John Hertz: Fanzines at the Eaton Collection

Flyer for John Hertz talk at Eaton Collection 

By John Hertz: Last month I gave a talk at the Eaton Collection on fanzines. Eaton is one of the Special Collections in the Rivera Library, Riverside campus, University of California; the largest publicly accessible holding of s-f in the world.

At the 2004 Worldcon, Fan Guest of Honor Jack Speer in presenting a Hugo Award said the fanzine remained the most distinctive product of the science fiction community. He knew; he’d been with us seventy years. It still is.

When Bruce Pelz died in 2002, Eaton already had Terry Carr’s and Rick Sneary’s fanzines. The Carr zines, thanks particularly to Robert Lichtman, were fairly well indexed. The Sneary zines were indexed. The Pelz zines had been beyond Bruce’s powers during his life. Early in 2009 Eaton finished a preliminary indexing. I had put in time – it’s only two hours’ travel by freeway or rail – bearing a hand.

To the uncivilized mind there are no interests but personal interests. If it doesn’t gore my ox I don’t care. If the book isn’t about me I won’t buy. The civilized mind is broader. My question for the day was, what good are fanzines to people who are not part of the s-f community, who may not read science fiction? Dr. Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections, had long been alert to it. What if drinking companions of King James’ translators had published amateur journals about the work, and the apple crop, and the latest songs? Kipling’s imagined glimpse in “Proofs of Holy Writ” is delightful, but its focus is close on the topic – as many people mistakenly think of fanzines. And, besides the resonating note of s-f, fanzines are a voluntary world of letters, where people write, and read, for love.

I had no trouble overflowing a display table with fanzines that come in my mail. Mike Glyer had kindly sent with me a few dozen of the latest File 770, which I gave everybody. In my audience were students, librarians and staff, and people who didn’t speak. Except the library folk, most had evidently never dreamed of such things. Those who knew s-f knew books, films, prozines. Why wasn’t there fiction? Why on paper? – as they wrote in paper notebooks. Why wasn’t there pay? – as they thought ahead to basketball. The usual. I didn’t mind at all. Two plus two made four last year too. We adjourned to fruit and cookies. None of File 770 was left behind.

Eaton had kindly made a flier which spoke of 50,000 Pelz fanzines. Was this a typo? We had long heard of 250,000. Actually there are about 70,000 – someone rounded down – but indeed something happened. Space. Pelz had a lot of fanzines, like many collectors had acquired others’ collections, and had never gone all through to organize the lot. A judicious retention of duplicates, the ideal policy, calls for comprehensive knowledge, beyond the powers of Eaton’s staff – I said Space, but it’s related to Time. Joe Siclari had always told Pelz he’d take anything Eaton didn’t. He and Dr. Conway confirmed this disposition. I asked Siclari “Have you provided for them in your will?” He changed the subject.

Francis Hamit: Expresso Book Machine

By Francis Hamit: Because I am a Lightning Source vendor for e-books I have received information on the Expresso Book Machine, their new “gee whiz” device for delivering print on demand (POD) books in retail shops and other venues. Not surprisingly, the vendor pricing per book and the discounts (55%) from retail are exactly the same.  The EBM is really just a specialized copy and binding machine and the operations manual they sent makes that plain. It also looks to be a high service, high maintenance, device.  The advantage is the very wide range of books that can be delivered, but what is really being sold here is convenience. You are more likely to see these things at 7/11 stores than regular bookstores and there it would make sense, as it would in airport bookstores with their limited space. Usually those store stock about a hundred titles. This would expand their choice to thousands of titles and give them the same margins. Actually better margins than the books on the shelves since they don’t pay shipping.

Why? Because the prices will be a lot higher. The POD books will be trade paperbacks while those on the shelf will be mostly new hardbounds. More customer choices should mean higher sales and those sales are not price sensitive. They are based on convenience. The EBM takes about ten minutes to produce a book. Ideally it looks like one off the shelf. Color cover, good binding and produced from the same digital files.  But it will cost a lot more.

As an example, my novel The Shenandoah Spy has a list price of $18.95. The discount is 55%; 40% to the bookstore and 15% to the distributor. To get the same actual payment with a POD version the price will have to go up to $24.95….and that’s about the same money to me that I get from the Kindle version which I price at $12.95 and sells for $9.99. But Amazon deals direct with publishers and customers. There is no one between in the distribution chain that has to get paid.

Based on my experience with e-books in the bookstore system, I don’t think that price is really something that motivates buyers, and the buyers that do consider it go for used copies that are long our of the publishers’ control. But books are not a fungible commodity. Each is unique. People pay extra, especially in the absence of alternative choices like used copies of the same book. offers those copies along with new ones, something for which they have been roundly criticized, but here’s the truth about their sales. They do two things very well: They harvest the low hanging fruit and they exploit the long tail. Current best sellers they move in volume feeding off the hype in the mainstream media. They are, after all, the only bookstore readily available for Rural America and the only retailer that also stocks all those low-velocity items that you can no longer find at the local drug or hardware store. They sell millions of books, but those best sellers aside, what they sell of any one title is a small fraction of what can be moved in the conventional brick and mortar spaces simply by placing the books on those shelves where people looking for new books can find it. Little wonder, then, that big publishers pay money to get on the best shelves.

Will the EBM level the playing field here? Perhaps. The ten minute waiting time is enough to kill the impulse buys. You really have to place the book in the customers’ hands to do that. But in limited choice environments it may work. Will it be a bonanza for any one title? Probably not, because the selection is no longer that limited and the customer base will divide its selections among many more choices, with current best-sellers being favored because they are on people’s individual “to read” lists.   

In other words, you might as well charge the higher price because you will have a channel much like, with great internal promotion, but no real external marketing power. Your book will be bought by people who don’t care about the price and you might as well get your usual royalty and publisher’s profit. Leave the discounting to the retailer who has a lot more margin to work with.  

[Note: This letter also was sent to Chaos Manor.]

Update 05/30/2009: Corrected “its” per Joe Christopher’s comment.

Niche Prices for Electronic Books?

While it’s said that information wants to be free, that’s not how it works if you want it delivered in the form of a book. But how much should that book cost when it doesn’t need to be printed? Kindle users resist paying more than $9.99, reports the New York Times, while publishers want higher price levels. In fact Amazon is currently subsidizing the purchase price of new books so it can offer them through Kindle, paying publishers the same $13 it pays them for a new hardcover title with a list price of $26.

Publishers are caught between authors who want to be paid high advances and consumers who believe they should pay less for a digital edition, largely because the publishers save on printing and shipping costs. But publishers argue that those costs, which generally run about 12.5 percent of the average hardcover retail list price, do not entirely disappear with e-books. What’s more, the costs of writing, editing and marketing remain the same.

“The concept that because a book is an e-book it should automatically be priced significantly lower than a paper book is one we don’t agree with,” said Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “What a consumer is buying is the content, not necessarily the format.”

[Thanks to John Mansfield for the link.]

Rockfeller Trial Continues

The Boston Herald is posting daily articles about the trial of Christian Gerharstreiter aka Clark Rockefeller on charges of kidnapping his daughter last July. The prosecution and defense have wrangled over numerous procedural issues, including what name Gerharstreiter will be called by the judge, leading to a peculiar decision:

The con man known internationally by a half dozen aliases – but mainly as Clark Rockefeller – will essentially have no name at his trial.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge today ruled that Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter – living in the United States under the name Clark Rockefeller since 1983 – will simply be know as “the defendant.”

Judge Frank Gaziano’s decision did not sit well with Rockefellers’s defense team, even though Gerhartsreiter, 48, a German national, is the name for which he was indicted on charges stemming from the July 27 kidnapping of his then 7-year-old daughter Reigh “Snooks” Boss during a supervised visit in the Back Bay while his ex-wife Sandra Boss of London waited at a Boston hotel.

Gerhartsreiter’s defense is that he was insane or suffering from a “mental defect” at the time. Several psychologists are testifying.

Prosecutors have agreed not to tell the jury that ‘Rockefeller’ is a “person of interest” in the 1985 disappearance of a California couple, LASFS members Linda Mayfield and John Sohus.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

Did You Blink and Miss the Future?

Whether your vision of the future dates back to Frank R. Paul’s covers for Amazing Stories, or the 1964 World’s Fair, it takes only a simple look out the window to see those dreams didn’t come true. However, CNN’s article “Why our ‘amazing’ science fiction future fizzled” is much more entertaining than most articles that begin with this pedestrian comparison. Author John Blake reminds everyone how many of these technical marvels were actually invented and why not using them as envisioned has been a good thing:

The jet pack, though, has never really taken off, Wilson says. The problem is its practical application. While a rocket belt could propel a screaming human to 60 mph in seconds, its fuel lasted for only about half a minute, “which led to more screaming,” Wilson says.

The military couldn’t find a useful application for it either. A soldier with a jet pack might look cool, but he’s an easy target. Nor could a jet pack be of use to ordinary people who wanted to avoid rush-hour traffic, Wilson says. Jet-packing hordes could transform the skies into an aerial demolition derby, with air rage and drunk drivers turned into wobbly human torpedoes.

Knit Classic Trek Meerkats

Knit Classic Trek Meerkat 

What word describes these 7-inch-tall hand-knitted meerkats in Star Trek uniforms? How about — Irresistable!

There’s Meerkat Scotty:

Scotty (Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott) wears Engineering Red and carries a tricorder over his shoulder, ready to scan for Dilithium Crystals.

And Meerkat Kirk:

Jim wears Command Gold and carries his old-school communicator, twiddling away with its little buttons. You’d have thought they’d be through with “tuning” by now?

And thought-provoking Meerkat Uhura:

Uhura wears Engineering Red (although I’ve never been able to work out why. Surely she should wear Science Blue?) and has her ear piece firmly in place. I reckon she wears it in her left ear because that’s the one that is usually in shot. She also has big earrings, of course, and has darker fur than the average meerkat.

Next question: What word describes their $35 price tag?

[Via James Hay.]

2009 Mythopoeic Awards Finalists

The Mythopoeic Society has issued a press release announcing the finalists for the 2009 Mythopoeic Awards. The winners will be announced during Mythcon XL, to be held July 17-20 in Los Angeles.  

    Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature

  • Carol Berg, Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone (Roc)
  • Daryl Gregory, Pandemonium (Del Rey)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia (Harcourt)
  • Patricia A. McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head (Ace)
  • Gene Wolfe, An Evil Guest (Tor)
    Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature

  • Kristin Cashore, Graceling (Harcourt Children’s Books)
  • Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins)
  • Diana Wynne Jones, House of Many Ways (HarperCollins)
  • Ingrid Law, Savvy (Dial)
  • Terry Pratchett, Nation (HarperCollins)
    Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies

  • Gavin Ashenden, Charles Williams: Alchemy and Imagination (Kent State, 2008)
  • Veryln Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson, eds. Tolkien on Fairy-stories: Expanded Edition, with Commentary and Notes (HarperCollins, 2008)
  • John Rateliff, The History of the Hobbit, Part One: Mr. Baggins; Part Two: Return to Bag-end (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
  • Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford, 2008)
  • Elizabeth A. Whittingham, The Evolution of Tolkien’s Mythology: A Study of the History of Middle-earth (McFarland, 2008)
    Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies

  • Charles Butler, Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper (Children’s Literature Association & Scarecrow Press, 2006)
  • Jason Marc Harris, Folklore and the Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (Ashgate, 2008)
  • Farah Mendlesohn, Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2008)
  • Marek Oziewicz, One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeleine L’Engle and Orson Scott Card (McFarland, 2008)
  • Richard Carl Tuerk, Oz in Perspective: Magic and Myth in the Frank L. Baum Books (McFarland, 2007)

The categories are explained in the press release:

The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature is given to the fantasy novel, multi-volume, or single-author story collection for adults published during 2008 that best exemplifies the spirit of the Inklings. Books are eligible for two years after publication if not selected as a finalist during the first year of eligibility. Books from a series are eligible if they stand on their own; otherwise, the series becomes eligible the year its final volume appears. The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature honors books for younger readers (from Young Adults to picture books for beginning readers), in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia. Rules for eligibility are otherwise the same as for the Adult Literature award. The question of which award a borderline book is best suited for will be decided by consensus of the committees.

The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies is given to books on Tolkien, Lewis, and/or Williams that make significant contributions to Inklings scholarship. For this award, books first published during the last three years (2006-2008) are eligible, including finalists for previous years. The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies is given to scholarly books on other specific authors in the Inklings tradition, or to more general works on the genres of myth and fantasy. The period of eligibility is three years, as for the Inklings Studies award.

[Via Sfawardswatch.]

Challenger 29

The latest issue of Guy Lillian III’s fine genzine Challenger can be read online at Guy’s twenty-ninth issue serves up a long list of delights:

Beautiful and funny cover by Alan White, articles by Cheryl Morgan, Rich Lynch, Mike Resnick, Joe Green, Warren Buff, Steve Silver, many others. Our theme this issue is sports, but there’s much else, and we hope you’ll enjoy it. (Buff’s op-ed on “The Graying of Fandom” is an important piece. Read! Respond!)

JumpCon’s Story Ends with Chapter 7

Shane Senter, already charged with felony theft in New Hampshire for his handling of JumpCon, the series of celebrity-studded conventions planned in several cities, now has filed in federal court for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection from actors and facilities who claim he owes them more than $8 million.

Chapter 7 leads to a complete liquidation and, as Airlock Alpha explains, the creditors aren’t likely to get much:

The court filings reveal some interesting aspects of Senter. Over the last three years, he has received nearly $10,500 in disability payments through Social Security, making about $700 a month in SSDI and food stamps.

He also lists minimal assets including five gaming chairs valued at $125, a pair of virtual reality glasses at $120, various games and a gaming system at $588 and a $120 projector.

Senter lists only $1,900 in total assets, of which $1,300 is claimed exempt under federal bankruptcy laws.

His biggest debt is to Hilton Hotels Corp. for $4.6 million after losing an arbitration case against them. He also owes $2.5 million to various hotels, including $345,150 to the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa in Montgomery, Ala., and $10,000 to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers where he was supposed to host his first JumpCon.

Airlock Alpha’s article also names all the celebrities’ with claims against Senter.

Senter currently is free on bail.

[Via Lloyd Penney and Smofs.]