flamingoslim (flamingoslim) wrote,

The future of zines (long post!)

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!

Tags: zines
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