Octopus's Garden

Issue Fifty-Four

6th August 2005

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HELLO, good evening and welcome to Octopus’s Garden, the subzeen so good that it only comes out once every five years. It still remains (however notionally) a subzeen to Jim Burgess’ The Abbysinian Prince. Produced by Peter Sullivan, peter@burdonvale.co.uk. It's available on the web at http://www.burdonvale.co.uk/octopus/index.html.

There are still no game openings at the moment; the likes of Rip Gooch and Dave Partridge seem to be adequately covering the bases with respect to choo-choo games, and I’m too much of an old dog to learn new tricks, or even re-learn old, almost-forgotten, ones. (Even the rules of "the Game of International Intrigue" are beginning to fade from my memory now, beyond the basics of "you shift the little blocks about.") So this subzeen is still, at least officially, in officially indeterminate statis.

But life can be pleasantly random sometimes. I found my way, via a comment by a third party in a friend's Livejournal, to the efanzines.com website. This proved to be full of electronic back-issues (mostly PDFs) of various science fiction fanzeens. Including an electronic APA, called (logically enough) e-APA. I'd always been aware of APAs, but never actually seen one. I downloaded the non-password protected issue from back in October for a casual read. Then, of course, the ghods of LoCing captured me, and I ended up sending an e-mail in response to Dave Locke's contribution in that issue.

Most people in the postal games hobby are probably vaguely aware of the concept of APAs as they operate in science fiction fandom, even if they’ve never actually seen one. For those who came in late, a good description of what an APA is and how it works is at http://www.labyrinth.net.au/~gsj/Kaje/APAs.html.

Dave Locke’s original article can be found at http://efanzines.com/eapa/eapa6_oct2004.pdf. I replied to him as follows:

SF Fandom as an Attention-Based Economy

I'm not entirely sure of the "etiquette" of LOC-cing, especially some nine months after the original publication date, but your piece got me thinking. I'm distinctly a neofan when it comes to SF fandom, but I published a postal games fanzeen for almost ten years (142 issues) and then an electronic version for a further six years (52 issues), and much of what you say sounds very familiar.

Certainly the "administrivia" of fanzeen production was always my least favourite part. The mimeograph was always temperamental, hand-collation must be one of the most boring activities on earth, but at least doing the address labels became a lot easier once I put them on the word processor. Moving to electronic distribution removed all of that, but as you say, it changes the dynamic in terms of response, whether via LoC or "The Usual." And feedback has to be a factor, in any field of fanzeen publishing.

There was an article in Wired a few years ago now that talked about the shift to an "attention based economy." I pointed out at the time that this was nothing new for postal games fandom, and much the same is true I'm sure of science fiction fandom. In many ways more so, since SF fandom is perfectly comfortable with the concept of fanzeen publishing as "egoboo." Whereas there were always some postal games fanzeen editors who would try to hide behind excuses like "of course, it's really all about providing a service to the players," or "I'm really just a facilitator, you know." Yeah, right.

It's really when you start to think in terms of an "attention-based economy" that the concept of an e-APA starts to make sense. With all the constraints of dead tree publishing gone, the idea of deliberately restricting your circulation/distribution to an "inner circle" seems - initially - pointless. Why not just make the material generally available on a website, mailing list or whatever? But once you do that, all the normal social conventions about providing feedback or "The Usual" disappear. It doesn't surprise me when you say that a model for a digital general distribution fanzeen hasn't really suceeded yet - the same seems to be true of postal games electronic fanzeens as well. The most successful are those that look least like fanzeens and more like a service website.

I guess what an e-APA can bring to this environment is pretty much what it has always represented, even in its dead tree format - a mutual agreement to trade attention. In effect, the contributor is trading off the ability to have her work read by all and sundry for the ability to have her work read and responded to by a smaller group. Quality, not quantity should be the watchword. Unless you are Alarums and Excursions*1 (and I understand that even this monster role playing games APA has a circulation of under a hundred these days).

Anyway, I hope these comments are of some interest or use to you, and if not I enjoyed writing them anyway ;-)

Creative Attention

(Re-print of an article from Octopus's Garden Issue 20*2 , December 1997)

One of the consequences of doing 7 flights in a 14-day holiday is that you end up exhausting your book supply (even if you take the annotated version of War and Peace together with how ever many volumes it is of A la recherce du temps perdu). However, this is no hardship, as it allows me to peruse the airport magazine stalls for delicacies not available in England (at least, not unless you are in London or search very hard).

Such as Wired*3 magazine. I started reading the UK version of this publication when it bizarrely started appearing on Durham Railway Station's news-stall. I say bizarrely, because this bookstall is normally the epitome of populist -- a wide selection of women's titles (varying from those that tell you how to enjoy*4 an orgasm to those that tell you how to knit*5 one), the obligatory top shelf "gentleman's publications" and huge piles of tabloid newspapers. The only other out-of-place title is usually the Times Higher Education Supplement*6 , but then this is practically compulsory in a University town. However, I was obviously one of the few purchasers of Wired UK, at Durham Station or elsewhere, as the UK edition ceased publication early this year. Looking at the American edition, it is obvious why ; it is twice the size, with most of the extra material being adverts. And whereas the adverts in Wired UK were almost entirely computer-related (or at least technology-related), Wired US appears to have broken into a much wider demographic, featuring the sort of advertisers who in Britain would grace GQ*7 or similar "lifestyle" publications.

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about was one of the articles in the aforesaid publication. Michael H. Goldhaber, in "Attention Shoppers," puts forward the thesis that, in the information economy, it is not information that will be the new "money" but attention. Economics only works where there is scarcity, and there is no scarcity of information on the Internet. What is scarce is attention ; the numbers of hours spent online multiplied by the number of people. I have probably done hideous damage to his argument by such a short abstract, but if you want to, you can go and read the whole thing. It's not, as far as I can see, on Wired's web site, so I'll just have to give an old-fashioned reference rather than a snazzy hyperlink ; Wired Vol 5 Issue 12 (December 1997), ISSN 1059-1028, page 182 op.cit.

One theme which Goldhaber doesn't really have time to explore is that, whilst the Internet is the most visible and largest example of an attention-based economy, it is by no means the first. Fanzeens in general, and Diplomacy zeens in particular, are probably one of the better pre-wired examples of these sorts of transactions.

When John Piggott*8 appropriated his First Law of Fanzeens from S.F. fandom -- that all zeens exist solely for the benefit of their editors -- he was tapping into a universal truth. It's for precisely these reasons that most fanzeens publish at a loss. Editors from time to time moan about the loss they are making, but in the end they go on publishing, and the few zeens which have tried full-price pricing have rarely lasted long, unless they had enough of an edge to justify the extra cost. In Goldhaber's terms, the editors are trading cash for attention. However, the subscribers are also trading cash, in their case for amusement, entertainment, or whatever it is that you call that need to pick up the unopened zeen off the mat and read it on the train.

The wired world is a different sort of paradigm. I have no way of charging you for reading this web page, secure VISA*9 channels notwithstanding, and in the attention-based economy I have no incentive to do so. The downside of this is that, in zeenland, I am one of the few fighting for attention. The number of zeens is finite, and unless you are a wide-ranging subber, this is probably the only zeen to drop on your doormat today. It's either read this or stare out the train window*10 at the cows zooming past at 90 m.p.h. However, in the wired world, on-line zeens have to compete for attention with the professional media*11 and sites where Gates McFadden*12 allegedly gets her kit off. This is probably why the Diplomacy hobby on-line has not really developed a zeen-orientated model. The games are adjudicated by Judges*13, and what more general material there is (such as the excellent Diplomatic Pouch*14 ) tends to be more focused on the game and the hobby itself, rather than editor's flights of rhetoric about whatever takes his fancy.

Of course, by writing about his article, I am indulging in various sorts of attention-based transactions myself, trying to insert Goldhaber into your attention, and trying to siphon off some of that attention onto myself. In fact, once you start thinking along these lines, you can extend it to just about any situation in life. So, before I go too far, I'd better sign off and start paying attention to a nice cup of coffee...

(This 2005 reprint has no changes to the article text, but I have fixed eight years' worth of “link rot” on the hyperlinks.)


*1 http://thestarport.com/xeno/aande.html
*2 http://www.burdonvale.co.uk/octopus/oct20.html
*3 http://www.wired.com/wired/
*4 http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/
*5 http://www.ipcmedia.com/magazines/womansweekly/
*6 http://www.thes.co.uk/
*7 http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/
*8 http://www.diplomacy-archive.com/resources/postal/first_decade.htm
*9 http://www.paypalsucks.com/merchant-account.shtml
*10 http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/
*11 http://news.bbc.co.uk
*12 http://www.hard-to-find-actresses.com/gates.html
*13 http://www.diplom.org/openings/openings.html
*14 http://www.diplom.org/Zine/

That was Octopus's Garden #54, a Startling Press production

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