Written in response to far too many people using the argument that because net fans don't pay for stories, they have no right to say they don't like the stories for any reason whatsoever.
written May 2000
I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say that.
I disagree with it on pretty much every level.
So let's start with the "netfic is free" idea. In currency terms, it isn't free for me, and never has been. By the time I had bought my computer, my monitor, my printer, a cart to put all of that on, a chair to sit at the cart to use it all, ink cartridges for the printer, paper for the printer, disks to save things, diskholders to hold the disks, binders to store the printouts... well, I was looking at about $3,500 for the setup. Plus $20/month for my ISP. That's how much I had to pay, and in part am still paying, for all this free netfic.
But that's different, you say? That's just paying for the medium and for the transportation (modem lines), and the fic itself is actually free, because I don't pay the author anything.
It's free exactly the same way zines are free. The money I spend on a zine goes to pay for the medium -- the paper, the ink or toner, the binding -- and for the transportation (USPS, most often, rather than modem), and the fic itself is free, because I don't pay the authors a penny.
And the next argument: But, but... some people really do get netfic for free -- they don't pay for their access -- and nobody gets zines for free! There is a difference!
Bull. Even if an individual person doesn't pay for her net access, someone is paying for it -- her parents, her school, her employer, her town. Someone. Bully for her for managing to not have to foot the bill herself, but that doesn't make it free (or do you think that all those meals you ate as a kid, and the clothes you got as a kid, were free, because you never shelled out a penny for them?). And plenty of people read zines for 'free' -- they borrow friends' zines, or they get trib copies, or they go to cons and spend hours in the reading room.
And currency aside, there's the most precious commodity of all: time. My time. My incredibly limited leisure time. I don't have 15 hours a day to read fanfic, blithely skimming and deleting until I get to something I like; on a good day, I have maybe 20 minutes. Maybe. If I give every story a 2-minute chance, and there are 10 lousy stories at the top of the pile, there goes my only reading time for the day. Something that uses up all my time is going to piss me off more than something that uses up all my money; I can get more money, but the time is gone forever.
Then there's the second part of the statement: "so stop complaining".
Personally, I feel perfectly comfortable complaining about free stuff. And I have a hard time taking a media fan seriously who says things like "don't complain about free stuff". I mean, I know I complain about the quality of shows on (US) network television, even though I don't pay so much as a dime for them. (Before you say, "well, someone pays for them" -- let me point you to the above section, where people use the argument that if someone else pays for access, netfic is free. Network television is free in the same way -- and for most of us, it's a lot more free). I was under the impression that other fen did the same thing. I certainly remember a lot of bitter, angry, vocal fans when Richie was killed on Highlander; I don't remember a single person posting anywhere and saying, "now, c'mon -- it's free, so we shouldn't be complaining, we should just accept it and be grateful." There wasn't a lot of that at the end of Forever Knight, either. Or when Blair got left for dead next to a fountain. Or when Napoleon and Illya were brought back as people who hadn't seen each other in 15 years. Or... well, any number of times, really. Even when really bad things don't happen, people complain about free television. We complain that there's nothing good on. We complain that two good shows are scheduled opposite each other. We complain that there aren't enough women on television. We complain that the women on television are getting in the way of the slash.
That's what we DO. We bitch and moan and complain about what they're doing. We dissect plots and dialogue and body language, we watch for poor editing, we curse to the heavens when the reception flickers out in the middle of a scene.
It happens with more than television, too. I complain about radio show formats, even though I don't pay for them. I complain about the weather. If the food at the company picnic is no good, I complain about it. If I have a free pass to a museum and I see a painting or sculpture I don't like, I'm probably going to tell whoever I'm with that I don't like it.
My tastes don't shut off just because I didn't hand someone cash directly.
But let's say, just for the sake of argument, that I agree not to complain about free stuff, particularly netfic, any more. Let's take a look at the latter part of this: "now, c'mon -- it's free, so we shouldn't be complaining, we should just accept it and be grateful."
Ummm -- why?
Because it's a gift? Well, first off, I don't agree with that idea -- to tell you the truth, the idea that there's someone out there writing stories to give as "gifts" to people she doesn't know really bothers me in a weird way. I mean, it makes me wonder why on earth she would. Second, "it's the thought that counts" is meant to apply to gifts that were thoughtful but that you just don't like, not to gifts that were picked up off a clearance rack at a rummage sale and stuffed into a plastic bag for wrapping. Third, who says we have to be grateful for gifts, anyway? If a total stranger walked up to me on the road and gave me a broken pen, saying, "Here, it's a gift for you" and then walked away, I gotta tell ya, I don't think I'd be overcome with gratitude.
I am not asking anyone to write stories. And I am not going to be automatically grateful that someone decided to type one day. If people want to write, fine -- but that's their choice. Leave me out of it. If what they want is my gratitude, or my praise, they're going to have to earn it.
I'm grateful for good stories. And I'm happy to pay to be able to have access to them, on the net or in a zine. That's about it.
Well, no, I take that back. I'm grateful in a weird way for really bad stories, too; there are days when I just plain need to laugh, and those help.