not a zine

I was disappointed that we didn’t get around to discussing this at the collection develpment session at the Zine Librarians (un)Conference: what are the factors that help you determine that a publication is not a zine?

Of course there are zines that meet one or more of the following criteria, but this list is a place to start. Please add yours in the comments.

  • has an ISBN or ISSN
  • has a masthead
  • not self-distributed
  • has a third person bio
  • not self-published (!)
  • motivated by desire for fame or fortune
  • makes a distinct profit
  • price ends in .95
  • has a spine
  • has any paid staff
  • reads like the author is auditioning for a book deal

6 thoughts on “not a zine

  1. Maximumrocknroll has paid staff–is that not a zine?

    Some zines are not self-published, but are “published” by organizations like Microcosm. So how do we differentiate between types of publishers?

  2. This is the criteria we use at Zine World:
    “Because our focus is on the underground press, we’re less likely to review something mainstream enough to purchase a UPC, apply for a grant, accept credit card orders, have nationwide distribution, or run ads from giant corporations.”

    Some of those things listed could apply to a published item that I would consider a zine — but I would say that publications with those criteria are edging towards or straddling the line between zines and magazines.

    What I personally would say…
    Probably a magazine if:
    * it has a UPC
    * it has ads from national corporations
    * it is published by a company or a nonprofit organization
    * it has paid staff
    * it uses a nationwide magazine (or newsstand) distribution service

    Maybe a magazine if:
    * it has an ISSN or ISBN
    * is funded (in part or total) by grants
    * is motivated by desire for profit

    I don’t think I’d use the masthead criteria. I think zines can be published by a third party (such as Microcosm); it’s still a question of content and author’s intent. And I would consider publications like MRR and Razorcake to be self-published magazines.

  3. Like I said, publications can meet one or more of the above criteria and still be considered a zine. We also won’t all agree on what is or isn’t a zine anyway.

    That said, I’m not sure I’d call MRR a zine. In fact, I probably wouldn’t. I’d say the same about some Microcosm publications, as well, especially those that are not staple bound. Then again, to my thinking Applicant is a zine, but Indestructible is a book, and they both have spines.

  4. One of the conclusions Tyler and I came up with during our research of collection development policies was that defining what a zine is (or isn’t) is a pretty important part of a policy – especially as a way of explaining to the public what your library is all about, and what kinds of donations would or wouldn’t be accepted. It does seem like it’s easier to say what a zine ISN’T, but as Jenna pointed out, it’s hard to find consensus on this. One of the concerns I had when going through ZAPP’s collection: what of ‘zines’ that have super glossy, professionally-printed, computer-graphics covers and plenty of ads that most likely funded high printing costs? Is something still a zine (or “self-published”) if it’s taken to a printer/small press for production? My instinct is to say that it isn’t, but is that just because it doesn’t have the zine aesthetic that I’m used to or something? Are “self-published magazines” separate from zines, and do they belong in zine libraries/archives?

    Below is the list of characteristics we came up with for the *rough* draft of ZAPP’s policy, though I can already see that some of them might be problematic…

    Here are some qualifying characteristics:

    *small-press or self-published
    *independent, outside-of-the-mainstream
    *embracing freedom of expression
    *photocopied, hand-crafted or hand-printed
    *published and distributed by an individual or a group of individuals
    *small print run and circulation/distribution
    *representing DIY/underground culture and under-represented voices
    *rare and unique
    *self-published comics or poetry

    And here are some things that zines are NOT:

    *published for mass commercial profit – or any profit, really
    *glossy-cover magazines with barcodes and ISSN’s (International Standard Serial Numbers)
    *community newsletters/newspapers, weekly papers or radical newspapers (i.e. The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, Capitol Hill Times, Real Change, The Tablet, Industrial Worker, Eat the State!)
    *newsstand magazines or comics (i.e. Spin, Rolling Stone, Ms., Archie Comics, any DC or Marvel Comics)
    *academic journals, or newsletters & magazines of professional organizations/institutions (i.e. AWIS Magazine, Journal of the American Anthropological Association, JAMA, Academy of the Natural Sciences Newsletter)
    *major literary journals (Grand St. Meridian, American Literary Review, Granta, Bricolage)
    *anything available at other major libraries, like Seattle Public Library, King County Public Library, or University of Washington Libraries.

  5. i would let zines self identify unless they were published by companies for advertisement (examples of skateboarding and anti-smoking (funded by the Truth campaign) ‘zines’ come to mind). Once upon a time lots of zines had national distribution (thank you Tower Records). So yes, things that are something other than zines are not zines, but unless you can say what else it is it probably qualifies as a zine.

  6. It’s interesting because I think the concept of what’s a zine as changed for some people over time. I think that “zine aesthetic” Emily talks about is different for everyone depending when they started reading zines or what kind of zines they read.

    Back in the ’90s is was quite common for zinesters to run a bunch of advertising for indie record labels and businesses to help pay for larger print runs or color or glossy covers. Publications like Bunnyhop, Answer Me, The Probe, Popsmear, Fizz, Genetic Disorder, Flipside, Genetic Disorder and my own zine were all considered zines, yet could have some or all of the following:

    -many contributors
    -print runs of 1,000-5,000
    -a lot of paid advertising
    -glossy or color covers
    -Distro through Tower, Carrot Top, Desert Moon, Surefire, Revolver, Mordam and others
    -occasionally make a small profit

    I think the thing that made me never question their zine-ness was how they self-identified. The publishers called them zines, talked about zine publishing constantly, were at all the zine conventions, and a bunch of them organized the Kill Zinester Tour in 1996. They promoted zine publishing non stop. Those zines were way bigger than a perzine, but still everyone contributed for free and most had a punk/DIY philosophy behind them.

    Today there are a lot less of the bigger zines, that model got hard to support because most of the indie record labels stopped advertising like they were, readers moved online, and all the big indie distributors went out of business. Perzines and smaller zines dominate now, as well as the nicer chapbooks Microcosm publishes. But I’m not sure because the environment or aesthetic of zines has changed in this decade, that how we define zines overall should change. In the larger picture of zines, there have always been the small ones done by one person and printed by themselves (Fred from The Match has been doing this since the 1960s) and some with higher end design and printing or advertising for some punk rock labels.

    This is good. Diversity and variety makes our community more rich and also makes for more interesting zines. While for cataloging we of course need tags, keywords, or identifiers to organize zines and some broad definitions and categories, there should be a desire to keep zining’s rich diverse history intact. I guess I worry that as the zine aesthetic and ethics (“zine ethics” is dropped a lot in conversations, where there really wasn’t such a thing 10, 20 or 30 years ago) changes over the years, a mostly undocumented zine history could get altered or changed to exclude some of the more important zines in zine history. Like MaximumRocknRoll, which is the zine that started me writing and publishing my own zine and has always been super supportive of the zine community through reviews, promotion and even giving cash to smaller zines in years it made a profit.

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