Zines: anyone can make them and they can be about pretty much anything. But in a world of social media and non-stop content, why keep making zines? Surely if you wanted to spread the word about your favourite thing you’d just set up an Instagram fanpage or a stan Twitter? People do that too, of course, but zines and the culture around them are still very much around. But with the massive changes in how we consume media and form communities it’s interesting to look at why zines have persisted.
The word zine came from fanzine because that’s what the original zines were. As early as the 1930s, science fiction fans were making their own publications to share with their friends. The goal wasn’t to make money, or get mainstream recognition, it was just people making their own media because it was fun. Zine culture stayed mostly within these small fan circles until the boom of 1970s punk in the UK and US. These were often handwritten, DIY pamphlets where young punks could report on the latest records from the scene and even interview their favourite bands. Passed around at record shops and gigs, zines became a vital part of the punk subculture. Publications such as Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, and Tony Moon’s Sideburns (origin of the infamous ‘this is a chord…’ illustration) would become classics of the genre and are now desperately sought out by collectors.
With this history in mind, it can seem odd to think that zine culture is still active in 2021. However, much like mainstream news outlets, zine-makers have instead adapted to our increasingly online world and used it to their advantage. For starters, social media can be a vital tool for promoting print zines. For example, #zines on Instagram has over 385’000 posts. Hashtags like these allow people to find new publications and get their own work out to a much wider audience than before. Similarly, distributors can use platforms such as Patreon or Ko-fi to get support from readers on a pay-what-you-can basis, while keeping zines affordable.
As well as print zines, the number of digital zines has increased massively over the last few years. The increased accessibility of computers means that for many people, digital mediums are just as viable as classic cut-and-paste methods (it also means that people like me can type them instead of relying on our scrappy handwriting). On top of this, digitisation makes it possible to read zines that previously only existed as physical copies for free through archive sites.
For me and many others, however, print zines have a kind of nostalgic appeal. It’s similar to the resurgence of vinyl records in the 2010s. We own far fewer DVDs and books, now mainly using subscription services paid weekly or monthly. Having something that you can hold, and that won’t just be taken down like a Netflix show or Kindle ebook, is reassuring. They’re not tracked by cookies or algorithms, they’re just there, and they can be made by anyone.
It is this DIY aspect that creates most of zines’ appeal. Whether you look at Trekkies, or punks pogo-ing to The Clash in the 70s, or Gen Z making fanzines of Voltron and Steven Universe, the central idea is still content made by and for fans. It also makes the medium much more accessible to LGBT+ people and people of colour than mainstream media. People from marginalised communities, who might otherwise struggle to find a platform because of discrimination, can make their voices heard through their own publications. Specifically for queer people, zines were (and are) a way to find out about identities and topics considered taboo.
Having moved far beyond just fanzines, zines can now be about practically anything. There are zines for poetry, photography, true crime, and video games, just to name a few. Digital or print, handwritten or typed, the options are almost limitless. Zines originated as a way to bring communities together, and as long as that need is there, the medium will find some way to move along with the times.