I never thought I’d get to the point where announcing the anniversary of DargonZine’s first issue would become tedious. But fourteen years later, the novelty of such self-promotion is finally starting to wear off (yes, it took a while). So rather than pound out another editorial about last year’s accomplishments and next year’s goals, let me direct your attention to a more substantive topic.
To date, the popularization of the Internet really hasn’t resulted in any major changes in the way we run DargonZine. Sure, we’ve added our Web site and many Web-based services, but we really haven’t changed our basic process of collaborative writing and publishing to a general Internet audience. However, the breadth of the Internet and its more recent commercialization present some new challenges for us.
DargonZine has never tried to be the most popular electronic magazine around. In one sense, we’ve considered our readers a side benefit of what we are really here to do: practice writing. Of course, we still want to grow our readership, both for our readers’ enjoyment as well as the valuable feedback you have provided to our writers. But “market share” has never really been very important to us.
Early in DargonZine’s life (back in the days of FSFnet), it was pretty easy to grow an electronic magazine. There weren’t many other emags in existence, and getting the word out wasn’t difficult. But today there are quite literally tens of thousands of electronic magazines competing for both readers and writers. And in order to attract new readers and new writers, an emag needs to be able to get its message out to interested parties — in short, to advertise.
This is where things begin to get difficult, because advertising on the Internet engenders a very negative response; and in many cases, that response is entirely justified by the saturation-bombing techniques of professional Internet marketers. We’re all familiar with some of the results of Internet mass marketing at an individual level: floods of unsolicited junk email, and a Usenet news service which has deteriorated into uselessness. Most people make a habit of disregarding any and all Internet advertising, even if it is done conscientiously.
This presents additional hazards for a small information publisher like DargonZine. Amidst a sea of worthless unsolicited messages, a principled, small-time operation that doesn’t send unsolicited mailings isn’t likely to be heard. If an individual comes across an advertisement for DargonZine, it doesn’t matter how conscientious we were in placing the advertisement or how interesting our “product”; most users will disregard anything which smacks of self-promotion.
And a user who does happen to read a well-placed ad might choose not to differentiate between an organization which places pertinent, topical advertising and less scrupulous firms who resort to methods which are both more pervasive and more invasive. An individual who thinks we’re just another marketer might feel justified in accusing us of spamming. In fact, that happened to us recently for the first time in over thirteen years of publishing DargonZine on the Internet for free!
Another hazard would be for a conscientious ISP to begin filtering incoming mail, and filter out DargonZine either intentionally or unintentionally, sending subscribers’ issues to the ever-ready bit bucket. We’ve already had one example of the reverse, where we were automatically added to an “adult webmaster” discussion group based solely on the appearance of the word “fantasy” on our home page!
So, as you can see, the growth of the Internet has presented us with a new dilemma. On one hand, we are faced with a vastly more competitive market, where we compete with tens of thousands of other electronic magazines for readers’ attention and writers’ submissions. In an era where readers can unsubscribe at the click of a mouse, it’s hard to get people to sit down and read a large body of text online. Furthermore, although we are trying to address the problem, the volume of DargonZine’s shared history can be a strong disincentive for new readers. And on top of all that, there’s the question of how to publicly promote the zine without compromising our principles by resorting to the tactics of Internet mass marketers. How we respond to these challenges will determine whether DargonZine thrives or founders in obscurity.
Fortunately, the problem isn’t serious right now, and we can continue to recruit new readers in our favorite fashion. Ever since FSFnet was founded, my editorials have stressed the fact that the best way for FSFnet, and now DargonZine, to grow is for our readers and writers to encourage their friends to check us out. If you know of someone who might be interested in what we do, point them at our Web site. For them, it’s completely free, and for us there is no more effective or less self-serving advertising than the word of our loyal readers.
Turning to this issue, I’m pleased that we begin our fourteenth year with stories from two of our veterans. Jim Owens has been with the Dargon Project since its inception (we won’t mention how old that makes him!), and should be congratulated on his recent marriage. He opens the issue with “The Coin of Worth”, a new Simon Salamagundi short.
Carlo Samson, who has been here almost as long as we’ve been around, introduces a ghost story that wasn’t quite ready for October’s “Night of Souls” issue. Carlo is currently debating whether to continue this story or not, and I hope you’ll drop him a quick note of encouragement, because I’d like to see the continuation of “Persistence of Spirit” myself!
We close the issue with the fourth part of Alan Lauderdale’s “Quadrille”. This story incorporates many storylines and characters from early DargonZine works, and represents a tremendous work. If you’re coming in at the middle, be sure to read it from Part I.