Return of the Paper Fanzine?

At P-Con over the weekend we spent two whole panels discussing small press issues. One of the panels was mainly about books, the other mainly about magazines, but both covered much of the same ground. Part of that discussion involved the rapidly changing nature of printing and distribution. Print-on-Demand no longer means badly printed books made at vast cost for people who can’t get published any other way. These days it means well printed books that make economic sense for people with short print runs (that is, not in the thousands). Perhaps crucially it also means avoiding international shipping.

In the short fiction magazines panel someone said that it would not be long before there would be services around the world that you could just send a PDF to and they’d print and ship your magazine to local customers. “Not long” in this case turned out to be around 48 hours. Or indeed rather less than that, because the service must have been available for some time for the NYT to find out about it.

MagCloud is a service provided by Hewlett Packard that bills itself as the YouTube of magazines. You send them a PDF, they list your magazine as in stock. It costs you nothing. Anyone can then order a copy of the magazine from MagCloud. Right now the base cost of 20c/page plus shipping is a little steep, and I suspect (the details are not clear if you don’t sign up) that publishers have to charge more than that to make a profit. But you know the cost will come down as the service becomes more popular.

I joked in the title that it could mean the return of paper fanzines. I don’t actually think the service is cheap enough for that yet, though someone like Bruce Gillespie may find it attractive. Where I do think that there is a potential business case is with small press magazines. The sales pitch would go something like this: yes, you can read it for free on the web; yes, you can download a PDF and print it yourself, but if you really want something glossy and physical then order it from MagCloud. And it doesn’t matter if the magazine is produced in Ireland, or Australia, if the customer is near a MagCloud print shop in the USA.

Did I say glossy? This is what the MagCloud web site has to say about production quality:

MagCloud uses HP Indigo technology, so every issue is custom-printed when it’s ordered. Printing on demand means no big print runs, which means no pre-publishing expense. Magazines are brilliant full color on 80lb paper with saddle-stitched covers. They look awesome.

You know, it is almost tempting to go back end produce illustrated and nicely laid out PDFs of every issue of Emerald City just because I can.

Thanks to Anne Harris for the tip.

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