What Happened to the Cheap Zine?

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Title: What Happened to the Cheap Zine?
Creator: Carolyn Cooper
Date(s): June 1985
Medium: print
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What Happened to the Cheap Zine? is an essay by Carolyn Cooper.

It was printed in Blue Pencil #1.

It is a counterpoint to Let's Hear It For Cheap Zines!.

The Essay

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CHEAP ZINE? The same thing that happened to the sixty-five cent paperback. The same thing that happened to the nickel newspaper. Costs and competition killed them and reactionary measures are not the answer to spiraling costs.

Five hundred copies of a one hundred page zine cost a minimum of $1200 JUST TO PRINT. No fancy art. No fancy color. Just a straight, black impressions on white paper. And mimeo won't solve the problem. A used mimeo in good condition runs $400-800 NOT INCLUDING SUPPLIES, REPAIRS, OR PAPER. Plus the cost of that inferior grade mimeo paper and short print runs is paid by the fans when the zines start to deteriorate and remaining copies run for $50-100 at auction. The editors and contributors also pay the price—in zines that sit around for years unsold and unread.

Let's face it, ZINES ARE PUBLISHED TO BE SEEN AND READ. This means they have to attract the buyer, who is older and has come to expect production values. Just look at how zines are reviewed with a discussion of graphics, bleed-through, etc. Zines are now bought like books and magazines, competitively. Color covers sell better than plain ones. Certain name artists and writers sell more copies than others. Whether this is good or bad is moot; the fact is that's what's happening. And few editors can afford to sink $1200 plus into a zine without a hope of getting back at least the bulk of that investment in time to put out the NEXT issue.

Does this mean nothing can be done to control prices? No. It DOES mean that editors must get more for their investment by stronger story editing, greater knowledge of publishing, printing, and marketing (i.e. pleasing customers) and a more responsible, professional, business-like practices. It means the handcuffs and gags have to come off Information about breakevens peripheral costs, and actual pricing and accounting methods. It means limiting the number of freebies, especially review copies. It means dropping the LITERARY AFFECTATIONS. Editors do not get university patronage or endowment grants. Zines, like trade publications, must compete for the fans discretionary funds.

Katharine Scarritt has suggested that it isn't that prices are too high, so much as it's that the fans don't feel they're getting their money's worth. This comes from editors who don't edit or who have to rush an issue, the limited amount of truly good submissions along with fandom's rising expectations, but that's another editorial. There is however one sure way for fandom to express it's dissatisfaction with the price of a zine, DON'T BUY IT! Call a boycott. Write letters of warning to the LoC zines. Complain to the editor (but be specific about what makes you think you aren't getting your money's worth). Believe me, the editor will hear you.

But don't hold your breath waiting for the return of the 
$2.00 zine. IT'S DEAD, JIM!.