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Zinesters grapple
with the ad thing
By Ellen Mediati

Contrast the resurrection of bOING bOING with the success of Green, and you have a tale of two zine ad philosophies. While bOING bOING epitomizes the anti-ad sentiments of some of the more radical zines, Green embraces the traditional ad-driven model. But both illustrate an interesting development: As the underground press becomes more and more co-opted into popular culture—even Rolling Stone has its own so-called Zine Scene—there is a line being drawn between those zinesters who go into publishing for pleasure and those who make it a business.
West Hollywood, California-based bOING bOING, devoted to offbeat artists and hobbies, had been around for seven years when editors Carla Sinclair and Mark Frauenfelder suspended publication in 1995. At the time, the once-obscure title was booming with a hefty (by zine standards) paid circulation of 17,500. But Sinclair and Frauenfelder complained that ad solicitation, distribution and fulfillment chores robbed them of the pleasure of printing. This month, they relaunch bOING bOING as an ad-free title with a print run of just 1000.
The way Sinclair sees it, advertising "ruins the whole spirit of zines." She and Frauenfelder originally introduced bOING bOING to "express ourselves." But the two instead found themselves catering increasingly to their music advertisers, feeling obliged to expand editorial coverage of the topic.
"We were compromising our magazine," says Sinclair. "I understand that regular magazines have to have advertising to pay the bills. But we want to keep it a zine, a hobby-not our business." Sinclair has turned down former advertisers and no longer takes new subscriptions because she doesn't want to abide by a production schedule.
Then there's John Packel, publisher of New York City-based Green, a year-old personal-finance guidebook for the young, mobile set. Packel wants lots of ads. "We're different from most zines," he admits. "We're not a one-man show or a hobby. We ultimately want someone to buy the magazine."
Packel works full-time for Green—a rarity in zinedom, where most publishers, like Betty Boob of Bust, sneak in ad-sales calls "when the bosses are on their lunch breaks." With a paid circulation of 10,000, Green recently switched to a four-color, glossy format in an effort to attract major media buyers. The upgrade has prevented Green from turning a profit at the moment, but both Motorola and MetLife placed color ads in the winter issue.
Most zines fall somewhere between Green and bOING bOING on the ad front. Higher-circulation titles, like New York City's POPSmear with 10,000 circulation ($3, 105 Thompson St., #3, New York, NY 10012) and Bust with 12,000, tend to see advertising as a viable source of support and are more likely to solicit media buyers, especially in the music and street-wear industries. Lower-circ zines, such as New York City-based But A Paper Dress with 300 circulation ($2, P.O. Box 503, Scarsdale, NY 10583) and Second Guess with 1000 to 2000 circulation ($3, Box 9382, Reno, NV 89507), are more likely to view ads as a complement to editorial. They spend less time selling space and are more selective about the ads they run.
Bob Conrad, editor/publisher of the punk-inspired Second Guess, screens all prospective music labels before he accepts any advertising. If he doesn't like one label's product or ideology, he refuses to run its ad. "Advertising ultimately cheapens quality standards," says Conrad. Second Guess relies on subscriptions and the support of Conrad's own mail-order company, selectively taking some advertising because "there are businesses out there that are worth supporting."
Sometimes, though, not everybody wants the support, as one title recently discovered. But A Paper Dress, a Loyalty Press fanzine dedicated to the band They Might Be Giants, tried to sell an ad to Elektra Records to promote the band's new release. "They didn't want it," says editor/publisher Julie Ana Klausner, "so I offered to give them the space for free. I really wanted to promote the new CD." But the label still said no. "They told me my zine wasn't worthy of their ad," says Klausner, who proceeded to write about the snub in the space she'd reserved for the ad.
Another New York City zine, Fishwrap (2130 Broadway, #915, New York, NY 10023), actually got into trouble for giving away space. The 5000-circulation title, which pokes fun at the magazine industry, reproduced an ad for Moonlight Tobacco in the Winter 1995 issue without the company's knowledge. "I like [Moonlight] and thought the ad would look good," says editor/publisher Marty Wombacher, adding that he regularly "comps" ads to music labels, restaurants and products he likes. But when Moonlight found out about the unauthorized ad last September, the Chicago-based cigarette company was less than grateful. Representatives called Wombacher and insisted that Fishwrap never print the ad again.
Although Moonlight hasn't commented on the situation, Wombacher suggests that his magazine's parodies of tobacco advertisers may have something to do with it. "It's sick the way that advertisers dictate everything," says Wombacher. "They should have nothing to say about the editorial. I only owe them an audience."

This piece originally appeared in the February 1, 1997, issue of Folio:. Copyright 1997 Cowles Business Media. Posted with permission.

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