eBooks: 1992 – Homes for electronic texts

by Marie Lebert on July 8, 2011

eBooks: 1992  - Homes for electronic texts

The first homes for electronic texts were the Etext Archives, founded in 1992 by Paul Southworth, and the E-Zine-List, founded in 1993 by John Labovitz, among others.

The first electronic texts were mostly political. They were followed by electronic zines, that also covered cultural topics.

What exactly is a zine? John Labovitz explained on its website: “For those of you not acquainted with the zine world, ‘zine’ is short for either ‘fanzine’ or ‘magazine’, depending on your point of view. Zines are generally produced by one person or a small group of people, done often for fun or personal reasons, and tend to be irreverent, bizarre, and/or esoteric. Zines are not ‘mainstream’ publications  — they generally do not contain advertisements (except, sometimes, advertisements for other zines), are not targeted towards a mass audience, and are generally not produced to make a profit. An ‘e-zine’ is a zine that is distributed partially or solely on electronic networks like the internet.”

The Etext Archives

The Etext Archives were founded in 1992 by Paul Southworth, and hosted on the website of the University of Michigan. They were “home to electronic texts of all kinds, from the sacred to the profane, and from the political to the personal”, without judging their content.

There were six sections in 1998: (a) “E-zines”: electronic periodicals from the professional to the personal; (b) “Politics”: political zines, essays, and home pages of political groups; (c) “Fiction”: publications of amateur authors; (d) “Religion”: mainstream and off-beat religious texts; (e) “Poetry”: an eclectic mix of mostly amateur poetry; and (f) “Quartz”: the archive formerly hosted at quartz.rutgers.edu.

As recalled on the website the same year: “The web was just a glimmer [in 1992], gopher was the new hot technology, and FTP was still the standard information retrieval protocol for the vast majority of users. The origin of the project has caused numerous people to associate it with the University of Michigan, although in fact there has never been an official relationship and the project is supported entirely by volunteer labor and contributions. The equipment is wholly owned by the project maintainers. The project was started in response to the lack of organized archiving of political documents, periodicals and discussions disseminated via Usenet on newsgroups such as alt.activism, misc.activism.progressive, and alt.society.anarchy. The alt.politics.radical-left group came later and was also a substantial source of both materials and regular contributors. Not long thereafter, electronic zines (e-zines) began their rapid proliferation on the internet, and it was clear that these materials suffered from the same lack of coordinated collection and preservation, not to mention the fact that the lines between e-zines (which at the time were mostly related to hacking, phreaking, and internet anarchism) and political materials on the internet were fuzzy enough that most e-zines fit the original mission of The Etext Archives. One thing led to another, and e-zines of all kinds  — many on various cultural topics unrelated to politics  — invaded the archives in significant volume.”

The E-Zine-List

The E-Zine-List was founded by John Labovitz in summer 1993 as a directory of e-zines around the world, accessible via FTP, gopher, email, the web, and other services. The list was updated monthly.

How did the E-Zine-List begin?  On the website, John explained he originally wanted to publicize the print zine Crash by making an electronic version of it. Looking for directories, he only found the discussion group alt.zines and archives like The Well and The Etext Archives. Then came the idea of an organized directory. He began with twelve tiles listed manually in a word processor. Then he wrote his own database.

3,045 zines were listed in November 1998. John wrote on the website: “Now the e-zine world is different. The number of e-zines has increased a hundredfold, crawling out of the FTP and gopher woodworks to declaring themselves worthy of their own domain name, even asking for financial support through advertising. Even the term ‘e-zine’ has been co-opted by the commercial world, and has come to mean nearly any type of publication distributed electronically. Yet there is still the original, independent fringe, who continue to publish from their heart, or push the boundaries of what we call a ‘zine’.”

After maintaining the list during years, John passed the torch to others.

Copyright © 2011 Marie Lebert

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