A zine (an abbreviation of the word fanzine, or magazine; , "zeen") is most commonly a small circulation, non-commercial publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier on a variety of colored paper stock.

A popular definition includes that circulation must be 5,000 or less, although in practice the significant majority are produced in editions of less than 100, and the intention of the publication is not primarily to raise a profit.

Zines are written in a variety of formats, from computer-printed text to comics to handwritten text (an example being Cometbus). Print remains the most popular zine format, usually photo-copied with a small circulation. Topics covered are broad, including fanfiction, politics, art and design, ephemera, personal journals, social theory, single topic obsession, or sexual content far enough outside of the mainstream to be prohibitive of inclusion in more traditional media. The time and materials necessary to create a zine are seldom matched by revenue from sale of zines. Small circulation zines are often not explicitly copyrighted and there is a strong belief among many zine creators that the material within should be freely distributed. In recent years a number of photocopied zines have risen to prominence or professional status and have found wide bookstore and online distribution. Highly notable among these are Giant Robot, Dazed & Confused, Bust, Fever Zine and Maximum RocknRoll.


Since the invention of the printing press (if not before), dissidents and marginalized citizens have published their own opinions in leaflet and pamphlet form. Thomas Paine published an exceptionally popular pamphlet titled "Common Sense" that led to insurrectionary revolution. Paine is considered to be a significant early independent publisher and a zinester in his own right, but then, the mass media as we now know it did not exist. A countless number of obscure and famous literary figures would self-publish at some time or another, sometimes as children (often writing out copies by hand), sometimes as adults.

The exact origins of the name "zine" and the moment when the word was first used are controversial. In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin also started a literary magazine for psychiatric patients at a Pennsylvania hospital, which was distributed amongst the patients and hospital staff. This could be considered the first zine, since it captures the essence of the philosophy and meaning of zines. The concept of zines clearly had an ancestor in the amateur press movement (a major preoccupation of H. P. Lovecraft), which would in its turn cross-pollinate with the subculture of science fiction fandom in the 1930s.

During and after the depression, editors of "pulp" SF magazines became increasingly frustrated with letters detailing the impossibilities of their science fiction stories. Over time they began to publish these overly-scrutinizing letters, complete with their return addresses. This caused these fans to begin writing to each other, now complete with a mailing list for their own science fiction fanzines.

Fanzines enabled fans to write not only about science fiction but about fandom itself and, in soi dissant perzine (i.e. personal zine), about themselves. As the Damien Broderick novel Transmitters (1984) shows, unlike other, isolated, self-publishers, the more "fannish" (fandom-oriented) fanzine publishers had a shared sensibility and at least as much interest in their relationships between fans as in the literature that inspired it.

The punk zines emerged as part of the punk movement in the late 1970s. These started in the UK and the U.S.A. and by March 1977 had spread to other countries such as Ireland. Cheap photocopying had made it easier than ever for anyone who could make a band flyer to make a zine.

During the 1980s and onwards, Factsheet Five (the name came from a short story by John Brunner), originally published by Mike Gunderloy and now defunct, catalogued and reviewed any zine or small press creation sent to it, along with their mailing addresses. In doing so, it formed a networking point for zine creators and readers (usually the same people). The concept of zine as an art form distinct from fanzine and of the "zinesters" as member of their own subculture, had emerged. Zines of this era ranged from perzines of all varieties to those which covered an assortment of different and obscure topics which web sites (such as Wikipedia) might cover today but for which no large audience existed in the pre-internet era.

The early 1990s riot grrrl scene encouraged an explosion of zines of a more raw and explicit, more confrontational and definitely more gender-balanced (until this time, males tended to make up the majority of zinesters) nature. Following this, zines enjoyed a brief period of attention from conventional media and a number of zines were collected and published in book form.

Zines faded from public awareness in the late 1990s. It can be argued that this was the natural course of a declining fad, though it can also be stated with some justification that the sudden growth of the internet, and the ability of private web-pages to fulfill much the same role of personal expression, was a stronger contributor to their pop culture expiration. Indeed, many zines were transformed into websites, such as Boingboing.

After 1997, now out of the limelight, zines have been adopted by those particularly attached to the print medium; for artistic expressions not replicable on a computer, functional purposes (a zine is innately more portable than a computer), or for subcultural reasons.

Zines continue to be popular. Currently "zines" are important to the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement. Recently galvanizing social issues such as globalization, environmentalism, media conglomeration, American imperialism and consumerism have been addressed within the pages of zines. Not all zines endorse any particular ideology. Current trends are easing back towards obsessive fan culture about a specific topic as the personal zines are starting to dwindle in numbers, replaced primarily by blogging.

Distribution and circulation

Zines are sold through many different outlets, from zine symposiums and publishing fairs to record stores, book stores, at concerts, independent media outlets, zine 'distros' and via mail order. They are also sold online either via websites or social networking profiles.

Zines which are distributed for free are either traded directly between zinesters or given away at the outlets mentioned.

Webzines are to be found in many places on the Internet.


Zines are most often obtained through mailorder distributors. There are many cataloged and online based mailorder distros for zines. Some of the longer running and more stable operations include Last Gasp in San Francisco, Parcell Press in Richmond, VA, Microcosm Publishing in Bloomington, IN, Loop Distro in Chicago, Great Worm Express Distribution in Toronto, and in the UK Café Royal zines + underground press, All That Glitters in Nottingham, and CornDog Publishing in Ipswich. Zine distros often have websites which you can place orders on. Because these are small scale DIY projects run by an individual or small group, they often close after only a short time of operation. Those that have been around the longest are often the most dependable.


Several bookstores stock zines. Notable examples include Cafe Royal in the UK; Sticky in Melbourne; Reading Frenzy and Powell's in Portland; Needles and Pens in San Francisco; Quimby's in Chicago; Mac's Backs Paperbacks in Cleveland, OH; Arise Books in Minneapolis; Boxcar Books in Bloomington, IN; Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia; Civic Media Center in Gainesville, FL; Bluestockings in NYC; Five in Charleston, SC; Brian MacKenzie Infoshop in Washington, DC; and Book Beat & Co. in Oklahoma City, OK.


A number of major public and academic libraries carry zines and other small press publications, often with a specific focus (e.g. women's studies) or those that are relevant to a local region.

Notable U.S.A. public and academic library zine collections include:

The U.S.A. also has a number of libraries devoted entirely to zine production and/or archiving, including:

In the UK a special collection is held at the London Met Women's Library

In Canada, there is:

  • Bibliograph/e in Montréal
  • the Toronto Zine Library (Tranzac, 292 Brunswick Ave. Toronto, ON)
  • the Welland Zine Library (11 Ascot Ct., Welland Ontario, Canada, L3C 6K7)
  • the Anchor Archive Zine Library (5684 Roberts Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)
  • the Hamilton Zine Library (27 King William St Hamilton Ontario)

In Australia there is:

Zine events

In Canada, there is:

In the United Kingdom, there are:

In Australia there is:

In Germany there is:

In the United States, there is:

In France there is:

Zines in fiction

The main character of a Canadian television show produced by the CBC called Our Hero, Kale Stiglic (Cara Pifko) created her own zine.

Damien Broderick's novel Transmitters follows a small group of Australian science fiction fans through their lives over several decades. Pastiches of fanzine writing (from fictitious fanzines) form some of the text of the novel.

Set in the 80s and 90s zine heyday, Walking Man by Tim W. Brown is a comic novel written in the form of a scandalous tell-all biography that portrays the life and times of Brian Walker, publisher of the zine Walking Man, who rises from humble origins to become the most famous zinester in America.

In the novel Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, the main character John begins writing a zine called Bananafish after reading other people's zines he found at Tower Records. One of these zines is written by a girl named Marisol who writes a zine called Escape Velocity. After reading her zine, John decides to meet her and their friendship grows from there.

Lunch Money, a children's book by Andrew Clements, has sixth-grader Greg Kenton creating and selling mini comic books, as a way to make money, which leads to one of his classmates making her own publication.

In the Nickelodeon cartoon show Rocket Power, one of main cast characters, Reggie, publishes her own zine about action sports.

Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing is a semi-fictional depiction of the anarcho-punk and riot grrrl scene in early 90s Washington, DC.

See also

Books and Films about zines

  • Bartel, Julie. From A to Zine: Building a Winning Zine Collection in Your Library. American Library Association, 2004.
  • Biel, Joe A hundred dollars and a T-shirt: A Documentary About Zines in Portland. Microcosm Publishing, 2004, 2005, 2008 (Video)
  • Brent, Bill Make a Zine. Microcosm Publishing, 1999, 2008
  • Brown, Tim W. Walking Man, A Novel. Bronx River Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9789847-0-0
  • Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. Microcosm Publishing, 1997, 2008. ISBN 1-85984-158-9
  • Kennedy, Pagan. Zine: How I Spent Six Years of My Life in the Underground and Finally...Found Myself...I Think (1995) ISBN 0-312-13628-5
  • Spencer, Amy. DIY: The Rise of Lo-Fi Culture. Marion Boyars Publishers, Ltd., 2005.
  • Watson, Esther and Todd, Mark. "Watcha Mean, What's a Zine?" Graphia, 2006. ISBN 978-0618563159
  • Vale, V. Zines! Volume 1 (RE/Search, 1996) ISBN 0-9650469-0-7
  • Vale, V. Zines! Volume 2 (RE/Search, 1996) ISBN 0-9650469-2-3
  • Wrekk, Alex. Stolen Sharpie Revolution. Portland: Microcosm Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-9726967-2-5
  • samproof DIY Video


External links

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