One thing you must say about people who’d spend spare time and spare change to self-publish a magazine (that may reap no monetary rewards and may receive minimal recognition)—they’ve got passion.
Passion is what zines and zinesters are all about. The editor, the publisher and the artist of a zine (often the same person) have desire, a desire to create what they are passionate about. Whether it be a form of writing (poetry, sci-fi, fantasy, short fiction) or a particular subject (polka, crafting, Star Trek) that kindles this desire, one thing is universally true: Zinesters are just as passionate about publishing as they are about their content.
It is this passion to publish what you love, to offer what you love to the world, which gives birth to a zine. But there is a way zinesters can show off their baby to even more of the world: distribution.
How you go about distributing a zine depends on the publishing medium. For e-zines, the method is primarily e-mail distribution; for print zines, the method becomes getting zines out by mail or into stores. The following are some avenues for zine distribution available to zine editors and publishers:
Print zines vary in appearance, resembling everything from photocopied newsletters to pamphlets to chapbooks to mini-magazines; some are stapled, some bound, some a single sheet of paper; some are handwritten, some typed, some a combination of both. Regardless of looks, the name “zine” implies “there is more to come.” Zine content is updated. And whether these updates are called “issues” or just sequentially numbered somewhere on the cover or facing page, and whether the updates happen weekly or yearly—this periodic publication means that each new issue needs some way to get to the reader.
- Hit the store floor
- Stop mail order disorder
- Leave it to distributors
When you decide to take your zine to the street (i.e. extend your audience beyond friends and family), one option available to you is the store. Local bookstores or shops with a focus similar to your zine may agree to carry your zine (for example, Harley Davidson/ biker zine). Meet with the manager and discuss the distribution terms. Do you want to leave a stack of zines which store patrons can take home for free? (You may not make a profit, but you will gain publicity and possibly paying subscriptions later.) Do you want the store to sell the zine for you? If yes, settle the terms of payment.
There are two main options for payment: The store buys the copies from you upfront (which rarely happens) or the store pays by consignment (the most common practice). Consignment payment means you get paid a certain percentage based on what sells and the store receives the difference. (Consider it your tip to the store for being of such great service.) Try to negotiate a consignment payment to you of about 50-60 percent. But keep in mind, some managers that work at larger chains may not be able to take on additional products without official company permission.
No matter what other distribution options you pursue, one obvious method must be secured: the mail order. Somewhere in your zine, directions on how to order more copies should appear. This can be a simple paragraph or an order form. Consider the following questions when constructing your ordering instructions: To whom and to what address should order requests be made? Do readers ordering back issues or additional copies need to send an SASE? If they need an SASE, did you note the size of envelope and specify postage that will support the mailing? If you are incurring the cost of mailing yourself, does the cost of your zine or subscription cover individual or periodic shipments? Do you indicate the cost of your zine and/or subscription clearly? Do you specify whether to send check or cash, and if check, who to make checks out to?
Once your mail order info answers these concerns and is complete, you may want to consider catalogs as a way to boost your mail-order sales. Get your zine listed in store catalogs or publication catalogs. These sources afford additional exposure to your zine and if your mail order is in order, may increase the amount of distribution you can accomplish via mail. For a list of possible catalogs, see Chip Rowe’s “e-zine and zine resource center,” Zinebook.com, at zinebook.com/resour2.html.
If the number of your zine subscribers is creeping into the thousands, then a distributor may be the distribution avenue for you. Distributors act as middlemen, taking your zine into stores for you. Circulation is their business. With distributors, you get paid a percentage off the cover price, the average being 55 percent usually paid 60 days after the receipt of the next issue. However, this percentage is based only on what actually sells—the sell through. A good sell through is between 60 and 70 percent.
Distributors should supply you with sell—through reports, as well as distribution lists of the places your zine is going, but it’s a good idea for you to track your unsold copies. This is usually done either by stores returning unsold covers to you or through affidavit returns, sheets listing the return numbers for your zine. With a distributor, the work of distribution you now take on is double-checking sell—through report numbers against returned covers or affidavit returns, and ensuring payments are in accord. For a list of available distributors, see the Sunburn Web site, www.escape.ca/~mosfog/sunburnt.htm.
E-zines are zines published not on paper, but electronically. Being anchored in the Internet, updated content happens either on a Web site or through newsletters or, in most cases, both. Whether you’re announcing that new material is up on the site or within the message, an e-mail is the most efficient way to distribute e-zines.
Brian Alt, Writer’s Digest Zine Advisory Board member and editor in chief of List-universe.com, “the e-mail list-owner and e-zine publisher resource network,” offers three ways to distribute your e-zine via e-mail:
- Do it yourself.
- Find a host.
- Pick a package.
Your e-mail program may be able to distribute your e-zine, if your subscriber base is small. (Just make sure your Internet provider doesn’t automatically trash messages with large numbers of recipient addresses.) Enter your subscribers’ e-mail addresses into the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) field so that each recipient views only his or her own address, click “send” and your update announcement or issue of e-zine is on its way.
If your subscriber base is not so small, then consider a list-hosting service as a viable option. List-hosting services, provided by companies like eGroups (www.egroups.com) or SparkLIST (www.sparklist.com), use list-hosting server software to manage the distribution of your list. There are both free and fee-charging list-hosting providers.
Instead of selecting a hosting service, you can opt to purchase your own list-server software package. Such software would handle new subscriptions and unsubscriptions automatically for you, as well as the heavy chore of sending out messages to list members. However by owning the software yourself, the management of your list would remain in your control vs. a third-party hosting service. A comprehensive list of list-server software packages can be found at list-business.com/list-software/.
Before committing to any hosting service or software for your e-zine’s distribution or distributor for your print zine distribution, evaluate your publishing goals. Assess how deep your passion for publishing runs. If you’re satisfied sharing that zine you love with only 100 others in the world? Then these options may not be for you. But if your desire to have your zine seen equals or surpasses your desire to publish, then consider these options … and a new passion—distribution.