Zine Piracy Letter by Ann Wortham in Response to Candace Pulleine

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Open Letter
Title: Zine Piracy Letter by Ann Wortham in Response to Candace Pulleine
From:
Addressed To:
Date(s): autumn 1993
Medium: print
Fandom:
Topic: zine piracy
External Links:
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Zine Piracy Letter by Ann Wortham in Response to Candace Pulleine 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 [1]. 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.

Many of these tensions came to a head at, and after, RevelCon 1993.

A Series of 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.

Some related earlier essays:


A Public Letter in the Series

Zine Piracy Letter by Ann Wortham in Response to Candace Pulleine was printed in Southern Enclave #37 in autumn 1993. It was also reprinted (with an added introduction) in Tarriel Cell in April 1994. The text of the Tarriel Cell letter can be seen under the section called "Communiques" at Tarriel Cell v.7 n.4, Archived version.

In her letter, Ann made a few points in response to Candace’s letter. It is unclear if this letter was Candace Pulleine’s Open Letter To All Revelcon Members in May 1993 or the Open Letter to Fanzine Readers, Contributors, and Publishers by Candace Pulleine in June 1993.

Ann’s letter in the fall of 1993, "Zine Piracy Letter by Ann Wortham in Response to Candace Pulleine," was an attempted to correct what she saw as miscommunications, misunderstandings and misdirection while also offering up a few of her own opinions.

The Letter

In her first paragraph, Ann pointed out that she had not granted permission for her Southern Lights #6 editorial to be reprinted in full:

First of all, let me point out that Candace Pulleine has not asked my permission to reproduce the entire text of my editorial, and she certainly does not have the right to give everyone else permission to reprint the entire text of my Southern Lights 06 editorial. She is guilty of "bootlegging" it, in fact be that as it may, I will take that up with her.
One point to keep in mind: Southern Lights #5 had a bit of a complicated publishing schedule:
Bill had done me an enormous favor this year. I had the masters for Southern Lights 05 ready early, but I could not afford to print the zine myself until MediaWest. Bill knew that I had many pressing bills... so he offered to print the zine at his own expense for a limited run just for Revelcon. He said be would take care of telling everybody there that the zine would be "officially" available at MediaWest. When I checked my records I found that only 4 or 5 people who would be attending Revelcon had actually prepaid for the zine. After the convention. Bill said he had explained to these people that they would be getting their copies of Southern Lights #5 at MediaWest and none of them seemed to have a problem with this arrangement.

Anne then went on to write that she had been assured by Bill Hupe and other attendees that piracy had taken place at RevelCon and that the sales of her new zine Southern Lights #5 were impacted. The proof was that issue #5 sold poorly at RevelCon:

Bill informed me that there had apparently been a great deal of bootlegging taking place at this year's Revelcon. He was an eyewitness to several incidents that led him to believe it could be a major problem. Further investigation, and talking to other editors who were at the convention, revealed that there was a problem, and that many people were aware of it. Later, more editors would come forward maintaining that they stopped attending Revelcon due to the bootlegging they saw taking place…… It is my understanding that other editors wrote to her, as well Bill had told me that, although he did very well at the convention overall, he had not sold more than a copy or two of each issue, even brand new zines. On at least one occasion, two fans stood in front of his table; one was about to buy a zine and the other told her, "don't buy it; we're making a Kinkos run later and you can copy mine cheaper. When Bill wrote to Candace, he used the sales of Southern Lights #5 as an example of how his sales of new zines went at the convention, since he knew my zine was well-known and generally sold well. (In fact, Southern Lights #5 sold very well at MediaWest... about as expected.)

Ann wrote that she herself had not spoken directly to Candace, but when her co-editor Leah Rosenthal phoned Candace to inform her of these facts, Leah felt their allegations were not taken seriously:

….we were certain that Candace must be unaware of the situation and that she would be horrified to know. Unfortunately, Candace's attitude was one of complete denial. She kept asking Leah how we could know what happened at Revelcon since we weren't there. (People talk to us, Candace, that's how we could know!) Leah hung up with the feeling that Candace was completely unconcerned and wondering why the head of a convention would react so defensively. So, Leah followed up with a letter, again simply asking Candace to put in place some safeguards for future Revelcons, to insure that bootlegging would at least be discouraged.

In a later section Ann wrote:

All that was originally asked for on the part of Leah, Bill and others was a simple statement of policy from Candace that bootlegging would not be tolerated at Revelcon in the future. This was handled privately in the beginning and could have remained so, if Candace had reacted responsibly instead of with defensive hurt pride.
Ann's letter suggests that the debate’s focus on the sales of Southern Lights #5 was a misdirection from the larger issue of piracy:
[Candace] seemed to be maintaining that if people bootlegged my zines, they were justified because, after all, I had held one person's deposit on a zine for two years! She seems to have totally missed the point that Bill was trying to make regarding overall poor tales at Revelcon, tied in with the eyewitness accounts of bootlegging attempts/plans. The sales of Southern Lights #5 at Revelcon or anywhere else are not the issue. Launching personal attacks against me and my publications does not do anything to solve the problem [of bootlegging].

Ann's letter then outlines several other negative responses she had responded from Revelcon supporters and concluded that Revelcon attendees were working to drive zine publishers out of business:

I have received hate mail from others in the Houston area whom Candace has obviously recruited in her campaign. I would say this is a case of "shoot the messenger"... except I never even wrote or spoke to Candace myself. I am shocked and disappointed to learn that Houston area fandom would react in this way to the knowledge that some fans among them are apparently driving up the cost of zines and, literally, plotting zine editors out of business….. “ Evidence of this plot came in the form of a letter: “….I have in my possession a handwritten letter from a Revelcon attendee, wherein Joyce Davidson tells me pointblank that she intends to bootleg my zines and encourage all her friends to do to, as well.

Fan Reactions to This Letter

Zinelegging: Cheree, thanks for printing both sides of the recent exchange. No amount of rumor and second hand reporting can substitute for letting the contenders speak for themselves. [2]
...the zine editor does not expect to make a profit from selling a zine, but the person who pirates that zine certainly does and that makes the practice reprehensible. The editor puts in a ton of time and hard work to produce a product, while all the pirate does is stand at a xerox machine. To put it bluntly, pirating someone else's zine is possibly the most unethical, contemptuous thing one fan can do to another and one can have no respect for such a person. [3]
I venture to say that your letter is going to cause some heat in the next SE! But, since you probably expected that (brave soul that you obviously are!) let me put my two credits worth in. First of all, you suggest that it's complimentary when someone pirates a zine. Well, that's a good way to be complimented out of your savings! As you pointed out, we don't make a profit on our zines (or we're not supposed to). However, when someone else pirates a zine they're making a profit — and the zine editor often is unable to recoup their losses. Furthermore, the pirate is making a profit without putting in any effort. I don't know about you, but it takes me a year or more (my latest work took four and a half years - by the time it get; to MediaWest for its big debut, it'll be five years) to put out a good zine. That means hours upon hours of labor, expense and blood, sweat, and tears. To be "complimented" by having someone else sell my zine so they can make a profit doesn't do much for my sense of well being. To address your concern that we're taking from Uncle George anyway, so what right do we have to gripe? Lucas knows we're playing in his sandbox — be once even had a panel set up to read the zines to ensure that nothing he considered unfavorable got through. And since we're not making a profit on George's work — although we are putting out money to get the zines produced — I think we're entitled to gripe when someone steals from us. [4]
I just want to throw some thoughts out on the piracy issue. I've been discussing this general topic with many folks in music, film, video and multimedia. (I). I recommend everyone read John Perry Barlow's excellent discourse on intellectual property in the electronic/information age. He has a couple o f small logical fallacies in his enthusiasm, but he gets the nut of the problem and poses some good questions. (2). We can't stop duplication of media. We've probably all got something of a pirate nature in our homes - cassette tape of a favorite song pulled from the LP or CD, a videotape of a TV show or a movie we took off of HBO, an article or newspaper clipping we photocopied, et al. (3). The primary reason for piracy is "value for cost". If we perceive something we desire as being worth as much or more than the price asked, we buy it. This is the entire impetus of point-of-purchase displays by the cash register. How many pirated video copies of SW were out there until the price of the videotape dropped to below $30? How many of us impulse-bought a zine at a con because it was interesting and "so cheap" (usually under $1O)? It may be necessary for us (editors/publishers) to find ways to cut our costs. I am very sorry now that I didn't wait on FACPOV #5 until I found a cheaper printing source. While the zine is very good, the cover is fabulous, I'm unhappy with having to charge $17. Maybe we can make our issues smaller and publish more often. (4). Scarcity will also increase both the value of a work, and the tendency to reproduce it illegally. We editors may need to figure out better distribution. I am working on the same problem in multimedia (MM) and small press music publishing. I will keep everyone posted later this year on our tests. I think the same concept may be viable for zines. (5). "Piracy" doesn't always mean lost sales. In fact, in our society, recognition can result in increased profits. Barlow points out that a significant factor in the Grateful Dead's status as the best selling live act in music is because they've always permitted fans to tape at the concerts. As they shared the tapes with others, Grateful Dead fandom lived, and grew, increasing concert sales and record sales. I have gotten zine orders from folks who found me by borrowing a friend's copy. I've even had someone admit that a friend sent them a photocopy of issue #1 and now they wanted a complete collection. I also remember when the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and several other national writers association began discussing in the 1980's forcing libraries to pay a "royalty" for each book checked out. They felt they were being "robbed" by not getting paid each time their work was read. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and pointed out that if readers didn't know you existed or what you wrote, they wouldn't become a fan and buy the rest of your books. People are more inclined to pony up the money, particularly in tight financial times, if they know and like the product. Software distributors are now offering samples of a program for this reason. Books often include a sneak preview of another novel. And movies have long given us a "preview of coming attractions". Maybe we zine editors need to do more than a blurb. Maybe we need to produce some samples. I don't know. These are just thoughts. And finally,let me state right now, I don't approve of or support piracy. I've thrown many a screaming-embarrassing-to-the-dealer-disrupting-his-business fit in SF dealer's rooms when I've found piracy going on. I've also chided fans I know for flagrant zine copying. But we can't stop it. The yelling's been going on since before SW fandom even existed. I think it's time we stopped kvetching and sought solutions that address any underlying problems. It's not going to get better as the digital age progresses. 'Nuff said. [5]

References

  1. Winston Howlett uses "running to Daddy's office" to infantilize fic readers, something that Fegan Black does later with her use of the phrase "Suzy Cue trotting down to Kinko's" in May 1993's open letter Open Letter to Fandom by Alexis Fegan Black Regarding Zine Pirating.
  2. from Southern Enclave #38
  3. from Southern Enclave #38
  4. from Southern Enclave #38
  5. from Southern Enclave #39