Zines versus The Internet
November 02, 2009 — by e. chris lynch
We here at Microcosm often hear the question "has the internet killed zines?" This implication assumes two things: 1) that print is dead or dying, and 2) that blogs fulfill the same role as zines have in the past. While both of these assumption do have some degree of merit, I do not believe they are looking at the whole picture.
My usual response to the death of print is that print is not dead; print as we know it may be dead. The conglomeration and growing monopolies of large publishers and distributors is proving to be as unstable as the bloated, unrestrained capitalist system in which they exist. But zines have never existed as a part of that system. In fact, they have existed as an unapologetic opposition to that system. So why would anyone assume that the fall of capitalist print would equate to the fall of zines?
Although blogs do seem to fulfill a large part of the role of zines - to allow anyone, particularly those on the margins, to share their voice - they are something intrinsically different. Zines exist within a certain subculture, one that the book Notes From Underground can do a far better job at explaining than I can. While that subculture shares a lot in common with blogging (which is why you will see several zinesters with blogs), there is something different about the world of print. Something that allows you to connect to your voice and the mode of expressing your voice in a way that blogs can't do. Zines allow you to speak passionately, but also to show that passion in the way you layout or construct each issue. Zines also allow a physical connection between the writer and the reader. This is not to say that zines are better than blogs. It is just to say that they are different and will fill different roles for people. Therefore, I do not believe that one will kill the other.
Not only do I not buy into the idea that the internet has killed zines, but I believe it has done a lot to help further zine culture. While my heart still lives with old zine distro catalogs, the internet has allowed zines to survive in a culture of instant gratification and next-day trends. It was always true that anyone with a lot of time and a little amount of funds could start up a catalog zine distro, the same remains true now with the internet becoming easier and easier to personalize.
The internet has also allowed zinesters to self-distro their materials to a broader audience. This could be for the better or for the worse for zine distributors (such as Microcosm), but for zine culture, it seems to be an encouraging trend. I would argue that it is unfortunate, though, that many seem to turn to the very impersonal distro-in-a-box sites such as Etsy, who seem to have no interest in culture, just profits.
Zinesters have also been using the internet in other interesting ways. The site We Make Zines has brought together zinesters from all over the place and given them a space to easily communicate with one another. Visiting the site, you can find people sharing ideas, collaborating on projects together, distroing their zines, trading zines, teaching new zinesters tricks of the trade, organizing zine fairs, and all kinds of other stuff. The internet has allowed the diaspora of zinesters to gather virtually.
All of this together seems to have introduced many new people to the world of zines and self-publishing. Every month, between 40 and 100 new zines are submitted to Microcosm for distribution, and we know that is just a fraction of what is actually being produced. We are also starting to see more submissions from outside of North America. While we at Microcosm are always happy to see that so many people are expressing themselves and producing passionate material for the sake of getting it out of themselves and into the world, we aren't able to take on all of this new material. We see that as a good thing. It means that zinesters must push their craft a little further to be noticed. It means that zinesters don't get stuck in a rut of what a zine looks like. Instead, zinesters focus on creating something passionate, unique, and enthralling.
So has the internet killed zines? No. If anything, it breathed new life into them. Zines were here before the internet. I believe they'll be here after it, too.