The Case for Print Media Publishing

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Title: The Case for Print Media Publishing
Creator: Mike Adamson and JJ
Date(s): 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: multifandom
Topic: Fanzines
External Links: via Wayback; WebCite
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The Case for Print Media Publishing is an essay by JJ and Mike Adamson.

Some topics: the value of print zines, the culture of instant gratification, "the internet ain't free," the generally poor quality of online fiction, how online fiction will kill your eyesight, the value of editors, and why fanzines are like flat shoes and wholemeal bread. It also cites a study that says that "1,500 words is comfortable to read from the screen at any one time."

The essay was also posted here with the title: "Print Media versus On-line Publishing." That version is slightly altered to appeal to science fiction fans rather than media fans.


On-line fandom is great. There's no question of that, and we'd be the last ones to argue that the Internet has put the spice back in fannish life! The ability to get color pictures at whim, to share stories for the cost of connect time, to get feedback in "real time," and publish an e-zine without having to go stand in line at a copy shop and pay a 3- or 4-figure production bill. Wonderful!

And yet, despite all of that, there's a down-side ... and we wonder how many fans who are on-line today have been active in fandom for long enough to remember "The Golden Age" of fanzines...

If you're asking, "What's a fanzine," you, uh, ain't been around in fandom long enough!

Long before the Internet, fandom was of necessity "print driven," and the result was magazines and books, produced in a thousand ways by a thousand hobby presses. The original mimeo, or roneo "zines" of the 1950s and 60s gave way to long print-run offset (so-called "proper printing") in the 1970s, and when photocopy became available around 1980, most of us switched over gladly. We had the opportunity to print "batches" rather than "runs," and spread the risk involved. Photocopiers gradually got better, till at last they were better than the finest offset; and about the time that photocopiers grew up and made color covers possible, "The PC Revolution" happened. Suddenly, professional-style typesetting, and 1001 fonts, could, and did, happen on the desktop! Throw in clipart libraries, scanners, 750dpi resolution printers, and these days there isn't one darned thing a "professional" publisher can do that a hobby press can't. Even professional binding is available, albeit for a price.

This was the time when print-media fanzines had reached their most sophisticated expression. We were (and are) rightly "tickled pink" by what we can do these days ... and yet simultaneous with us reaching the pinnacle of our technique, the "market" for print-media zines almost died. Because there was an inescapable, unavoidable side-effect to the "PC Revolution," and it had snuck up on us all!

The Internet happened!

All at once, we found ourselves in a world of instant gratification and (perhaps more significantly), "free product." You log on, and you get get your stuff now ... and the cost is just "connect time." The archives were born; big webzines like DOAW came along, and soon there wasn't just the fact that "free product" was available — there was the expectation that everything ought to be free ... and correspondingly, a reluctance to buy a zine.

Print media zines dwindled from sales of around 150, to around 50, and for many presses (Nut Hatch and Entropy Express included), we had to rationalize the work and cost involved with doing a zine, with the likely sales. We ourselves dwindled from producing 7-8 new titles per year, to just two.

And meanwhile, the Internet settled in, settled down, matured, grew...

And one day — no doubt quite by chance — Internet fiction users began to make curious remarks!

"Didn't anyone edit this story? Didn't anyone proofread, or even spell-check this story? Haven't these writers heard of punctuation? I read the new stories last night, and today my eyes are killing me. I was reading till 2:00am to get through the new stories, and today my back's killing me, it's too bad you can't take the PC to bed like a good book..."

The truth is, the users who made these remarks have nailed the problems that folks who never used the on-line resources to any great degree could see coming...

It takes an editor to edit. It takes a publisher to have the time, care and love of publishing to spellcheck and then proof, correct grammar, syntax and punctiation [1]...

And there's more. Long hours in front of a computer will compress your spine and fry your eyeballs! That back ache you get, and those sore eyes, are the price you're actually PAYING for your "free stuff."

Now, most bubble jets print 3-5pp per minute. The fiction already archived on this site will fill around 100pp. Ummm, your "instant gratification" just took around a half hour to print.

Now there's the cost of the ink cartridge. Wear and tear on your print head. An often overlooked indispensible, called paper. You're our around another A$7 for your 100pp, and when you're done —

You have a pile of paper. There's no formatting, no artwork, no binding. These stories may not even have been spellchecked, much less edited for content and quality. You may even have to hand-number the pages, and you're certainly going to have to put 'em in a binder ... but they're single sided, so they take up twice as much space, and when you want to read on the train or bus to work, you learn a whole new respect for space and weight!

Just imagine for a moment. Join us in a flight of fantasy!

Those stories were edited, spell checked, proofed and corrected. They were illustrated! The printout was formatted in beautiful fonts, where 1,000 words per page is easy, and attractive, and gives fantastic dollar-value ... they were printed both sides of the sheet, so they took up half the space. And then someone bound them, so you can read on the bus, or in bed.

Call us nostalgia freaks, but the print-media zine seems to have a certain attraction.

Like flat shoes, they're practical. Like wholemeal bread, they're good for your body. They don't take up bandwidth! They take up half as much paper as printout off the bubblejet, so they save trees too. There you are, you see, they're even good for the planet, which makes them politically correct! And if you count in the cost of your download-time, your ink cartridge, your print head, the paper, the binder, the painkillers and the eye glasses (!), guys, they're probably no more expensive at all than your "free stuff."

On top of all this, you get formatting, the art of editing, and a "proper book" that you can actually keep on a shelf! Fanzines don't corrupt themselves in the disk box, and the evening after your hard disk crashed and burned, you can still cry yourself to sleep with a fanzine.

We think that the time for print-media fannish publishing is back. The "novelty factor" of the Internet has run its course, and surely all of us know by now that there's things the Web is great for (email, flyers, instant communications, color photos) and things the Web was never designed for, such as displaying massive text files for your visual intake. It's not even safe! Professional studies have shown that a maximum of 1,500 words is comfortable to read from the screen at any one time (source: BioMedTech's webzine, "HMS Beagle").

Regular Internet fiction users have an enormous pleasure due when they begin to experiment with print-media zines, and for long-time fans who've spent the last few years seduced by the immediacy and flexibility of the WWW, we believe that you must be ready to "come home to good old fashioned reading."


  1. a truly ironic typo