Once upon a time, DargonZine — then called FSFnet — resided on a tiny little computer network. The Internet was so small back then that a list of everyone who knew how to use it fit in one text file with less than a thousand entries. FSFnet’s first issue went out to a mere 100 readers because that’s how many people listed an interest in “science fiction” or “fantasy” in the main directory of Internet users. It was a small world, indeed!
At that time, there weren’t many electronic magazines; there were a couple online newsletters about computer programming, and a handful of college kids wrote informal, semi-autobiographical humor columns. Aside from a couple Usenet discussion groups, that’s all there was. FSFnet was really the only organization trying to publish professional-quality fiction online back in 1984.
FSFnet thrived during those early years. The Internet was a novelty, and free online fiction readily captured the imaginations of both prospective readers as well as aspiring writers. We printed a lot of good fiction that — for the first time ever — magically appeared in readers’ inboxes, and our circulation climbed steadily. We provided an innovative service through a cool, growing new medium, and we were a big fish in an extremely small pond.
Time passed, and the Internet grew … and grew! Seemingly overnight, that little pond we used to call our own became an ocean that rapidly covered the entire globe. DargonZine has remained the oldest and longest-running electronic magazine on the net, but we’re no longer unique in what we do. There are hundreds of electronic magazines on every topic imaginable, including dozens that print amateur fantasy fiction — and have much larger circulations than DargonZine. And if you’re an aspiring author, there’s a whole spectrum of writers’ groups that would welcome your participation. DargonZine is no longer the only game in town, and despite our longevity and focus on quality writing, these days we’re a very small fish in a vast pond.
Adjusting to that new reality was a challenge. We’ve had to learn how to compete with other writing groups and magazines to attract contributing authors, and we’ve had to show prospective readers that DargonZine is a more interesting way to spend their time than reading another e-zine like “The Onion”, watching “Survivor”, listening to an iPod, reading friends’ weblogs, or playing “The Sims”. In order to get the word out, so that our name is known at all, we’ve had to overcome our natural aversion to advertising and self-promotion. Today’s Internet is a very different network than it was when we first started, and it’s much more difficult for us to capture the public’s attention than it once was.
I was reminded of this by a recent web comic I read. A 25 year old Canadian dude named Ryan North puts out a thoughtful strip called “Dinosaur Comics”, and the March 1st entry — which can be found at http://www.qwantz.com/index.pl?comic=”729″ — struck a chord with me. In it, the characters are discussing how modern duplication and communication facilities have made it more difficult than ever to make a living as an artist. In the next to last panel, one of the characters observes, “Things are great for society but it sort of sucks for the individual, because we can flawlessly record and cheaply reproduce all transcendent artistic work. So as an artist, you no longer have to be the best in your village, you have to be the best in the world!”
That kind of sums up DargonZine’s experience as a magazine. When we first started FSFnet, we had a captive audience and a major share in a tiny market, so it was pretty easy to be “the best in our village”. But over the past two decades, virtually the entire planet has become wired, and just about anyone can write a few stories and put out a magazine like ours. Today, DargonZine competes for your attention with magazines sent out by everyone from tech-savvy grammar school kids to multi-billion dollar corporations like Microsoft. As Utahraptor says, global competition can be great for society, because you have access to the best of the best, but it has presented us with some real challenges here at DargonZine.
The good news is that we don’t need to be “the best in the world”. I’ll speak more about DargonZine’s goals in an upcoming editorial, but our focus has always been on having fun and helping amateur writers improve their craft, because those are the things that matter to us as artists. While we used to be a big fish in a small pond, it’s okay if we don’t have the biggest circulation, or a million dollar operating budget, or sell the most advertising.
More than a decade ago, former DargonZine writer Max Khaytsus said, “Bigger doesn’t make better; it just makes bigger”. At the time, he was talking about how a good writer doesn’t need an expansive, world-threatening plot in order to create drama. However, he could just as easily been talking about DargonZine and its niche among electronic magazines. Our goal is to put out a magazine that’s “better”, rather than one that’s just “bigger”, and we are pleased that you’re here with us to enjoy it.