Zines originate from as early as 1930’s with their popularity exploding in the era of punk in the 1970’s, however, the medium which explores the DIY creativity and strong niche audiences are now peaking more than ever.
In the past zines had a straightforward definition. Small, independent DIY publications, usually reproduced by the use of photocopiers that targeted various subcultures. Today the idea of zines and magazines blends as we see zines such as Polyester being regularly produced, sold in bookshops and despite the small A5 format, the content is at times similar to magazines (including editorials, articles, interviews). We also have zines such as Sister Magazines, which despite being described by the creators as “independent, bi-annual zine” includes the “magazine” in its title and the format, as well as the quality of the content, reminds us more of an independent mag rather than of a DIY magazine.
The borders are blended, but what does this mean?
Well, anyone can be self-published and anyone can call themselves an editor. While for many this may mean that the publishing industry is infiltrated by “amateurs” who make their way up, it also means that the industry gets more creative and niche creators. Most importantly these creatives, create a space for the creativity and process that would not belong in the corporate publishing sector. Those creatives also challenge the norms of magazine advertising, often not including any. By the lack of pressure from investors, the freedom of exploring alternative methods of funding such sponsored events and collaborations through their social media, publications can stay true to their values. These alternative processes leave their readers with a product that often is priced similarly to the one with advertisements inside, but offers more value and content.
We can also suppose that creating a magazine is easier now than it used to be in the 70’s. With programs such as InDesign, home printers and more accessible professional printers anyone with an idea can just make it, without the need to propose it to investors. Living in a digital age even allows for funding such as Kickstarter or websites which will print a single copy whenever a reader buys one, sending it straight from the printer to the reader. Sister Mag and Polyester both sell cheaper digital versions of their publications, making it more accessible for anyone to buy.
As these independent publishing processes are now much simpler, anyone can create a file in InDesign, cheaply print 100 copies and sell through an online website for their chosen price. Allowing anyone to try out their skills and put their ideas into print. As these publications will rarely be judged by anyone, the creators have the ultimate freedom to express themselves.
Zines also became a modern form of feminist activism, where the creative process is extended to creating panels, events, merchandise and social media. Turning what seems to be amateur and DIY into fully functioning businesses and brands. Often creators of such zines make it publicly clear that they were able to leave their day jobs to focus on developing their publications.
Our digital culture also allows everyone to follow the “fake it till you make it” path. Because such publications heavily steer away from the traditional magazine layouts and formats, it is hard to judge the professionalism or the experience of the editors. We are faced with dilemmas such as the design. Especially since the rise of “ugly” design, it is hard to say whether the magazine simply has an anti-aesthetic or is it the designer that is inexperienced and lacks taste. Many small publications also work mostly on submission bases rather than commissions where the screening process of the authors and artists can be very limited. Depending on the editor’s prior experience this process can either be very specific and researched, or simply the decisions could be made based on personal preferences. During the latest ModMag event, Jeff Taylor the founder of Courier Magazine, mentions how he used to make up contributors in his first issue to appear as a fully functioning team and a magazine. In Taylor’s instance, he used names of distant school friends, however, the options of “faking it” are endless and often hard to question or prove. Because of these simplified processes, it is easy for anyone to edit, create and commission, without being questioned.