Nerfherder's Playground: Do you either buy or read fanzines?

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Title: Nerfherder's Playground: Do you either buy or read fanzines?
Creator: Nerfherder's Playground
Date(s): November 29, 2005
Medium: online forum
Fandom: Star Wars
External Links: Fanzines in Reading Fan Fiction Forum, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Do you either buy or read fanzines? is a forum poll and discussion at the Nerfherder's Playground, a Star Wars forum. The poll and discussion took place during the end of November 2005 and it covered both the history of Star Wars fanzine production as well as the question of fanzines production costs.

The Debate

From the very beginning, fans have quibbled over the purchase price of fanzines while simultaneously gobbling them up. In the days before the Internet, access to fanzines was the only way to obtain fan fiction and was for many the only way to connect to the greater fandom community. So the cost of a fanzine became critical to many fans, and many fans were critical of the prices they paid.

The fact remains that the cost of producing, publishing and selling a fanzine contains so many variables that it is almost impossible to compare one fanzine against another. This has not stopped fans from making sweeping generalized statements about the cost of fanzines and "profit."

By 2005, most of fandom had migrated to the Internet and fewer fans were familiar with the buying and selling of print fanzines. In November 2005, a group Star Wars fans debated the costs of the few fanzines that were still being produced in their community.

A forum poll asked the members if they bought or read fanzines.

One college student announced that:
"Until a few months ago, I would have answered what is a fanzine? They are still a mystery to me. They are rather expensive (40.00 and up) for a paper collection of a few stories. So that keeps my away from them. The writers are not pro, so I guess the cost is into the publishing of them. Most of them end up one way or another on the internet. There are a few writers (like Cindy Olsen) that would tempt me, but in the end I just wait until it appears on the internet."

This fan then went on to explain why she thought that fanzine publishers were overcharging for their fanzines:

"I could get them all made and printed up at Kinko's for about $10 since they're all just xeroxed pages and simple binding. Even with full color artwork as the 'cover,' I still would be shocked if it actually cost me $10 to make one. It's about $1.00-2.00 the copying. $3.00 for the binding. And figure in $1.00 per nice cover. That's $5.00-6.00. Plus tax. So $7.00.

I used to do this ALL the time for my scripts for class. 120 pages bound would cost me about $3.50. And I didn't even have to waste my own printer ink and paper for the initial copy since you can send your orders to them via computer and they're all nice and ready to go when you get there.

So for me, $30-40 isn't worth it. Even for the nice artwork."

Another fan pointed out that the availability of copy shops to print fanzines was restricted because many of them would not copy or print fanzines due to fears of copyright infringement.[1]

The college student disagreed that copyright infringement fears could play a role in driving up the costs of the zines:
"I've never found that to be a problem with Kinkos. I had a class where we had to adapt stories by other people, re-write films that were already out there, and a lot of times do storyboards. So that's text and art and Kinko's never said a word. The teenagers working there don't care. One time, back in 7th grade, I had about 10 copies of The Princess and the Nerfherder made (because I felt that all of my friends should read it because I ADORED it) and I didn't get a single word of crap from anyone at Kinkos. And if they do mind, that's what the self-service machines are for. Cost the same, do the same thing, just you have to do the work."

A second forum member decided to poll some of the then current fanzine publishers to get a wider range of examples of fanzine production costs. Three fanzine publishers were in the United States and one was Australia.

The first fanzine publisher submitted the following explanation of fanzine production costs:
"Let me tell you right now the prices this person quoted are not correct, unless she simply wants to print sub-grade xerox material and make no attempt to produce a quality publication. Prices are high and have always been in publishing, unless one owns their own personal desk-top publishing company and an unlimited variety and supply of quality paper products.....

..... the publishers must locate a printer who is both reasonably priced, attentive and reliable, and can devote some prime time to publishing your efforts. Depending on the print-run count, prices can vary. If one wants the publication to have a color cover taken from a prime piece of artwork --- and not one done up as a simple xerox, which both insults the artist and potential buyer/reader --- the best stock paper should be used, and that costs extra money. A good zine never skimps on quality and Skye (Rutherford) and I both agreed early on that our joint presentations would be the best we could offer for the money. ....

Our 2004 Star Wars RESURRECTION print run cost over $900.00 for 75 copies and offered a quality color cover. We sold them at $20.00 each, which is both cheap and perfectly justifiable considering the quality of work involved. We have about 15 issues left to sell and we have still not made back the $900.00 printing investment. Profits are not to be had in fan publishing, believe me. In the end, it's the creativity and sharing of stories and ideas and one's dreams that really matter the most."
A second zine publisher chimed in:
"As for how much each copy costs; if they were run like scripts, they probably would only be around $10 a copy. But most scripts I've seen are single sided, entirely black and white, and have paper covers with stud bindings. The few zines I've seen like that date from the late 70s and early 80s - pre PC. Most zines today are duplex printed with cardboard covers with color pictures on them and plastic covers over the top of those. A lot have color plates in them, too. Duplex is more expensive than single-sided, and color can run upwards of $1 a page. Multiply that by 5 or 10 per copy per a hundred copies....well, I'm sure you can do the math."
An Australian zine publisher was contacted by a forum member, and she offered her perspective on how producing a zine outside the United States could significantly increase its cost. The forum member summarized Carolyn's responses from an email and then quoted a few sections:
"Carolyn made a very good point: just because you can produce something for a certain cost at your friendly neighborhood Kinko's in a college town here in the US, it doesn't mean that those same figures are possible elsewhere. (Yep, you're about to find out why Bloodstripe costs more than a lot of other zines!) In Carolyn's case, she lives on a small remote farm in Tazmania. The nearest "town" is an hour away, and though I have no direct knowledge, judging from what she's told me it's probably a small rural town and not a booming college town metropolis or even a decent-sized suburb. Not likely to have a big, cheap chain like Kinko's to do this kind of work at. Most likely the printer there is going to be a local mom and pop, and we all know that even here, those types of shops cost more because they simply cannot buy their supplies in the same volume as the big chains.

Carolyn also cites that supplies just plain cost more in Australia: "Another factor not added in is the cost of materials to make the master copy, and in this please add in cost of inks etc, which are far higher here in Australia."

And there are other things to consider when buying a zine published outside the US: "...mostly due to my geographic isolation (Australia) and having to pay international fees and money exchange rates and other hidden costs."

The polling fan then summarized her thoughts on fanzine production costs:
"I think I got some pretty informative responses from my friends. Sandy pretty well bottom-lined all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making a zine and how the raw materials are selected...Lelila explained some of the tradeoffs that occur when taking it all on yourself...and Carolyn broke it down for us that just because you think you can get on a bus and go to Kinko's down the street and do it for a certain price, those circumstances aren't necessarily true for others elsewhere in the world, that the materials themselves may cost differently elsewhere and that editors in other places in the world may have costs that we don't have to contend with here, that materials themselves aren't the only costs of production...... I do, however, think we can look at that as a heads-up, to take care when making pronouncements on an issue as fact, when someone else's resources/experiences/whatever may not be the same as yours. Just because you can do something with apples here in the US doesn't mean that you can do it with oranges overseas."

Final words

Near the end of the conversation one fan offered her thoughts on why printed fanzines should continue existing as method of distributing fan fiction, even in the face of cheaper and more accessible formats:

"Most fans would probably love to own a hard copy of a fan publication. If more were exposed to printed fanzines, they might even want to collect them. Many new fans don't know these publications exist or ever existed, particularly if they have never attended conventions, or their only exposure is to web stories beamed over the internet. What they are missing is something rare and precious and even personally the rudimentary books published in the Middle Ages. How prized those must have been for the new readers...."


  1. ^ Fanzines in Reading Fan Fiction Forum, Archived version.