Small press & zines
Food for thought on self publishing and the "underground" zine world
Last 2 weekends I attended small press expos in Barcelona (in one of them, behind the table, selling “Atelier Tranquilinho & friends” stuff). It is one of the movements I am interested in and contribute to, though not exclusively (I am interested in lots of things and approaches… which I am afraid plays against me in this exclusion-based world we live in…)
My mind kept wandering and I felt I could share some food for thought on this “underground” zine world (what “underground” is, anyway?)
First, let me summarise (in my opinion) some features of zines (popularly known as fanzines in Spain). Think of these features as a gradient and orientation — I just try to set a framework of reference, not some laws written on stone. To me, zines belong closer to the first attributes (like small) than to the last (expensive)
small, economical vs big / expensive
small print run vs huge print run
low production cost vs expensive manufacturing
niche distribution vs mass distribution
free speech vs censorship
experimentation with the format / book industry standards
In my case, the stuff I self publish tend to be small, economical, with small print run, low production cost, distributed in the “zine circuit”, experimental in their format and quite free. So, I would say the stuff I self publish is mostly zines (though sometimes, in my experimentation, some of such things could be part artist book, or self published magazines)
There are other cultural products that look similar (to the point that you can find them on small press expos and similar venues, like alternative publishing fairs): artist books, self-published books / magazines / small publishers shops… I am not judging their qualities (personally, I enjoy them and try to purchase the ones I like). It’s just that they are different. And I believe it’s not so much a matter of compartmentalising and excluding (“artists book not allowed in zine events”) as it is a question of the interests of the visitors. Example: an artist that brings 100€+ artist books to a small press expo where a zine costs ~3€ usually does not sell much. And probably it would happen the same the other way around: in an artists book fair, where each book is considered a unique piece of art, a photocopied zine may not find lots of attention… As always, it seems productive to consider who is your target audience and where you may find it.
So, now we have an idea of what I consider a zine “is”. In this post I will focus mostly on zines and related topics.
The economy of zines
One controversy I have been hearing recently is about whether zines should be sold “for profit”. In this question, I think there are (at least) two points of view to consider:
zine artists, as creators of its zine, can do whatever they want with it and set any price they believe it is worth. From the “seller” point of view, she should consider how much did it cost her to produce it (not only in terms of printing, binding… but also her own time devoted to the creation). And also the cost of distribution… as I mentioned before, typically zines are distributed mostly in small niche shops and in small expos. If she wants to attend to a expo in another city, travel and accommodation costs appear in scene (though, luckily, zine community is lovely and there are high probabilities of being offered a coach by the local participants). In addition to all of this, if she is willing to make a living, she should add some profit. Personally, I believe it is fair that any artist (whether “independent” zine creator, or mainstream / “industry member”) makes a living from his creative endeavours.
zine fans, as purchasers, will try to make the most of their money, whichever amount they can devote. From this “buyer” point of view, budget is critical. An example: a fan has 10€ in her pocket. Will she buy a wonderful 25€ A3 print? A 10€, 8 page risography zine? Or one 5€ zine, one 3€ zine, and a 2€ set of stickers? Whether we, as creators, like it or not, the zine market is also subjected to the “demand and supply laws” of the capitalist world we live in (more on rewards later)
Speaking of fan interests… they obviously also affect the sales. Typically, a weird, personal, obscure zine will sell less than a “fan-art” zine that exploits the popularity of some videogame character or streaming show. Topics interest also follow trends. For example, lately LGTB+ stuff has been gaining popularity. Some creators opted to make zines starred by drag characters with the expectation of selling more (even though the story / plot was poor and had nothing to do with LGBT+ situations / interests…drag only manifested in the way the characters were dressed). Other creators produce Marvel-like comics trying to benefit from the popularity of Marvel-based movies.
I think all zine creators may benefit from analysing their expectations (and probably most of us already did it): why are you producing and distributing zines?
because I believe in making art
I enjoy participating in small press expos and fairs, meeting interesting creators there, exchanging experiences, learning…
I enjoy the appreciation of visitors, peers and pros. Be it someone who reads your zine in front of you, someone who tells you he likes your zine… Money is not everything. Even if a visitor does not purchase your zine, the fact that he takes it in his hand and shows curiosity is important too.
because I want to earn money
I like zines. I exchange zines and purchase zines with the money I get from selling mine ones. (personal anecdote: in every event I assisted — whether as visitor or participant — I came back home with a stack of zines, and I enjoyed most of them enough to keep them in my personal library, “zine section”)
“I do not have money for therapy”. Actually, this is the title of one nice zine I purchased from Letoxi, titled “I make zines because I do not have money for therapy” (“hago fanzines porque no tengo dinero para pagar la terapia”)
So, what do you self publish? Why?Let me know in the comments 😃