Reformatted very slightly in September 2005 to break up some huge paragraphs.
written May 27, 2000
A woman has recently been advertising gen "e-zines" in her fandom. She's charging $5 to $20 for these collections of stories, depending on which one you order. You send her a check, she e-mails you the stories in either .txt or .doc, depending on which you specify. That's it -- e-mail files. No hardcopy, no covers, no binding, not even a disk. Just e-mail, like you could get for free on any of hundreds of fic lists.
The idea of anyone being paid for electronic stories in a fandom context bothers me tremendously.
On one particular list I'm on, this came up for discussion. What I got in the thread is that there are those who feel it's perfectly ethical for a fan to make a profit off of fandom. This woman (and anyone else who decides to go this route) should go right ahead and charge for her e-zine if she wants, without a quibble from anyone else: it's up to others to decide to buy it or not. Capitalism at work.
I vehemently disagree. I don't equate fandom with a capitalist society. Sure, some people charge for what they do--in order to cover their costs of materials. When you pay money for a paper zine you're paying for the costs of making printouts for editing, printouts of the final master copy, long-distance phone calls to authors to talk out editing passes, shipping manuscripts back and forth (not everyone has email, after all), copies of the master, binding and covers for the copies, etc. Electronic fic has no materials cost associated with it.
The underlying concept of fandom is sharing. Want to borrow some of my zines? Cool. Need floor space to crash on? I've got some. Need good vibes for something? I'm there. Are we at a con and you don't have enough money to go out to lunch? Don't worry, I'll cover it.
Ask con organizers how much money they make for all their incredibly hard work of organizing a con. Then wait ten minutes until they've finally run out of breath from laughing and help pick them up off the floor.
Ask zine eds and zine pubs how much profit they make off their efforts; ditto. (Any reputable zine pub will take any profit and plow it back into the next zine, which maybe won't sell as many copies and will need the boost to keep the pubber from going under.)
Ask people who organize local get-togethers how much money they get to cover wear and tear on their houses and tvs and vcrs.
Most people who charge for things in fandom aren't making a profit, they're trying to cover their costs so they can keep making or doing whatever it is they make or do, so they can keep sharing their efforts with fans at large. No one charges money to cover time and effort, because those things are what make fans fans. We all devote time and effort to fandom to one degree or another--and we each choose the degree for ourselves.
Instead of being a capitalist society, we're a society of volunteers, if you will -- or a commune. This one volunteers to run a list; that one volunteers to run an archive; this one volunteers to write; that one volunteers to beta/edit; the one over there volunteers to make dupes of tapes; this one here volunteers to be one of the "backbone" posters on a discussion list to keep things moving along; these over here volunteer to provide feedback on various things; this one volunteers to run a con; that one volunteers to run art at the art show; this one volunteers to keep a songvid show running smoothly; that one volunteers to keep a detailed database of zines or stories or art or songvids, so that all the information is in one place, and sends copies to anyone who wants one. Each contributes to fandom in her own way, according to her own abilities and preferences--each looks to see what she can give to fandom, rather than what she can take from it.
The idea that there are people professing to be fans, and part of the fan community, looking at me and thinking, "I wonder how much money I can get out of her?" is disturbing. The fandom that I know and love contains people that look at me and think, "I wonder what we have in common that we can talk about?"
Fanfic, while not the driving force behind fandom (that would be the shows--and lord knows we all seem to find plenty to talk about besides fic), is nevertheless a major part of fandom. The feeling that I've always gotten about it is that it should be as accessible to as many fans as possible, not the property of a favored few who happen to have lots of disposable income. It's a staple, not a luxury. Staples should be affordable for everyone.
Is it ethical for a writer to ask for payment for her work? In the mundane world, absolutely. In fandom, no. After all, if she deserves to be paid for the simple fact of devoting time to her fandom in her own particular way, then everyone who devotes time to the fandom should be paid.
Each listadmin should be paid a competitive rate for the time she puts in every day (so, maybe, every person in fandom coughs up a nickel per day per list that she's on. I'm on about 30 lists, which means about $1.50/day, 365 days a year -- or $547.50/year for the privilege of being a member of mailing lists that interest me).
Each archivist, likewise (a nickel per hit, maybe?).
Con organizers (tacking an additional $25 onto every membership ought to provide enough money to pay at least a few of the people involved in organizing a con--of course, that would put con memberships up over $60 in most cases, which would mean even fewer people could afford, but such is life in a capitalist society).
Art Show runners and auctioneers, many of whom never see any part of a con outside the art show itself, certainly deserve to be paid for their efforts. Vidders should up the price of their vids to reflect the hours and days and weeks and months that went into making the vids.
Regular posters on lists -- the ones who provide the backbone of the list discussions -- should get a fee for their trouble. Everyone who writes essays about fandom should be paid for it.
People who beta-read or edit stories (which can at times take longer than it took to write the stories) also need recompense, of course -- which will jack up the price an author needs to charge for her stories, since she has to pay her beta/editor out of pocket.
People who've spent hours and days and weeks building databases of zines and stories should charge a fee every time they answer an "I'm looking for a story..." question to cover the cost of the time and effort spent.
And, of course, the writing itself. Figure right now a zine that costs $20 and sells 100 copies breaks even. It's a 180-page zine, and the fairest way to pay authors is by the page --let's not even get into the fact that a good zine pub will format a zine in almost half the space as some others, thus badly warping this pay scale.
No, wait, I take that back. Let's consider that, and change the pay scale to by the word. Fairer all around. (Except for writers who then start padding their stories in order to be paid more, of course.) This hypothetical zine has 150,000 words in it, and fandom as a whole decides that a penny a word is fair payment (yes, a penny, which by any capitalist standard is incredibly low). That means the publisher has to come up with an additional $1,500 from those 100 copies -- or IOW has to tack on $15 to the original price, making this zine cost $35. Lots of fans right now can't even afford the original $20. Lots more won't be able to afford the $35.
With fewer fans buying zines, cost margins are going to get even worse -- if publishers are only selling 50 copies at $35, they're losing money rather badly, and have to up their prices. At this point, they have to tack $30 onto the original price, pushing the zine's price up to $50. As for web-published stories, maybe an author could figure out a way to tie her story links into PayPal -- every time you hit a link, you deposit anywhere from a quarter to five bucks, depending on the length of the story and how much time she put into it, into her PayPal account (more if she got the story beta'd, and much more if she had more than one beta).
All of a sudden, fandom's getting pretty damned expensive, isn't it? But boy, it'll sure be a lot more fun and friendly and open-handed for everyone once all this happens...