL was the one who chose to make it specific to Orion Press and that particular story. I thought 1800's response was not inappropriate in tone or content. The part of this discussion that appalled me was when RL suggested that until 1800 had written a story "good enough" to appear in an Orion Press zine, s/he had no right to express an opinion about Sun & Fun.

Maybe I'm bringing too much Real Life to this, but in my world, treating a paying customer with contempt is not the best way for a merchant to stay in business.

Just my two strips of latinum. [10]
From Laura Taylor:
The reason I wrote this is really in response to what I see as you being a big whiner about the death of zines, and the death of Orion in particular. <deep breath> Randy, if you're reading, s/he's got a point. I'm saying this as one of your editors and as someone who's trying to keep her feet firmly planted in both ASC and 'zine fanfic.

Several people have approached me and made similar remarks about your...er...attitude toward ASC. These people, people whose opinions I respect and whose regard I value, have expressed discomfort with submitting to and/or purchasing Orion Press 'zines because of the vitriol you've expressed about 'Net-based fanfic. As I think you know, I agree with you *to a point*. However, I also know that ASC is a potentially huge market that needs to be tapped, not alienated. It hurts me to hear, "Well, I'll buy the 'zine, but only because you're my friend."

I came to Orion Press through ASC. Six of the 8 contributors to OUTPOST 10 are ASC denizens. Many of the people I know who will buy OUTPOST 10, despite your opinions about ASC and 'Net-based fanfic, are regular ASC readers and writers. When you rant and rave about how the 'Net is killing 'zine fanfic, I have to say, "The hell it is, I wouldn't even *have* a 'zine for you to publish without ASC."

Randy, I'm not saying this here (as opposed to private e-mail) to embarrass you or piss you off, I'm saying it here because I hope you'll hear me better. Yes, the Internet has hurt Orion Press' sales. But you're not helping matters at all. I don't know how this will come to pass, but there has got to be a way for both to happily co-exist…. Again, Randy, as much as I find his/her general tone distasteful, s/he's got a point. We can't guarantee that the story-by-story quality of 'zines will satisfy everyone, especially as the accessibility of the 'Net makes people more discriminating with their spare change. Perhaps genzines will have to make way for themed 'zines or novellas. Perhaps, speaking particularly of Orion Press, samples of new 'zines should be available on the Web site so a potential buyer can decide in advance if the 'zine is worth his/her money. I don't know, I'm only typing what comes into my head. What is important--what is essential to the survival of 'zines, IMO--is that ASC be recognized as a wellspring of readers *and* writers of 'zine fanfic.[11]
From 1800whine:
Look...my point in all this was not to say that things published in zines should be made available on the net. I even mentioned that I like zines. My problem is with your bitchin and moaning about how "if 1/10 of the people who downloaded from my site would by 1 zine every year" then everything would be peaches and cream in Randy's world.

Then, and here is where the biggest burr in my saddle came, you took your site offline for awhile and implied that if people would just buy some zines, you could afford to keep the site up. It was like you were holding the stories hostage or something.

And damn, I don't care who puts their stuff in zines and/or on the web. Some of my best buddies put their stuff in zines and on the web, some edit zines, some do it all. I love their stuff..well, most of it :) I buy the zines they do, I read stuff they put on-line.

When I read Sun and Fun, all I could think of was you saying how much better zines were cause they had to be edited, and spellechecked, and fairy dusted, and blessed by the nuns at lourdes…

Your hypocracy festered in me. I was pissed. I admit it. You pissed me off. Zines are no better or worse than on-line fiction, at least in the quality of the writing. However, they are different in packaging. [12]
From John J. Ordover:
Randy, I certainly know all about the spiral - unit sales go down so cost per unit goes up so you have to raise the price so sales go down.... that way lies ruin.

If your sales are down - and from what I've read in this thread, they seem to be - then you aren't providing your target audience with what they want to read to an extent that they are willing to continue to pay for it. The fault is -never- with the -readers-, it is -always- with the publisher. Have you considered that what -you- consider a good story might not match up with what your readers think is a good Trek story?

I work to produce the kind of novel our readers will like, not to please myself. That kind of approach drives up unit sales, which reduces unit costs, which keeps you from having to raise prices… etc. Oh, and sales on the pro books continue to rise sharply, despite free fan-fic on the Ineternet.:) [13]
From 1800whine:
Whoa...hold on there, Randy. I never said fanzines should be eiliminated. I have even mentioned several times that I buy them. I am saying I take offense to your stated opinion that zines are better written than on-line fic. Just as I bristle a little at John Ordover's ascertation that stuff cranked out for Pocker Books is better than either zine or on-line fic. You know what...I don't buy Pocket Books anymore. There was a time when all I did was wait til the next pro-book would come out, but no more. I want more from my Trek. And as Randy states later on in this post, I want my Trek characters to grow, to change, to breed :) Okay...yep, I want them to have sex. [14]
From John J. Ordover:
Randy, you're in the wrong here. You ever hear that "the customer is always right?" The poster who gave you the lecture on customer-relations was a bit harsh in tone but bang-on in content.

When your customers are at their rudist and most upset is when you have to be the most polite. It's a mistake to meet fire with fire, here. You have to meet fire with water.

The perfect response to 1800whine would have been to 1) ask 800 to take it to email 2) apologize for disappointing 800. 3) Offer, on a one-time basis, to exchange the magazine 800 didn't like for another one and 4) talk with 800 for a while about which stories from which authors 800'd liked in the past, and help 800 choose a mag that was more to 800's taste.

If you'd done that, 800 would have felt taken seriously and treasured as a customer, and perhaps even a bit embarassed about the posted rant - might even have posted a retraction. 800 might have even been turned into a regular customer. Instead, you've alienated 800 for life and seem to be driving others away too. What, exactly, do you win by doing it your way? [15]
From Biffan:
As to Deja and Hotmail - yes, many legitimate posts come from both. But, personally, I DO know people who use them as a shelter to avoid their real name or real e-mail address being known. Certainly it's "legal." But when a poster purposely chooses a name like "1800Whine," one has to question the motives. Remember: the newspapers don't print unsigned letters, either. [16]
From Biffan:
As someone who has participated in this debate in what I tried to make a positive, non-attack-oriented, informative and thoughtful way, I do have to give Randy a little leeway here. His product - granted, unnamed, but described enough to have several others know it immediately - was slighted, and rather rudely. I have found, both as a Customer Service Rep and Supervisor, and as a customer, that a customer who's rude doesn't necessarily get (nor sometime deserve) a courteous response. A politely termed complaint - or a review, naming said publication, etc. that gives an opinion without being destructive - could have handled this in a polite fashion. The original poster chose, instead, to take their complaint and use it as a charge against Randy's arguments that print zines generally hold themselves to a higher standard than the open-door policy of the internet. As someone who's been writing for zines for over 20 years, editing/publishing for 15, and on the internet since 1993, I do agree with him, simply because having a second set of eyes to review something tends to improve it. This is not to say that there is no high-quality fan-ficiton on the internet. Quite to the contrary. But when I go, say, to the J/C Index for its regular update, I do not know if the stories posted that week (which, to me, is like receiving a weekly zine!) have been edited, if there's substance, or fluff, if the grammar's [sic] even good, and it's been spell-checked! I've learned who, as authors, I should go to immediately. I have favorite websites I visit for updates. This is the same for zines. I know certain authors in print, and certain editors. Some I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, because I know the editors put out "drek." Some I buy sight-unseen, without question, simply because I trust the editor. It's a filter system, to guarantee me the quality and preferences I like. [17]
From J Winter:
It all adds up after awhile. We've had the Godawful debate on top of the TFP debate on top of Whine. And I might have ignored Whine if it did not result in a chunk of the archive suddenly and unnecessarily being yanked. The sarcastic e-mail I received earlier didn't help either.

But, as I'm sure some will think I probably went to far on this one, I will say no more on the subject, other than to pursue the more legit threads in this discussion.

In short, there's only so much you can put up with, and Whine broke the camel's back. We snapped. Maybe we should not have vented so publicly, but when Randy yanks a big chunk of stories out of the archive because of one person, then I have just a little trouble showing some restraint.

And so, this is my final statement on the subject. Randy's gone. Whine has promised to let it rest. Perhaps now, we can concentrate on some of the more legitimate comments on the subject of the net vs. zines. If I've offended anyone, I'm sorry. I will not discuss this fiasco any further except in private e-mail. [18]

References

  1. from alt.startrek.creative
  2. fanfiction: web or zine?
  3. from Gabrielle
  4. from Bevster
  5. from J Winter
  6. from Sydvick
  7. from Biffan
  8. from Randy Landers
  9. from 1800whine
  10. from Jungle Kitty
  11. from Laura Taylor
  12. from 1800whine
  13. from John J. Ordover
  14. from 1800whine
  15. from John J. Ordover
  16. from Biffan
  17. from Biffan
  18. from J Winter