How to get ahead in micro publishing

Andrew Tuck on the Zine revolution
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
A BEDROOM and a friend's Apple Mac are all you need to join the micro-publishing boom. In the Sixties this spate of new magazines would have been called the underground press, but today's independent titles are too in love with style and the possibilities promised by technology to be wedded to that anti-Establishment label. In America this trend, which covers topics as mundane as coffee appreciation and as colourful as fetishistic sex, is being called the Zine Revolution.

Zine publishers have realised that they can produce legible, cutting- edge magazines on a shoe-string. Computer programmes can get your designer past the lack of any art school training, and you can find contributions and stories by putting bulletins on the computer communication system, the Internet.

"It's possible for people who have no institutional backing to do things that previously would have taken years, and by using the Internet you can quickly get a reaction from all around the world," says Pauline van Mourik Brockman, one of the editors of Mute, a new-technology-inspired newspaper.

Why, then, have these new communicators chosen old-fashioned newsprint - "dead tree editions" - over electronic publishing? "We like the way a newspaper is such a public medium. When you read it on the train, you can't stop other people looking too - it's a poster site - and that just doesn't happen when people are reading things on a computer screen," she says.

Mark Chilver runs Central Books, a nationwide distributor of independent magazine titles. He says he's "inundated with new magazines asking me to take them on. It's become a job to just say no to them.'' Chilver believes one thing helping to sustain the boom is the public's willingness to pay large cover prices if they think they will get unique information in return. Other magazines survive by never going near news-stands. "I've one here that the people who write it sell at music events and road protests - that way they get to keep all the money."

Andrew Tuck is consumer editor for `Time Out'


MORE a piece of folded paper than a magazine, A Tissue is one of the most off-beat publishing ventures. John Eden, 27, is a schoolteacher who posts his sheet of A4 paper to friends and anyone he thinks might be a useful contact. He explains the life of an independent publisher. "It only costs me 2p for each copy so I can afford to give them away, and I can do all my writing on the bus because I make up all the characters I interview." The scatty text "is all about the counter-culture". And the name? "I like it because it's A Tissue, but then it could also be At Issue. But maybe I'll change the title."


MUTE has much to say, most of it critical, about the impact of new technology on the art world and discusses "whether art can survive the 20th century". It's the work of four artists turned editors, who have eschewed the usual typographical tricks found in papers with a radical agenda, and decided to ape the look of the Financial Times. Strangely, they found the FT was willing to give assistance - "they're very, very nice" - and for a reasonable fee it printed Mute at its east London press on the pink paper. The first issue had a run of 15,000 and was free. Issue two, out at the end of March, will cost £3.


FREEDOM is a Soho bar with a gay and fashion following. "We don't pay for a thing," says Mark Lang, publisher and editor of Freedom Magazine. "Absolut paid for the first one; a beer company, Stella, paid for the second and the third is being paid for by a Milan fashion company. In return they get all the ads." The magazine has a print run of 8,000 and is given away through the bar and selected outlets in London, Paris and Barcelona. Editorial content is thin and instead the paper gets by on strong photos and waspish comments: the current issue includes a list of camp social don'ts.


THE launch issue of X, as in Generation X, carries a letter from editor Tessa Williams, which exhorts us to be at one with the Internet and computers. Features include Cornish surf dudes, young designers and even younger bands. "I freelanced for a year in Scotland but got pissed off with not being able to write what I wanted. That's why we started X," says Ms Williams, whose home doubles as the publishing HQ. New contributors are gleaned from Internet contacts. "We have put bits of X on the Internet and people have started sending stuff in. Some of it is really weird." A copy is yours for £1.95.


"IT'S possible to produce a professional-looking magazine on a tight budget. Once you have the software you can control the look of it, unlike the days of the punk fanzines," says Jakubowski of The Lizard. Produced from home, this slick £1.80 bi-monthly music journal has a print run of 7,000. It gets by on goodwill and fundraising concerts. Contributors and staff aren't paid but they get a chance to let rip on anything from jungle to metal bands: "It's a freedom that has attracted writers from Melody Maker and Wire. The first issue of The Lizard came out last September but it's already distributed in the USA."


SALLY and Sarah Edwards are twins, signed to the model agency Zoom, and co-editors of Blag, price £2. They started this hip-hop and indie music journal while at college in Lincoln, using a typewriter. Two years later, stints at the typewriter have been replaced with sessions on an Apple Mac. "We bring out Blag when we can but it's sporadic. Last time we printed 100 copies," says Sarah. "We sell them through fashion shops." The twins get interviews with aspiring models and singers but think the thing that holds them back is advertising. "We get about four ads each issue - any less, we lose money."