Proceeding from the general surveys of seven particular
areas of self-publishing that I have examined here, it becomes
clear that certain themes and practices are common to all of
them. It is perhaps to state the obvious that all of these varied
practices coalesce in shaping the physical presence of the publication,
and that the magazine itself can be considered as the site or
vehicle through which these themes are given expression. So in
answering my initial inquiry of, what do zines do?, I want in
this concluding section to pull together the threads that have
given rise to this unique form of publishing activity.
is one way in which a variety of marginalized, special interest,
sub-cultural, or other underrepresented minority groups can give
an affirmative voice to their interests and concerns. Whether
generated by the established media's lack of coverage, biased
coverage, total exclusion, or generated in direct opposition
to the established media, self-publishing offers one viable alternative
to communicating a groups' ideas within and beyond their immediate
magazines play various roles within any of the above groups.
One of their intrinsic roles is that of being networking agents
within the group. For many of these groups, where the members
are dispersed geographically, culturally and politically, they
provide links in the chain of communication, channels for exchanging
information, notification of projects, and documentation pertinent
to each groups' needs and interests. The 'open' nature of many
of these magazines also provides a space in which discussion,
debate and correspondencevital elements in furthering any
groups aims and philosophiescan take place. Finally, in
perhaps their most important networking role, they are one of
the active agents through which the groups' identity takes shape
and is given shape.
The role and the
development of accessible printing technology cannot be underestimated
in charting the course of self-publishing. The rapid increase
in the number of zines from the mid-'70s onwards, together with
the beginnings of the early Science Fiction fanzines all owe
a huge debt to developments in this field. Adopted by small institutions
with limited budgets and publishing runs small enough for more
traditional printing methods to be uneconomical, the mimeo, the
ditto machine and the photocopier (amongst other methods), all
found willing hands to run off material above and beyond their
circumscribed institutional uses.
These autonomous and decentralized publishing
machines allowed the self-publisher to circumscribe altogether
the traditional printing hierarchy and all the censorial and
editorial implications of this system. Freed from these constraints,
self-publishers were able to take exceptional liberties with
the design, lay-out and content of their publications. The other
advantage of this technology (as photocopiers demonstrate today),
is that it's relatively easy for a group or individual on a limited
budget, to produce a quite respectable small-run publication.
Riding tandem with
the self-publishers' access to economical duplicative technology,
has been the 'decentralizing' effect that this technology has
had. Comprised partly of an attack on the cultural influence
of the larger metropolitan areas, this 'decentralization' was
also an affirmation that geographic location was now no longer
a barrier to producing a publication that had international contributors,
and that would have relevance in all these countries.
What these self-publications
do outside of the groups that generate them is a harder question
to answer. The problems of distribution are legendary, compounded
by a notoriously inadequate and in many cases unreliable infrastructure.
So, to the extent that any small self-publisher would ideally
love to see their zines gracing the racks of thousands of stores
across the country, accompanied by the subsequent exposure and
increased revenues, it is a relevant question.
One approach to
answering this question lies in examining the very reasons that
brought them into existence in the first place, and in confronting
this question, another more pressing one presents itself: are
these publications published primarily for the group or milieu
that generated them, or are they published more to publicize
the groups' concerns to the world at large?
As I have noted
in an earlier paragraph many zines are published in opposition
to, or in reaction to, the established media's coverage of similar
areas or from a perceived inadequate coverage, or indeed a lack
of coverage. As a result these publications are generated quite
self-consciously as an alternative. Even if the established distribution
system for the traditionally high profile magazines were to miraculously
open its arms to self-published magazines, it would necessitate
examining some obvious contradictions for self-publishers.
Pertinent to this dilemma are the bitter lessons
learned from the 1960s and the 70s, and that is that capital
has a unique capacity to commodify and subsequently neutralize,
even the most extreme cultural productions, (one has to look
no further than conceptual art and punk rock for some of the
more obvious examples). This situation did not pass unnoticed
by self-publishers, and this dilemma and its contradictions illuminates
an area that is close to the heart of self-publishing. Not only
is self-publishing generated by an opposition, or a reaction
to the established media, it is also generated by a refusal,
and central to this refusal is the establishment of a modus operandi
that exists outside of, and distinct from, the dominant ideology.
Only by adopting
this position of refusal could self-publishing maintain a position
that is unassailable to the forces of commodification and compromise.
In this sense one can legitimately speak of an 'underground culture,'
or a 'parallel culture' that exists alongside and in opposition
to the dominant culture, but without the explicit aim of seeking
to replace it. So I would suggest, in partial answer to the questions
posed in the above paragraph, that what zines do outside of the
groups that generate them is to draw sympathetic individuals
into an active involvement with this underground culture in order
to expand its base and further propagate its activities and philosophy.
in answering the questions posed above is provided by the technical
means by which self-publishers print their publications. Simply
put, the technical process to a large extent defines the limits
of their circulation and distribution, and since they are not
printed in significantly large enough numbers, they are unable
to acquire a high profile outside of their milieu of origin.
feature of self-publishing is the examination of the role and
power of the editor. Consistent with their more general refusal,
self-publishers have developed various strategies aimed at consciously
questioning the role of the editor. The development of assembling
publications and the adoption of an assembling-type approach,
being the most obvious example. (1,2)
Perhaps the best way to describe these features
of self-publishing, is that it is an 'open system.' It relies
upon members of the group to generate the contents of each issue.
Naturally, this approach cannot totally mitigate against editorial
preference or control, but nevertheless it quite consciously
seeks to create a climate in which the traditional role of the
editor is continually usurped.
Finally, and in
one very fundamental respect, self-publishing rests upon a system
of exchange and mutual trust. With the profit motive not an issue,
and no pay-offs for those with spurious motives, self-publishing
becomes a collaborative activity, the site of an accessible,
unmediated and independent voice. The publications that are generated
and exchanged amongst these groups, act simultaneously as the
link and the expression of this trust.
1. As the brief paragraph about APAzines
at the end of the Assembling section details, APAs are totally
dependent upon the involvement of its members in submitting material,
and subsequently the APAzine is quite literally the sum of its
2. The question of commissioning people to write or create visual
material for a publication is largely a theoretical one, since
most self-publishers do not have the resources available to make
these kinds of offers. In the cases that people are specifically
requested to submit material, this would depend solely on the
largesse of the person requested.
Frauenfelder, Mark. Cheap Memes: Zines,
Metazines, and the Virtual Press
Article about zines as underground carriers of
ideas and the implications of self-produced zines devoted to
a variety of subjects dear to the heart of the publisher (zinester).
Mentions specifically APAs (Amateur Press Associations publications),
political zines, religious zines, special interest zines and
virtual zines (electronic zines). "So where, then can unpopular,
hot, radical, or strange memes survive and propagate? Where can
the intrepid meme-explorer find a dose of exotica? SHe needs
only to dip hir brain into the zine pool, the wild ocean of self-published
magazines, where fish learn to breath and salamanders sprout
feathers and try to fly. It is only here, in the primordial soup,
far away from the dinosaurs of the overground media, where these
new ideas have a chance to test their wings. Because zine makers,
also known as zinesters, are unburdened by the restraints of
commercialism and public opinion, their publications can carry
strange memes. And because zinesters are usually more interested
in propagating ideas than they are in generating a profit, zines
are a plentiful source of cheap memes."
Gunderloy, Mike. Why Publish? Rensselaer: Pretzel Press, 1989.
Book of statements from self-publishers as to
why they publish their magazines. "Now that the cities have
fallen to moneyed Yups, the zine-scene alone provides a true
Bohemia, a place you yourself help create, ruled by the laws
of play. The squabbles and the swaps, the pseudonyms and declarations
of ridiculous war, all certify this the great Playground What
Paris was to Hemingway and co., what North Africa was to the
Beats, the zine scene is to us. Our turf."
Z, Bob. Stop Reading Zines: A Warning
to Addicts. Samizine: Rayozine Studio. New York, dates unavailable,
This catalogue for the Second Annual North Brooklyn
Small Press Convention's Samizine show includes this article
by Bob Z., warning of the dangers of getting involved in reading
and publishing zines. "Fanzines ruin America, I know. I'm
an American and fanzines ruined me. I can't sleep. Ideas in and
out of mind and force me to rise from bed. As meaningless as
these thoughts (usually) are, their power saps my strength, drawn
out of sleep, I am pulled by this powerful force that I have
come to recognize: fanzine addict. Onward to the milk crates,
to the milk crates filled with zines, all shapes and sizes...each
cryptic, obscene from obscure people in dusty rooms with junkyard
bicycle tires and non-working lamps strewn about forgotten mounds
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