Talking With Sean Guillory of Primordial Soup
by Jen Angel
your distribution operation work?
We work on consignment
only. As much as I'd like to purchase zines up front, I don't
have the cash. It's a risk for the publisher, but in the zine
business you know about risk. First step is to send a sample
copy, ideally with a piece of paper that states how much you
want for each copy sold and the most you want it sold for. After
we look over it, we send you a response. If we take it you send
10 copies. We put them on the catalog and in a local record store
which before we came along was zineless.
The cut is right
down the middle. All we ask is to cover our postage. A few we
lose postage on but it's made up on others. We update you every
other month on its progress, which includes any money we owe
you and how many we have left. If your zines don't sell well
after a few months we send them back.
Tony and I decide
on what zines to carry. He likes certain types of zines and I
like certain types. He likes more fringe and literary stuff and
hates music zines. I like political zines and hate literary zines.
But we don't choose exclusively on whether we like the content
or not. The zine must be interesting. It must have some effort
put into it, some thought. People who submit zines into distros
need to ask themselves honestly: Does this zine have anything
that might draw someone's interest? and Is the price I want to
sell this for worth it? We receive some of the most substandard
zines I've ever seen. Total crap. This made me feel for Factsheet
Five because it's a lot easier to me to send a postcard saying
"no" than having to review utter shit.
We also get good
zines but they want enormous prices for them. It takes a lot
for someone to shell out more than two bucks for a zine they
can't see themselves. I don't like to reject people, because
I know how much time it takes to make a zine and I know how much
pride they have for it. You are blinded by your creation. It's
hard to tell right after you finish your zine if it sucks or
not. This isn't to discourage people from sending us samples,
we aren't as hard-nosed as this sounds. We're not bad guys.
What do you
look for in a zine, besides being interesting?
We do understand
that no zine is really that original. So we're not going to reject
something because it features something unoriginal. But it has
to be presented in a way that's fun to read. Something that Tony
or myself would consider buying. Plus the attitude must be there.
The attitude that the person is doing it because they like it.
That attitude is usually reflected in the price. People who charge
inflated prices don't understand. We have gotten zines that charge
three dollars for what other people would sell for a buck. Charging
a buck for a zine that is packed full of stuff shows me that
you create it because you want people to read it, first and foremost.
I know that not
all people who do zines have the opportunity to scam copies and
have connections to get things for free. Like most things there's
a socioeconomic factor to it. I guess it's how much you are willing
to sacrifice for your art.
Do you think
the distributions are bad because they take away from the reader-writer
relationship and make zines more of a commodity?
don't take away from the reader-writer relationship because a
relationship can only be established if the person who reads
the zine drops a letter to the writer giving feedback, creating
a correspondence. Sure the publisher doesn't know where their
zine is going, but a person mailing a buck to a zine saying,
"Hey I saw your zine here please send me one," doesn't
create a relationship. The relationship part is entirely in the
hands of the reader.
You can look at
the commodity part in two ways. First, it is a commodity because
an exchange is taking place. A transfer of money or trade. But
if you look at it in the modern sense as something that is widespread,
in abundance, so mass produced that it loses its personal touch,
than no, zines aren't a commodity. Zines aren't so available
that you can walk to the grocery store and purchase one. The
scarcity of them is what keeps them from being a commodity.
Just because zines
have gotten some press in major magazines doesn't put them in
the mainstream. They are still far removed from that. Because
we read and publish zines we think that a sudden influx of them
means they're mainstream. If they were, there would be no need
for people like me and you to have mail orders.
What do you
think is important about zines?
I see only two
types of free exchange of information left: The Internet and
zines. It's only a matter of time before corporate America turns
the Internet into a new cable or television system. But zines
will never be stamped out, just as when in the colonial period,
the later 1800s during the labor movement and the '60s independent,
self-published papers couldn't be silenced.
The face of zines
has changed from the politically active and the entertaining
to those more involved in "alternative" trends. There
are two trends of zines. There are those who produce zines because
they love it, they have something to say and they realize that
they will not get rich. Then there are the others. The ones who
have read about zines in Spin or something and see it as a cool
thing. But they don't get it. They want to at least break even.
And wanting to break even isn't thinking realistic.
When we start our
first zine, it tends to suck but we do it, we learn and they
get better. Tony and I were talking about this. To do a zine
you have to have ego. He said that zines are 90 percent ego and
10 percent free stuff. You have to believe that someone wants
to read what you write. People who do zines need to say what
they mean and not be passive about it. If you are going to be
wishy washy don't waste my time. Stand by your opinion as truth
till someone proves you wrong or convinces you otherwise.
I think that's
what makes ANSWER Me! and Second Guess as well as others so good.
They give what they think and aren't afraid to offend anyone.
This is why zines are important, it gives a voice and communication
apparatus to the person in the big city or the farmhand in the
middle of nowhere and allows them to communicate to many people.
It may be a slow process, but it happens. It lets people know
that there are other ideas than the ones in major magazines.
do you think zines play in society?
Zines are the underground
of the underground press, the ordinary person's voice of what
happens around them. Most underground publications that critique
existing political, economic and social systems tend to be academic.
Zines make it fun. Whether you're writing about serial killers
or a small punk band, you're relaying information that would
never cross someone's mind. Zines are the scum at the bottom
of the sewer, they dig out the muck of the world and drop it
right in your lap.
for zines not to stray too far from the mainstream. Especially
if it is a political zines. Featuring the underground is great,
it needs to be exposed. But zines need to critique mainstream
society. Another beauty about zines is the information they put
forth. If there's a subject you're into, there's probably a zine
that deals with it. Many people I know who have no idea what
zines are. The first question they ask is, "Do you make
money from it?" When I answer no, they look baffled. They
wonder why I do it. How can I lose money and not care?
They also discount
their validity. They feel they have nothing of worth or of interest
to say. This comes from the idea that if it doesn't have a glossy
cover and isn't distributed across the nation and isn't called
Time or Newsweek. The idea that a publication must have a professional
look is a version of information control. I've read better accounts
and reports on things in a digest-sized, badly copied zine than
I've read in a big magazine. Zines are boundless sources of information.
They are great because they are never objective and shouldn't
to accept more criticism as a way to make their zines better.
It's hard not to take it as a personal attack. Also, if you see
a zine you want and you know it's sold through a small mail-order
or distributor buy it from them. That way you can keep people
like myself from losing their morale and show that you are interested
so more people will be willing to put their zines in the catalogs.
This interview first appeared in Fucktooth,
available by sending two bucks to P.O. Box 353, Mentor, OH 44061.
Copyright 1996 Jen Angel.
Posted with permission. Sean shut down the catalog in early 2000
after five years. "The reason is simple," he said.
"I just don't have the passion for it anymore. The work
needed maintain the mailorder (keeping inventory, writing up
catalogs, reviewing submissions, paying out people) has become
a burden and chore."
to mainexternal sites open in new window
report new or dead sites here