Here Today, Zine Tomorrow
by Lucy Gillam
I have never bought a zine.
This is not a political or ideological statement. I have nothing against zines, and have the deepest respect for the tradition and history they represent, and their role in the fannish community.
No, my reasons are purely practical. Being a grad student/TA/now adjunct faculty at a large state university, my funds are, to say the least, limited. $30 in my budget is a lot of money. It's two months' food for my cats. It's lunch and a matinee with my sweetie. It's a Bahktin reader, a Batman compilation, and a trashy paperback from Amazon. I just don't see spending that money on something I get for free on the net.
Again, I'm not judging anyone who does spend their money on zines. I understand that there are things (print medium, print format, artwork) that make zines worth spending money on. However, since I don't mind reading on the screen (sometimes prefer it, in fact), and am not really into fan art (again, just a preference), zines just aren't something I need in the same way I need cat food, lunch with my sweetie, and Bahktin/Batman.
Naturally, I utter noises of frustration when I read advertisements for zine stories by my favorite writers, but my choice is my choice, and I accept the consequences of it. I certainly would never fault a writer for choosing to publish in zines. Whine about it, maybe, but not fault them :).
You know there's a "however" coming, don't you? You know I'm not writing a column about how I'm all fine and dandy with something. So, I'll get on with it.
However, what I do fault people for is the practice of, in one way, shape, or form, making stories available on-line and then making all or part of it available only in zines. In some cases, as when stories are pulled from the net to be published in a zine, I'm just puzzled. In others, as when sequels to net stories are pubbed in zines, or a work in progress is pulled from the net and finished in a zine, I feel outright bait-and-switched.
We'll take these in reverse order, progressing down the Lucy Outrage Scale.
In general, taking a work-in-progress that has been posted to the 'net and pulling it to post the completed story in a zine is Not Done. Most fans, at least in my experience, would consider this an exercise in bad faith. I've only seen it done a few times, but each time has irritated me, even when the story wasn't worth reading for free. I always regard reading a WIP as a "caveat lector" situation: I know full well that I may never see the end of the story. And if a story is stalled because the writer gets swamped with RL, or just runs out of steam...well, you pays your money, and you takes your chances. But for a writer to finish the story and not make it available in the same venue in which she started it is just unfair.
Now, I should add that if a writer posts something on a web page with full warning that the complete version is likely to end up zined, that's another matter entirely. Fair warning is fair warning, and it puts the burden firmly on the reader.
Zining the sequel to a complete story is a little trickier. After all, it's not as if the net reader hasn't gotten an ending, a story that is whole in and of itself. If issues were left hanging in previous stories, I'd regard it more along the lines of a WIP, but even then, as long as the reader wasn't left with a cliffhanger, it's harder to justify outrage. After all, no one really got upset at having to pay to see the X-Files on the big screen, and that was actually part of a larger story arc.
Still, I always feel a little bit like the kid in an anti-drug commercial, who gets the first hit for free, but of course has to pay (and pay and pay) for the rest. I can't claim it's really unethical, as with finishing a WIP in a zine, but it does strike me as less than considerate to the first story's readership. As often as we are reminded that zines are critical because not all fans have web access (a good point, to be sure), it's worth remembering that not all fans can afford zines.
Side note: None of this, btw, touches on the effects on zine readers, who spend money for a story that may be missing significant back story. If the story does stand well and truly complete on it's own, it's less objectionable, but for a reader to have to track down the previous parts to something seems like something of a unfair burden on the reader.
Which brings me to the bottom of the Lucy Outrage Scale, to a practice that less outrages me than just puzzles me: pulling complete stories from the net to publish them in zines, and keeping those stories unavailable during the print run.
Can someone explain the reasoning behind this? I mean, really: I don't get this.
I can think of only three reasons to put fiction already published on the net into zines: to make it available to those without net access, to make them available in print format, and to add artwork.
None of these necessitate making the story unavailable in its original net version.
Perhaps the writer has made significant revisions, and doesn't want the "lesser" version out there. Understandable. But why not publish that on the web? Even without the artwork, in .html or .txt format. Why keep the story away from net readers during the print run? The only reason I can think of is that, in general, most readers will not pay for a story they could read for free.
I understand that zine publishers need to sell a certain number of copies to recoup their costs. But if the only reason to pull the story from the net is to get purchases from people who would not have bought the zine if the story were available on-line, well, I have some difficulty with the ethics of this.
Granted, I may be a little hypocritical, here. I don't question the practice of publishing old zine stories to the net a year or more after the print run, and perhaps it is unfair for me to get for free something others have paid for. But taking something that has been available for free for months or even years and then sticking a price tag on it strikes me as ethically questionable at best. Yes, you get the formatting, artwork, etc, but for those who don't need those things, why pull the story from the net?
So while I'm not outraged by the practice, when I see "currently available in zine format from <something> Press," it makes me more than a little leery of those publishers, and of the author. Now, since I don't buy zines, I suppose the publishers don't care if I'm leery of them, but you know if I am, others will be too, maybe others who do buy zines.
And that can't be good.
I have never bought a zine. That might change some day. I'm not completely opposed to the idea, and if ever a zine came along that sparked my desire enough, I'd probably scrimp and save for it. But I would definitely have to trust the publisher, and the things I've talked about here would not be conducive to that trust.
Just something to think about.