E-Zines vs. Dead Tree Zines: the more things change…

I have been producing fanzines off and on since 1976, shortly after encountering science fiction fandom and this particular aspect of that hobby interest. As anybody who has ever pubbed (that is fanspeak for “published”) an ish (“issue”), the life-blood of fanzines is the letter of comment (here’s another fanspeak term: loc, or LoC, depending on personal preference). As fanzines over the course of the last few years have shifted more and more into electronic forms, an interesting trend has developed, and it concerns the tradition of loccing: writing letters of comment to fanzines received in the mail.

This is a long-held, and treasured, tradition of fanzine fandom. The letter column of a fanzine is usually where most of the “action” occurs as fans natter back and forth, commenting on articles and artwork that appear in that fanzine, eventually even commenting on letters appearing in the previous issue as well. In this way the grand communication network of science fiction fanzines began back in the 1930s, and continues to this day.

Before I began pubbing my own ish in 1976 – a sort-of clubzine called This House – I was writing locs to fanzines such as Rune, the clubzine of the Minnesota Science Fiction Society, Inc., and Terry Hughes’ Mota., plus others. It was really neat to not only see my own name in print, but other fans wrote locs about my locs, then I started getting even more fanzines in the mail. That kind of egoboo (fanspeak for “ego boost”) gave me the oomph to start up This House. The cool thing about doing that meant I started getting locs sent to me about MY fanzine, and other faneditors sent their fanzines in trade, so I sent mine to them, and….

So it went. That cycle is the great conversation of fandom that still babbles on. The problem here in the not-so-early 21st century is that more and more fanzines are produced online, and these e-zines, as they are called (electronic fanzines), usually receive fewer letters of comment than paper fanzines receive. As someone who once produced paper fanzines for 13 years (1976-1989) and e-zines for 10 years now (since 2003), I do notice the difference. This discrepancy has been a discussion topic in fanzines now for a few years. In fact, many fans reading this can spot this trend very easily, provided you get paper zines like Challenger, Alexiad, Banana Wings, Trap Door, Chunga, and Reluctant Famulus in the mail. Compare their lettercolumns to those of the purely electronic fanzines Drink Tank, Exhibition Hall, Revenant, and my own Askance. There is a distinct difference in the number of letters published between the paper zines and the e-zines.

Some theories have been expounded as to why this is. The most common idea is that since e-zines are essentially free to view at the website efanzines.com, readers don’t feel as compelled to write a letter as they do when they get a physical fanzine – the dead tree zines – in the mail. That makes sense to me. What worries electronic faneditors of today is that they have no idea if people are really *reading* their zines or not. The concern is that if an e-zine gets no response, then the grand conversation of fanzines begun back in the early 1930s may come to an inglorious end. And that would truly be sad.

Then again, as communication technology changes, so does fanac in all of its forms. Blogs, listservs, social media, and so on, are all contemporary forms of of the conversation of fandom. So we are still talking to each other; it is only that the means of communicating are different than before.

The more things change…