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From the Bird's Beak

The future of zines (long post!)

The future of zines (long post!)

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I haven't made a personal post here in a long time, but since things are quiet right now in SH-land, I'd like to get this discussion out to the broadest possible audience on the future of zines to find out how people feel about paper zines versus ezines versus file downloads, etc. I'm hoping to figure out what realistic options I might have to produce zines in some format in the future. Forgive the cross-posting! I have raised the issue on discussion lists and the SH LJs as well.

History (for any who are not familiar with zines):

1. Zines are a traditional form of fan publishing that goes back to the 1930s when science fiction fans produced zines. In media fandom, extensive publication of paper zines in Star Trek (TOS), often sold at popular Star Trek cons, helped promote that fandom and caused a resurgence in the franchise.

2. Zines in Trek were the medium that initially promoted slash fandom.

3. Starsky & Hutch were first featured in zines when Teri White, a respected ST fan author, produced her first zine outside that fandom in 1979. Many of her readers followed her to S&H. Other highly respected Trek writers and artists migrated to S&H through the medium of zines.

3. Fans have produced zines in almost every media fandom, and zine collections are included in respected university libraries.

Current issues:

1. The rise of electronic publishing on the Internet and the continuing rise in postal rates has had a direct negative impact on zine production. This is not likely to change. Postage rates for mailing zines have escalated so much it's no longer practical to mail zines overseas (U.S. to other countries). Postage is often more expensive than the zines themselves.

2. Printing rates are also high, particularly for low volume printings (less than 100 copies per zine).

3. Zine sales are depressed but NOT non-existent. The people that love paper zines still want them, but there are far less orders. Again, mail order is a complication, depending on location.

4. It can take an editor (or at least ME) 6 months to a year or longer to assemble a print-worthy zine.

    a) For SH zines, our best sales are during a SHareCon year, which is every other year.

    b) Due to the "delayed gratification" issue of writers/artists waiting a long time to see their work in print (and getting very little feedback when it is printed), there have been fewer submissions, resulting in smaller zines, or forcing editors to wait for longer periods to get enough submissions.

    c) Once submissions do come in, editorial suggestions and rewrites cause further delays.

    d) Active work on the editor's part (not counting the writers'/artists' efforts) can take 6 months or longer.

    e) Zines are traditionally sold for the price of production; i.e., no profit is incurred from zine sales. However, backlogs of unsold zines from previous printings may never sell. Most of the stories in these backlogs have long since timed out and are available on line, reducing fans' motivation to purchase them. This is money zine publishers have paid out that is a direct financial loss – money they may never see returned.

As a result, myself and other editors in SH are asking ourselves is it worth 6 months to a 1 year (or more) of dedicated labor to produce a zine that will have substantial contributors' copies (cost of producing the trib copy plus mailing fees are a direct expense added to printing costs for the zine producer), but will only sell 50 copies or less. It was worth it for 100-200 copies. Fifty copies or less with sometimes 10 trib copies or more? Probably not.

5. Some fans in countries outside the U.S. have expressed a willingness to pay print-prices or near-print-prices for ebooks of paper zines they cannot acquire through the mail due to high postage costs. While this does not get the print copy out of storage for the zine producer, it can offset the printers' fees that the zine producer must pay out of pocket to produce any copies of the paper zine.

6. Print on demand is a possibility (allowing dedicated zine collectors to still acquire paper copies), but print rates are higher.

7. While professional publishers are providing ebooks at much the same price as paper books, they are finding the ebook-buying public is stabilizing at approximately 20% of the market. However, media fans traditionally use advanced technology at higher percentages than the general public. Dedicated zine readers I know have told me their main reading time is during their commute, and that a paper zine isn't practical on the train or bus. They tell me they'd rather have an ezine for their ereader. Also, ebooks allow greater accessibility to reading material for the visually impaired, and often include verbal readers that can make it possible to "hear" any electronically produced story without having to wait for it to be put into podfic (which often never happens).

So, taking all this in consideration, the questions are:

1. If ebooks of an edited anthology of stories (or novel) were available from your favorite zine producer for, say, a portion of the print price of the paper zine, would you buy it?

2. Would you honor the editor's labor and economic outlay and not give the file to others?

3. Or, would you feel that once you paid for the file, it was within your rights to share it so others would not have to pay for the same file?

thanks for your input!

  • Hi there, I surfed in from friendsfriends. As someone who loves well-produced zines, it pains me to give the answers I'm about to give, but. I think the world of fandom has changed so much that zines are largely obsolete, even for fans who love them. They are a throwback to a time when excellent explicit fanart didn't pop up every 10 seconds on my Tumblr feed.

    1. Probably not. I have a tub full of zines in the bedroom, but I haven't bought a new one in six years.
    2. No.
    3. Yes. I see no difference between buying a paper zine, reading it, and passing it along to another fan, and doing the same thing with an ezine. Once it's mine, it's mine to do with as I wish. (This argument is only going to get broader, since publishers really want to stop ebook buyers from sharing ebook files, too, but to most people who love books, loaning/trading/re-selling books is a staple of book culture. Even the Nook allows book lending.)
  • (Anonymous)
    I'd offer the ezine for free and the paper zine at raw materials production cost + actual shipping. That will cover the costs of production and distribution equally (paper = $ and ezine = $0) and will shortchange any worries about unauthorized sharing of the ezine. Because paper zine sales may not cover the cost of trib copies, everyone should pay for their own paper copy (again at cost). Labor of the editors and writers and artists would not be factored in.

    In short, keep the paper zine as an option but update it to reflect the new realities and to create a sustainable model.

    • Those are interesting ideas; I will consider them. Thank you for responding. These days, getting submissions is very difficult. I don't know how much luck I'd have if I could not offer trib copies. Zines (at least mine) are already sold at raw materials production costs. Editorial labor, traditionally, has never been factored in. If it was, each zine would cost hundreds of dollars.
  • I couldn't log in, so I am trying again:

    I'd offer the ezine for free and the paper zine at raw materials production cost + actual shipping. That will cover the costs of production and distribution equally (paper costs $ to produce and distribute and ezines cost $0). It will also shortchange any worries about unauthorized sharing of the ezine (which is, a destina pointed out, a reality today). Because paper zine sales may not cover the cost of trib copies, everyone should pay for their own paper copy if they want one (again at cost). The labor of the editors and writers and artists would not be factored in.

    In short, keep the paper zine as an option but update the process to reflect the new realities and to create a more sustainable model. I wouldn't expect a lot of paper sales, but there will always be some who will ask for it. And since we can now print on demand in small quantities, you shouldn't have an unsold inventory of paper to worry about.

  • Hey --

    I have been de-papering my life for years now. I only buy ebooks for my kindle and iPad. And I create ebooks for longer stories -- I'm still not really crazy about reading on the screen. Though with the resolution of monitors, that's not as bad as it used to be.

    I got rid of hundreds of my zines at the last Con.txt. I sold them for $2 a piece to help out the con. I don't even miss them.

    1. Maybe. I still have a lot of zines, but I haven't bought one in so long, I can't remember the last time. Years.
    2. No.
    3. Yes. I agree with Destina on this. Once I've bought a book or zine, it's mine to give to friends after I'm done.

    -- we should get together for dinner one day soon.
    • To Meri_oddities:

      "I got rid of hundreds of my zines at the last Con.txt. I sold them for $2 a piece to help out the con. I don't even miss them."

      I cannot tell you how sad this makes me to hear. I can remember sitting on the floor of your zine library and wallowing in your collection. I remember you coming to my house with pile after pile of zines, many of them rare, trying to entice me into a new fandom -- any other fandom -- and out of the one I was in (when I was just about the only one left in it). I will never forget the day you showed up with a stack of Starsky & Hutch zines (sometime in 1995, I think), insisting, "This is the best stuff every written in fandom. If you don't find anything in here you like, I wash my hands of you!" She meant it, too. And I said, "You mean if I just read this stuff you'll stop bugging me? I'll be done by this weekend." And I was done. I was done with every other fandom ever. I fell into Starsky and Hutch and never looked back. All because of your zines. (On the bright side, I guess this means you won't be trying to pimp me into anything new, huh...?)

      "-- we should get together for dinner one day soon."

      The sooner the better! At your convenience...
  • (no subject) -
    • To Duluthgirl:

      "Thanks for the history of zines, Flamingo. I've been curious about this for awhile, and had no idea they've been around since the 30s!"

      Contrary to popular rumor, I did not work on the first zines! ;-)
  • Charging for e-zines is asking readers to pay for what, in the rest of fandom, they get without charge: electronic access to stories and art. Why would they do that?

    Also, as you mention, the charge for paper zines is meant to cover the cost of producing a physical object (paper, printing, etc.). E-zines don't have those costs. So what are people paying for? The editor's labor? If so, why should the editor's labor be compensated when the labor of the artists isn't? Fandom runs on unpaid labor that people perform because they love fandom, and I see no justification for singling out a zine editor's labor as somehow more deserving to be paid than anyone else's.

    For that matter, other fannish electronic distribution that is definitely expensive to make available (I'm thinking particularly of the AO3, which is so big that it has to have its own servers) covers its costs by donations, not by charging people for access to fanworks.

    In short: no, I would never pay for an e-zine. Nor would I pay for a paper zine, because there are less expensive and more efficient methods available to distribute fanworks (i.e. the internet) and if an artist or writer chooses instead to make their work available only in a forum for which readers have to pay . . . I find that insulting, honestly.
    • To address the issue of writers/artists making their work available in a pay only forum, I personally feel that are a few factors to keep in mind:
      a. Print fanzines were the only method for fanworks to be distributed for decades. And paying for the costs was the only way fans could afford to share in these pre-Net days.
      b. Print zines are a tradition and practice that many fans would like to see continue because many of us love books and paper and items that we can hold in our hands.
      c. as soon as fans started being able to offer their fanworks online, most zine publishers and contributors began posting their fanworks after 1 year. This allowed the zine publishers to recoup their upfront printing costs while also allowing fans who could not - or would not - pay for access to enjoy the works. The "post after 1 year" is is still in play today so very rarely will you see a "pay only fanfic".
      d. some fans never post their works online for a variety of reasons. I do not find it insulting if they chose to only offer their works in print format. And I do not find it insulting for a zine publisher (or any fan) to ask me to reimburse them for the cost of printing and mailing a zine or a DVD or anything else tangible. If I do not want to pay, I do not pay. There are plenty of other fanworks out there for me to enjoy.
      e. if online fanworks were to start charging for access, I might rethink my position. However, most fans do not have to pay for the kind of massive servers that the AO3 run and we can distribute our works online using free accounts so "pay me to help me post" is a much weaker argument.

      Edited at 2013-08-22 06:28 pm (UTC)
  • A fan who cannot post to LJ left some interesting thoughts here:

    Feel free to reply here or there as she will be reading.

    among them
    *how much she'd be willing to pay for an ezine
    *how to boost paper zine sales by offering only epub and mobi files and not PDFs.
    • While I responded to this poster on Morgan's dreamwidth, I wanted to also post my response here for people following this thread:

      "Thanks so much for your reasonable comments and excellent ideas. Like you, I buy and use ebooks, but hesitate to spend more than a certain amount for them. I'll wait until the book is older if I have to or buy the paper copy if the ebook price seems high. I, likewise, am not a fan of pdfs. I'm still learning how to format ebooks so they can look their best, especially for the presentation of art. I've been setting up ebooks for longer stories, especially stories with art, on the Starsky & Hutch archive for the convenience of readers there and in the hopes that it will promote older works previously available only on paper. I very much appreciate the time you took to respond and your suggestions! -- Flamingo"
  • It was Helene's Here Come The Brides. it was several years ago. It's out of print now. I made the vids.

  • I love paper. I am happiest with a book/zine in my hand. But for practical and financial reasons, I also own digital copies of both. I admit that postage costs to the UK make most zines out of my reach and the zines that I have are mostly from gifts or trib copies (I have offered to pay postage costs on my trib copies in the past). The odd one or two zines I have purchased second hand.

    I found that the only Ezine I have became too much like hard work very quickly because it was a PDF file and so small on my Kindle that I couldn't read it. So I made it larger, which meant I had to read landscape and every page meant scrolling three times. I never finished that zine! Making the downloadable file compatible to the actual ereader eradicates the PDF problem.

    Artwork is the one thing that I most definitely think looks better on paper than digital. So much of the picture can be lost in the smaller viewing area.

    I don't usually share books, mostly because I hate getting my collection copies back with broken spines and turned down pages! And I have never shared any Ebooks, mostly because so far I haven't been asked, so I can't say for definite that I would never share. It would depend on the person, if they really couldn't afford the zine and desperately wanted to read a particular story or author, then yes, I might share my copy!

    On demand printing does mean that people who want and have the means to pay for zines can still indulge their passion. A small initial print run would probably cover convention sales, I assume a rough idea of how many are sold could possibly be worked out beforehand--pre-orders without payment could be a way to get some idea of the print run needed. It is nice to have all possible options when purchasing zines, etc.

    Having worked in publishing, for ten years--a while ago admitted--I am aware of the work that goes into every aspect of publishing a zine/book/mag, etc. It's really hard work and I have no problem with the pubisher/editor making a profit, which I know rarely/never happens in the zine world. Most of us don't see the hard work that goes into the process behind the scenes.

    We all have the choice whether to buy or not. The ones who make a fuss about the cost of something they have purchased have only one person to blame--themselves!
    • Wightfaerie: Thanks so much for your comments. It's always great to hear from you. As I've said, I'm not a fan of pdfs for reading myself, and am hoping to get better at ebook creation both for the archive and for myself. Thank you, too, for your comments on the labor involved in producing a zine. Having produced professionally published books both in fiction and non-fiction, I thought I had a good idea about how much time and effort it would take to produce a zine -- hahahaha. However, it wasn't until I was hip deep in it that I discovered how necessary it was to have the right programs (not free) for layout, art production, transparency printing, etc. And you never factor in things like the printer I killed by feeding it the wrong transparency (death in .2 seconds), the number of covers I'd have to print myself because the professional printers couldn't get the colors right (which costs more than the pro printers' prices), or a new set of SH dvds for an artist so she'd have the right images to work from. By the time you think of this stuff, it's too late to back out. It's all part of the joy of zine publishing. They say hatters go mad from their profession. I think zine publishers are their inheritors!
  • a note for flamingo

    People who do not have LJ accounts may be leaving anonymous comments. They will be marked as screened (your eyes only) until you review them and unscreen them. This PSA is just in case you haven't had a chance to deal with comments from non-LJ users.
    • Re: a note for flamingo

      Morgan, thanks for this info. I think I only got one. By the time I get good at LJ, it will undoubtedly go away. Very much appreciate your help.
  • Paper zines versus ezines

    I love to read paper zines. I have hundreds of zines in my personal collection, including several of Flamingos. I just bought some last year at Mediawest, in fact.

    The zines you publish, Flamingo, have good, high quality stories. They are chosen based on their quality and readability. They are well edited. They are complete. Unlike many stories located on fanfiction.net and other sites. I have to search through a LOT of drabble to find the good ones. Or I can buy a fanzine like yours and be guaranteed several good ones. I would pay good money for this editing and compilation.

    Perhaps you could offer a cheap ezine version (say $5). And keep the option for a paper zine using print on demand. But you have to give the contributors something. Perhaps you could use the proceeds from the ezine to finance the trib copies. And use your reputation as an editor to sell the ezines. This may be a very popular option for overseas sales.

    I would not give the file to others, but I would like the option to make copies so I could have backups just in case my computer died. (Like that never happens).

    • Re: Paper zines versus ezines

      Dr. Beth: thank you for your kind comments on my zines. I very much appreciate it. Thank you, too, for your suggestions. I'm certainly considering them.
  • 1. Hell to the yes.

    2. Yes, I could keep it to myself.

    3. I don't know how realistic this is, given that people lend zines, books, and ebooks in RL.
    • Hey, Flee, so good to hear from you! Thanks for comments, I do appreciate it. I've got a lot to think about!
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