Zine Piracy Letter to Candace Pulleine by Leah Rosenthal

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Open Letter
Title: Letter to Candace Pulleine
From: Leah Rosenthal
Addressed To: Candace Pulleine
Date(s): March 23, 1993
Medium:
Fandom:
Topic: Zine Pirating
External Links:
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Zine Piracy Letter to Candace Pulleine by Leah Rosenthal was sent in 1993.

The subject was zine piracy.

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 early 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:

Summary of the letter

In May 1993, Candace Pulleine mailed the series of letters to Revelcon attendees and fanzine dealers, requesting their assistance in investigating the claims of piracy. (See Candace Pulleine’s Open Letter To All Revelcon Members). She included Bill Hupe's March 19 and April 14, 1993 letters, along with Leah Rosenthal’s March 1993 letter.

In the letter, Leah wrote that she was still concerned after telephoning Candace about the zine piracy claims at Revelcon and wished that Candace would take a more active role in investigating the matter. She repeated Bill Hupe's observations of what took place at Revelcon and added that while she herself had not attended Revelcon, several of her friends who were at the convention heard other fans talking about "making numerous "midnight runs" to the local copy shops to duplicate fanzines." She did not believe these fanzines were the out of print fanzines that could be borrowed from Revelcon's Fanzine Reading Library. And she worried whether a personal disagreement between a zine publisher and another fan might have increased the amount of zine bootlegging. As a result of this info (and other unrevealed sources), Leah announced that she would not be sending any of her fanzines to Revelcon and would be urging other fanzine dealer's to do the same "...until such time as I receive reassurance that REVELCON's administration is taking the matter more seriously and enacting certain precautions." Exactly what precautions she wanted Revelcon to implement was not spelled out in the letter (although she did point out that the program guide’s map of nearby businesses included the Kinko’s copy service center.) She also pointed out that if fanzine publishers "...can’t sell more than a few copies of any issue of [their] fanzine at any con because of rampant bootlegging, [they] will never be able to pay the debt owed to her printer for the production of that zine. If [they] can’t, the zine will simply cease to exist. If media fanzines cease to exist, media conventions will follow shortly after, since there will be few formats for story and art material to appear, be exchanged and discussed."

Reactions

Given that Leah’s letter was bundled with Bill's letter which went into even greater details of the zine piracy complaints, it is not surprising there was little discussion of her letter. Her observation that zine piracy was the reason for the decline in fanzine publishing overlooked the complex interplay between publishers and readers and the ever shifting fanzine market. [2] And while some of her fears were real, the biggest threat to fanzines would not come from zine bootlegging, but the arrival of the Internet (only a few years later). With both the power of publication and access to fan fiction put directly into the hands of the consumers, printed fanzines would dwindle in importance while fandom overall continued to thrive in the new communication medium. Fortunately, fears that if media fanzines died, fandom and fan conventions would follow, turned out to not be the case.

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. For example, fanzines that were continuously kept in print competed against new releases. As zines began to have less and less art, fans were less willing to continue to pay the same price for zines that were “walls of text.” And, as fandom moved away from central fandoms in the 1980s, the market for a specific, less popular fandom would invariably be smaller. See Why Fewer Fanzines.