Zine Production

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Related terms: Zines
See also: Archive, Binding, Doujinshi, Zine Pirating, Zine Publisher
a fan/zine ed named Julia Howarth (West) typing up some fanfic, amid some paper tribbles, 1975. "There is a new baby in the family. His name is Randy. He is grey, with green teeth and a great carriage. He typed the entire COMMUNICATOR. He is my typewriter, which I up and bought with $20 that should have gone to the electric bill!" [1]
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Early Zine Production

"Six Phases of a Zine" from Code 7 #1, click to read: "1. Enthusiasm 2. Disillusionment 3. Panic 4. Search for the Guilty 5. Punishment of the Innocent 6. Praise & Honors for the Nonparticipants"

Zine production is inextricably entwined with advances in office and information technology. In the beginning, just about the only requirements for aspiring fanzine editors was access to a typewriter, and either a mimeograph duplicator or later a photocopier.

Roles in Zine Production

Most zine editors also act as zine publishers and distributors for their zines. Boldly Writing notes that in Forum #12, the zine published by the various "presses" outnumbered those put out by individuals not calling themselves a "press."

Some fanzine editors mainly take the role of publishers, accepting all submissions to the zine and requiring camera-ready copy. However, most fanzine editors are more selective in accepting fanworks and take an active role in editing and proofreading the stories they publish.

There were also how-to zines published to help with production such as A to Zine.

Zine agents sell zines, either in person or by mail, for the original press or editor. Because of frequent problems with overseas mail, US presses often had Australian and British fans agent their zines; Australian and British presses often had US agents for theirs. Zines tend to sell better at conventions where people don't have to worry about mailing issues, and they can see what they're getting, so fans that go to many conventions often agent for fans who don't travel so much. In some cases, going to cons and agenting zines for other fans became an actual business.

Notable fanzine agents include: Agent With Style, Bill and Ann Hupe, and Kathy Resch.

Common Parts of a Zine

from Spectrum #33, "The Laws of Fan Publishing" by M.J. Fisher
from Spectrum #33, "The Laws of Fan Publishing" by M.J. Fisher

Fanzines have many commonalities in content and often contain a mixture of the following:

The Hardware: Production Materials

The hardware required to produce a fanzine mirrored the technology being used by small press publishers across the world.

ad for a ditto machine, 1960s

A brief chronological overview of some of the hardware used to produce a fanzine.

Hardware used to produce the text

  • typewriter - 1960s-1980s
  • desktop computers -1990s-present
  • word processing software -1990s-present

Hardware used to store/transfer the text

  • floppy discs, then later CD discs -1990s-present
comb-binding machine used today

Hardware used to make copies

Hardware used to bind the copies.

  • staplers - 1930s -present
  • comb binders and comb binding machine - 1960s-present
  • spiral binders - 1930s - present

For a detailed overview of how the hardware listed above was actually used to produce a zine see Leslie's Essay on Zine Production and Producing a Fanzine in the Before-Time.


Some examples of how the hardware was put in use as drawn from fan memories:

They had the technology - an elderly electric stencil printer (100 copies per minute) that went berserk when you took your eye off it.[2]

example of hand stenciled art, Leslie Fish
My first zines were done on an old Royal electric with a broken space bar that my mom bought for $10 in a garage sale! And I still have piles of Letraset and Formaline tape cluttering up my desk drawers! If I never have to rub down lettering again, it'll be too soon! [3]

Leslie Fish recalls that she drew the original artwork that accompanies an article in simple pen-and-ink, and Randy traced over them onto mimeograph stencils! Leslie says she's amazed that they came out readable at all. Furthermore, the added texture you see in the illustrations I uploaded came from the original (amazingly grainy) recycled paper. For republishing them online, I simply cleaned up good photocopies with Liquid Paper and ran the pictures through the photocopier a second time, only on coloured paper, then scanned them. (The grain of that old textured paper played havoc with my first attempts at text scanning the article, too.) I love the old cover art for Randy's (The Sehlat's Roar) issue #1, too: each cover was hand printed from a linoleum block master! Check out that cover art on Randy's blog.[4]

Eighteen years, That's how long it's been since Lucy and I first published Who You Know, What You Know and How You Know It in 1983... Times have certainly changed in the past 18 years! Way back, when we published 'Who You Know..." I did it all by hand. That means I typed the whole zine on Black Beauty, my old Selectric typewriter, on oversized pages (so I could take the pages to Kinko's and pay .15 per page to reduce them to 85%) and I did all the titles and little graphics in presstype. And when I laid out the pages, if something didn't fit right, I cut and pasted! And then I had the whole thing offset printed, and held a huge collating party where many of my friends helped me collate and bind the thing. Thankfully, those days are in the past. Lucy produced the zine hold in your hand on a computer.[5]

When the time came to get this second printing together, Kathy unequivocally, and quite sensibly, refused to spend the large of time doing it on the hand-cranked Tin Lizard in the basement would entail. (Once through that is a learning experience; more is either selfless dedication or flagrant masochism.) So she starting looking into professional printing costs. They were, in a word, horrendous.[6]

Methods of Printing Zines

Overview: Spirit Duplication, Mimeo, Offset and That Newfangled Xerox:

In 1982, in issue 33/34 of the S&H letterzine, Barbara Green Deer described the various printing methods in her article: "Zine Publishing: Choice of Medium." In issue #35 she discussed "Offset Printing.

Spirit Duplication - Two Methods - See "Spirit Duplication"

Mimeo: See "Mimeography"

Offset Printing: See "Offset"

Xerox the new marvel: See "Xerox"

Mimeo vs. Offset: The Arguments

Here is what I want to say about offset vs. mimeo issue... There are three basic reasons I don't use mimeo to produce Sol Plus. First, I don't like mimeo. Oh when it is done by an artist such as [names two zineds], it can be delight. But I am famous... for my incredible inability to handle machines more complicated that a rotary can opener. By the time I mimeoed a zine to a readable state, I would have to charge about $20 a zine to make back my cost. Second, I was the editor of Sol Plus #1 and it was mimeoed. It took [fan's name] two months... about ten hours a day, to print the damn thing... She is also one of infinite patience for a machine that is contrary. I don't. Third, mimeo, in my opinion, just doesn't last, and I'm conceited enough to want my zines to be good to the end of time.[7]

I'm sorry but I disagree, there is no difference in quality -- or life expectancy -- of good mimeo and good offset. I'm not an artist, I merely turn over the stencils to the little bald man in my life and watch him turn the crank while I mutter the rosary over the whole thing. Mimeo can put out a quality zine... [but] taste is so subjective, I don't know if there's a way to establish any kind of guidelines. I do think Paula did a decent job of laying out basics in the current Menagerie editorial, however, I disagree with the fact that a buyers market and sales statistics can show the existence of quality. We are all aware of the tremendous amount of Trekjunk being sold constantly and quite well." [8]

In the introduction to R & R, Walker and Hitchcock claim they can't "get mimeo printing done" any cheaper than offset. But one doesn't get mimeo done; one does it oneself. That's why mimeo is cheaper; you don't pay for the labor involved. You do it, or else enslave your little brother. Offset is justified if you're extensively printing art." [9]

Mimeo is better than offset because it's cheaper?... I disagree. Mimeo makes a thick zine that takes a lot of postage, but to be readable you need space. between the paragraphs and large type, so there are more pages than you'd need otherwise. And the paper has a spongy texture to it that implies imminent disintegration. But inexpensive offset is not available, everywhere and you use what you've got." [10]

Choosing the Paper, Creating the Cover...The Art of the Deal

Some print zines contained no art and had plain covers. Other zines were more elaborate. Later, as photo-printing became affordable and the quality of such prints improved, glossy print or photo card-print covers were made, and photo-manips became a feature of zines.[11]

A zine's cover might have special significance, in the case of plain card/parchment covered zines. A reviewer expresses their annoyance at the lavender cover joke in the zine Gunther's Revenge:

There were a number of things about GR's production that irritated me--lavender covers for pity's sake (isn't the joke kind of thin by now?)--and dot matrix print that made me read the story in spite of its presentation...[12]

interior art, a two-page silk-screened foldout by Connie Faddis from Interphase #1, a series of zines many consider to be one of the most beautiful fanzines ever created.

One zined, Deb Walsh, remembers:

a zine [can have] the tactile pleasure of fine papers, interesting textures. That was one of my favorite things about the early B7 Complexes – portfolios were printed on lovely parchment paper that not only looked great, they were a treat to touch and hold. I remember spending hours making decisions about which paper stock would be used for each piece of art. The presentation was every bit as important as the art itself. A piece using very fine lines would need to be on a paper providing sufficient contrast that the finer lines weren’t lost. Bolder strokes could carry well on more brilliantly colored stock. And pencil or charcoal pieces could benefit from a textured paper.[13]

The editor of Interphase comments:

You can't imagine how much work goes into hand-printing every sheet -- about four hours per color run, that that does not include stencil-cutting and clean-up time.[14]

A reviewer comments on the cover of Strange Justice:

The cover is gorgeous. I don’t know where they found the paper, and I certainly don’t want to know how much it cost, but it was worth every cent. It’s sensuous, lush, and feels good. It’s a bit Medieval and a tad Mexican, and if we were still giving out awards for Best Cover, this would be it." [15]

The neoprene cover of I, Mutoid drew comments from reviewers:

The zine does, however, have one utterly inspired stylistic touch: the black neoprene cover. Not only does it somehow capture the essence of mutoidness (mutoidity?), it's also tremendous fun. It's hard to resist touching, bending, smooshing, and otherwise playfully fiddling with the thing![16]

Slash and the Challenges of Finding a Print Shop

See Explicit Zines, and Print Shop Adventures.

How Many to Print?

Good question!

Some anecdotes:

In 1999, a fan/zine publisher/writer named [R] remembers the:

...sheer number of fans who bought this stuff. I remember a K/S editor (we're talking late 80's) telling me that a new zine would sell about 250 - 300 copies immediately; then sell another 100 within a few months. Then a final 50-100 would be sold over a year's time. For those zines that were reprinted to meet demand, there were always knew fans discovering zines and wanting the older stuff. I'm curious as to how today's The Sentinel zines compares to these numbers. (In contrast, it takes me about two years to sell 100 copies of my S/H zines, though 1/3 to 1/2 will be sold within months of publication. It's the trickle afterwards that's so hard to predict.) [17]

Over-printing, for a variety of reasons, was always a danger. [R] remembers writers miscalculating appeal as one:

I heard from a friend of a friend back in the 80's that a K/S fan and her gay male friend wrote a certain novel -- I don't want to say the name -- slashing Kirk with an original male character. The authors printed 900 copies of the zine. Interest in the zine was practically zilch, because most K/S fans had no interest whatsoever in reading about Kirk with anyone other than Spock. Even I myself resisted buying it, since it wouldn't fit into my "true" K/S collection. Years later, according to my friend, stacks of those zines were still all over the authors' house. The financial loss must have been devastating. But, really, they should have known better. Obviously, they didn't "get" the point of why there was so much interest in K/S. Fans wanted to read about the love they knew and trusted, not just about a beloved male character having sex with another man.) [18]

Some zine publishers purposely published a limited run. There were a number of reasons for this, one being increased value:

Today, it's so much easier to keep things in print. But I remember some editors who made a conscious decision never to reprint their zines so the originals would retain value.[19]

How Much Did/Does it Cost to Make a Zine?

Also see Fanzines and the Internet or "Whither Thou Goest, Orion Press?" (1998) for much detailed discussion about costs.

a 1979 add for a copy shop (probably in Albuquerque, New Mexico), printed in The Alpha Centura Communicator: Each page gets cheaper and cheaper the more you print!

Doing the math shows how close these editors came with money. In 1980, a Starsky and Hutch letterzine had roughly 120 subscribers. Each issue was $1.25. When the editors explained they were going to have to cut the art or limit the letters, due to expenses, one writer said she'd prefer to have them raise the price, or "charge enough to at least make a little profit for yourselves, and may give the front cover artists a free issue... " The editors' reply: "We appreciate and understand this reasoning, however, our budget simply doesn't allow contributor's copies." (from the June 1980 issue of S and H)

Other Anecdotes:

From "How to Do a Zine" by Mary Urhausen and Cheree Cargill in a 1991 Southern Enclave:

First of all, the one big rule in zine production that you should engrave on your heart in letters of gold is: PREPARE TO TAKE A FINANCIAL LOSS ON YOUR ZINE!) Do not expect to make any money on your zine. Unless you are a total crook, you will end up financing part of the costs out of your own pocket. The facts of life, boys and girls, is that we're using copyrighted and trademarked characters and we use them with the tacit approval and/or tolerance of their creators. That approval and/or tolerance hinges on our ethical use of those characters and on our not making a profit. Anyone caught making a profit will find the Wrath of Lucas on them like a mynock on a power cable. Therefore, you must price your zine so that your expenses are covered (bearing in mind that there is a limit to what the traffic will bear) but that there is darned little, if anything, left over. 99% of the time, you will find yourself dipping into your own pocket. In order to calculate what you should charge for your zine, estimate the final production costs (this generally includes only the printing costs--not paper, rubber cement, labor, etc.), add on postage (check the post office on this), divide by the number of copies you are printing, and you will have a rough estimate on what to charge. I would suggest adding a little bit more on per issue, because you are bound to come out short and the closer you can come to covering your costs, the better.[20]

From The Fantastically Fundamentally Functional Guide to Fandom:

Here's a fast way to figure out the cost of a zine - multiply the number of pages (2 pages are usually I double sided piece of paper) by six or seven cents, then make certain adjustments for style (color or speciality covers, printing or binding). If the zine is way over the mark, double check your figures and take another look at the page count. Understand that a color cover can cost as much as $2.00 or $3.00 per issue, binding can run from 30¢ for staples to $2.S0 for perfect binding per issue, and local photocopy costs may range from two cents to eleven cents per page. The six or seven cents per page range usually takes into account a number of binding and style options and still gets you a good price. If you feel that a zine is overpriced, let the editor know - in a nice way. They only sell zines if people are willing to buy them and someone coming into a market for the first time may not necessarily know what the market price should be.

A zine ed asks about cushioning the price of the zine:

My first zine had a pretty steep price, and I've heard a bit of grumbling (mostly by people un-involved with zines,) although one correspondent gave me a three-page essay on how fanzines were "supposed" to be funded...); I personally wonder how some of the less expensive zines in fandom afford to stay in print! I don't work (I go to school) and don't have an income to fall back on, so the principle of PTOA governed my price structure on Twin Suns #l. As it turned out, I had a small profit which immediately was channeled into *2, turning its price down by about $1.00 a copy under what I would have had to charge otherwise. I'm hoping that the small "cushion" I've included in the price for #2 will give me enough of a nest egg to print a third issue, but it makes me personally nervous to have promised to print stories and artwork and have the prospect of going broke hanging over my head. Maybe I need to send the zine out of town to be printed—I hear of absolutely unbelievable price guidelines elsewhere—but I just plain don't trust a printer I can't stand over and check the work with. And local printers don't carry accounts, so the $1000-1200 printing cost for each issue must be paid on delivery. Is is unethical for me to "cushion" the price of each zine to fund the interim expenses for the next one? (I'm talking about a 12-15% per issue margin.) As it stands now, as I have to wait longer and longer to print my second issue, prices are climbing even as I write and I may take a trouncing on the already-set price of #2.[21]

Regarding a very, hefty letterzine with sparse black and white art in 1984 (Southern Enclave):

Alas and alack: Reaganomics are upon us. As of this issue, I have been forced to raise prices, much though I would have preferred not to. But after sitting down with my trusty calculator and doing some hard figuring, I came to the unhappy conclusion that I am losing over a dollar a copy at the old price of $2.00 an issue. Therefore, since I can only afford to keep doing this as long as it pays for itself and since I do want to keep doing this, I am forced to raise the price to $3.50 an issue, or $10.50 for three issues, or $14.00 for a year. I realize that this is a hefty price hike, but SE costs me around $300 to print, plus .7l a copy postage, and that's not counting the reduction costs which vary per issue.[22]

From The Halkan Council #20/21: a zined takes on two earlier letters in issue #19 that complain about the high price of zines:

Finances are a problem for a zine publisher, but socking all the extra costs onto them is one way to guarantee that fanzines go rapidly extinct. I produced the first issue of Kraith Collected for just over $350 in 1972. That figure included everything, cost of paper, typewriter, layout, non-photo-blue pencils, EVERYTHING. The cost of producing volume five of Kraith Collected is running over $800, including everything. If I had never done anything but pay myself back for the producing of one issue, where, of where, pray tell me, [name omitted], do you expect the extra $450 to come from? Trees? Surely not my pockets. I haven't even paid myself back fro the original $350 yet! Kraith can't afford it. Why shouldn't 450 readers each contribute a dollar to the continued running of a fanzine? (Actually, the figures are closer to 1500 readers each contributing about 30 cents, since I didn't' leap directly from volume one to volume five.) And I'm expected to keep all the back issues in print, too. The fact that Kraith still only costs $3.25 I consider a triumph of economy, since my costs have more than doubled in the past four years.

From a 1991 Southern Enclave:

Now the bad news. Due to sheer economic necessity, I've been forced to raise the price of SE as of this issue. After having to put over $200 of my own money into the last issue, I sat down and figured up exactly what it was costing to preduce SE. As an example, SE#29 cost $7.50 a copy to produce (that's including postage), yet subscribers only paid $5.00. As you can see, that put me $2.50 in the red for each copy. Multiplied by 75, it starts to add up. And lest you think I've been splurging on printing, that cost was as low as I could find, with me standing at Kinko's and xeroxing until smoke starting coming out of the machine! If I'd gone with offset printing, I could have added an additional $250 to the cost!

From Southern Enclave:

I did a STAR TREK zine called Tal-Shaya which ran about 50 pages (non-reduced) and which cost me about $200 to have printed.[23]

From Southern Enclave:

A Tremor in the Force (most of it reduced) cost me nearly $4,000 when all was said and done, including the cost for the color cover and postage. I find that cost totally ridiculous and plan to scale TF back to something we can all afford.[24]

From S and H #4 (1979), a zine publisher asks for donations toward the purchase of an Electro-stencil cutter, a machine that cuts art stencils for mimeo-zines:

I have found a beauty of a bargain for $450 (about the 1/3 of the cost new) and they are holding it for [me] for two months. Help! At this time, I have to pay $3 per Electro-Stencil for my zines; the Blond Blintz Bulletin had eleven illo. That alone was $33... Also, for my fellow zine-producers, I will cut stencils for you for $1 a piece plus postage.

From a publisher in 1997:

Please note that the main reason I am offering electronic format for the 'zines this time is due to many requests, and also complaints about how much printed 'zines cost (which is not due to any profit-taking on my part - small-scale publishing just ain't cheap!) However, consider these files as SHAREWARE and not FREEWARE to the extent that it *still* cost me bucks to produce these files, even though you can access them for free. I still had to send out hardcopies to proofreaders, free printed copies to all contributors, pay for the software I bought EXPRESSLY for the 'zine project, etc etc etc. I can't expect the print copies to absorb all of these costs and keep them at all reasonable. So, I am asking that if you download the files, and enjoy the 'zine, a $1-2 donation this way would be appreciated. Or at least a letter or postcard of appreciation and acknowledgement that you downloaded them.[25]

A fan in 1999 remembers:

It was selling a good portion of my collection in 1992 that gave me the down payment for my house (most of those zines were sold for a profit). I lucked out in the timing, because within a couple of years after that, zines quit increasing in value because everyone always kept them in print, since desktop publishing (and high quality xerox machines) had made the overall printing process much cheaper.[26]

From The Halkan Council #20/21, a letter by Connie Faddis:

"As far as I know, no fans overcharge substantially for a zine. I myself 'round out' [to the nearest 25 cents] the charges because making change at cons (I don't sell at a table, I sell 'out of arm') drives me up a wall. Now, I don't think it's unethical for a zine to make a SMALL profit -- for instance, to pay for a huskster table at cons, to cover the costs of free contributor's copies, and the dozens of miscellaneous items that go into producing a zine, but aren't part of the actual printing cost. Such things might include presstype-lettering, typewriter rental, typing and layout supplies, long-distance last-minute phone calls to distributors, etc...postage is a tricky thing, too. A lot of times, the editor hasn't finished doing the layout yet and isn't quite sure how much the zine and the envelope together will weigh, yet you folks want to know what the issue will cost. The editor must try to estimate... and it's safer to overestimate by an ounce or two. That may mean that the editor could end up making a slight 'profit' ... I suppose, in strict honestly, that the editor should return postage to the consumers. I think if if exceeded 15 cents or so, I myself would do that.

A Beauty and the Beast zined lays it out:

The following shows what goes into the printing of fanzines for the people that do not have access to the Internet. While there are those that can read my stories for the price of a modem, an internet connection and the electricity and land line to run it, others are not quite so lucky and require the stories printed up and sent to them. 1) Paper, sometimes up to one hundred sheets at a time needs a good quality ream - 90grms - 500 sheets - cost £6 2) Toner for printer for 6000 copies - at £55 3) Drum for printer lasts approximately for 20,000 copies (in theory - my last one was finished after 12,000 copies) - £86 4) Designer paper front cover -per 250 sheets from £6 to £8 5) Electricity - cost dependable on time spent producing & writing fan-fic - approximately £6 per day 6) Time and story theme - unlimited and not charged for 7) Spine Binder Bars - 100 for £15 8) Glue - £1.55 9) Backing card - for 250 sheets - £10 10) Bubble envelopes to arrive in prestige condition especially overseas - 50 for £18 11) Envelopes for fliers - 250 for £11 12) Brown envelopes for posting UK - 250 for £11 13) Postage anything from £1 to £7 per fanzine 14) Stickers - £2 a sheet 15) Address labels - £1.50 per sheet 16) Artwork & Poetry percentage of sale or complimentary free copy whichever is preferred by the artist 17) Plastic Film Top Cover - 100 sheets - £18 ...Bring that down to say a 100 page fanzine including electricity use, £14. I sell my zines for £7.50 and the only way possible to make it a little bit even is to charge the same price regardless of the amount of pages - therefore the larger the story the more of a bargain it is for the reader. I wouldn't dare ask people to pay what it costs to produce the fanzine not when they can go out to a bookstore and buy a hundred page bestseller for around £3.50 be it not Beauty and the Beast of course...[27]


For insight into the practice of funding fanzine production costs with upfront deposits, see Fanzine Deposits by Susan Garrett.

The 1980s and Technology

For more information, see: Xerography.

Joan Verba in Boldly Writing remembers: "Personal computers became available, and, as the 1980s progressed, fanzine formats changed from typed to dot-matrix to laser printer quality. Also, inexpensive photocopying became accessible. From this year [1980] on, it would be difficult to distinguish a good photocopied fanzine from an offset fanzine..." Joan Verba also notes that "Mimeographs... became harder and harder to find. Fewer and fewer office supply stores carried mimeo supplies, such as ink, stencils, and special paper." [28]

A long-time fanzine publisher, Devra Langsam, writes of the cusp of changing technology in the editorial of Masiform D #11:

Mimeo used to be cheap and fannish. Now it's not that cheap, comparatively, as quick printer prices drop, and it hardly seems fannish anymore either.[29]

One zine editor extolls Kinkos:

Since [Randall Landers] works for Kinkos here in [city name redacted], Randy does tend to energetically espouse the virtues of their process -- but after all, it does work, and quite well! [The zine Sensor Readings] is ample evidence of that! [30]

Randall Landers explains the glories of the new 1980s technology:

During the early years of fandom, electronic methods of printing were simply out of the question. The technology had not been sufficiently advanced to reduce the costs and convenience. Fifteen years after it all began, there were a number of processes and machines capable of producing a fanzine in minutes. The most noteworthy of these was the Xerox 9500, which at the time was available at many electronic printshops... This copier could take 100 originals and produce 100 double-sided copies of a fanzine, collated, in as little as two hours. The quality of the Xerox copies was excellent, and even fine line artwork could be reproduced. Its disadvantages were few: it was slightly more expensive per page than off-set, it would not reproduce photographs well, and all originals had to be fed through the automatic document feeders and had to be on 20 lbs. paper with no paste-ups. Paste-ups had to be placed by hand on the platen (where the copier takes a 'picture' of the original). This disadvantage is the very embodiment of off-set printing where all originals are placed by hand, so it cannot be truly said that it is a disadvantage. Nowadays, in the age of digital copiers, you can hand-place originals or scan them into your document for quick reproduction. And the cost of copies being what they are allows fanzine publishers, such as Orion Press, to print on demand. That means you simply print the number of zines you sell. You might put together a few extras for distribution at a convention, but you’re not out of the extraordinary cost of printing hundreds or even dozens of zines in the hope that you will sell them.[31]

There was a downside to the new xeroxing technology: first, it led many zine publishers to stop printing art, or at least colored art. As a result, when fanfic began appearing for free on the Internet, fanzines lost one of their major competitive advantages (see Zines and the Internet). Second, it led many fans to question to the value of the zines they were buying. As one fan explained:

As someone who's produced print zines for nearly 15 years, I am appalled at the requested price of them today. Yes, some of the color covers are very nice, and worth the extra cost of color reproduction, especially onto card stock. And, yes, I know the cost of paper soared to nearly double a few years back. But considering that I used to have much of my art screened by a professional printer, and my zine done offset, rather than by photocopy (to which I have no real objection now, with the improvements in reproduction machines and the use of line art!), I know costs, know that photocopy doesn't require the outlay that print does (no plates, etc.), doesn't require a master run of 200+, and that some "editors" are using zines to make money. I also know that some "editors" are far from that; they are publishers, nothing more. I recently sent friends to a zine-heavy convention with a list, and instructions as to who to buy from and who not to. I know reputations of many that have been out for years, and trust their ability. I think the point comes down to Caveat Emptor - Let the Buyer Beware.[32]

From a fan, Liz S., in 1984:

In the last issue [of Contraband] I warned that a printer is capable of taking any beautiful layout job and making a mess of it, no matter how many instructions you give him. I, gave the finished layout of CONTRABAND #1 to the printer's assistant at 8:00 AM on print day. Around 2:30 PM, as I sat in a traffic jam, I began to worry about the cover because it needed special care taken with it, and I didn't think the assistant had really understood my wishes. So at 4:00 PM, after the traffic jam, I stopped in at the printer's. His face broadened into a big cheesy smile. He asked if I'd gotten his message. I said, "no", I was just stopping by about the cover. He was offended that I thought he'd have to be reminded. So what was the message he'd left at my home? He showed me the 1/4-finished master for his xerox (double-sided, while mine had been single). He was printing them backwards so the pages were in the wrong order. This wouldn't have been quite so traumatic if I'd given him a complete master, but due to certain problems, some of the pages were missing. Well, he caught it and I stopped by in time. We made our deadline—in fact CONTRABAND #1 was one month early. But I learned three lessons from this: One, give a complete, or, as complete as possible, master to a printer. Two, don't assume they know what they are doing or are going to pay attention to the job. Three, make sure your instructions are as clear, concise and simple as possible. And be aware—no matter how careful you are, no matter how simple the instructions are, the printer can still muck it up! [33]

The Next Wave in Print Publishing

After offset printing came word processors and emailed submissions, and zine production changed again.

Zines and the Internet

See: Zines and the Internet


Not much here now regarding the production of ezines, but background info is under Ezine.

Langley's Essay on Early Zine Production

In 2003, K.S. Langley wrote an essay on technology's effects on fandom through the years, including a detailed description of how early zines were created:

Production and distribution of fan fiction is another area that has been greatly affected by technology. The methods for producing and distributing fanzines have changed tremendously over the decades. Earlier methods known to SF fandom included hektography, spirit duplication (ditto), and mimeography. Almost all of the earliest ST fanzines were mimeographed—an extremely labor-intensive process.
Producing a mimeographed zine started with retyping the contributions, on manual typewriters, onto eye-straining wax stencil sheets. It required strong fingers, clean typewriter keys, and, for preference, a high-intensity lamp. If the typewriter didn't have a special stencil setting, the typewriter ribbon had to be disengaged manually (because typing a stencil wasn't typing onto the page, it was using the typewriter keys to cut holes in the stencil sheet). The final layout of the zine had to be considered even before the typing started, as the typists had to remember to leave assigned space for artwork when typing up the masters. (Zines were often typed by multiple volunteers, doing their "bit" for fandom, for which they were repaid with a contributor's copy of the zine.)
Errors were a bitch to correct and involved steps like physically cutting the error out of the stencil, typing a correction on another stencil, and using stencil cement to attach the corrected bit where the error had been. To do special titles on a stencil, special lettering guides were used, with a stylus made to incise stencils without ripping them. Artwork was sometimes done directly on the stencil, using a stylus (and sandpaper for shading, if desired). Otherwise, art was done on electro-stencils (an electro-stencil machine translated an illo to stencil by cutting hundreds of tiny holes into a plastic mimeo stencil).
The early models were hand-cranked (electric models appeared later, for those who could afford them). The mimeo drum had to be filled with ink, then the stencil masters were fastened to the drum (one master page at a time). The paper (special "pulp" paper was needed, as regular bond paper could not absorb the ink) was cranked through and slip-sheeted as it came out (putting a piece of paper between each freshly printed page, to prevent smearing). Once the first side of the page was printed and dry, the stack of half-printed paper was put back into the machine, to print on the other side. (If paper of insufficient quality was used, "bleed-through" could result, allowing text from one side of a page to be seen through on the opposite side.)
The result was many, many stacks of separate pages that would have to be collated together and bound. The tradition for many years was to hold a collating party—invite a bunch of fans over to assemble the pages, usually in return for some refreshments and a free copy of the zine. These zines were usually stapled for binding, or hole-punched, although other types of binding came into use with other printing methods (velo binding and perfect binding, for example).
Depending on the quality of equipment, supplies, and the experience of the individual zine producer, mimeo zines could range in visual quality from professional level to the well-you've-got-to-admire-her-enthusiasm-level.
And mimeographs weren't to be found on every street corner. Fans who wanted to produce zines had to get the use of one, probably at a local church or library; it was the rare fan who owned his or her own machine. These factors limited the number of fans who could get involved in publishing zines—it was not for the faint of fandom.
Mimeo fanzines began going out of fashion when offset print shops became more common, but I have in my collection beautiful mimeo zines produced as late as 1994.
Offset printing was the next generation of zine production, as it became much more available to fans in the mid-to-late seventies. For offset printing, the zine editor produced a camera-ready copy and handed it off to the printing shop. Depending on the services offered, the prices, and the editor's finances, some chose to have the print shop do the collating and binding as well as the printing. Others might pick it up after it was printed and complete the process in the more traditional way.
Electric typewriters—when they appeared and for those who had them—made the process of retyping the contributions easier. But, as these models were not yet self-correcting, there was still no easy way to correct errors. "Corflu" (correction fluid) was the zine publisher's best friend. For offset, the typed originals required nonerasable typing paper (put your hand up if you remember erasable typing paper), clean typewriter keys, and a fresh, dark typewriter ribbon (put your other hand up if you remember changing typewriter ribbons . . . and getting the ink all over yourself).
Offset production offered the zined formatting options not available to them in mimeo production, such as reduced print. Assembling the layout masters involved the use of rubber cement, rulers, photo-invisible blue pencils, scissors, liquid paper, and oversized layout sheets. To achieve, for example, reduced print, a typical method involved mathematically calculating the ratio of reduction desired and then taking the typed pages and literally cutting and pasting them, with rubber cement and a ruler for measurement, to oversized layout sheets. As another example, to get a two column format it was necessary to determine what the final width of a single column should be and set the typewriter margins accordingly, type a single column of text to a page, cut it and rubber cement it to a layout sheet, then paste the next column next to it. The blue pencil (which could not be picked up by the camera that was used to shoot the copy for printing) was used to mark margins and centers, align art, make notes to the printer, etc.
To change typefaces (with electric typewriters, not manuals) the typing element had to be taken out of the typewriter and a replacement element (such as an italic element) inserted, then switched back. Titles, borders, and page numbers were added with transfer lettering/border sets purchased at the office supply store, using a photo invisible blue pencil and ruler to mark where they went and then rubbing them on the page by hand. Artwork had its own requirements, such as photomechanical transfers for half-tone pencil work. Colored pencil work and watercolors also required special handling. Pen and ink work was usually camera-ready. Frequently, illustrations submitted had to be cropped and then rubber-cemented to the master. Some particulary ambitious zine editors and artists even produced artwork that was hand silk-screened, a particularly snazzy effect that you don’t see any more.
The option of offset printing not only enabled more fans to get into the zine-production game, but it also increased their ability to produce zines that looked more visually polished than most of their mimeo counterparts.
Some zines combined printing methods: using offset printing for the artwork, for example, while doing the text on mimeo. Whether the publication method used was mimeograph or offset, there were many other steps in the production of the zine that had to be accomplished without benefit of current technology. Soliciting contributions, working with the contributors on editing and revising, advertising, and sales relied on postal service communication and whatever long-distance phone calls the budget could handle. Editing could not be facilitated by turning on a "Track and Edit Changes" feature, either. Contributors mailed in their manuscripts double-spaced, the editor wielded his or her red pencil to greater or lesser extent, photocopied the edited manuscript for the file, then sent it back. If the editing was extensive, the contributor retyped the manuscript with the agreed-upon changes before returning it (how many times the submission went back and forth in this manner varied, obviously).[34]

Resource Zines About Zine Publishing

Meta/Further Reading


  1. ^ from The Communicator v.3 n.5
  2. ^ from a letter in The K/S Press #6 (1997)
  3. ^ from the Star Wars letterzine Southern Enclave #42
  4. ^ from Have Phaser, Will Travel, September 28, 2008
  5. ^ from the Starsky and Hutch zine, Don't Give Up On Us, Baby
  6. ^ from the editorial of Changeling
  7. ^ from Implosion #6
  8. ^ a zined in the same issue, Implosion #6, disagrees
  9. ^ from Implosion #5
  10. ^ from Stardate: Unknown #4 in a review of Pegasus
  11. ^ for example Longing to Belong and Damage, both NCIS zines
  12. ^ from S and H #33/#34
  13. ^ My Life in Fandom: Presentation and Purpose, Archived version, accessed 5.4.2011
  14. ^ from issue #2
  15. ^ from S and H #37
  16. ^ Hermit: I, Mutoid (accessed 12 September 2012)
  17. ^ Venice Place, accessed 12.15.2010
  18. ^ Venice Place, accessed 12.15.2010
  19. ^ Venice Place, accessed 12.15.2010
  20. ^ Southern Enclave issue #28, Spring 1991
  21. ^ from Alderaan #12
  22. ^ from Southern Enclave
  23. ^ Southern Enclave issue #28, Spring 1991
  24. ^ Southern Enclave issue #28, Spring 1991
  25. ^ from Plans Scams and Vans issue #3 by Sockii Press.
  26. ^ Venice Place, accessed 12.15.2010
  27. ^ Romantic Reflections, accessed 4.16.2011
  28. ^ Boldly Writing
  29. ^ from Masiform D #11, Masiform D #12 became offset and perfect bound
  30. ^ from Sensor Readings #1
  31. ^ Orion Press, accessed 2.17.2011
  32. ^ fanfiction: web or zine? posted to alt.startrek.creative dated May 29, 1999.
  33. ^ from the introduction to The Perils of Publishing in Contraband #2
  34. ^ K.S. Langley, The Times, They are a'Changing, posted to the Fanfic Symposium on June 19, 2003 (expanded from an earlier email to FCA-L. Accessed June 2, 2009.