Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Two)

I remember my older Doctor Who, Star Trek and other general SF and telefantasy fanzines from the pre-computer DTP era, and the difference between those old zines and the modern variety is startling. The contents of those old zines were amazing, but the production values were, understandably, universally low, dodgy typewritten and photocopied efforts, the text and pictures so faint that they could often be barely made out.

The computer/DTP revolution of the late-1980’s and early-1990’s gave rise to a modern generation of zines where even the bog standard A5 and A4 variety are far more professional and classy looking than the older zines. I know that many older fans wallow in nostalgia and bemoan the demise of the old cut ‘n’ paste photocopied zines, but I myself (despite usually being one of the nostalgic mob) much prefer the more modern DTP-produced zines. In fact, I would love to see some of those classic old pre-DTP zines reissued in modern DTP format (not just scans, totally DTPed), even if only as PDFs.

But fanzines, the printed, paper variety, have always been expensive and bothersome to produce. The computer/DTP revolution of the last twenty or so years may have resulted in a quantum leap in production quality for even the humble A5 fanzine, and given all zine editors the ability to produce zines of at least semi-professional standard. But the one weak link in the production chain still remains, largely unchanged since the bad old days of the 80s – the cost of printing.

Printing has always been a major source of grief and expense for zine publishers. Most printers deal in print runs of thousands or tens of thousands, and the more copies printed, the cheaper the cost of each individual copy. But fanzine editors deal with tiny print runs, maybe two or three hundred zines at most. This makes printing individual zines extremely expensive, relatively speaking. And once this is done, the zine editor also has to deal with the trouble and expense of mailing out a couple of hundred fanzines. A guy (or girl) has to be pretty dedicated to do this on a regular basis.

Since the second half of the 1990s, the explosive growth and widespread accessibility of the internet has given the vast majority of former and new zine creators a much easier and cheaper option. Many of these creative types have given up on printed zines (sadly, but understandably) and turned instead to producing online fanzines. Websites and blogs are now, for most editors and readers, the online equivalent of classic fanzines. They are certainly a lot easier and cheaper to produce, cutting out altogether the problematic and expensive final stages of dealing with print shops and postal distribution.

Except for the most dedicated tradzine publishers, most zine editors no longer go to the expense and trouble of doing it the old way, printing and posting out a small (but relatively expensive) print run of a couple of hundred zines. Why bother, when making the zine an online edition instead is much easier, has a potential audience of thousands, rather than hundreds, and costs virtually nothing to produce (financially), except for the time and effort?

Some other editors have taken a “half-way” approach. Rather than translating the fanzine to a full website or blog format, they produce their zines as PDFzines, which are then made downloadable from their websites. PDF is a print format, used almost universally by the modern printing industry in the publication of magazines and books. An electronic PDF zine is the exact equivalent of the printed zine, except on a computer screen. Actually it often looks better, since you have the full-color, highest quality version of the zine. Most zine editors simply cannot afford to have their zines printed out in colour, on high-quality, glossy stock, and instead resort to black & white (even if the on-screen version of the zine is in colour), and cheaper paper.

For some people, zines in high-resolution PDF format are extremely useful if they actually want to print out the fanzine themselves, on a colour inkjet printer, and on nice, high-quality, glossy paper. Some of us more obsessive collectors even like to collect entire runs of their electronic/PDFzines. Maybe not quite as nice as a collection of paper zines, but a bit more coherent and less disjointed than a bunch of webpages. 🙂

To Be Continued…