Preserving and sharing fanfiction: the Archive of Our Own

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Title: Preserving and sharing fanfiction: the Archive of Our Own
Creator: the shoshanna
Date(s): October 14, 2009
Medium: online
External Links: Preserving and sharing fanfiction: the Archive of Our Own; archive link
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Preserving and sharing fanfiction: the Archive of Our Own is a 2009 post by Shoshanna.

Note: the original post has many internal links, mostly to AO3 official pages. See original post to access them.

Some Topics Discussed

Most of the Post

I got into media fandom in 1987. At that time, there were two ways that fan fiction circulated: in zines, and (primarily in Professionals fandom, in my experience) "on the circuit," as loose pages that were passed from one fan to another, photocopied, and passed on again. These forms of circulation have their advantages -- handsome physical copies of stories, with the possibility of gorgeous art! a continuing stream of circuit fic, sort of like Netflix avant le mot! -- but they have serious disadvantages, too. Zines require a financial layout, possibly a large one, from the publisher, who then recoups her costs (she hopes) by selling them to readers. A zine may cost readers $5-$40 or even more, and that can add up fast. The circuit is cheaper (probably -- postage added up) but the physical quality of the texts was generally poor, since they tended to get a bit tattered, and art wouldn't reproduce well. And both forms of distribution are hard to access without some sort of in, a personal connection to the fannish community -- which has been seen as both a good and a bad thing, of course.

But what's really on my mind today about printed fanfiction is the fact that it so easily becomes inaccessible. I own hundreds of zines, and they're sitting in a closet in my basement, doing no one else any good. Sharing them requires physical labor and a ton of postage, or the difficulty and expense of travel (to a con, to another fan's house) -- and I love travel and think the modern postal service is fantastic, but they are impediments nonetheless! Hell, I no longer even have an index of what zines I own, just my fallible memory. The Internet made it vastly easier to find and share fanfic, and although I was one of those cranky old "zine fans with modems" for a while, I loveLOVELOVE the Internet age. Yay for living in the future!

Still, just because something is online doesn't mean it will always be accessible. And that's especially true of fanfiction, and it's especially true of the kind of fanfiction that often makes ISPs uneasy: graphically sexual or graphically violent material, and transformative work whose legality is disputed or denied. Fan works disappear from the Net because they've been TOSsed, because the site owners panicked about public perception, because a site closes down entirely, or just because the person maintaining them gets tired or bored and moves on to other things.

This is where the Archive of Our Own comes in. The archive and its backer, the Organization for Transformative Works, absolutely believes that fannish works are legal and valuable, and will defend them and their creators. Because the AOOO is run by a large organization, not just one or two people, it won't disappear if someone wanders away. And fans don't have to worry about being TOSsed for fannishness, because WE OWN THE GODDAMN SERVERS! Which means the AOOO will soon move into open beta!

Unlike zines and circuit stories, the Archive of Our Own -- like every project of the OTW -- is free to all users, readers and writers alike. But it isn't free to maintain. Having bought the servers, the OTW has ongoing costs for upkeep and support. And the AOOO is only one of the OTW's many projects. Which is why this week is the week of the semiannual membership/donations drive! The org has done a ton of wonderful stuff in the last few months, and will go on to do more -- please consider helping, with money or volunteering or whatever you feel called to do! [1]