Print versus 'Net Publishing: One Very Biased Fan's View
by Lorelei Jones
A very long time ago, in another fannish life, I co-edited a fanzine in a fandom to which I no longer belong. I had acted as a beta reader and proofreader for fanzines before that, and so had a decent amount of experience in fanpublishing. Co-editing took a lot of work, and a lot of time, but I was very pleased with the end result. Health problems and other difficulties kept me from repeating the experience, and now I'm rather glad of that, because it led me into the often overlooked possibilities of the internet as a forum for fannish ezines and collections of select fanfiction.
I used to think the web was a second-rate publisher, at best, a place to stick your stuff until you felt confident to submit to zines. I also thought the greatest thing that could happen to an author was for an editor to request to put in print one of the stories she had up on the 'net. This is a very common viewpoint in fandom, I've noticed. It's slowly being questioned and ever rejected by certain people, but the overall concensus still seems to be that 'net-publishing is several steps lower than zine-publishing except in the accessibility arena.
This widely-held opinion has led to quite a few debates and even some open hostility. Those fans most involved in zine writing, editng, and publishing adopt a rather condescending attitude toward those fans who prefer working with the 'net, because thus far the track record of the two mediums would seem to support the argument that hardcopy print is better in so many ways. Those fans who conduct most of their activities online are often defensive in response, resentful of the implication that their preferred medium is somehow intrinsically inferior. Having been on both sides of the argument, I think they're both right. And both very, very wrong.
These days, I manage a site that collects the works of select authors who write slash fanfiction for a particular fandom. It is very much a work in progress, and while the site has only been up about a week, it has already undergone some slight but significant changes. Already, I've discovered at least one way that the 'net can, in fact, outstrip print zines in quality. If you see a mistake on a website, you can go back and fix it. If I didn't catch a mistake when editing a print zine, I was SOL until I did the second run, and the likelihood of another mistake creeping in while I fixed the first one, while not certain, was still there. And again, I wouldn't be able to fix that mistake until I did the third run. With a website, I can fix it in a day and the next person on the site will never know it was there.
Now, it is true that any idiot with an ISP and a keyboard can publish whatever they want on the 'net. While that is also true of any idiot with a keyboard and a nearby Kinko's, it cannot be denied it's easier to throw up a website on the internet than to do a print run of a fanzine. The immediate and accessible nature of the internet makes it more likely that crap will be published on there that would not have been in print. However, the difficulty and wait involved in print has not guaranteed that crap has not been published (I don't know of a single fandom that doesn't have at least one zine or zine series that is worthy of a Hall of Shame award), and I suspect it has prevented certain excellent works from being made publically available because the author, for whatever reason, couldn't publish her work. I know a few very excellent authors who wouldn't dream of publishing their stories in a zine, but happily put them up on the web. I don't know all their reasons, nor do I understand all the ones I do know, but there's denying that for these authors, the web is the only way to publish. And for me, who would not have had a chance to read their stories otherwise, that's a definite argument in the web's favor.
The main advantage print zines have over web publishing is the tradition of editing. A tradition that, given some of what I've seen offered on dealers' tables in past years, is not holding up as well as it might otherwise. There are some who argue this is a result of the web and its immediate nature, but I fail to see how that could be the case. If your readers have web published fandomt to occupy them while you work on your zine, it would make more sense to me that you would actually have more time to go over every detail, to offer a superior product to those who, having internet access for other reasons, no longer need to put out the money to buy fanzines in order to get their fannish fix.
No, the 'net isn't free (for most), but it also offers more than some fanfiction and fanart, no matter how beautifully rendered or formatted. The accessibility of fanfiction in a medium many consider a growing necessity is just a fringe benefit, easily justified when you also bank, communicate, research, trade, study, and take tests online. Fanzines remain an indulgence that is rather difficult to name as anything but indulgence, and I think that is where the oft-repeated lament about paying for fanzines comes from. If the overall scheme of things, they may be cheaper than your ISP, but they also don't offer the other services your ISP does. As for the extra filter of editing that is one of print's main claims to superiority, editing can happen online just as easily. Currently, there is no tradition to back the practice, but there are certain circles who are working to make it so.
Even the ongoing argument of the portability of print zines versus the web is losing weight in the growing availability of handheld planners and other devices, 'net access via cellphones and laptops, and the ever viable option of just printing a story out to take with you.
For myself, there are times when I just want the weight of paper in my hands, when I want pages to turn and the faint smell of ink to float up to me as I read. And there's nothing wrong with that. It does not mean, however, that the times when I want to curl up in front of my computer and browse my favorite archive hold any less meaning for me personally. It just means sometimes I have a preference for one format, and sometimes another. However, such personal preferences, no matter how strongly or widely shared, should not be used as the basis for assumptions made about the inherent superiority of one format over another. That would be like me saying mint chocolate chip ice cream is inferior to chocolate chip cookie dough simply because I like one better than the other. Without a rational explanation as to why I consider one inferior, it's nothing more than an opinion. Much as I like opinions, I fail to see how they can reasonably be considered grounds for claiming print superior to the internet or vice versa. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but as far as I can see, neither is more weighted on the advantages side.