Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Read all about it

In this Reason Online piece, former Tar Heel Jesse Walker notes the migration of zines to public library stacks -- and plugs this humble blog, which began as a zine several millennia ago.

The brief history is here. Deregulator was my second stab at publishing. The first, titled The Free Citizen, was a spiffier, tabloid-style rag produced by a handful of libertarians (including me) in the Research Triangle Park circa 1985. We laid it out on a Mac Plus -- which cost several grand back in those days, and featured a whopping 128k of RAM. Since the OS chewed up 99k of the RAM, you had to save everything to a floppy.

We spat Microsoft Word copy from a laser printer, used paste-up sheets and photocopies and rubber glue; desktop publishing software was not available to mere mortals in those days. Production costs were microscopic; the newsprint to run 10,000 copies of a 16-page tab ran less than 100 bucks, I think. The plates and ink probably cost more than the paper. And since the variable costs were so low, we hoped to sell enough ads to local businesses so that we might actually make this a commercial operation. Didn't happen. Plus, we lived in different cities and had real jobs, making it tough to coordinate a schedule. If I remember correctly, only two issues of The Free Citizen resulted. But I got the bug, and Deregulator soon emerged (with plenty of help from the folks who made The Free Citizen possible). It was published on an Atari 520(!!!), which cost something like $1,500 rather than 5 large. An able assist from font designer Ralph Selsor and a switch to bond paper, Kinko's copying and delivery by USPS (along with a modest subscription fee) kept that publication around for a dozen issues or so.

Jesse's article brought back some fond memories. And in comparing zines with blogs, he's surely right about this:

But the Web will never completely displace the printed zine. An active website is supposed to be updated constantly; if you don't post to your blog for a month, it looks abandoned. A zine can appear only once or twice a year and still feel fresh. It's a series of completed projects, not a perpetually open-ended enterprise -- a different medium with different strengths, even as it draws on the same do-it-yourself spirit. As long as paper, staples, and Kinko's survive, it will too.

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