A zine is most commonly a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier.
A popular definition includes that circulation must be 1,000 or less, although in practice the significant majority are produced in editions of less than 100, and profit is not the primary intent of publication.
Zines are written in a variety of formats, from computer-printed text to comics to handwritten text (an example being the hardcore punk zine 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. Notable among these are Giant Robot, Dazed & Confused, Bust, Bitch, Cometbus, 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 word "zine" is uncertain, but it was widely in use in the early 1970s, and most likely is a shortened version of the word "Magazine." with at least one zine lamenting the abbreviation. The earliest citation known is from 1946, in Startling Stories.
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.
1930s–1960s and science fiction
During and after the Great Depression, editors of "pulp" science fiction 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 allowed 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-disant 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.
A number of leading science fiction and fantasy authors rose through the ranks of fandom, such as Frederik Pohl and Isaac Asimov. George R. R. Martin is also said to have started writing for Fanzines, but has been quoted condemning the practice of fans writing stories set in other authors' worlds.
1970s and punk
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.
1980s and Factsheet Five
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 that covered an assortment of different and obscure topics that web sites (such as Wikipedia) might cover today but for which no large audience existed in the pre-internet era.
1990s and riot grrrl
Although the first feminist zine was printed in 1989 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Not Your Bitch 1989–1992), it was the 90s that saw the rise of the riot grrrl zine. The early 1990s riot grrrl scene encouraged an explosion of zines of a more raw and explicit 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, such as Donna Kossy's Kooks Magazine (1988–1991), published as Kooks (1994, Feral House).
Zines and the Internet
With the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s, zines faded from public awareness. It can be argued that the sudden growth of the Internet, and the ability of private web-pages to fulfill much the same role of personal expression as zines, was a strong contributor to their pop culture expiration. Indeed, many zines were transformed into websites, such as Boingboing. However, zines have subsequently been embraced by a new generation, often drawing inspiration from craft, graphic design and artists' books, rather than political and subcultural reasons.
Distribution and circulation
Zines are sold, traded or given as gifts through many different outlets, from zine symposiums and publishing fairs to record stores, book stores, zine stores, at concerts, independent media outlets, zine 'distros', via mail order or through direct correspondence with the author. They are also sold online either via websites or social networking profiles.
Zines distributed for free are either traded directly between zinesters, given away at the outlets mentioned or are available to download and print online.
Webzines are found in many places on the Internet.
While zines are generally self-published, there are a few independent publishers who specialise in making art zines. One such 'art-zine' publisher (who also publishes books) is Nieves Books in Zurich, founded by Benjamin Sommerhalder. Another is Café Royal Books, UK based and founded by Craig Atkinson in 2005.
Zines are most often obtained through mail-order distributors. There are many catalogued and online based mail-order distros for zines. Some of the longer running and most stable operations include Last Gasp in San Francisco, California, Parcell Press in Philadelphia, Microcosm Publishing in Portland, Oregon, Great Worm Express Distribution in Toronto, CornDog Publishing in Ipswich, Café Royal in the UK, Fistful of Books in Scotland, AK Press in Oakland, California, Missing Link Records in Melbourne and Soft Skull Press in Brooklyn, New York. Zine distros often have websites that 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.