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an article by Randall Landers
originally printed in Sensor Readings 1, April 1984

In the beginning there was the clay tablet, and it was good. You could write words on it and it would stay there as long as no one broke the tablet. Unfortunately, to carry a novel from one place to another, it would take several days work of loading and loading several wagons, and you could still end up breaking a tablet en route. And then came papyrus, and it was better. You could write words on it, and then carry them easily over great distances. It wasn't too terribly permanent (unless one took great care), but it was all that could be achieved for centuries. To make a copy of a book, one had to hire a person to transcribe the book by hand. If it were a novel-length work, it could take years to make a copy of it.

After several more centuries, the printing press was developed. Poor Ol' Gutenberg had to use metal ingots with characters inscribed in reverse on their surface to produce multiple prints. The laying out of a single page could take hours, and a book could take months. Collated by hand, bound by hand, a hand-cranked machine, but it was infinitely better that the alternative of copying a book by hand. One could produce multiple copies as a result. The written word now had a method which would not be improved upon for centuries to come. The art of printing eventually became easier, with most developments occurring in the twentieth century.

In the beginning of fandom, there were few options: off-set and mimeo.

Off-set was only for the rich at best. One press run could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The advantages of this process were clear: good copies, relatively inexpensive (providing that all pages were camera-ready, and that a large press run was ordered), and a process which could utilize the same masters over and over for additional print-runs. Its drawbacks were equally obvious: its expense was an enormous deterrent for budding zine editors (and still is), but out of the love for Star Trek, many fans did utilize off-set.

The "poor man's option" was, of course, mimeography, but aside from being inexpensive and being capable of producing limited run, it had many disadvantages. It was messy. Masters (original pages from which the copies were produced) had to be typed on special material, run through the machine to make copies, and were easily destroyed. Recent innovations include a device which takes a camera ready page and copies it onto mimeo master material (called a digital duplicator or risograph). Sylvia Stancyzk of Saurian Brandy Digest used mimeography to produce her zines.

During the early years of fandom, electronic methods of printing were simply out of the question. The technology had not been sufficiently advanced to reduce the costs and convenience. Fifteen years after it all began, there were a number of processes and machines capable of producing a fanzine in minutes. The most noteworthy of these was the Xerox 9500, which at the time was available at many electronic printshops (such as Fast Copy). This copier could take 100 originals and produce 100 double-sided copies of a fanzine, collated, in as little as two hours. The quality of the Xerox copies was excellent, and even fine line artwork could be reproduced. Its disadvantages were few: it was slightly more expensive per page than off-set, it would not reproduce photographs well, and all originals had to be fed through the automatic document feeders and had to be on 20 lbs. paper with no paste-ups. Paste-ups had to be placed by hand on the platen (where the copier takes a 'picture' of the original). This disadvantage is the very embodiment of off-set printing where all originals are placed by hand, so it cannot be truly said that it is a disadvantage.

Nowadays, in the age of digital copiers, you can hand-place originals or scan them into your document for quick reproduction. And the cost of copies being what they are allows fanzine publishers, such as Orion Press, to print on demand. That means you simply print the number of zines you sell. You might put together a few extras for distribution at a convention, but you’re not out of the extraordinary cost of printing hundreds or even dozens of zines in the hope that you will sell them.

All ORION PRESS publications are printed on digital copiers. This way I can print on demand one copy of a particular issue, or a thousand copies. And now we can produce color work at a price a lot closer to what fans will find reasonable than we could in the 1980's. All you has to do is walk in, give them the folder of originals, and tell them how many you want. The copier does the rest. Or even better? We can typeset a fanzine at home, create a PDF of the file, email it to Fast Copy or your local copy shop, and by the time we get there, we can pick up the zines.

So the next time you get the urge to print a zine, and you get disappointed at the off-set printers, call up an electronic printshop such as Fast Copy and see if you can get it copied digitally. Today's methods are indeed "a miracle" and I encourage you to see for yourself.

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