Open Letter to Fandom by Alexis Fegan Black Regarding Zine Pirating

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Open Letter
Title: An Open Letter to Fandom Regarding Zine Pirating
From: Alexis Fegan Black
Addressed To:
Date(s): May 1993
Medium: print
Fandom: Meta, Zine
Topic:
External Links:
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Open Letter to Fandom by Alexis Fegan Black Regarding Zine Pirating was sent in 1993.

The subject was zine piracy.

Some Background Information

Making copies of zines that were still in print could be financially damaging to many zine editors and publishers. It was an issue that was first publicly discussed in media fandom in the eleventh issue of Probe in August 1977. The editor, Winston A. Howlett, wrote:
Have you heard of the Underground? The one in ST fandom... They Xerox things. Lots of things. Like parts of fanzines, or whole fanzines, or even whole sets of fanzines. All without permission of any kind from anyone who had anything to do with the fanzine's production. And I'm not talking about just a copy for 'personal entertainment,' but five, ten, forty copies... whatever number fits their 'small circle of friends.' Sometimes they sell them, sometimes they trade them for other fanzines (copies or originals), sometimes they give them away...to someone else who also has free access to a duplicating machine and another circle of friends. I first heard about the Underground when a fellow zine editor stumbled across a Xerox of her visual series (elaborate comic book if you will) in the hands of a neo-fan at a con. Said neo praised the artist/editor for her work and casually mentioned that 'XYZ in California' had Xeroxed about forty copies and spread them all over the country... People with free access to Xerox machines make me very nervous, if just for the built-in temptation that the devices [will be] be used irresponsibly. What good is all the extra effort and expense an editor goes through to acquire a special story or article for an issue, when somebody with the 'Start Print' Syndrome can wreck the whole process? In case you hadn't thought about it, zine editors don't just give their works that extra effort just for the sake of the art, but to acquire new readers. In short, friends, when you fellow Trekfan starts drooling over your latest zine purchase, try gently imploring them to buy their own copy, instead of running to Daddy's office. Xerox doesn't need the business, but we do.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were strong feelings in fandom about some fans who were making copies of zines still in print and were, from one point of view, "stealing" from zine publishers by copying in-print zines. There were also strong feelings about zine editors who kept zines in print forever, thus continuing to make sales while the story authors never received any additional compensation. This coincided with growing resentment among other groups of fans regarding rising zine prices, often for zines which they felt were not worth the higher prices.

See the 1990 editorial for Vagabonds for some concerns about this subject.

Three years later, many of these tensions came to a head at, and after, RevelCon.

Open Letters: by Zine Publishers/Con Organizers

In 1993 and 1994, a number of Open Letters circulated in fandom regarding the photocopying of in-print zines.

Note: Della Van Hise and Alexis Fegan Black are the same person.

An Open Letter to Fandom Regarding Zine Pirating

first page of letter, this copy printed in Otherwhere/Otherwhen #3
second page of letter, this copy printed in Otherwhere/Otherwhen #3

The following letter was sent out by Alexis Fegan Black, (co-signed by Wendy Rathbone and MKASHEF Press). It was directed to fandom in general, and was printed in many, many zines.

Fandom has always had its share of problems, and in recent years, I've come to the conclusion that it's hopeless. That's why I haven't written any letters to ad zines and haven’t been active in the politics. There would seem to be little point in attempting to "solve" things--primarily because of the prevailing attitude which states: "If it doesn't affect me directly, I don't care." Unfortunately, it now _does_ affect you. It affects all of us. After some recent events at Revelcon (and other cons, I'm sure), I'm compelled to state a few unpopular opinions and piss off a lot of folks out there. As the old saying goes, it's an ugly job, but somebody has to do it.

In essence, I and a lot of other editors are sick to death of all the zine pirating that's going on these days. I'm not even referring to the "pro" pirates (whose names I don't _need_ to mention, since they've become synonymous with pirating). I'm talking about "the Kinko's crowd"--those fans who think it's perfectly all right to trot themselves down to Kinko's (or whatever other copy shop is in the vicinity of a convention) and make multiple copies of brand new zines for friends, relatives, distant acquaintances, and their pet cat.

At this year's Revelcon, I sold three (count 'em, folks!) copies of a brand new K/S novel entitled Imaginary Lines. The zine premiered at Escapade in February, where I sold a whopping twelve copies. (In other words, I couldn't give away a new zine, and neither could most other editors who premiered new zines!) I personally did not attend Revelcon, but have heard from Bill Hupe (via Dovya Blacque) that the pirating going on there was phenomenal. Fans would stand in the aisles of the dealer's room openly saying to one another, "Oh, if you buy the zine, Suzy, we can trod down to Kinko's and make copies for all our friends and sell them at our cost." Er, this is _not_ okay, folks!

First of all, selling copies to your friends, even at cost, does not make you a saint. It makes you a thief. Sorry if that stings your sensibilities, but it's true. You're stealing from the editor who invested time, money and effort into the zine and needs to recoup her costs; you're stealing from the contributors of the zine who invested their time and love into their stories. And worst of all, you're stealing from fandom. How? Quite simply, you're making it 100% impossible for zine editors to continue publishing. For myself, an average print run of a new K/S novel used to be 500 copies (this was about 6 years ago). Since then, the print run has dwindled gradually--to 400, then 300, now it's about 200 and dropping steadily. At first, I attributed this to the fact that interest in K/S was dwindling. That's part of it, sure. I attributed another part of it to "pro" zine pirates openly selling illegal copies of my zines at conventions. Another, much smaller part could be passed off to Suzy Cue trotting down to Kinko's--but until recently, it _was_ a small percentage. Now, after hearing the horror stories of the pirating going on at conventions, I've reached the conclusion that Suzy Cue and her friends probably account for at least 60% of the current zine pirating!

Thanks to cooperative efforts by several zine editors, we've been semi-successful in stopping (or at least slowing down) the "pro" pirates. (They don't like being confronted loudly and in public by irate editors!) But it's much more difficult to stop the current fad of fans pooling their money to buy one zine, then going down to the copy shop to make ten copies. (Get even 5 different people doing this and it adds up fast!) Those of you who are doing this are going to be responsible for the demise of fanzines altogether. After the dismal sales at both Escapade and Revelcon, I'm not inclined to put any more time, effort and money into producing zines that are going to be stolen by unscrupulous, self-serving, self-righteous fans who rationalize what they're doing by claiming "Zines are too expensive", and so on.

Of course zines are too expensive! Pirates have made them too expensive, and here's why. Every time the print run drops, the cost-per-copy goes up--dramatically. So of _course_ it's "cheaper" to go to Kinko's and make copies of the finished product than it is to purchase it from the editor. Maybe the reason it goes on in fandom is that everybody who does it has an excuse for their behavior and their friends would rather buy into it than say something about it. Maybe it's because most editors are too "nice" to say anything and the zine pirates prey on their courtesy as well as their zines. Or maybe it's because people who have never produced a zine or even written for one simply don't know _why_ zines are so expensive. They certainly don't care.

It's not just the cost of paper and ink you’re paying for, folks. It's the finished product, which consists of hours of typing, in office supplies, convention expenses (such as dealer's tables, shipping, etc.). Then there’s the matter of printing, set-up charges for half-tones and other artwork, binding, collating, etc--all the "hidden costs" that the pirates never have to concern themselves with--but costs an editor has to consider every time she produces a zine. And, indirectly, you're paying for the contributor's copies, which are the only "payment" contributors receive. Just for example, on my zine _The 25th Year_, there were over 40 contributors, which means that I had to "give away" 40 copies right off the top. Yes, the zine sells for $30, and yes, that's expensive (though not really, when you consider 265 pages of reduced type and lots of half-tones, etc). However, without those 40 contributors, the zine wouldn't exist. So I consider the contributor's copies a relatively minor "expense," all things taken into account. Without contributors, you ain't got a zine. "The Kinko's Crowd" doesn't concern themselves with contributor's copies. They don't concern themselves with editors' ability to produce future zines. And they certainly don't concern themselves with fandom in the long run.

In "the good old days", it didn't matter if so-and-so made one or two copies of an _out-of-print_ zine to give to a friend. Now, with most zines remaining in print for several years, it matters a lot. In many cases, back issues of a zine are the way the editor finances _current_ issues--i.e., proceeds from selling a copy of _Naked Times #3_ enable me to buy paper and toner for the xerox machine sitting in my living room. Proceeds from sales of _Naked Times #20_ enable me to have the repairman come out when the machine breaks down from doing 100 copies of _Imaginary Lines_, (which was a "hot" photocopy zine to Revelcon, I've heard), and so on.

So what this all comes down to is that those of you who belong to "the Kinko's Crowd" are directly responsible for the downfall of zine publishing. You don't have to like it and you can all get together and say what a bitch I am for bringing it to your attention, but it doesn't alter the facts. Every in-print zine you copy is destroying editor's ability to produce new zines. I predict that, if this trend continues, there won't be more 5 or 6 new K/S zines per year--not because there are no contributors and no interest, but because the editors have gone broke supplying the zine-junkies who buy their "fix" from the pusher at Kinko's corner. Yeah, you can get it cheaper, but you're cutting off your own supply. Think about it.

All I can say is that I will no longer have my zines at conventions where pirating is not _actively_ discouraged by the con committee. (It's certainly not the fault of con committees, but they're going to need to get involved). MediaWest is a good example of a convention that's trying to put a stop to this problem. Pirates had become so bold that they were bringing portable copy machines to their rooms and putting up flyers in the halls stating: "Bring your new zines to Room 1313 and we'll make copies for other fans and offer you older zines in trade." The committee of Media West got tough and banned copy machines from the convention and made an effort to discourage "the Kinko's crowd" as well. Other conventions need to make some effort, too, and editors might want to consider refusing to sell to someone who's made it known that they intend to trot the zine down to the copy shop and crank out multiple copies. I'd go so far as to name names of those known to be doing this if other editors will stand behind me.

I think it's imperative that editors get together and try to figure out a way to make zines _impossible_ to copy. For awhile, I tried dark green paper, but a lot of people complained that it was hard to read. Well, I stopped using the green paper and went back to "the way it's always been done", and now I'm seeing the results. More and more illegal copies and more pirates profiting from material they neither worked for nor have any rights to. (Even if they're not "profiting" in the monetary sense of the word, that doesn't make what they're doing right. Like I said, selling something at cost doesn’t make you a saint. You're still a thief, and short-sighted at that, because pretty soon you'll be copying blank pages of zines that don't exist). Which would you rather have: zines that are harder to read, or no zines at all? Seriously, something needs to be done and it's going to take a cooperative effort by editors and buyers alike.

To editors, I recommend avoiding conventions that don't actively discourage "the Kinko's crowd"; and to buyers, I recommend buying from the editor (or her agent) or not at all. I you can't afford to buy from the editor, try borrowing a friend's copy. (At which point, you'll see just how anxious most "friends" are to lend out their zines--hah!) I know this sounds harsh, but reality's like that. In other words, if you can afford to buy 10 zines from "the Kinko's crowd" at $6.00 a piece, you can afford to support at least _three_ zine editors by purchasing zines from the source. I don't care if it's my zines or someone else's. What matters is that we're _all_ going down if this trend continues. (It's kind of like having a banquet serving the last two members of an endangered species. It might be fun while it lasts, but extinction is forever, zines included!)

So, with that said, I hope those of you who are members of "the Kinko's crowd" will give serious thought to what you're doing. (Which is about as likely as Ted Bundy showing some remorse, I suspect.) And to those of you who "buy" from these folks, even at their saintly cost, I hope you'll consider feeding your need/desire for fanzines by supporting those who produce them--the editors. If you can't do that (support the editors), then do us all a favor and get out of fandom. You're killing it for everyone.

Finally, to those people who _do_ buy zines from editors and _only_ from editors, I would like to say thank you for your support over the years. It's nice to know there are still a few good people out there, and maybe with your continued efforts as well as the efforts of editors and convention committees, we can get zine fandom back on track.

Regards,

Alexis Fegan Black (Pon Farr Press) Also endorsed by: Wendy Rathbone, Dovya Blacque (Mkashef Enterprises)

Related Editorials

Alexis Fegan Black also addressed this subject in many zine editorials. This one was in 5 of Hearts and Otherwhere, Otherwhen #3:
For those of you who have read my letter on zine pirating (May, 1993 issue of THE ZINE CONNECTION), you know how I feel about this practice and you know why. For those who haven't read that letter, let me simply say that zine pirates are putting us all in serious jeopardy. Yes, even you. As a reader of K/S, you want new zines, right? What you may not realize is that, in order to produce new zines, an editor has to be able to sell the zines she has already printed. In "the good old days" (let's say 4-5 years ago), an average print run of NAKED TIMES was 400 copies (down from 500 copies in "the golden ages" — 'smile'). That has now dropped to less than 150 copies and is steadily declining. Based on reviews and comments I receive through the mail, I don't think it's the quality of the zine itself. Nor do I think it's entirely due to the fact that I'm admittedly sometimes slow in filling orders. My zines are widely available at conventions, and they aren't selling "in person" either. And after hearing from a fellow editor some of the things going on at conventions, I'm not surprised that the zines aren't selling.

In short, it has come to my attention that a lot of people will buy one copy of a zine at a convention and then run it down to the local copy shop to make multiple copies — which they sell to their "friends" at their cost. This may seem like a fine deal on the surface, since you can often buy a zine for half of what it would cost to buy it from the editor. But, what these people aren't taking into account is that the editor is the one getting screwed — big time! Since the editor doesn't pay only for printing, but must also recover all the other costs involved with producing a zine, the original copy of the zine does cost more. As an editor, I'm paying not only for printing, but for contributor's copies (often 15 or more!) half-tones on cover artwork (which often run $35.00 each or more); office supplies; supplies for the laser printer; shipping of zines to and from the printer; postage to send the zines to an agent at a convention; agent's fees for selling my zines; and so on. So, in other words, I cannot "compete" with the gals at conventions who set up copy machines in their rooms or go to the local copy shop and sell my zines at their cost. Obviously, if I can't compete, I can no longer do zines and I will have to fold — after over 12 years of publishing. People like to complain that "zines are too expensive", and thus they justify buying them from a friend at her cost. In the end, what's happening is that the editor is providing fandom with a zine master instead of with a zine. And if that's the case, I know a lot of editors who will be folding up shop very quickly. A few years ago, there was a major problem with mass pirating — i.e., little shits who would photocopy everybody's zine and sell them openly at conventions. We've been largely successful in discouraging this practice (mainly through loud confrontations at conventions where the pirates were unable to justify their actions in front of a crowd). Now, unfortunately, the pirating seems to be primarily people who are xeroxing "for friends". But, please, consider this: if only 20 people in all of fandom are each making 5 copies of a zine for their friends, the editor just lost the sale of 100 copies. I know for a fact that this type of thing went on at this year's REVELCON. (Recent correspondence with Candace Pullein, however, has reassured me that the con committee neither knew about this nor condoned it — and they are actively seeking ways to prevent and discourage it at future conventions). Fans would purchase one copy of a zine from my agent and then take it to the local Kinko's (we have verification of this by the manager of Kinko's — so we do know the names of some folks who are doing this), where they would make 5 or more copies to sell or give to their friends. Guys, figure it out. Whether you're the one doing the xeroxing or the one buying from your friend, you're killing fandom. It really is as simple as that — and sooner than you think, you aren't going to have any zines because editors won't be able to produce them. Unfortunately, zine production is turning into a venture not unlike shareware software for computers. In theory, even though shareware is free, if you use the program, you're bound by the honor system to send the publishers of the program the user's fee. I can see a time down the road when editors are going to start asking for similar concessions — i.e., if you received the zine photocopied from someone other than the editor, maybe you should send the editor the cost of the zine (or at least the same amount you paid to the pirate). I am not suggesting this as an alternative, because we all know only too well that the honor system usually isn't (which is why many shareware companies fail and why zine fandom will soon fail, too). All I'm saying is that I can and do see the end of the road for zine fandom crystal clear. It's a wonderful hobby and it's been part of my life for many years, but if sales continue to be as poor as they've been for the past 2 years, I will be ceasing publishing at the end of this year. We'll see. Finally, to those who have always been supportive of zines and editors, please be aware that you're appreciated. In the hubbub of trying to deal with the negativity, it's easy to forget about the good people out there who do make a difference. Again, to anyone who has purchase this zine from me or from one of my agents, I do thank you, and I hope more people out there will learn a valuable lesson from your example.

PS — Editors might want to consider including a copyright warning on each page, since copy shops are leary [sic] of getting sued for infringement of copyright. In future zines, this will be my practice — just as the headers on OTHERWHERE/OTHERWHEN #3 now give the title & author, future issues will have a similar header stating: COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL - DO NOT PHOTOCOPY. Any editors with the ability to use headers & footers might want to incorporate this practice. It won't stop 'em, but maybe it'll slow 'em down.

The Message Comes Full Circle

Due to the slow nature of communication (letters, phones) in the pre-Internet days and that both news and facts tended to be distorted through multiple re-tellings, one of the greater ironies of both Alexis' and Bill Hupe's Open Letters, is that they and their authorized agents were, in turn, accused of zine piracy.

In the K/S letterzine, The LOC Connection, Alexis' and Bill's letters stirred a vigorous debate on the evils of zine piracy. As issue after issue focused on the topic, fans whipped one another into an anti-piracy frenzy. It cumulated when one of the subscribers unknowingly confronted Bill Hupe's agent Peg Kennedy over 'pirated' Alexis Fegan Black zines:
"Having recently attended Farpoint (formerly OktoberTrek), I was involved in an incident that pertains to the recent discussion about zine pirating.

Being quite used to rummaging around in the K/S boxes of zines kept far under the table and carefully out of sight. I was thrilled to discover two of Alexis Fegan Black's novels, OASIS and VAGABONDS that I had been meaning to read..... Clutching them in my hot little hands I rushed back to the room and proceeded to dig right in. Postponing my pleasure just a little while longer, I started with the editorials in with Alexis states that to prevent pirating she has printed the zines on GREEN paper. My copies are on WHITE paper!

Filled with righteous indignation. I don my shining armor, mount my trusty steed and charge back to the table where I loudly proclaim I HAVE PURCHASED PIRATED ZNES! I DEMAND MY MONEY BACK!! HOW DARE YOU DO THIS DASTARDLY THING!!!

By now a crowd was gathered, aroused no doubt by the scent of blood. The woman behind the table calmly informs me that, of course, she will return my money, but these are official reprints put out by Pon Farr Press. At this point someone tells me that this is Peg Kennedy. To my dread I recognize the name. Peg Kennedy is associated with Bill Hupe a reputable zine dealer I have dealt with many times through the mail.

Hemming and hawing, I back my way out of the dealers' room, tail tucked quite neatly between my legs.

My bruised tail will heal, (I do tend to leap before I look), but if Bill Hupe is selling pirated zines - which I somehow doubt - fandom needs to be apprised of this fact. If, on the other hand Alexis has forgotten to add a postscript to her reprints, this fandom also needs to know.

How can we protect our editors and insure our steady supply of K/S zines if they don't give us a hand?"[1]

Other Reactions and Reviews

This original letter set off a flurry of responses, see #The Letters.

Some fans pointed out that Alexis' letter failed to acknowledge that market forces were stacked against the $30 fanzine. When fanzine buyers headed over to Kinko's to copy a zine, they were "voting with their feet," essentially choosing both reduced costs and good stories. The reason that a $30 fanzine could no longer compete with a $6 Kinko's copy was not because fen were greedy and unappreciative, but that fanzine publisher's overhead and profit had become excessive in the age of cheaper printing costs. Instead of attacking fans, fanzine publishers should adopt a more pro-active stance and ask what zine editors/publishers could do to make their product better. And alternative distributions methods, such as zines on floppy disks could solve some of these pricing constraints.[2]

While some fans agreed with Alexis, others felt that she was trying to speak for all zine publishers, and resented the way she presented her feelings on the issue as if all of fandom shared them.
I was pretty incensed, particularly with AFB, who seems to be trying to speak for all zine editors, and who certainly does not reflect my opinion on the topic. I am considering a counter letter, stating that I don't believe that pirating (and she's talking about the one or two for your friends people here, not the big-time copy for resale folks) is responsible for her (or our) decline in sales. I'd point to the changes in fandom the recession, etc.[3]
Some fanzine publishers also drew a distinction between casual fan sharing and copying for resale, something that they felt that Alexis letter had obscured in its vehement tone.
[We] pointed out that the people who seem to be screaming loudest [against fandom 'piracy'] are those for whom the business seems to be outrunning the love. (For instance, we have a policy that we don't mind people copying a single story out of our multi-media zines and selling the zine--we've even been known to send people a copy of a story if that's all they wanted....We think there's a BIG distinction between what Bill calls "casual pirating" (one fan making a copy for her friend(s)) and "big-time pirating" (making 25 copies and selling them as if you are an agent for the editor). We just can't get too worried about the first one, but the second pisses us off. [4]
A Pros fan commented on this controversy in May 1993:

There's been a lot of talk lately about zine pirating, and the Library has been mentioned unfavorable. So this is a good time to restate policy -- it is not and has never been Library policy to distribute stories taken from in-print zines. There doesn't mean it never happens; as I no longer buy Pros zines I'm not always aware that a story sent to me -- sometimes with no name and no indication where it came from -- might not be "eligible." If any of you see a title in the Library that doesn't belong there, because it is still in print in a zine, please let me know! It will be immediately removed -- but someone has to tell me about it.

I've also hear that "the Library might be banned from Media West Con" -- this is very strange, as the Library hasn't officially been at Media West for some years. The only appearance of the Library (in terms of selling off excess copies of stories) is at ZCon. No exceptions. What people choose to do with their own individual copies of stories, whether obtained from the Library or not, is their own business. [5]

References

  1. from The LOC Connection, Issue #59, November 1993.
  2. Morgan Dawn's personal recollections of 1993 discussions on the Virgule-L mailing list.
  3. Fanzine publisher's post to the Virgule-L mailing list posted April 20, 1993, quoted anonymously with permission.
  4. Fanzine publisher's post to the Virgule-L mailing list posted April 20, 1993, quoted anonymously with permission.
  5. Library Update #2 by Karen B, May 1993, The Professionals Circuit, US chapter