A Change of Heart

For a long time I have argued that there is no point in having an online version of a zine. For a while with Carnel I tried posting articles and issues and I found that I did not get any response to the work I was publishing. By comparison the paper version of the zine generated a steady stream of letters and emails. When the work was freely available people seemed to not value it and consumed it in a weird, disjoint way.

It was a disheartening experience and I decided I wasn’t going to continue with it and instead focussed on the paper version of the zine.

The practicalities of the media mattered too. A paper zine could be taken and read anywhere, passed on to friends or interested parties, the electronic version limited to those with internet access. I still find it fun to write a small zine whenever there is a gathering of roleplaying people, sharing my thinking and the kind of games we have been playing recently.

Just recently I have been revising my opinion though. Nothing stands still and there have been changes to my personal life and in the way the web and media have been evolving. The most striking macro trend is that paper media really is declining. This isn’t just obscure zines on niche topics, this is mainstream newspapers and magazines. Content is migrating to the web as the place for breaking events (Twitter) and researching old news (Google).

The Internet is also becoming ubiquitous. We’re a long way off having Google enable free wireless internet in every major city but the breakthrough of mobile internet with the iPhone and clones means that you really can read a website on the bus. Add in eBook readers or the eventual Apple Tablet and the paper zine is no longer uniquely portable.

The personal side of the equation is interesting too. Once upon a time I had a job I was good at and I worked 9 to 5:30 and I could spend hours working on a zine. Then I got caught up in the whirlwind of the global economy and ended up having a job, that while more interesting and challenging, that consumes a lot more time and mental energy. I have always had diverse interests and these are also time consuming.

Recently I realised that I was spending about the same amount of time writing as I have always done but now that time was getting shared across blogs, micro-blogs, social networking and review sites. Rather than write 200 words on the future of roleplaying I was instead writing a restaurant review or chatting about a book on Facebook.

A paper zine requires a dedicated amount of time to write. The 40 page issues require a lot of material and a sustained effort to have anything of value. So I tried to cut down to 16 page issues, which worked for a while. But now I find that if I get blocked on a piece I can have 12 pages of perfectly good stuff to go and an obstinate three pages that I need to finish a complete issue.

During our gaming recently we have been using wikis (and even more recently Google Wave) to write up our games and record the background and deeds of the characters. This is the kind of stuff that used to be the bedrock of the zine but having written it up collectively is there any value in reproducing it in a zine?

The Paper Zine remains the Record

I think there is, it is Carnel that has the ISSN and where copies get lodged with the British Library to form a record of what was said and thought in the past. How many of the original roleplaying zines have been lost now?

No electronic zine is likely to survive as long as the paper artefacts that have already survived in our culture. A paper zine is still necessary and important.

My current thinking is that it is the interplay between the electronic and paper zine that is important. The immediacy and ability to revise, edit and refine of the electronic version with the ability of the paper zine to record and share.

I also want to try and use my time better, instead of holding onto everything I want to try and be able to have a medium where I can build up ideas in smaller slices that are less demanding.

Thee Rapture is meant to be an electronic zine that contains the same kind of articles as carnel but which serves as a precursor. I want to be able to put stuff out, still organised in issues, on to the web and then refine it into something that goes out into a paper zine.

This experiment might fail like the original publishing of articles from the zine, my circumstances may change again. But this is something I feel I need to experiment with now.