When you think about geek culture, you don’t immediately think about the environmental impact that your hobby might have on the world around you. But it’s something that we’ve been thinking about more and more here at Infinite Frontiers. And we’re going to be covering the subject of sustainability across all our platforms in the coming months in an extensive series of articles and special features…
While many of you only know us from here, the Auto Assembly convention or the Vita Player website, Infinite Frontiers has been an active organisation for over 33 years. We started back in August 1989 as a small Doctor Who fan club and since that time we’ve run fan clubs, conventions, produced paper and digital fanzines, websites and even computer software.
A Brief History
During that as well as evolving what we have produced, we’ve had to deal with the changing nature of what we create and its impact on the environment. Right from the start we produced paper fanzines – our Doctor Who club produced a small newsletter/magazine for our members, designed on an old Amstrad CPC6128 computer and photocopied. At its peak it was only 12 pages in size and had a relatively small print run but we sold spare copies at another local club. But some 30+ years later and we still have some of these spares leftover…
In the 1990s, our focus was on Star Trek – running a club, convention, paper fanzines and creating The Final Frontier. This was a disk-based magazine for the Amiga range of 16-bit computers. While we made this available freely, we also sold copies directly and through companies across the world. But with each issue spanning as many as five 3.5″ disks and lasting for ten issues, you can imagine the resources it took up. Even with the title being copied freely across the globe, there were still thousands of disks being used worldwide for the magazine to be circulated. Bear in mind that back then, disks were copied and mailed worldwide for most users rather than distributed by any other means.
Transform And Roll Out…
Moving on again and our biggest project in recent years has been the Transformers convention Auto Assembly, which ran from 2000-2015 and at its peak drew over 1,000 fans from all over the world to the event. A weekend celebrating the Transformers franchise with traders, fans and guests from the comic and television shows became a firm fixture on the convention circuit. One thing that we did each year was produce a series of postcards to give to all our attendees, as well as the convention magazine, The Cybertronian Times. As the event grew in size, at our peak it meant us handing out 1,000 magazines, 1,000 self-created comics and 4,000 postcards. Not to mention the personalised name badges/passes. Despite the quality of them, it’s safe to assume that not all of these were kept after the convention.
We’ve since shifted focus with our work, and since 2015 everything we do is online. We run three websites (at one point we had five although two of these were closed down) and our YouTube channel. All of our old software is still available for those who are interested, but only as digital downloads and we’ve stopped producing printed fanzines.
The Cybertronian Times continued after the convention ended. However, it is now a free digital only release. With the change in distribution model, we don’t know what the readership is, but even with energy consumption requirements for hosting the file on our server it’s a lot less harmful than the damage done by a printed copy.
We followed that up with our latest title – Vita Player Magazine – released late last year. As soon as we announced it, we were asked if a paper version was going to happen. As much as we loved the idea of a print-based magazine dedicated to the PlayStation Vita the reality is that it’s no longer a sensible move for us to think about physical fanzine production here at Infinite Frontiers.
We’re not the same team we were back in 1989 or even back in the early 2000s. Our work now is targeted at a global audience and that brings new challenges. If we went down the print-based route we’d have the complications of shipping, complicated further by new tax regulations recently introduced that affect anything shipped out of the UK. That’s before even considering the environmental impact of actually sending magazines around the world.
But from a production standpoint, there’s still the issue of resources. Our initial goal with Vita Player Magazine was to produce a new issue every two months, with at least 48 pages in each. Even if we were to print this in A5 format, that’s 12 sheet of paper per copy.
We don’t know what sort of print run we would have to anticipate but based on the interest we’ve had online, we would have certainly had to look at 1,000 for a comfortable first print. 12,000 sheets of paper. But that’s not the most serious point. Regardless of whatever we might print, we’d still have to sell those copies and have additional packing material to contend with.
Boxes And Boxes Everywhere…
There may still be a healthy fanbase for the PS Vita, but if those copies don’t sell then we are stuck with magazines that will eventually be sent for recycling or just left in storage gathering dust. We faced the same problem with Auto Assembly and The Cybertronian Times. Most printers work in fixed quantities, and these rarely matched up with what we needed so we had little choice but to order more than our requirements and we’ve got surplus stocks dating back over a decade. They can’t be resold and with no further events coming from us, these will eventually head to the local recycling centre.
So, for Vita Player Magazine and The Cybertronian Times we made the conscious decision to produce them as digital only releases. From a creative point of view digital has removed an incredible number of restrictions we had in the past. We’re not constrained by page counts (although we do work in multiples of four as if we were creating for print), but we also no longer print off proofs to test the magazines while they’re in development. As the finished titles are being released as PDF files, we simply create pre-release PDFs to check as we’re going along.
The finished magazines are hosted on our own server, but we make then available to download and read offline. The files are small enough to enable us to keep a large library available at all times, while keeping download times down to a minimum, saving energy usage for readers.
What Does The Future Hold?
We know there are probably more things that we can do to improve both our digital magazines further in the future and be even more efficient in the way they are produced and distributed. But for now, this new approach marks an exciting time for us as we move our publishing arm into the future.
We’re not going to stop there though. All of our sites will continue to discuss the issues surrounding sustainability. We’ll take steps to actively promote positive examples where companies are working to be more environmentally friendly with their products. And even behind the scenes we’re trying to be more mindful of how we create content. Since upgrading my PC system last year, I’m able to create our YouTube videos in a fraction of the time they used to take, meaning there’s no need to leave my PC running overnight to render videos. What took hours before is now done in minutes. And we’ll continue to evaluate how we can make even more improvements in the months and years to come!